When I was introduced to Joe Stern in February 2020, the word 'pandemic' was merely another deposit in my vocabular vault. There for safe-keeping, should I ever need to withdraw it. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was barely familiar to me, much like the rest of the American population. As conversations between Joe and I flourished over the following months, so did COVID-19. I had never imagined a pandemic would become a reality, but I imagine guys like Joe Stern thought the same about a second world war.
As discussed in the post, The Brooklyn Flyer - Joseph Stern, Joe frequently regales me with anecdotes of his time serving in the Army Air Forces during WWII. Since our introduction, we've spoken 23 times. For the statisticians, the combined duration of those calls is 20 hours 34 minutes (but who's counting?). Those phone calls seemed to be the only avenue where we'd be able to share conversation due to the ongoing pandemic. We did discuss a meeting in passing, but the obvious health concerns at the time put the kibosh on that idea.
With the improving travel situation in May 2021, Joe was able to celebrate his 99th birthday with family visiting him at his home in Florida. 99 years. That's a significant amount of life experience. The Great Depression. World War II. The Holocaust. Children. Grandchildren. A career. Retirement. Loss of friends and loved ones. Making new friends.
Joe's visiting family and birthday milestone inspired a wild idea. An in-person meeting between two people who've shared conversation only on the phone. With his concurrence, airline tickets were promptly secured. We both had looked forward to this opportunity, but the time was right to make it happen. Not only was it a chance to further our conversations about his experiences, but it was also a step in a direction resembling life before the pandemic (there's that word again).
Joe was sure to take care of me over the entire course of my travel. While he had offered to personally pick me up from the airport should I have flown into the nearer airport, I opted for a slightly further away port of arrival to minimize connections. Nonetheless, Joe secured a ride for his guest from the airport to his home. He would have done it himself, but he prefers to not drive quite as far as that would have required.
My lodging accommodations were the best in town. Casa de Stern. I lucked out on availability as the busy season had passed just prior to my arrival. When it came time to depart, mutual friend Mr. Steven Goldleaf took time out of his busy early morning routine to get me back to the airport to return home.
When I arrived at Casa de Stern, I was not as apprehensive as I thought I might be. While we've spent more than 20 hours talking on the phone, we had never met. Approaching his front door for the first time, I couldn't help but take a moment to appreciate the situation. I was going to be spending the next three days with Joe. A WWII veteran who flew BT-13's at the same field where the BT-13 I help care for and fly was based. A pilot who served our country during one of the most significant wars in modern history. A man who I've been privileged to call my friend.
When I rang his doorbell, there was a fleeting moment of "what am I doing here?" That quickly vanished and Joe appeared in front of me. He enthusiastically greeted me and showed me into his home. I imagine the anole lizard sunbathing on the wall thought, "What are these fools grinning about?"
We spent our first day together mostly just catching up about our lives and rehashing some of his stories that he'd shared with me over the phone. While we didn't stumble upon any new revelations that day, there was a certain excitement about hearing these anecdotes first hand, looking Joe in the eyes and getting a sense of emotion that can't be shared through the phone.
That evening, Steven took Joe and I out for dinner. It was a birthday dinner for Joe. Steven was unable to take him out on his birthday due to a constant stream of visitors at Casa de Stern for the week or so prior. We shared BBQ and conversation at one of their local favorite eateries. They hadn't been out to eat for quite some time due to the ongoing pande... Well, you know. (I've overdrawn my vocabulary account with that one.)
Back at Casa de Stern, Joe and I spent some time going through his collection of photos and military documents. While most of the photos were from his time in the service, he also openly shared a few family photos with me as well. While they didn't directly show his time in the Army Air Forces/Air Force Reserve, they were a look at where he came from and a reflection of who he became after his service to our country. He described each photo in vivid detail. Recalling the situation frozen in time on paper. Bringing it to life. These photos would prove useful in jogging Joe's memory over the next few days.
In those photos are guys like: Joe Boyd, Joe's primary flying training instructor at Augustine Field, MS; Chester Miller, Rodney F. Jocelyn, and Richard E. Joslin, fellow graduates of Class 43-H at Stuttgart Army Air Field, AR, who also went on to Tyndall Field, FL, with Joe. Of course, there were photos of wife Pearl (Goodman), brother Sam, sister Ruth, younger brother Stan, parents Harry and Sarah (Herbst), and Harry's parents and siblings.
