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World War II Pilots Rightfully Immortalized in The Fight in the Clouds

While each pilot is a hero, they all have an “I was just doing my job” attitude.

by
Chris Yogerst

Bio

April 27, 2014 - 7:00 am
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Stories about World War II have been a major part of American popular culture for decades. From the Warner Bros. war films of the 1940s to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and beyond, there is a consistent magnetism towards America’s Greatest Generation and the war they fought against totalitarianism. Many people have relatives who were in the war or have met veterans that have made an impact on their life. Without question, WWII vets are a special, unique group whose stories deserve to be shared.

In The Fight in the Clouds, author James P. Busha organizes the many interviews he conducted with WWII fighter pilots over the years into one volume. Busha, a pilot himself, is also editor of EAA Warbirds of America, EAA Vintage Aircraft Association publications, and contributing editor for Flight Journal. The book opens with specifications about the P-51 Mustang that will be helpful to those new to the topic.

These pilots, like their planes, were tough as nails. The only accepted defeat was death. The tales range from fun practice runs, harrowing fights into enemy territory, and postwar musings. The Fight in the Clouds begins with a powerful introduction about the story of 2nd Lt. James Des Jardins and his brother, who both lost their lives serving our country in World War II. Their story is told, in part, through primary documents in the form of Western Union telegrams. Reading the words of the time always presents a unique and often influential response. This book, according to Busha, was written for those “who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country as they laid their lives on the line to ensure that future generations would enjoy the freedoms and liberties that have been bestowed upon us.”

One of the many stories that stuck out to me was that of Capt. Clayton “Kelly” Gross, who was in a dogfight with “one of Hitler’s wonder weapons,” a Messerschmitt Me 262:

I felt the stick budge as I tried to pull out of my screaming dive. I thought for sure was going to tear the wings off and dive the Mustang deep into German soil! As I pulled out, I found myself right on the 262’s tail. In a split second I lined him up. At a hundred feet away, he was hard to miss. I gave him a little squirt that tore up his left jet engine and shredded his left wingtip. With a moment of greater forward speed than the jet, I overshot him and pulled off to the right. The 262 pulled straight up and I knew the Mustang couldn’t catch him no matter how fast I was going. I thought I lost him as he pulled over a thousand feet away, but I was watching as he stopped in midair and began to tail slide back down. His canopy came off and out popped the pilot. I finally got my jet!

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Top Rated Comments   
I don’t know if we took them for granted, or if we were just used to ‘the norm’ of Men…grown-up Men…having a natural standard of quiet courage that was so common, we never thought much about it..

Or gave much thought to how we, as their children, would always pretend to live in a world of bravery and danger while we played….

We dove on pine-cone grenades to “save” our friends, and flew “suicide missions” on our bicycles through “enemy territory” ……we “escaped” from prison camps, conducted “commando” raids, and learned to use Morse Code with flashlight, and hide maps in our shoes… all without ever hearing ONE single genuine “War Story” from Dad, or Uncle Mike…the guys green splotches on their arms…an anchor, a rope, a hula girl…who never shown them off, never pointed them out, but somehow we just knew…

So, we never played “Pirates”…we were PILOTS… or Infantry…chomping on a discarded cigar stumps (yuk, but it sure looked cool!) wading across a swamp when there was a perfectly DRY LAND route across it, because we instinctively knew all “real” soldier got soaking wet….always splashing through SOMETHING, wading ashore….

That’s why the main selling point of any LAUNDY SOAP commercial when I was a kid, emphasized how well it got mud and grass stains out of Boys Clothes….Instead of how “environmentally friendly” and “safe for sensitive skin” they are, like today.

We didn’t pay much attention to them then, because there was no need too…they were just normal, average Dads and Uncles, it was no big deal..…its only now, with Metro-Sexual Role Models and the Enforced Emasculation of every remaining Red-Blooded American Boy in school via “ADHD” drugs, that we realize just how much has been lost…


And aint NEVER coming back.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bomber crews indeed...

After building countless B-17 models as a kid in the 70's, I finally got INSIDE a B-17 with my son at an airshow...

Shocking, absolutely shocking how fragile that thing seemed...a single layer of what looks like .040 aluminum over the spars, and that was it...I could see slivers of daylight around the rivets and seams, I could have kicked it to pieces if I wanted to...

My wifes Honda Accord provides better bullet resistance than a B-17, and those guys FOUGHT inside those things? By the tens of thousands?

