FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) — Okla “Okey” Edgell was surprised with a hoard of individuals at his doorstep on Wednesday, some familiar and some not. What he didn’t know was that he was about to see something he likely hadn’t thought of in years.
Okey’s wife, Arlene Edgell, and WWII aviation enthusiast, Patrick Ryan had teamed up to surprise Okey with a special art piece to commemorate his service in World War II as a tail gunner for the U.S. Army.
Ryan, alongside loved ones and members of the VFW Guard and various military affiliates, were all present for the gifting of a replica nose panel depicting art on a WWII-era plane that Okey had flown in and nearly died in. The hand-painted piece shows an image of a baby with its arms spread wide, reading the words, “pin-up girl”.
Ryan connected with Okey after hearing a little about his story from a local business. After meeting Okey, Ryan said that though he could never truly afford what was owed to the veteran for his service, he hoped that this piece would be accepted as a token of gratitude.
“I came over a month or so ago and got a copy of Mr. Edgell’s autographed book and we got to looking at some old pictures of the aircraft and I talked to Arlene, and I said, ‘somehow I’ve got to get that picture made into a nose art panel for Mr. Edgell’ and sure enough everything came together,” said Ryan.
Okey joined the U.S. Army at the age of 18 as a tail gunner. In 1945 on his thirteenth mission, at the age of 19, Okey was heading from England to Germany in a B-24 H model aircraft when the plane was struck by S.S. German soldiers.
“The pilot abandoned the plane without telling anybody, he just jumped out the window, but it killed him. The co-pilot, when he realized what was going on, he had to take over and crashed the plane—that was the only choice he had was to crash it. So, there were four killed and four badly injured and taken to prison camps,” Arlene told 12 News.
Okey was held in a German prison camp for six weeks after being captured and was even set to be executed. It wasn’t until the “regular” German soldiers went against the S.S. German troops and encouraged them to spare the POWs by putting them in solitary confinement. Okey sat in solitary confinement for three days before he was snuck out of confinement using a blanket for cover.
The legacy of Okey Edgell’s story can be found in his novel, “Some Gave All: A Tail Gunner’s Perspective on WWII”. Both Okey and Arlene Edgell distribute copies of the book personally and you can contact them for your own copy at 304-816-3238.