Joe reminisced about his Primary Flying Training instructor, Joe Boyd. Unfortunately, Boyd had a medical condition that prevented him from being a military pilot. As was a typical arrangement, Primary Flying Training at Augustine Field, Madison, MS, was conducted as a Contract Pilot School (CPS). As a CPS, most of the instructors were civilians, including Boyd. Joe spoke very highly of Boyd and his ability to instruct, remarking that he made a lasting impression on him and provided the foundation that led to Joe earning his wings.
Although Joe and friends Chester, Rodney, and Richard graduated from Advanced Twin-Engine Flying Training at Stuttgart, their service would take them along the single-engine aircraft route. Upon graduation, they were assigned to the Flexible Gunnery School at Tyndall Field, FL. Service there would have them flying in a variety of capacities. These included; towing targets for student gunners in other aircraft to shoot at, flying with student gunners in the rear seat of aircraft such as the North American AT-6 shooting at targets in the Gulf of Mexico, and flying simulated attack missions in fighter aircraft (such as the Curtiss P-40 and Bell P-63) against B-17 aircraft with student gunners at different positions within the Flying Fortress.
The function Joe and his friends provided at Tyndall was as important as any during the war. Tyndall Field graduated more than 39,000 gunnery students from the time classes began at the school in February 1942 through August 1944. Undoubtedly, many of these men never made it home from war. They made the ultimate sacrifice for the defense of freedom against the Axis powers.
Joe also shared his logbook during our visit. Interestingly, there was a number of surprising (at least to me) entries of aircraft that he flew at Tyndall. Besides those mentioned above (AT-6, P-40, and P-63), Joe had flown an additional nine different models of aircraft while at Tyndall. Those include; Lockheed AT-18, Lockheed B-34, Martin AT-23, Boeing B-17, Consolidated B-24, Taylorcraft L-2B, Piper L-4B, Curtiss A-25 (Army Air Corps variant of the Navy's SB2C), and Republic P-47.
Back to the photos, of course there was Pearl. Pearl, also from Brooklyn, kept her eye on Joe even after he left to train for war. A few days after spending time together at a gathering in Brooklyn during the war, Joe received a call from Pearl. He was preparing to leave Brooklyn again and she innocently said "I just wanted to say goodbye". That call would lead to a blossoming romance between Joe and Pearl. They would get married in 1948 and remained husband and wife until her passing in 2012. Nearly 64 years by each others side. In sickness and in health.
Over the next few days Joe and I would continue to enjoy each others company and I'd continue to test his memory. With the occasional jog to his memory, some new tidbit would come to light. While looking at a photo of Joe and his classmates standing outside their barracks at Greenville, I asked him about the living arrangements within the barracks. Specifically, if it was a large open barracks with "racks" for the guys to sleep on, or if there were multiple rooms within the building. Joe explained that there were some rooms in the barracks with two guys to each room, but also a larger open area in the middle. Joe was one of the lucky ones who had a small room to share. Logically, my next question was if he recalled the name of his roommate in that room at Greenville.
Although the name of his roommate wasn't at the front of his mind, within a few minutes he recalled "Starcher". Joe admitted he couldn't recall Starcher's first name, but said it was "a plain name". With my computer in front of me on his dining room table, I began to search for Starcher while we continued to converse. Within a few minutes I had managed to identify a William L. Starcher who was an aviation cadet at Greenville in June 1943. Joe had wrapped up his Basic Flying Training at Greenville in June 1943, so this Starcher seemed like a match. When I presented that name to Joe he thought it could be his roommate, but wasn't sure.
After a few more strategic newspaper article searches, I found a photo of William L. Starcher. Prior to seeing the photo, Joe had simply described Starcher as "a fairly tall guy". After showing Joe the photo, his response was straightforward. "That's the guy."
Sadly, the newspaper article with the photo of Lieutenant William Lawson Starcher was reporting of his death. Following Basic Flying Training at Greenville, Lt Starcher had gone on to Advanced Single-Engine Flying Training at Craig Field, Selma, AL, where he received his wings and commission. From there, he was assigned to the 31st Air Transport Group. On 8 June 1944, Lt Starcher was piloting an A-20 "Havoc" and experienced problems resulting in a crash near Aldershot, Hampshire, England. All three men onboard perished. Joe hadn't kept in touch with Starcher following their time at Greenville, so he was completely unaware of his untimely death in 1944.
