1st Piggy Back

Discussion in 'Stories' started by drgondog, Jul 17, 2009.

  1. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    #1 drgondog, Jul 17, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2009
    It looks like it will have to be several sequential posts. PLEASE DO NOT REPRODUCE - This is part of my new book 'Our Might Always - Volume I"

    Part 1
    APPENDIX K

    THE FIRST PIGGY BACK RESCUE

    By

    Colonel Royce Priest USAF (retired) in a letter to Bill Marshall dated December 2002

    Dear Bill - I first came to the 355th Fighter Group after a combination of fortuitous circumstances, some of which have a bearing on this story.

    I ran away from school before I graduated, and lied about my age to enlist in the Army Air Corps. I wanted to fly more than anything else in the world but pilots weren’t being accepted into the Air Corps unless they had at least a couple of years in college. I couldn’t afford college and my current employer (United States Army) didn’t see anything extraordinary in a wet behind the ears enlisted man to cause them to break the rules and send me to flight school. But I had a dream. My first Sergeant and my CO took a liking to me and let me know that United States Military Academy took one or two qualified enlisted men from the ranks based on passing the Entrance Exam – and informed me they would help me prep for it.

    Two years and two failures later, I took the exam one more time and volunteered for Glider School, thinking it would bring me one step closer to my dream. At the time I was a Non Commissioned Officer. I graduated from Glider School at the top of my class, and learned at the same time that the Army had enough and probably would not form another squadron or fill replacements any time soon. My Colonel at the school asked “Would you be interested in going to Flight School as a Pilot Candidate?”. What a question!

    I had just graduated, been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Class of 43-J at Craig Field, Alabama, when another piece of good news came my way. I had just been accepted to West Point as a cadet! I looked at the Gold Wings, looked at the appointment and realized that the Gold Wings outweighed the Point.! Maybe, someday..

    I went to advanced Fighter Training and then on to Steeple Morden, England and the Mighty Eighth. I was assigned to the 355th Fighter Group, 354FS, on June 2nd or 3rd a day before your father, Captain Bert Marshall, Jr.

    Bert was my personal hero from his days as a star quarterback with the Greenville Lions, and the only quarterback in Texas to ever make All State three years in a row (I suspect you know this). I even followed his career when he went to Vanderbilt. That record holds to this day. Now here I was with this kind, gentle warrior as my leader!

    Anyway, it was obvious that Bert Marshall brought a lot of talent and charisma to the 354th.He also brought a lot of experience, having logged over 2200 single engine time while stuck in Training Command.

    As a new fighter pilot he shot his first German down on his second total mission, on D-Day, then shot down two more two weeks later, saving two of our own pilots from being shot down. He became Squadron Ops officer before the end of the month, bypassing many seasoned combat veterans in the squadron. Nobody was displeased – it was the nature of the man he was, that enlisted men and officers alike had a deep affection and respect for him.

    By the time August 18th rolled around, Captain Bert Marshall had become Major Bert Marshall, and 354 Fighter Squadron Commander and an ace fighter pilot. He was already getting a well deserved reputation for not matching wheels down landings with take-offs. He had already bellied two Mustangs in with severe damage, the last one just a couple of days before.

    As a side foot note, he would bend two more (with German help) before I rotated home. I was flying his wing on one of the times just before the end of his first tour…and I heard he had another during his second tour. Getting shot up so badly you have to crash land the airplane worries most people when it happens ONCE!

    The mission on The Day was a low level Fighter Sweep to attack German rail and marshalling yard targets northeast of Paris in the Soissons area. Our job was to disrupt the flow of men and supplies to the front and raise as much hell as we could.

    I was in Red Flight of the 354th Squadron with Bert as the Squadron Commander and overall mission commander for the 355th . I was flying number three with Woolard was my wingman and Wood was Bert’s wingman as number two.

    It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when we arrived at our primary target, a large marshalling yard at Soissons, loaded with targets. It was loaded, but quite a few of the rail cars had red crosses on the roof so Bert took us further east to see what we could find, just following the tracks.
     
  2. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    Pretty shortly we came upon another rather large concentration. I can’t recall for sure but I think it was near St. Etienne, maybe 20 miles further east. Standard operating procedure for us in a situation like this was for the leader to dispatch a flight for a closer look – but not Bert, he designated himself and told the rest of the group to orbit out of range while we checked it (flak defenses) out.

    As we made our first pass on the rail traffic my particular target car and locomotive dropped side doors and we were staring at very ugly 20mm and 40mm snouts. I saw a flash to one side and looked over towards Bert’s ship.

    Bert took one hit under the exhaust stack and a big hit behind the radiator scoop, apparently just missing the fuselage fuel tank, because he didn’t blow up… but he was burning and smoking heavily and I knew for sure that P-51 wouldn’t come home.

    I called the damage in to him and heard him disgustedly tell us to wave off while he looked for a place to belly it in. I got back on the radio and suggested that he head for a field about a mile away and I would land nearby to pick him up. He told me in very clear and concise language that I was to take the squadron and get the hell out of there.

