About 25 years ago, I attended a Fighter Symposium hosted and mediated by Jeffery Ethell, the well-known aviation expert and author. As I recall, the panel was conducted in a waterfront hotel in Hampton, Virginia, in the winter of 1993, and was comprised of four or five aviators of WWII vintage and the younger Ethell.
Sadly, I took no notes and have only partial recall of the stories. I remember one was a naval aviator that was a TBM pilot in a torpedo bomber squadron in the Pacific theater. His discussion about low-level attacks on Japanese shipping and warships was riveting.
Another was an Army Air Corps fighter pilot recruited to join Chenault’s American Volunteer Group (AVG), who had been at Andrews Air Base when senior Chinese generals were given a display of American airmen and their aircraft. At the end of the demonstration flights, several of the Chinese generals gathered with their American military and diplomatic hosts and expressed their strong desire for a number of aircraft. According to our speaker, Chenault broke out of the group of Americans and brought forward an American pilot and spoke boldly, “General, this is what you need, American pilots!” and, as they say, the rest is history.
Another officer related the events of a crash landing he made while flying in the AVG, and how a young Chinese boy helped pull him out of the wreckage and hauled him to safety for medical treatment. He also noted how, much later when he was back in the US and involved in the aerospace industry, he was on a visit to a West Coast aircraft manufacturer. During the visit, a young Chinese engineer approached him and told him he recognized him from the incident just described, and informed him he was that young boy, grown and with a PhD from an American university and now working on the project under review — the small world revalidated.
There was one vignette I remember vividly. The closing speaker was Lt Col James “Goody” Goodson, one of the America Eagle volunteers who served in the Royal Air Force, eventually transferring to what became the Fourth Fighter Group, where he became the commander of the 336 Fighter Squadron (I had corresponded with Lt Col Goodson when I was the squadron commander of the 336th – he had written a very interesting letter about his experiences and his friendship with “Pips” Priller, a Luftwaffe ace after the war – and was attending the Symposium to meet him in person). Goodson was a very accomplished, highly decorated fighter pilot, achieving double digit kills in the air and on the ground (he was sometimes known as the “King of Strafe”). He was recognized in Ethell’s book, Escort to Berlin and also gave a very interesting account of his wartime flying in his own publication, Tumult in the Clouds.
Goodson gave a recap of his time in both the RAF and Army Air Corps and offered some specific examples of his aerial combat in the skies over Europe. He opened the floor for questions and a nice discussion followed. As Ethell was closing the meeting, one man stood up, expressing a need to address Col Goodson. He was a smallish, well-dressed older gentleman, accompanied by a lady in a long mink coat. He was recognized by the moderator, and stood to attention and stated his name, rank and serial number – he was a lieutenant but sadly I don’t remember his full name.
He followed in a very assertive tone, “Colonel Goodson, I have one thing I’ve wanted to say to you since 1944.”
There was a pause – a very silent one. He followed with, “Because of you, I had three letters associated with my name – POW. Otherwise it would have been KIA. Thank you, sir, for shooting that Jerry off my tail.”
Another pause. Goodson replied, “Jim, for God’s sake, is that you?”
Following was an amazing exchange between two aviator comrades in arms, delayed for over 40 years. Closure!