Equally as interesting was the first newspaper clipping that led us to finding his Basic Flying Training roommate. That clipping was captioned "Marries Aviation Cadet" and informed the community of Birmingham, AL, of the marriage of William L. Starcher and Hilda Earle McDaniels on 19 Jun 1943 in Greenville, MS. That's right, married in Greenville. Joe had no idea that his roommate had been married while they were "roomies".
It was a different time that many today likely can't comprehend. No social media on which to share their achievements. The country simply had a mission to complete. Focused on a world war. It may have just been that Starcher was a private individual, or that he was intensely focused on training for war and didn't feel the need to share his personal life with his short-term roommate at Greenville. Whatever the reason, it would stay hidden from Joe for 78 years.
Joe wasn't the only Stern family child to serve during WWII. Joe's older brother Samuel served in the US Army. Due to poor vision, Sam was not considered deployable. Confined to stateside service, he was an athlete on the base baseball team. While Joe shared photos of his older brother, he affectionately referred to a photo of Sam during his time in service as his "dogface" photo. The photo was a portrait of Sam sitting on steps in front of an unknown building, looking beyond the camera. No stripes on his sleeves. Just a dogface soldier waiting with the rest of the world for the war to end.
The most sobering moment, for me, during our visit related to the oldest photo that Joe shared from his collection. In it, a working class husband and wife sat with seven of their children. Four boys and three girls. All of the gentlemen wearing hats and the ladies in dresses. Likely wearing their best outfits and posed to capture the moment for eternity (or at least for as long as the photograph survived).
Arguably, there is little context in the photo that helps the observer determine the geographic location. One might surmise it was taken in the United States, England, or Germany, but it was not. While Joe isn't entirely sure where it was taken, he believes it was likely taken in Austria some time around 1915. Although it shows a family of nine, there is one important member of the family not shown. Joe's father. Harry Stern.
Harry Stern emigrated to the United States in 1913 to pursue a different life. His voyage across the Atlantic started at Hamburg, Germany, on 10 Nov 1913 and culminated with his arrival at the port of New York on 21 Nov 1913. While the rest of the family remained in Austria, Harry worked as a neckwear operator and saved money to send home to his family.
As Joe recalled, his father sent $300 home to his family so they could all move to the United States. After the money was sent, Harry received a letter from his family stating they weren't going to make the journey and asked if they could keep the money. That decision would prove to be a costly one. Not costly in terms of dollars. But costly in terms of lives.
Horrifically, Harry's family was decimated under the wretched hand of Adolf Hitler. The oldest of Harry's younger brothers, Leo, was living in Berlin at about the time the genocide began. Living with his wife and two children, he escaped from their home at a time he believed German soldiers coming for him (he did not believe his wife and children were in danger at that time). He survived by evading capture in the woods with another young man. Ironically, this other young man's brother also emigrated to New York and lived less than one block away from Harry (later, Joe would meet this man). When Leo emerged from hiding, he found their youngest brother who informed him of their parents murder. As the atrocities continued, so did the likely murder of Harry's family. Harry and Leo would never see or hear from the rest of their siblings again. Leo would also never see his wife and children again.
As a young Jewish man serving his country to defend our freedoms, Joe confessed that he didn't really think much of the treatment of the Jewish people in Europe. It wasn't that he didn't care, rather, it was that the magnitude of the situation wasn't fully known. He surmised that the Jewish people were likely interned in camps, much like the United States was doing with the Japanese in our country. Regardless, Joe served to the best of his abilities. Continuing to help train future aerial gunners until his time came to transition to the P-47 in preparation to go to the Pacific to support the invasion of Japan. Of course, that opportunity was revoked thanks to Oppenheimer and his colleagues.
Many more memories were shared during our visit this past June. And many memories were made. My flight home on Sunday was an early departure, so we said our goodbyes Saturday night. Walking to my suite at Casa de Stern after our goodbyes that night, I was in a bit of disbelief about what I had experienced over the last three days. A Greenville Flyer welcomed me in his home. He shared some of his most personal experiences. His personal photographs. His life. Above all else, I am just thankful to have spent time with my friend, Joe Stern.
