Photo by Frederick
Buck Pattillo (left) and twin brother Bill served together
throughout the war.
August 2, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- Buck and Bill Pattillo served together throughout World War II,
thanks to the alphabet. The twin brothers took the flying cadet entrance
examination on the same date. They were called up together.
Before joining the Army Air Forces, the
civilian Pattillo twins occasionally played identity tricks on people. “When
we were growing up we used to switch girlfriends,” Buck says. Or is it
Their inseparability in the military “just
sort of happened, being together on the alphabetical list,” Buck said.
When the list was parceled out for training, both Pattillo brothers were
shipped off to primary in PT-17s, followed by basic in BT-13 monoplanes,
and advanced in AT-6s. Bill said they never saw any class rankings during
flight training, so the twins didn’t know who was doing better. “I
thought I was the best there was,” Buck says.
Both received orders to the 352nd Fighter
Group of the Eighth Air Force— the big show. Bill recalls sweating it
out that the Army Air Forces would separate them. Following the loss of
several Sullivan brothers on one ship, the military opted to separate
siblings. The AAF did—in a way. Buck flew with the 486th Fighter
Squadron, and Bill with the 487th, both in the same fighter group.
And they got P-51 Mustangs at the 352nd’s
base at Bodney. With the noses of the Group’s P-51s painted blue for
identification purposes, the unit became known as the “blue-nosed
bastards of Bodney,” Bill says.
Bill swapped bullets with the dwindling
Luftwaffe in 1945. “I happened to tangle up with the Me-262, the jet,”
he explains. “We had all these jets come busting through the B-17s.”
The fast cannon-firing Me-262s dropped three B-17 Flying Fortresses on one
pass, Bill remembers. Swiveling his head like a floating compass in a
steep turn, Bill caught sight of about five of the German jets and called
one out as a tally-ho target for him.
Something did not appear right with the jet.
It should have been able to outrun the piston-engine Mustang. “When I
got up close enough, he started turning,” Bill explains. This gave
fighter pilot Bill the chance to cut his adversary off in the turn and get
Buck’s forays were more about airto- ground
combat as he shot up targets of opportunity in Germany when the Luftwaffe
did not come up to fight. Buck and Bill were both behind their Merlin
engines on a ground attack after escorting bombers on April 16, 1945. The
Mustangs split into specific tasks, with an initial cadre strafing an
airfield while a higher batch watched where German antiaircraft fire was
originating against the strafers. The flak busters then went after the
guns to silence them. Later, all the Mustangs joined in a pattern around
the airfield, shooting it up.
Bill finished a pass on the flak guns to
enable brother Buck and his compatriots to attack the airfield. Bill
joined the attack, and was on his final pass.
And it really was his final pass—“When I
pulled off, the engine was vibrating and the paint was starting to peel.”
Bill’s bluenosed bastard was on fire.
Buck heard brother Bill’s radio distress
call saying he had been hit. The liquid-cooled Merlin quickly became a
boat anchor as the coolant escaped through a bullet hole. The peril of
treetop strafing was its lack of elbowroom for bailing out of a stricken
airplane. “I was trying to gain some altitude,” Bill remembers. At
about 800 feet, he released the canopy, pulled off his restraining
harness, and attempted to leave the burning Mustang. Looking down, Bill
quickly assessed: “I’m too damn low.” Without his seat belt and
shoulder harness, he quickly sat down and pondered his fate as altitude
gave way to trees and more trees.
Bill managed to clear the treetops just in
time to plop his stricken Mustang into a cleared and plowed farm field
that providentially appeared. “That was my savior,” he says. He
scrambled out of the burning fighter, saving himself from one peril after
another. Until he noticed “the Germans were right there.” German
infantry interrogated him, and put him in a tent camp with other
prisoners. Near Nuremburg, Bill and his fellow prisoners were marched west
as the Soviets closed in from the east. Encountering U.S. tanks, the
prisoners were freed as the German troops dispersed.
Buck and Bill mustered out of the service at
war’s end, but petitioned to rejoin as the cold war menaced. They were
assigned together, first in P-51s and then F-80 and F-84 fighters in
Germany. In 1949 while flying F-80 jets in Germany, Buck and Bill were
part of a jet demonstration team called the Skyblazers.
Returning to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in
the 1950s, the twins’ expertise in jet aerobatics enabled them to help
create the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jet demonstration team, Buck says
with evident pride.
Buck and Bill Pattillo have been pals their
entire lives, living near each other and their children. This is their
first foray together to Oshkosh. Bill sums up the experience for the two
of them: “Whooee—I’m smothered in awe!”
The brothers both took jump-seat rides Friday
in a pair of P-51 Mustangs restored to represent their specific fighters
from World War II, Buck relates.
Or is it Bill...