We really are no longer worthy of that generation.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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My dad was a Seabee on Guam and spent a lot of time around the B-29 base they built. He said one thing the war movies always got wrong about the pilots was they were always too old in the movies. He said they were all kids (and he was at the ripe old age of 28 at the time).
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
A P-47 WW II pilot named Quentin Aanenson made his own documentary in the 90s called "A Fighter Pilot's Story" that was shown on PBS and is really remarkable.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nevil Shute wrote about the British pilots in a series of novels during and after the war. Shute never wrote a bad book, but the standout about the young pilots in WWII is "Pastoral," I think.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the '80s I was fortunate enough to have a business partner, Ivan K. Dean, who was a B17 pilot during the war. He made the USAF a career and flew B17s & B36s before transitioning to fighter jets in Korea & Viet Nam. (His room mate in B36 Flight school was Paul Tibbets.) He joined our firm on a friend's recommendation. (We wrote software for airlines and Ivan was our lead sales guy.) Ivan, aka Ike, as Russian sounding names weren't that cool in the '50s, was a great, great soul wrapped in a quiet, soft-spoken, and completely ordinary body.

We were e.x.t.r.e.m.e.l.y fortunate to have him working with us as his no-nonsense work ethic, quiet leadership, wonderful sense of humor was a great asset in any and everything we did. Everything was fun...

I was heart-broken when he came to the office after a Dr's appointment with a terminal cancer diagnosis of ~14 months left. (It was the '80s so cancer treatment was still in the stone age...)

I still miss him and the no-nonsense attitude - and the HUMOR, no matter what.


13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
That generation was truly an extraordinary one. Living through a depression without any safety nets and then having to go off for three or four years and fight a war thousands of miles away is a testament to the character of those men.

My Dad was a corpsman attached to the first marine division during the war. He never spoke to my brother and I about his experiences there. He would only say that he did what he had to do like thousands of others. He would prefer to tell jokes and kid around with us. Even when he would get together with his friends who were all WW II vets, none of them even brought up their experiences during the war unless it was a funny story. My dad kept his purple heart and other medals in a box in the back of his dresser. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2003, all he could say to us was the remorse he felt for all the men that didn't make it back.

Now, in 2014 it is so sad that my Dad's generation is almost gone. That generation grounded our country. Our current political malaise is partially due to the absence of that generation. They are sorely missed.

13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't forget the bomber crews: http://billlawrenceonline.com/stories/Boyko.html

Boyko passed away in December. He was 89.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bomber crews indeed...

After building countless B-17 models as a kid in the 70's, I finally got INSIDE a B-17 with my son at an airshow...

Shocking, absolutely shocking how fragile that thing seemed...a single layer of what looks like .040 aluminum over the spars, and that was it...I could see slivers of daylight around the rivets and seams, I could have kicked it to pieces if I wanted to...

My wifes Honda Accord provides better bullet resistance than a B-17, and those guys FOUGHT inside those things? By the tens of thousands?

We really are no longer worthy of that generation.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've flown in a B-17 twice, once in Seattle, once in Juneau. Unless you've actually done it, you can't really appreciate how cold, drafty, and noisy those things are! I was never above 5 or 6 thousand feet and "cold" outside air leaked in everywhere and in back the two .50 caliber stations are completely open. I can't imagine what it was like at 20-30 thousand feet above Germany. Being a ball turret gunner is a pretty good vision of Hell.

In addition to the dangers from FLAK and fighters, the cold injuries must have been very high. I have an Avirex B-3 sheepskin jacket, a replica of the ones bomber crews were commonly issued. It's pretty warm in sub-zero temperatures but I wouldn't want to be stuck in sub-zero temps for eight hours or more with only the sheepskin jacket and trousers and such heat as the electric system could produce - if it was working.