After our many conversations, it's apparent that Joe has been affected by nearly everyone he's known and every experience he's had. He recalls them in remarkable detail, sharing with this interested fellow who contacted him out of the blue just over a year ago. We've talked on the phone since my stay at Casa de Stern. That makes 24 phones calls spanning 21 hours and 44 minutes (for any statisticians that might still be reading). More of Joe's stories will be shared here in due time.
Lt. Col. Roy Lee Scott was born 11 Sep 1914 to David H. and Nellie M. (Barker) Scott in Peru, KS. In high school, he was a standout basketball player and a golden gloves boxer. Following graduation from high school, he spent time serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Later, he attended Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS, where he met his wife of 56 years, Marcia Mary Vaughan. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps on 29 May 1941 at Fort Leavenworth, KS. He earned his wings upon graduation from Advanced Flying Training at Stockton, Field, CA, on 9 Jan 1942. The certificate below was awarded to him upon graduation and documents his instrument flying training in the Link Trainer at Stockton.
After earning his wings, as a 1st Lt he was a student in the first class at the Instrument Instructor's School at Bryan Army Airfield, Bryan, TX, circa May 1943. Additional Greenville AAF instructors attending the five week course with Lt. Scott were Lt's Roy H. Guess, Robert E. Zimonick, John A. Barstow, William J. Plunkett, and Clarence L. Solander.
Upon return to Greenville AAF in 1943, Lt Scott helped organize the Instrument Training School at Greenville. Later in his career, fellow pilot Major Robert E. Zimonick signed a statement attesting to (then) Major Scott's experience and contributions.
In Jul 1943, he was one of 26 Lieutenants at Greenville AAF promoted to the rank of Captain.
During his time at either Bryan Army Airfield or Greenville, Capt Scott stumbled upon a piece of artwork that he acquired. A depiction of an Air Corps pilot immersed in instrument flying. Wearing headphones, he hears the "dit-dah" and "dah-dit" of an A-N radio range navigation system. Focused in his sights are the needle-ball turn and bank indicator and altimeter, the primary instruments used for flying an instrument approach at the time.
On 31 Dec 1945 he was separated from the US Army Air Forces, but returned to active duty during the Korean War with the US Air Force (designated as a separate branch of service under the National Security Act of 1947) under the Air Research and Development Command. At the end of the Korean War he was discharged at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Later in life, Lt. Col. Scott was a frequent writer to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper opinion section. Shortly after Sep 11th (2001), he wrote The Orlando Sentinel to share his thoughts regarding retaliation;
"I know all of us are angry and want to get even, but don't push President Bush to do something in a big hurry that could swamp the whole nation.
President Roosevelt had two years to prepare, and we did not operate with the best efficiency early in the Pacific."
Lt. Col. Roy Lee Scott passed away at the age of 100 on 19 Apr 2015 in New Albany, IN.
I'm taking a different approach with this post. Rather than a formal narrative of facts discovered through research on the web, I'm sharing my experience of making a new friend.
This friendship isn't a typical one, although, I'm not really sure what a typical friendship is. I'm 40 years old. My new friend is 98. I live in Minnesota. He lives in Florida. Despite the fact, we both live near large bodies of water. One fresh and one salty (the water, not us).
We've never actually met face to face. Rather we were connected by chance.
On a beautiful February day earlier this year, I was at a ski resort in Wisconsin watching our youngest son compete in his fifth snowboard competition of the season. While warming up in the chalet, I decided to test the small resorts free WiFi on my phone and see if I could come up with any interesting research results about the Basic Flying School at Greenville, MS.
After a few strategic Google searches, I came across a result that was atypical as compared to the usual results. The article was an interesting mix of Major League Baseball and a WWII pilot, Mr. Joseph Stern.
Why was this article so intriguing to me? As a child, I spent many summers playing Little League baseball. I looked forward to it each summer until I was about 14 years old when I threw in the towel. While I enjoyed the game, I wasn't a stellar player and the game was getting more competitive than I felt I was suited for.
As for aviation, I was surrounded by it as a child. My dad was a corporate pilot for more than 30 years. I was fortunate to have been able to ride "shotgun" a number of times with him on some of his shorter trips, and even a few longer trips to exotic places like Altoona, PA, and tropical places like Naples, FL.