    While I observed Bert’s Mustang limping away, still badly smoking I could see his prop rpm slow even further and knew it was just a matter of minutes or most before he went in. As he flared out over a plowed field by a tree lined road, I told Woolard that I was going to land in a wheat field next to Bert. Bert heard the R/T traffic and immediately and profanely told me ‘to NOT land nearby – and that is a Direct Order!”. There were a few more adjectives that I can’t remember, but I did understand what he said..

    Using some observational skills that I learned as a glider pilot trainee (see, I told you it was important) I could see the plowed field was too soft but the wheat field about 600-800 yards away was big enough. I made one pass length wise to size the field up for a possible landing.

    It was a large wheat field about half a mile away from Bert's crash., which was occupied and being worked by a number of people, along with a team and wagon and some pieces of heavy equipment. Much of the field was still uncut, waist high wheat, and most of the remainder consisted of shocked wheat bundles sitting in geometrically precise rows, but in one corner there was a small cleared area where men with pitch forks were loading shocks onto the wagon. I reasoned if I could full stall the airplane into that small clearing and then keep it aimed between two rows of shocks, along with fair braking action, the combined effect would not only get me down safely, it would also clear a runway for takeoff

    As I passed overhead I could see Bert had gotten out and was tossing a thermite grenade into his Mustang to finish it off.

    I waggled my wings in the direction of the field and proceeded to set up for the tight landing, noticing that he was shedding equipment and then started to run in my direction when he saw what I was doing. The farmers scattered as I made my final approach.

    Just before I brought it down I thought I could see Bert about a quarter mile away coming my way.

    The landing worked out fine. With full flaps, minimum airspeed, nose high, and power on, the airplane was sort of hanging on its propeller as it came over the field boundary. As I eased power all the way back, while holding the nose up, the Mustang gently whomped down and went clattering off between the neatly stacked rows of wheat shocks. In fact, natures arresting gear was so effective that I decided to lengthen my "runway" a little before turning back to look for Bert. I could now see that a haystack I had all but ignored in the air was somewhat larger than I had perceived it to be and, indeed, could in fact become a factor on takeoff. (In fact, it did become a factor during the takeoff roll, when cockpit overcrowding had limited my ability to move my legs far enough to apply adequate rudder correction to overcome the full effect of torque buildup during engine acceleration on the initial segment of the takeoff roll.) . Then I swung it around facing back down the ‘runway’ with the haystacks behind me

    I stood up in the cockpit to see if I could spot Bert and was shocked to see a truckload of German infantry coming my way about a half mile away to the north west. I got Woolard and Wood on the horn and told ‘em to “kill the truck” They replied that they were already swinging in bound to shoot them up

    Simultaneously Woolard and Wood flew low over my head to hit the tree lined dirt road., shooting at the truck and let me know there were more about a mile further north on the main road. All I could see where the truck once was, was a hunk of burning metal and a cloud of dust where the .50’s were chewing up the dirt road. Vaguely, I was speculating that they (survivors, if any) were going to be in an ugly mood if I was still around.

    In the meantime, I still had not spotted Bert, but the farm laborers were moving toward me with farm implements in hand, my coolant temperature was in the red and I knew I couldn’t just shoot at the farmers with my sidearm, I
     
  3. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Part 3

    couldn’t wait much longer, and I couldn’t leave unless I knew Bert was incapacitated for sure, and last but not least I would have to leave if the larger main road force remained unscathed.

    While these thoughts were passing through my head, I pushed throttle forward to get some high speed airflow going to try to cool off and kicked the rudder so that the prop wash blew rocks and dirt at the farmers. That did the trick as they backed away quickly

    I had gunned the engine fairly hard to get the airplane rolling fast toward Bert's crash site in the adjoining muddy plowed field, in the direction from where I thought Bert should show up. Deliberately taxiing the airplane at high speed on the surface of the wheat almost turned out to be disastrous! As I approached the wheat field's northwestertern boundary, rolling at a fairly high rate, I barely discerned a wide, deep ditch. It was almost totally concealed by a heavy growth of brush and vegetation, and rapidly coming up directly ahead of me. Heavy braking only seemed to make me go faster on the ice-slick wheat stubble. Instinctively, I slammed full rudder and stood on the brake, which broke the tail wheel out of its centering detent and sent the airplane into a wide skidding turn. It came to lurching stop just feet short of putting a wheel over the edge of the ditch, which would have put an end to the affair.

    Just about this time, I spotted Bert, he disappeared in the deep ditch I had just avoided, then re-appeared running for me. I taxied over to meet him. He was red faced, streaming sweat, livid that I had disobeyed his direct order, and repeated the order “Go home now, before you get us both killed or captured”, then refused to climb on. Many vituperative words were sliced out of the recollected tirade!

