Dinner with 'Don Bryan, Mustang Ace'
During my aviation art career, I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience many special events, including flying in an F-14D Tomcat, meeting with the Blue Angels, and landing aboard two aircraft carriers. From August to November, 2002, I had the privilege of meeting and spending time with each veteran who signed the limited edition lithograph Full House Aces High. Each one of them is a great American. One of these special veterans is Donald Bryan, who flew from his home in Georgia to San Diego, in order to sign the lithographs. On October 12, 2002, after we set up shop, Donald began to sign the lithographs and share with us his experiences as a young man flying the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang. That evening, two special friends, Steve Mortenson and Fran Adams, and I had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with Donald Bryan, and listen to him talk about topics ranging from becoming an ace, to duck hunting, growing up on the farm, and visiting his grandchildren. Besides the topics discussed in his biography, below are a few more of his experiences with the 352nd Fighter Group. It was an evening Steve, Fran and I will never forget.
B-17s flew real tight formations, especially in 1943, but in 1944 and 1945, they loosened up a little bit. On one mission over Berlin, I saw two blocks of B-17s making their run to the target, and they both arrived at bombs away at the same time. The problem was they were coming from different directions, and as they converged, B-17s were pulling up, going every which way, with bombs going everywhere, and not one bomber was lost. On a mission in late 43, I looked back over my shoulder to check for enemy fighters, and when I looked forward, I found myself flying at a 45-degree angle, right through the B-17 formation. Talk about stupid leading. Fortunately, they didnt fire a shot at me, in fact, I never had a B-17 fire at me, but I did have B-24s fire at me a couple of times. After that, we always kept our distance when escorting B-24s. I saw several German ME-262 attacks on bomber formations. There wasnt much we could do to stop them. They were just too fast. About the only time we could get them was if they tried to fight us. The ones I saw attack the bombers must have been real good shots. I never saw one go through a formation without taking two bombers out.
|Those Darn Aces|
When we were training in P-47s in the States, the 328th was assigned to Mitchell Field on Long Island, New York. In May, 1943, my wingman and I were flying at high altitude when I called him on the radio to inform him his plane was on fire. He replied that my P-47 was also on fire. It turns out our planes were putting out condensation trails, and I think we were the first ones to put contrails over New York City. We probably shook up a lot of people. We would call the 487th, which was stationed down the coast, and the 328th routinely challenged them to a friendly dogfight. During one of these training missions, I got in a dogfight with George Preddy. When we would press our gun trigger, the gun camera would start recording, and we were able to later view the films and see who won. Well, George forgot to turn off the gun switch, so when he fired, bullets came at my plane. He missed me. I was pissed. I sure am glad he wasnt as good a shot then as he was later. George was shot down and killed by friendly flak on December 25, 1944. I also remember a funny thing happening to me when visiting one of the 487th Aces after the war. I was in the john, and I came out only to find a skunk standing right in front of me, face to face. He was thumping his legs at me and I just about crapped in my pants! What I didnt know at the time was the skunk was a pet that belonged to Sanford Moats. Sandy let the darn thing loose in order to scare me to death!
|The Time Bomb|
We referred to the P-38 as the Allison Time Bomb, because they were powered by Allison engines, which were not very reliable. On one particular mission, my section was assigned to escort four P-38s on a photo recon mission. When we met at the rendezvous point, only three P-38s showed up, the fourth having to abort due to mechanical problems. After penetration, another P-38 had to abort due to mechanical problems, so I sent the 2nd flight to escort him back to base. Later in the mission another P-38 aborted, again due to mechanical problems, so I sent my element back with him. That left two of us to escort the lone P-38 on the mission. I sure am glad we had Merlins in the 51s. The P-38 just didnt hack it in Europe.
|A Bridge too Far|
I flew only one mission with Bill Whisner (he was a pilot in the 487th FS), one of only a very few pilots that were Aces in two wars, World War II and Korea. The Germans, Koreans, and the Chinese couldnt kill him, but a wasp did). The mission was known as The Holland Drop, which the movie A Bridge Too Far was based on. It was a maximum effort mission, and to my surprise, when I walked into Ops, I saw I was not scheduled to fly, as each plane had already been assigned a pilot. I marched out to my P-51 only to discover my crew chief wouldnt release the plane to me because it was scheduled for a 100-hour inspection. You see, my crew chief owned the plane, I only borrowed it. I was told if there were any war weary planes available, I could fly one of them. We had two available in the 328th, so I called over to the 487th, and to my surprise, discovered Whisner wasnt flying the mission either. He had a war weary Mustang available, and after contacting the 486th, we had four planes ready to go, even though we had no assigned mission. Over Holland we began looking for targets of opportunity. I saw a C-47 get hit by flak, and for some reason, the two gliders it was towing didnt release the tow cables. All three went down. We started hunting for the flak guns, but couldnt find them. Soon, another C-47 was hit by flak, and again, it went in along with the two gliders it was towing. Why didnt they release? There must have been at least 30 men in those planes. We still couldnt find the triple A site, so I flew with the sun at my back and very low, and continued to search the ground for those guns. Wouldnt you know it, another C-47 was hit by flak, and again, the two gliders went in with it, but this time I saw the gun flash on the ground. The four of us went in, worked the place over, and we chewed the hell out of them. We took out the guns, the trucks, everything. It was the only time I ever fired my guns in anger.
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