Aviation and baseball merged for me on one particular occasion where my dad "buzzed" the ball field. While I was intently covering right field, he made a low pass in a Cessna Citation (the field just so happened to be "close" to final approach). My maternal grandmother happened to be in the stands at the time and shouted, "Hey Jordan! There goes your dad!" For whatever reason, I was embarrassed. Not embarrassed that my dad buzzed the field. Rather, that grandma was hollering at me from across the field in front of so many strangers.
I went on to spend a short time in the Air Force, then left for a job in the civilian world for a company that manufactures general aviation aircraft. About 6 years ago I became very involved in WWII aviation with the Commemorative Air Force. Needless to say, the article struck a chord with me.
While intently reading the article back at the ski resort, I had completely forgotten about my numb fingers and toes and was enamored with this tale of Joseph Stern and his journey to Army Air Forces wings and serving his country during WWII.
To my surprise, the article had been written relatively recently (2016). I decided to see if I might be able to connect with the author, Mr. Steven Goldleaf, to see if he might be able to shed some light on where I might find this Joseph Stern he wrote of.
I was able to find Mr. Goldleaf's contact info and fired off an email to him from the chalet. Based on my success rate in hearing back from people I've contacted in support of my research, I wasn't too optimistic that I'd hear back from him. Remarkably, I had a reply in my inbox less than 5 minutes later stating that he has "dinner with Joe every Monday night" and he'd have Joe get in touch with me. Needless to say, I went back out on the slopes excited and hopeful.
Later that evening after dinner and retiring to our hotel room, I received an email notification from this websites "Share a Story" form. Shockingly, it was from Joseph Stern himself! His comment was quite straightforward,
"I was an aviation cadet student at Greenville in May & June 1943. I have a logbook with G,A,A,F, entries."
Steven sent a few additional emails with cell phone pictures of a few of Joe's wartime photographs, along with a few pictures of Joe's logbook entries from pilot training. Joe and I also emailed a few more times before finally connecting on the phone.
Our first phone conversation was 41 minutes long. It turns out, that has been one of our shortest conversations. A typical conversation with Joe lasts about an hour. All the while, he openly shares his experiences as a child, as an airman during the war, and life after the war. No holds barred. He frequently concludes his anecdotes with "that's another story". Indeed these are HIS stories that he is so willingly sharing with me in my quest to document his and other Greenville Flyers' experiences.
For being 98 years old, his memory is quite remarkable. While providing the names of many of his classmates, he also recalls their hometown, how their parents made a living, and other memorable experiences they shared together. Although, it turns out that some of his memories require "freshening up".
Without getting into the specifics, I asked Joe about a particular incident that occurred in 1944. Joe chuckled a bit, asked me how I found out about it, and provided a few limited details. Remarkably, he almost immediately recalled it occurred on a Sunday. When I checked the date out, it indeed occurred on a Sunday.
Our conversation turned to other life experiences for the next 25 minutes or so, but he circled back to the incident saying "Let me give you the story of what happened. Now it's coming back to me." He continued to provide me with details of this incident that occurred 76 years ago. While I have no way of knowing if all that he told me was true, it all seemed plausible. Maybe I'll share this incident in some later post, but that's another story.
During the conversation mentioned in the preceding text, Joe also shared with me a loss he suffered shortly after the war. While this loss was not the loss of a person, it was a loss of his past. His life experiences during the war.
While at Stuttgart Army Flying School (AFS), Stuttgart, Arkansas, Joe purchased a "classbook" (much like a high school yearbook) commemorating his pilot training class. Class 43-H. After the war, he returned to Brooklyn and lived in an apartment building with other family. A younger girl cousin found his classbook and decided she wanted to memorialize her hero cousin and clipped the photos of him from the pages of the book. Joe never saw those photos again and discarded the book years later since his photos were no longer included. This was the topic of my recent post, A Request for Help - Stuttgart Class 43-H Classbook.
I made a commitment to Joe to try to find a copy of his long lost classbook. Whether an original hard copy, or digital scan, I would do my best to find it. After reaching out to a number of resources, I made contact with The Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Fortunately, they have a collection of classbooks for many of the classes that earned their wings at Stuttgart AFS. Museum intern Jesse Walsh committed to reviewing their collection to see if they had Class 43-H in their collection. After a week of anxious and impatient waiting, I received the call from Jesse that I was hoping for. She found it. And she found Joe's photos.
cadets sprawled out on the floor looking over a map, with Joe showing the others how to plan a cross country flight (below).
