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Major General Richard C. “Dick” Catledge - Pilot

71st Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group

United States Air Force Thunderbird #1

A Distinguished Veteran

Richard C. “Dick” Catledge was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.  He moved back to Oklahoma during his high school years, where he won the state diving championship.  He next moved to the Southern California area and attended Compton Junior College, where he won the Southern California junior college diving championship.  “In 1947, (1st Lt.), I won the National Air Force 3 meter and 1 meter springboard diving championship.  That qualified me for the Olympic trials held that year at Tyler, Texas.  I went there, but couldn’t compete because they had changed all the compulsory dives, and had changed the rules on the optional dives because it was the Olympic trials.  I was not prepared for the changes.”  His training in swimming and diving would one day play a vital role in saving his life off the coast of Italy after ditching in the Mediterranean Sea.
dick catledge, diving champion.
In March, 1942, he entered the United States Army Air Corps, and received his commission and pilot’s wings in March, 1943.  In May, 1943, he was assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, flying the P-38 Lightning (specifications).  He flew 23 combat missions, and was shot down on August 28, 1943.  “I made two escapes from prison when captured after being shot down in 1943.  I was a prisoner for one week and did a Hollywood type escape.  Was caught after a few hours and back in prison.  I escaped one week later and then evaded in the mountains/hills of Italy for 9 months”.  After escaping and returning to allied territory, he was sent back to the United States and was an instructor pilot in the T-6, P-47, and P-51.
the original thunderbird team.
L-R:  A. D. Brown – Spare pilot, Bill Pattillo – Right Wing, Dick Catledge – Leader,
Buck Pattillo – Left Wing, Robert McCormick – Slot
“I’ve attached a photograph of me doing a back flip off the fender of a motorcycle.  This was in 1941.  In addition to the diving stuff I was, and am, a motorcyclist.  I have a beautiful Honda Gold Wing 1500cc.  The motorcycle and diving photos are to emphasize that I was into ‘acrobatics’ long before I did it in a jet”. 
backflip from a motorcyle.
During the summer of 1950, he was sent to the 57th Fighter Group in Alaska to fly the P-80, and in 1951, converted to the F-94B.  In 1951, he was promoted to Major and became the Commanding Officer of the 66th Fighter Squadron.  He was sent to the Air Command and Staff College, and after graduating in 1952, he was sent to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.  “I was assigned to Luke in the summer of 1952.  Luke was in the business of training pilots in the F-84 for Korea.  I was a Combat Crew Training Squadron Commander until May of 1953.  Luke was given a directive to form a ‘dedicated’ Air Demonstration for the USAF in May, 1953 and I was selected to organize the Team.  I have that chapter in my Memoirs – ‘Luke and the Thunderbirds’” (Thunderbirds are featured in "Teamwork at its Finest").  After his tour of duty with the Thunderbirds, he was sent to Randolph Air Force Base in the fall of 1954 to become the Director of Inspections at Headquarters Crew Training Air Force.  In 1956, he became the Commanding Officer of the 9th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Komaki Air Base, Japan, and then became the Chief, Tactical Evaluation Branch at Headquarters Fifth Air Force.  In 1959, he was assigned to the Navy War College, and after graduation, was stationed at Headquarters United States Air Force in the Directorate of Operations.  He played a major roll in convincing the leadership in the Air Force that the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II needed to be equipped with a gun.  This lead first to the installation of the gun pod, and later an internal gun, which was first introduced in the F-4E model.
f-84g thunderbirds in formation.
Having been promoted to the rank of Colonel, he was assigned in the summer of 1964 to the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing, Hahn Air Base, Germany, where, as the Director of Operations, he flew the F-100 Super Sabre.  He later was transferred to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, where he flew 141 combat missions and served as the wing’s commanding officer.  He returned to the United States in 1967 and was assigned as Commander of the 4510th Combat Crew Training Wing at Luke Air Force Base.  He was promoted to Brigadier General, and in July, 1969, was assigned to Headquarters Tactical Air Command as Inspector General.  He was promoted to Major General and became the Commanding Officer of the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.  He retired from active duty in 1973.
dick catledge and his gold wing motorcycle.
Medals and Awards
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart (1943), and the Air Medal with many oak leaf clusters.
The following are excerpts from an article written by General Catledge (used with permission).
Never Leave the Bombers
“By the time I arrived at Mateur the Germans had been driven out of Africa, and had consolidated their forces in Sicily.  My first three combat missions were to Sicily, bombing and strafing, in support of the invasion.  After that, with the exception of one, all my missions were to Italy.  The missions to Italy were tough!  The primary task of our Group was to provide fighter support for B-26 bombers (medium altitude).  There were three P-38 Groups operating in North Africa, the 14th Fighter Group, the 82nd, and ours.  The P-38 was the only allied aircraft with sufficient range to make the round trip from Africa to Italy.  The 14th provided fighter support for the B-17 bombers (high altitude), and the 82nd provided fighter support for the B-25 bombers (medium altitude).  The B-24 Groups had no fighter support.  From the day of our arrival at the First Group, it was impressed upon us that on bomber escort missions our duty was to protect the bombers, and never, never leave the bombers no matter what!  That was OK, because without protective fighter coverage the bombers would have been annihilated by the German and Italian fighters.  Still, it was frustrating to have enemy fighters make a firing pass at us, or the bombers, and then dive away safely, and we couldn’t give chase!  The P-38 had machine guns, and a 20mm cannon; all were in the nose of the gondola, and all fired straight ahead.  The enemy fighters were very much afraid to see the nose of a P-38 coming in their direction because of the awesome firepower, and in many cases, this was our salvation.  Often, all a P-38 pilot had to do was start a turn toward an incoming fighter, and he would break off the attack.”
A Very Good Day!
“On 25 August our Group rendezvoused with the other two P-38 Groups at a point over the water just north of Sicily.  We all were flying at minimum altitude over the water.  We proceeded at minimum altitude, with Groups in trail, and crossed the Italian peninsula down south, around the ankle of the so-called Boot.  We all had dropped our external fuel tanks before crossing the coast of Italy.  As we skimmed over the hills, and fields, there were people working in the fields, and they all stopped, looked up, and waved.  I’m sure they didn’t know we were U.S. aircraft.  We crossed over Italy and flew over the Adriatic Sea.  As soon as we crossed the coast we turned parallel with, and just off, the Adriatic Coast of Italy, and headed north, still in trail.  Colonel George McNichols, Commander of the 82nd Group, was leading this entire effort.  Our Group Commander, Colonel Garman Mediterranean, didn’t make the mission.  As we flew up the coast, we flew over many small boats and a few small ships.  Every P-38 pilot that passed near them fired at those that fired at us.  At a pre-determined point, Colonel McNichols gave the signals for all P-38s to make a 90-degree turn in place.  This maneuver now had us all line abreast as we crossed the coast, and were immediately over the enemy airfields.  This raid was against all the German satellite airfields around Foggia, Italy, with several hundred German aircraft on the airfields.  WE HAD A FIELD DAY!  Aircraft, hangers, equipment, and people were all over the place.  We’re at tree top level, and had managed complete surprise.  I fired at so many aircraft, and things on the ground that I ran out of ammo.  We were briefed to make only one pass, and to continue on across Italy at low level and return to Africa.  I later learned that our three P-38 Groups had a confirmed total of 150 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground! A very good day!”
'Dick' Catledge is one of our Rogue's Gallery members.
(Thanks are due Dick for photos and stories)
Thunderbird 50th Anniversary Commemorative Covers
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