Rex Gribble – WWII P-38 Fighter Pilot – Friendly Valley Resident

Rex and Rachel Gribble. Courtesy photo.

Here’s another outstanding Santa Clarita Valley WWII Veteran, who at 95 years of age is sharp as a tack.

His memory and articulation is simply remarkable and what a pleasure it was to spend time with Rex and his wonderful wife Rachel.

Pearl Harbor Bombed

Rex Gribble was born March 10, 1921 in Tamora, Nebraska where he grew up on a farm.

His father was a WWI Veteran with the 1st Infantry Division, famously known as The Big Red One.

During Rex’s childhood the family moved to Greenwood, Neb. where he graduated high school in 1938.

Upon graduation, Rex moved to Lincoln, Neb. to attend a business school and worked for the Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP) for several years.

Then he worked in Civil Service in Strang and Wayne, Neb.

While working at Wayne, Rex was surprised as with all Americans, when his radio blurted Pearl Harbor had been brutally bombed by the Japanese Imperial Navy.

You’re in the Army Now

Rex Gribble DD214. Courtesy photo.
Rex Gribble DD214. Courtesy photo.

Soon, everyone he knew was joining the war effort in one way or another.

Rex did not want to be a foot soldier as his greatest desire was to become a pilot.

So off he went to Omaha, Neb. to join the U.S. Army Air Corp where he passed all physical, eye and intelligence examinations.

It took a little while, but Rex was called to duty at age 22 on Feb. 1, 1943, and he was sent to an induction station at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

Next, it was to college training at Stephens Point, Wisconsin, with 200 new recruits for three months.

There were four main pilot training courses Rex and his fellow applicants had to pass to become full fledged pilots.

Each training nine week course – which included Preflight, Primary, Basic, and then Advanced Pilot Training – was in different locations.

Don’t Wash Out!

During these pilot training courses, a number of the 200 men washed out due to failing eye tests, physical limitations and some passed out during altitude testing.

In February 1944, Rex graduated from Advanced Training at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

Due to Rex’s exceptional skills, he was assigned as flight instructor at San Antonio, Texas.

Rex recalls that the threat via rumor there was that if you washed out, you would become a B-26 Bomber co-pilot.

Just being a B-26 crewman was one the worst jobs at that time as B-26’s had an extremely dangerous reputation.

After San Antonio, Rex received a 10-day leave of absence to visit his family and then reported to Merced, Calif. as instructor on BT-13 training planes.

However after two weeks, everything abruptly changed.

All pilots were asked to volunteer to become P-38 Fighter Pilots and many of Rex’s friends raised their hands.

Rex was whisked off along with them.

Learning to Fly

Rex Gribble, pilot trainee at Ryan Field, Arizona. Instead of wearing a flight scarf, they used a pillow case. July 1943. Courtesy photo.
Rex Gribble, pilot trainee at Ryan Field, Arizona. Instead of wearing a flight scarf, they used a pillow case. July 1943. Courtesy photo.

Soon, Rex found himself at Victorville, Calif. learning to fly the Aero Cobra P-39 in preparation for the hot P-38.

Each pilot had to fly a Cobra for one hour and Rex said it absolutely scared the bejesus out of him, but he passed the test.

Next he was off for P-38 training at Santa Maria, Calif. for one month.

It was mid-March 1944 when he flew to San Francisco along with 60 other P-38 pilots and from there they flew via a Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo plane to Hawaii, Guadalcanal and to Nadzap, New Guinea.

A month later, Rex was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group as he trained for General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.

After several weeks in Leyte attacking the lone Japanese-controlled landing strip in the area, his unit moved to Mindoro Island and then to Lingayen Gulf where contracted malaria.

Nevertheless, Rex continued flying combat bombing missions around Formosa and Hainan near China’s coast.

Enter Enola Gay

In early August 1945 Rex was being promoted to Captain and scheduled to participate in the invasion of Japan, named “Operation Downfall” so he was sent to Okinawa.

However, the atomic bombings by B-29s Enola Gay and Bock’s Car of Hiroshima and Nagasaki abruptly ended WWII Aug. 15, 1945 when Japan’s Emperor surrendered.

Rex flew 108 combat missions, 30 as flight leader and he logged in just under 300 hours.

He departed Japan in late November 1945 and was discharged at Fort Logan, Colorado, returning to his parent’s home in Greenwood, Neb.

Rex Gribble Discharge. Courtesy photo.
Rex Gribble Discharge. Courtesy photo.

Rex’s decorations include the Air Medal with 1 Oak Leaf, Distinguished Unit Badge, Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with 1 Bronze Star, and American Service Medal.

In September 1945, Major John Petrovich wrote in an award nomination that “Lieutenant Gribble, during his 12 months overseas combat service piloted his P-38 over impenetrable jungles, jagged mountainous terrain, and vast expanses of enemy controlled ocean to strike relentlessly at the Japanese strongholds.”

Rex’s malaria reasserted itself so he went to Lincoln, Nebraska’s VA Hospital where he recovered.

He then attended the University of Nebraska to study journalism where a fellow student advised him to get into radio because TV was imminent.

Well, Rex ignored that advice and went to work part time with the Lincoln Star newspaper in Lincoln, Neb.

His buddy joined a local radio station. That other student was Johnny Carson.

After graduating college, Rex continued working at the Lincoln Star until 1951, when he went to Heidelberg, Germany as a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Army’s European Headquarters.

In 1955, he met Rachel Haskell, a Special Education teacher for American military children.

The two were married Aug. 10, 1957.

Rex and Rachel have two daughters and they’ve lived in Friendly Valley since 2013.

Rex retired in May 1988 after working 37 years as a U.S. Government civilian in pubic affairs and as Chief of Public Information.

His role was media spokesman for United States Army Europe Headquarters and U.S. Army Command in Europe.

Rex Gribble and Ted Olsen at SCV’s 2015 Veterans Day Ceremony. Courtesy photo.
Rex Gribble and Ted Olsen at SCV’s 2015 Veterans Day Ceremony. Courtesy photo.

Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.

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