Few people under 50 or so have ever heard a heavy propeller-driven aircraft with multiple reciprocating engines. I live near the most commonly used approach to Anchorage International. Jet aircraft fly over my house all the time and I almost never notice them, even the B-747 freighters grossing a million pounds or so. But let an old C-46 or C-47 climb out of AIA and the whole town notices. One cargo carrier still uses the C-118, the military cargo version of the DC-6, which has four of the 18 cylinder "Double Wasp" piston engines; everybody knows when one of those is taking off! The Wright Cyclones on B-17s aren't as big, but they're plenty loud. Up front there is more wind noise than engine noise but in the back the engine noise is incredible on take off and plenty loud at cruise. In any event, you had to be one Helluva man to fly combat missions in them!
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't imagine what those guys went through. I've read the temps could be 35-50 below zero. Having worked in a freezer warehouse where it was 15 below, I just can't imagine that. How did they keep their faces from freezing off?
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's funny how we grew up with these guys surrounding us and took them for granted.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are so right. Growing up in the 60's the WW II had ended only 15 - 20 years previously. So it had to be fresh in the veterans minds. What were you doing 15 - 20 years and how long does that seem to you? It was just yesterday - correct?

Dad was Army at Okinawa and only once talked about what he did there. Everything else was humor about the war and his buddies. It wasn't until much later i learned that almost all his friends and neighbors had served in harms way. An example was the guy across the street who wasn't a very big man, mild mannered, and sold insurance for Sears. I found out later that he served on a picket destroyer on the far edges of the task forces taking on the waves of kamikazes before they reached the main fleet and transports. Never in a million years would I pegged him doing that job.


12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don’t know if we took them for granted, or if we were just used to ‘the norm’ of Men…grown-up Men…having a natural standard of quiet courage that was so common, we never thought much about it..

Or gave much thought to how we, as their children, would always pretend to live in a world of bravery and danger while we played….

We dove on pine-cone grenades to “save” our friends, and flew “suicide missions” on our bicycles through “enemy territory” ……we “escaped” from prison camps, conducted “commando” raids, and learned to use Morse Code with flashlight, and hide maps in our shoes… all without ever hearing ONE single genuine “War Story” from Dad, or Uncle Mike…the guys green splotches on their arms…an anchor, a rope, a hula girl…who never shown them off, never pointed them out, but somehow we just knew…

So, we never played “Pirates”…we were PILOTS… or Infantry…chomping on a discarded cigar stumps (yuk, but it sure looked cool!) wading across a swamp when there was a perfectly DRY LAND route across it, because we instinctively knew all “real” soldier got soaking wet….always splashing through SOMETHING, wading ashore….

That’s why the main selling point of any LAUNDY SOAP commercial when I was a kid, emphasized how well it got mud and grass stains out of Boys Clothes….Instead of how “environmentally friendly” and “safe for sensitive skin” they are, like today.

We didn’t pay much attention to them then, because there was no need too…they were just normal, average Dads and Uncles, it was no big deal..…its only now, with Metro-Sexual Role Models and the Enforced Emasculation of every remaining Red-Blooded American Boy in school via “ADHD” drugs, that we realize just how much has been lost…


And aint NEVER coming back.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's true. Well said.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Alaska's population has one of the highest percentage of veterans of any state in the Country, and many WWII vets settled here. Alaska still had homesteading rights after WWII and many vets used their veterans' benefits to come here and homestead.

The late Governor Jay Hammond was a Corsair pilot in the Pacific. He ditched his damaged Corsair in the water off whatever island they were flying from and was fished out of the drink by the crash boat. The crash boat captain was a guy named Clem Tillion. Hammond and Tillion became fast friends and made plans to homestead in Alaska after the War. Hammond acquired a place on Lake Clark on the Alaska Peninsula and Tillion a place near Clam Gulch on the Kenai Peninsula. Hammond went on to become governor from '74 to '82 and Tillion was President of the State Senate. Governor Hammond passed a few years back but I think Senator Tillion is still with us. Senator Tillion and I had a wide ranging and amply lubricated conversation at a cocktail party during which he told me about fishing Governor Hammond out of the Pacific. Chuck Yeager, a WWII Mustang pilot and the first man to break the sound barrier, has ties here and I met him at a reception a few years back. These three and most of the WWII vets I've known share common characteristics; they're bluff, plain-spoken, no-nonsense guys with no pretensions. These three acted like just "some guy" and you'd never in a million years guess their background or achievements.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Because their achievements were REAL, and anybody bothering to look it up would see that...Not like today...

Kerry's Gotta tell the WORLD about his 3 purple hearts and silver star, took him long enough to cobble THAT legend together and make it "plausible" ...

Editor of this, Recipient of that... its all a game of fake credentials, wink, nod, and dont spoil the story...they're all liars backing eachothers narrative, on stage, selling a story...

Until a guy like PUTIN shows up to ruin their little show....

Say what you want about him, he's FOR REAL.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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