I recently sent Joe a digital copy of the classbook (if not obvious by now, at the age of 98 Joe is a regular user of modern technology). We spoke a few days after I sent it and he kindly thanked me for finding it. After a few exchanges of words of appreciation, he once again shifted to helping me. He frequently asks how he can help with this research. What information he might be able to provide. Who he can recall that was at Greenville with him. After reviewing the classbook, he recalled a gentleman named Warren E. Davis who was also at Greenville. He was sure to share that even after just receiving this piece of his past that he hadn't seen in over 70 years.
While our conversations were initially focused on me quizzing Joe on his wartime experiences, they have changed to us chatting about various aspects of both of our lives. From learning about each others accomplishments. To boasting about our families. Rather than researcher and subject, we are simply friends sharing conversation.
Interestingly, the article that led me to Joe was titled "My Newest Friend". It seems Joe has a knack for making new friends.
While researching these more than 1,100 pilots, I've had the pleasure of connecting with Greenville Flyer Mr. Joseph (Joe) Stern. We've shared a number of phone calls over the last two months. He has demonstrated his recollection of events 75+ years ago is as good or better than most peoples memory of an event that occurred less than a year ago.
During our most recent conversation, Joe shared that his classbook from Advanced Flying Training at Stuttgart Army Flying School met an untimely demise. Growing up in Brooklyn, he returned there after the war. A young cousin lived in an apartment a couple of floors below. She found his classbook and decided she wanted to memorialize her hero cousin and clipped all photos of him from the classbook. Those photos were never returned. With only empty spaces where his photos once graced the pages, he decided the classbook was of no further use and hasn't seen it since.
So far, the "Final Approach" classbook for Class 43-H has eluded me, thus my request for help. If any visitors of Greenville Flyers have information on the location of a physical or digital copy of this classbook, please contact me through the Share a Story page on this site.
Joe celebrated his 98th birthday this week. This would be a wonderful gift to share with him.
Thank you for your consideration.
The generosity of Mr. Goldsticker will help guarantee the contributions of he and his friends are not forgotten. Additional items have been added to his collection of letters and graduation announcements.
The Ralph P. Goldsticker Collection
Once again, the additional items contain correspondence among friends while training for combat during WWII. While all started out in the Aviation Cadet program, some found their way to bombardier or navigator training.
Examples of items that have been recently added;
George Frederick Augustus Perpente was born to George John August Perpente and Victoria Ruth (Wooton) Perpente in New Brunswick, NJ, on 14 Nov 1920. The elder George first met Ruth in France, while serving their country during WWI. George's father was a sergeant in the First Army Corps, ambulance section, while his mother was serving with the Red Cross.
Like many young men at the time he enlisted with the Army Air Corps just one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, enlisting on 17 Jan 1942. His road to wings most likely started with Pre-Flight Training at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, AL. From Maxwell Field, he proceeded to an unknown air field to complete Primary Flying Training.
Advanced Flying Training for George was where his path shifted focus to becoming a fighter pilot. George graduated from Craig Field, Selma, AL, on 10 Nov 1942, earning his wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant. Additional training locations prior to entering combat are unknown, but his training led to him flying the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt".
2nd Lt Perpente was assigned to the 351st Fighter Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group. He soon found himself in Europe flying missions against the Germans. Although he was now half way around the world, squadron mates William Timothy Thistlethwaite and Edgar J. Albert were fellow Greenville Flyers.
On 5 Feb 1944, the 353rd FG was tasked with supporting 180 B-17's whose target was Romilly sur Seine/Villacoublay in northern France. 2nd Lt Albert and 2nd Lt Thistlethwaite were part of White flight during this mission. While inbound to their target, the bombers were attacked by two FW-190's. White and Red flights engaged the enemy aircraft, destroying one. On their return leg, White flight was "bounced" by three Me-109's who had the advantage, attacking from out of the clouds and from the direction of the sun (the position of the sun meant that White flight pilots had to look towards the sun to see the attacking enemy aircraft). Following a short engagement with the enemy aircraft, Lt Albert was unable to be located. He was last seen leveling off at 6,000 ft by his wingman 1st Lt George N. Ahles, but Lt Ahles then continue to pursue the enemy aircraft. Lt Thistlethwaite saw Albert break left (rather than right as the rest of the flight was ordered), but did not see him level off. After the enemy disengaged, White flight tried to regroup to continue back to base. 2nd Lt Edgar J. Albert never made it back to base, having been Killed In Action. George Perpente wrote Lt Albert's wife to share the bad news of her husband not returning from the mission. Lt Albert's fate was confirmed when a telegram was received from the German government confirming his death.
