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.
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