WARRENTON, Ga. --- Edward D. Ricketson Jr. is 84 years old, but he remembers World War II as though it was yesterday.
The reason: He was in more than a dozen air battles with the Japanese during that time.
"I remember that war all too well," said Mr. Ricketson, a retired independent insurance agent, who grew up in neighboring Warrenton and still lives there with his wife of 53 years, Lavonia. "I can still recall a lot of things that happened in that war."
Today, Mr. Ricketson gets around with help from a walker.
"I don't get around as well as I used to, but my mind is still good," he said. "I enjoy talking about World War II, because it's a big part of our history. And I lived it."
Mr. Ricketson, who was a member of the 9th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Corps, which at that time came under the umbrella of the Army before the creation of the Air Force, served as a central fire control gunner aboard a B-29 Super Fortress. The aircraft carried an 11-member crew. He and two other men who flew missions together across the skies of Japan in 1944 are the only ones still living. They live in New Jersey and New York.
"All the others who flew missions with us have died," Mr. Ricketson said.
He flew 13 missions between May and September 1944 and recorded them in a diary presented as a gift to him by his mother, Mildred Ricketson, who was the longtime pianist at First Baptist Church of Warrenton.
"I wrote down things that happened every day in that diary," Mr. Ricketson said.
He keeps the little brown diary, still in remarkable condition, on a table in his den.
"There's a lot of history recorded in that diary," he pointed out.
Mr. Ricketson turned to the front of the diary and pulled out a tattered, yellowed clipping from The Warrenton Clipper -- his hometown weekly newspaper, which ran a small article about him being a member of the Air Corps.
"My mother sent that to me, and I've kept it stored in that diary since the war," Mr. Ricketson said. "It's still in rather good shape, I'd say."
During the war, Mr. Ricketson could fire as many as six guns. The United States "was pretty technically advanced," he said.
"We had electronic gun sights, and they worked real well," he said. "I can't tell you exactly how many (aircraft) I was responsible for shooting down, but it was a lot of them."
The majority of the missions that the crew took were under cover of darkness. Their missions started on the Island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean -- about 3,000 miles from Japan.
The B-29 was designed to fly at 35,000 feet, but pilots often received orders to fly at much lower altitudes, Mr. Ricketson said.
"When we'd fly so low, the Japanese would shine their searchlights on us and immediately start trying to shoot us down," he said.
"We were hit on several occasions. We lost hundreds of pilots, navigators and gunners because we were ordered to fly so low. Those aircraft were never designed to fly that low."
He believes that had those orders not been handed down, many more Americans' lives could have been spared.
"It put us more in harm's way having to fly that low," Mr. Ricketson said.
He said he owes his life to the Marines.
"They were the real heroes of that war," he said.
"They saved my life and the lives of many of my friends many, many times. They made it safer for us so many times, because of what they were able to accomplish on the ground."
After the war, Mr. Ricketson attended Emory University and graduated in 1948.
He moved back to Warrenton, married and started a family after starting work with Independent Life Insurance Co. He ran for political office and served as mayor of Warrenton for six years.
He and his wife were active members of First Baptist Church of Warrenton, where he was a deacon for several years.
"I found a place I couldn't beat -- home," Mr. Ricketson said.
"I've been mighty blessed with a great wife, a great family and great friends through the years."
Last September, Mr. Ricketson journeyed to Washington, D.C., with a group of area World War II veterans.
The trip was sponsored by the Vets to Washington Project, which is headed by Douglas P. Hastings, of Hephzibah.
In Washington, the group saw the sights, including the World War II Memorial.
"For all of those who were killed during World War II, we owe them a most sincere debt of gratitude," Mr. Ricketson said.
"It was really something to see the World War II monument that honors all of those who died and fought in that war.
"It reminded me of where we had been and why we were there. It really meant a lot to all of us to get the opportunity to see the monument."