Just over three months later on 12 May 1944, Lt Thistlethwaite suffered a similar fate. While the details are not as well known at the time of this writing, his wife was informed that he was last seen in his life raft in the English Channel surrounded by fishing boats. Whether or not these boats were friendly or enemy is unknown, but he did not survive.
The photograph below shows Lt Perpente, Lt Francis N. King, and Lt Thistlethwaite discussing tactics for a new dive bombing attack mission for their P-47's. It is claimed that Lt. Thistlethwaite conducted the first bomb drop from a P-47 on Germany.
Before and between the losses of fellow Greenville Flyers Albert J. Edgar and William T. Thistlethwaite, George had found himself in situations that were an unfortunate commonality during the war.
In October 1943, George was awarded the Air Medal "for meritorious achievement in aerial missions over European territory." It is likely this award came as a result of a commendation submitted due to his bravery during an engagement with enemy aircraft over Germany. The commendation was submitted by his flight lead Capt Orville A. Kinkade. Capt Kinkade wrote, "I wish to commend my wingman, Lt. Perpente, for the splendid job he did in keeping my tail clear while I was engaging an enemy aircraft. During the time of combat, an M-E 109 managed to get in position to attack me from the rear, but Lt. Perpente, with complete disregard for his personal safety, drove him away."
The details of this mission are unknown, but mission reports suggest this mission occurred on 14 Oct 1943. The task for this mission was to support 1st TF B-17's whose target was Schweinfurt, which was the second mission flown targeting the ball bearing industry there. George was credited with damaging an Me 109 during that mission, which was potentially the aircraft on the tail of his flight lead Capt Kinkade.
On 22 Feb 1944, just two weeks after the loss of Edgar J. Albert, George again found himself in the skies above Europe fighting for his life and for the lives of his squadron mates. Again, the mission was to escort B-17's bound for various targets in Germany. George was flying in the number two position on the wing of triple ace Major Walter C. Beckham. Shortly after rendezvousing with the bombers, the fighters dove to strafe an enemy airfield. Major Beckham's aircraft was hit, likely by small arms fire, forcing him to bail out over enemy territory. George assumed the lead of the flight. From his own statement;
"I was flying Roughman Blue 2 on Major Beckham's wing. After making R/V with the bombers, Roughman White flight went down to strafe an airdrome N.E. of Bonn, Germany. Major Beckham led the second section down to 12,000 ft to give supporting top cover.
I heard him call the Group leader as to whether he should lead his section down for an attack. Getting no reply, he dove down to 8,000 feet, circled the field, and lined up several E/A which were lined up on the field.
He called on the R/T that he had 6 E/A lined up, and that he was going down. He dove straight down at about 500 mph, shooting on the way.
He made a right turn after pulling out of his dive at 50 feet. As he was climbing up he called me, telling me to stay down low. I kept turning with him, staying under him all during the turn.
He called me again telling me to take a course of 310 degrees and take the boys home, because his plane had been hit, evidently by small arms fire, and he would'nt [sic] be able to make it. I saw a slight trail of black smoke coming from the back of his plane, but did not observe any fire. Thinking that there may be a possibility of survival I stayed with him, but he called me again saying: "Go on home now I can't make it, but I'll see you later. I'll have to bail out."
I then made a left turn taking up a course of 310 degrees, at which time I noticed Lt. Peterson had joined me. We flew all the way out of enemy territory on the deck."
Headlines in stateside newspapers were sure to highlight the loss of a triple ace fighter pilot. "U.S. Aces Goes Down in Flames" read the The Racine Journal Times of Racine, WI. While he did not perish, Beckham was captured and was interned at Stalag Luft III for the remainder of the war.
While the headlines regarding Beckham were highlighting his loss, other headlines were commending Perpente's role in returning the flight safely to base. "George Brings the Boys Home As Flying Ace Is Shot Down" read the front page of George's hometown newspaper, The Daily Home News (New Brunswick, NJ).
