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.
Greenville Flyers came to Mississippi from across the country. Some came from as far as across the Atlantic, as was the case for RAF Flight Officers serving as instructors. For Americans serving in the war, Hawaii was the furthest and most isolated location from Greenville. That didn't prevent George W. S. Lee from finding his way to Greenville, MS, on his road to wings.
George Wah Sun Lee, a native of Honolulu, HI, and of Chinese descent, moved to Dayton, OH, in 1937 to attend the University of Dayton to study mechanical engineering. He graduated in 1941 with honors and had been a member of the Pershing Rifles. After graduation and prior to acceptance into the Army Air Corps, he spent time working at the Moore Flying Service in Vandalia, OH.
Following acceptance into the Aviation Cadet program, Lee completed Primary Flying Training and was sent to Greenville Army Flying School. Below, Lee is shown climbing into a BT-13A (s/n 41-10413) at Greenville.
Following completion of Basic Flying Training at Greenville, Lee attended Advanced Single-Engine Flying Training at Craig Field, Selma, AL. He graduated with his wings on 6 Sep 1942.
A short time later, Lee found himself in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater flying the venerable Curtiss P-40. Over the course of 62 missions in the CBI, Lee downed three Japanese aircraft and was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. The Silver Star was awarded for downing two Zeros in one day. Although he scored two kills that day, it was not without sacrifice. The engagement left him with a bullet in the leg and his P-40 was hit in the engine, forcing him to bail out.
In Lee's own words regarding that encounter (as recounted in the 12 Aug 1944 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin):
"I couldn't get any speed out of my plane, and they (the Zeros) riddled my tail assembly, got a few more 50 calibers into my engine, and put a slug into my leg.
I wasn't going to let them shoot me down like a sitting duck, so I turned, attacked them head on and sent another son of heaven to his glory."
Lee was forced to bail out of his stricken plane. His story continued:
"Some Chinese farmers saw me come down and came over to help me. It wasn't until one of them pointed to the blood on my clothes that I realized I had been hit. With their help, I picked out the slug that was still in my leg.
Also with their aid I made it back to my base in 11 days and was soon fit to go after the Jap again."
Following his service in the Pacific, Capt. Lee was assigned as the Assistant Flight Line Maintenance Officer at Richmond Army Air Base, Richmond, VA. At the time of this writing, his exact whereabouts and fate following this assignment are unknown. Some newspaper legal notices suggest he may have died in 1947, while other inconclusive genealogical sources suggest he may still be alive.
If you have any information regarding Mr. George Wah Sun Lee, please share his story here.
A recent milestone was accomplished for this project. One thousand Greenville Flyers have been identified. Pilots from across the country and across the oceans. From California to Maine and Washington to Florida, the lower 48 are well represented. A Flyer from Hawaii represents the Pacific, while Flyers from England cover the Atlantic.
Although one thousand Flyers is the result of hundreds of hours of research, this group represents less than 10% of the Flyers that called Greenville "home" for some period of time. Considering students alone, 10,155 aviation cadets and student officers were enrolled in Basic Flying Training at Greenville from the first class of 19 Dec 1941 (Class 42-D) to 31 Dec 1944 (Class 45-C). Of those 10,155 who were enrolled, 8,788 students graduated Basic Flying Training at Greenville Army Flying School. Those who did not graduate were either eliminated from training or were killed in training accidents.
While Greenville is typically associated with "conventional" Basic Flying Training during WWII, lesser known is its participation in an evaluation of a twin-engine Basic Flying Training program in 1944. This form of Basic Flying Training moved students from Primary Flying Training directly to twin-engined aircraft in a Basic Flying Training format. This training did NOT replace twin-engine Advanced Flying Training. Students received the same amount of flying hours in the twin-engine trainers as their counterparts did in the single-engine basic trainers.
The most common twin-engine trainer at Greenville was the Cessna AT-17/UC-78. In addition, a number of Beechcraft AT-10 twin-engine aircraft were also flown at Greenville.
During 1944, 419 students were enrolled in the twin-engine Basic Flying Training program, with 385 graduated.
Above: Four WASP pilots in front of a Cessna UC-78 Bobcat aircraft at Greenville AAF, Greenville, Mississippi, United States, Aug 1944. Deanie Bishop on the wing with Joan C Hutton, Emily Porter, and Phyllis M Johnson.
Photo courtesy of World War II Database ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=24186
As shown in the image above, Greenville was also home to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). A total of 19 women have been identified as having been assigned to Greenville. Sources include the Texas Woman's University WASP collection, as well as the Greenville Army Air Field base histories acquired from the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, AL.
The final major group of Greenville Flyers is the instructors who trained the student pilots at Greenville. Currently, the total number of instructors who served at Greenville is unknown, but 99 have been identified thus far. The instructor cadre included Royal Air Force pilots from England, some having perished during training accidents at Greenville.
Based on those figures, there were no less than 10,692 Greenville Flyers. The actual number is likely higher due to the currently unknown number of total instructors and other flying staff. Individuals can assist with identifying Greenville Flyers by submitting information through the Share A Story form.