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U.S. Navy Blue Angels will host veteran and centenarian at Smoky Mountains Airshow

Jack Gillooly could be the oldest naval aviator in the country. He served through the Second World War and is about to turn 102.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of the oldest Naval Aviator Captains in the country will be a special guest of the airshow this weekend. The USN Blue Angels will be hosting Gillooly and his brother in their private tent for the event, the family says.

Jack Gillooly served through the Second World War and said some of his favorite memories were made in the sky.

"I spent a lot of time at sea. They called me an old sea dog," Gillooly said.

He's an old sea dog that makes a 101-year-old look easy.

"I just thank the Lord that I'm here and that he has allowed me to all these good years," Gillooly said.

Gillooly was recruited to play football for the Navy. He was playing at a junior college in West Virginia when Navy coaches scouted him out.

Credit: Lon Gillooly

"I played football for them for three years," Gillooly said. He prides himself in having never lost a game to Army in those three years.

Once he went to fleet, his Navy career really took off. Except most of it was spent in the sky. 

"I served on a cruiser during WW2 and we were dive bombed and were hit three times. I was wounded and did escape alive. That day, I just made a decision if I was going to stay in the Navy, I was not going to be down here [on the ship]. I was gonna be the guy in the sky doing the bombing," Gillooly said.

Part of his job as a naval aviator was to help his team locate submarines. Gillooly said it wasn't an easy job. The ocean is vast and it's hard to spot battle subs so far beneath the surface.

Credit: Lon Gillooly

"We're in the air and they're in the water," Gillooly said. "So, we drop a listening device. The listening device can pick up the submarine, transmit it to the antenna, which then sends it up to the airplane where we have transponders that listen to it."

He said nothing was more rewarding than spotting a major Russian sub on the coast of Cuba.

"He came to the surface. We were about three miles off the coast of Cuba. And we were right on top of it, flying around in a circle while he comes up. It was a scene to behold, it really was a scene," Gillooly said.

Through every victory, big and small, Gillooly says he wasn't alone.

"I never took a flight that I didn't have a crucifix in my hand," he said. "I would be flying the plane holding onto my crucifix.

Credit: WBIR

And decades later, he still holds onto it.

"I still have it and maybe that's why I'm still alive," Gillooly said.

Gillooly said he is excited to visit the Smoky Mountains Airshow on Saturday. He will be accompanied by his sons. The three will be considered 'special guests of the USN Blue Angels.


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