Above: "Lt. Perpente and his ground crew pose beside their Republic P-47 "Fran" of the 351st Fighter Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group, somewhere in England" (National Archives photo no. 342-FH-3A12303-68920AC)
George married Frances Rosamond Paul in May 1943, who was (presumably) the namesake of his P-47. Tragically, George was beaten to death at his place of business in Hollywood, FL, in Feb 1984. He was 62 years old at the time of his death.
1st Lt Ralph Phillip Goldsticker served as a bombardier and navigator on B-17's with the 728th Bomb Squadron, 452nd Bomb Group, completing 35 missions over Europe, including two on D-day. In November 2018, he was featured in the following video for the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight that was aired at a St. Louis Blues NHL hockey game.
Mr. Goldsticker recently contacted me regarding pilots he knew who trained at Greenville. In conversation I learned that he himself had been in the Aviation Cadet program, prior to his path to become a bombardier. He attended Primary Flying Training at Darr-Aero Tech, Albany, GA, where he was roommates with the Greenville Flyers he was informing me of.
During our conversation, Mr. Goldsticker stated he had letters from "Tom Grimes" and "D. M. Guthrie" on Greenville Army Flying School letterhead. Unexpectedly, he offered to donate these letters to this project. These letters are available to view at the following link;
The Ralph P. Goldsticker Collection
A few examples from the collection;
These letters offer a unique perspective into the lives of twenty'ish year old young men training to fight in the war. In addition to commentary regarding their initial impressions of the mighty Vultee BT-13 trainer they were transitioning into, a look at their daily lives is provided as well; from living accommodations, to the quality of food, to the distracting temptations many young men face.
Expect posts in the future regarding Mr. Thomas R. Grimes and Mr. Donovan M. Guthrie. Mr. Goldsticker's generosity in helping preserve his and their stories is truly appreciated.
While most Greenville Flyers came from afar, John Whittle Massey Jr was a local Greenvillian. Born to John Whittle and Mary Jane (Moore) Massey on 30 Mar 1923. In high school, Massey was a standout football player for the Greenville Hornets.
Then ready for combat, Massey was assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group. At the time, the 4th Fighter Squadron was flying the Supermarine Spitfire (the 4th FS transitioned to the P-51 Mustang in spring of 1944).
On 19 Dec 1943, "Clatter Yellow" flight departed Calvi, Corsica, f0r a patrol mission. The flight was comprised of six Spitfire aircraft, including Massey's Spitfire LZ820. Weather at the time was overcast, which the flight was flying above longer than planned. Due to their inability to orientate themselves, the flight was running dangerously low on fuel. Massey and two wingmen, 1st Lt Leonard V. Helton and 2nd Lt Jerome Ennis, opted to make forced landings since they were unable to locate a suitable airfield prior to running out of gas.
Massey, along with many other POW's, were liberated from from the camp near the Baltic Sea on 30 Apr 1945 by advancing Russian troops.
After returning to the states, Massey wed Miss Anne Marie Leverette in 1952 and so began their family, raising four children. He and Anne ran the Main Street Package Store (also known as Main Street Liquors) in Greenville, MS, for many years. John also spent time working in the insurance industry. At the age of 80 years old, John Whittle Massey Jr. passed away in 2004.
My research has not focused solely on the men and women who flew at Greenville, rather has also included determination of specific markings on the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing BT-13. The video update below was an interview recently conducted at the MN Wing hangar while work on the aircraft is focusing on finishing details such as the myriad of stencils applied to the exterior of the airplane.
Aviation Cadet William Ferguson Smith completed basic flying training at Greenville Army Flying School. He was a part of class 44C, flight 8A at Greenville. Prior to Greenville, Cadet Smith completed Primary Flying Training at the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, MS. With the holidays approaching in early December 1943, he sent this card from Greenville to his former instructors at Jackson, Mr. Larry Phillips and Mr. Paul Phillips.
Surviving family of Captain Smith was located and this card was recently sent to them to enjoy this holiday season. Little is known regarding specifics of Captain Smith's service during WWII, other than he was a pilot in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Following the war he married Joyce Rosemary Beauchamp, also a veteran of the war having served as a nurse in the United States Navy achieving the rank of ensign.
More will be shared here if additional information is received regarding his service.