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John returns to relive days in US Air Force

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John Schultz visiting his old home, Sunnyside, in Hamilton Parish, with owner Carolyn Armstrong, Nancy Schultz and John Schultz Jr (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Any mention of Bermuda by John Schultz would inevitably lead to an eye roll from family members.

It had been 64 years since he was posted here with the American Air Force, but he could not stop talking about it.

A few months ago his daughter-in-law, Nancy Schultz, decided she had had enough.

“She suggested they take me to Bermuda to celebrate my 90th birthday,” Mr Schultz said. “I just couldn’t believe it.

“Those were positively the good days; the living was good. I got married a few months after I arrived in Bermuda in 1952, and brought my wife, Grace, to Bermuda. We had our first child, John, on the island. It was a beautiful place.”

Thirty years after his last visit, he arrived in Dockyard on the Norwegian Escape on Wednesday, accompanied by his daughter-in-law and son, John.

The first thing they did was go hunting for Sunnyside, the Hamilton Parish house Mr Schultz and his wife, Grace, lived in.

“We rented a taxi and our driver took us all over,” said Mr Schultz, whose actual birthday is on July 9. “I tried hard to find the place where we stayed. I remember you could walk to the aquarium from the house but everything is so built up now. We couldn’t find the place.”

A search of the telephone directory revealed a listing and on Thursday, the family paid a visit.

They spent an hour with its owner, Carolyn Armstrong, looking at old photographs and newspaper clippings.

“Coming back to Sunnyside and meeting Carolyn was the best part of the trip, for sure,” Mr Schultz said. “I really couldn’t believe this. It was wonderful to see the place and meet Carolyn.”

She provided a fresh ear for his stories about working with the US Air Force’s Air Sea Rescue Squadron. The operation used repurposed B29 bombers to search the ocean around Bermuda for vessels that were missing or in difficulty. It was Mr Schultz’s job to keep watch from the back of the plane, in a place once used by gunners.

It had not been the Second World War veteran’s plan to come to Bermuda in the 1950s.

“In 1951, the Korean War was on and I was still single and adventurous,” he said. “I volunteered for Korea because that was where all the action was.”

At the shipping out point, he was told they didn’t need anyone else in Korea and given the option of going to England, Newfoundland or Bermuda.

After a year of training, he arrived on the island.

“I’d heard of it, but I’d never been,” he said. “It looked a lot different then. You don’t seem to have as many cedars now.”

Mr Schultz helped in several high-profile rescues of that time.

Ruby Zuill and Wilfred “Indian” Outerbridge went missing in their fishing boat Sea Venture after a series of heavy gales on February 8, 1954.

“They searched for them for quite a while to no avail,” Mr Schultz recalled. “Then one day we were on a training mission and we flew right over the top of them. We turned around and dropped some supplies that they never got.”

The US Coast Guard was notified and eventually picked the men up.

Mr Schultz still has a copy of The Mid-Ocean News detailing the rescue with the headline: ‘They Never Lost Hope’.

“They’d been lost about five days,” he said. “They weren’t in too bad a condition. They were self-sufficient. They could fish and they had enough water.”

Mr Schultz met the pair and shook hands. “They were more than grateful,” he said.

On another occasion he helped rescue six Air Force search and rescue men after their plane crashed into the ocean.

“We had a hurricane alert, and we used to evacuate our rescue aeroplanes to Florida or Georgia,” he said. “We had four planes. After the alert passed we all came back to Bermuda. Halfway back to Bermuda, a piece of the prop went into the fuel tank and started a fire. Six people got out of the back. They got burnt because the fire was on the same side as the exit door. The other six guys went down with the aircraft. I knew those men.”

The men who made it out, were rescued by a passing cruise ship. Mr Schultz and his family left Bermuda soon after, when his tour of duty ended.

“We were expecting our second child and my wife wanted to go home.” he said.

They settled in New Windsor, New York, and had two more children, Michael and Melissa.

Mr Schultz worked for 37 years as a foreman in a gas company. His wife died in 2014.

While here, the Schultzs visited Horseshoe Bay, ate at the Lobster Pot and met the Captain of the Norwegian Escape on the ship’s bridge.

“It’s been a wonderful trip,” he said. “This will probably be my last visit anywhere, given that I’m almost 90.”

John Schultz visiting his old home, Sunnyside in Hamilton Parish (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Fishermen Ruby Zuill and Wilfred Outerbridge reunited with their family in 1954