    I didn’t know what to do or say, so I got out on the wing with parking brake locked, pulled off my parachute and dingy pack and just stood there, then I pulled the ripcord spilling the chute. Bert then just shook his head and climbed up on the wing. He insisted I fly, I insisted he had more experience and he should fly, so he ended the argument and sat in the seat, forcing me to do most of the flying!

    It was incredibly cramped, my head was just above the gun sight and pressed forward to allow the canopy to close and very awkward to manage the throttles and rudders. I could just press far enough back to enable me to get enough stick control to lift us out of here. I couldn’t see the instrument panel and probably for the best – as I really didn’t want to know that my coolant was dead, if it was, at this late stage of the game.

    My recollection of my orientation for take off places me on a southerly heading, at the northern boundary of the wheat field, at about 500 feet or so to the east of the field's western boundary. The enemy vehicle had been attacked by the wingmen as it was proceeding south along the road/ditch at the wheat field's western boundary. (For your information, five members of my family have visited the Wheatfield during recent times, and have been royally greeted by the local citizenry, some of whom witnessed the entire event back in 1944. One of them, currently a local senior citizen, was then a 14 year old boy who was hiding in the mentioned haystack during the happening, wrote and asked me whether I had been aware of a number of German soldiers who were hiding in the road. I was, after they started shooting at us!)

    Just after starting the take off , the canopy flew back and clonked me on the forehead.

    When the canopy slid back, I had just started applying takeoff power and we were just barely into the roll. As the canopy struck my head, I immediately retarded power and started braking to a stop, at which time Bert said, "I got it, Coach", then reached around me and closed/locked the canopy, after which I resumed the takeoff roll. As I recall, at this point in the adventure, there were a few farmers now standing some 25-50 yards off at about my 8:30-9 o'clock. The Germans were some several hundred feet behind me at about my 4-5 o'clock, at the start of takeoff

    While I clearly recall the loud noise of hitting wheat shocks on the landing roll (a real clatter!) I don't recall hitting wheat on takeoff -- just the sheer damned panic of trying to get enough rudder/aileron travel in to avoid hitting the haystack. Cockpit crowding limited my ability to extend my leg enough to suffficiently override takeoff torque was a problem. My lower leg was hitting the bottom edge of the forward panel until increasing speed required less rudder offset for directional control. Bless the Mustang's sweet heart!

    Just after we got off the ground I had just enough control to dip my left wing and miss the haystack – just barely.

    In the meanwhile, while we were blissfully worrying about getting the Mustang off the ground, several German soldiers from the shot up truck were firing at us from behind me as we climbed out. Red Flight had thoroughly chewed up the second convoy. I made a full power climb out to get some distance from any more flak that might be in the area.

    With no oxygen equipment, we flew back to Steeple Morden at 12-14,000 feet, Bert managing the trim and then the landing gear controls when we got back to the base. I radioed in an emergency landing. The tower responded by asking the nature of the emergency and I responded “We have two on board and it’s a little cramped for a safe landing”. They responded “Say AGAIN?” to which I repeated the situation.
     
  4. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Last Part

    When we landed I pulled off the runway short of the assigned parking revetment for WR-E Eaglebeak, to give both Bert and me a moment to collect our thoughts. As we got out to stretch, he shook my hand and quietly but sincerely expressed his thanks, as well as his feeling for me.

    I took that opportunity to tell him what a great inspiration he had been for me, personally, and what an inspiration he was for the Squadron, as a leader and a man. I told him he was too important to the Group to not take a chance on getting him back.

    I must admit that I was very concerned regarding my own fate, having disobeyed a direct order, in combat – twice. I wondered if I would be transferred out, taken off combat operation, etc. I did not expect to be decorated.

    I found out later that I was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but when news of the DSC came, I was simply delighted with the Distinguished Service Cross. When General Doolittle presented me with the medal he looked me in the eye and told me he struggled with his decision but downgraded the award to a DSC, simply because he didn’t want to set a precedent that would risk more pilots and aircraft.

    He went on to say that he “had never thought about issuing a regulation to ‘Not land behind enemy lines to attempt a rescue’… “Who would be that stupid,” he grinned., “because what you just did was just crazy to even think about!”

    But, shortly afterwards Lieutenant General James Doolittle issued a sternly worded order prohibiting any more such attempts.

    (AUTHORS NOTE: I had this conversation with General Doolittle at the American Fighter Aces Meeting in Tuscon - October, 1986. He remembered both Priest and the circumstances and verified his thoughts on the award. The man was incredibly sharp for his 90 odd years!)

    It took a couple of days for my ground crew to clean out all the wheat stubble from radiator scoop, landing gear well and tail wheel area.

    For me, I was just happy to be back flying combat operations and flying an airplane I loved above all others that I later flew while continuing my career with the Air Force, long after this day dimmed in memory.

    Bill, I want to take this opportunity to tell you how I felt about your Dad. He was one of the finest men I have ever known – a great friend, a superb combat leader and my personal hero. His friendship has been the highlight of my life.

    Your own love, loyalty and devotion are a tribute to him – and I will be forever grateful for the happy turn of events that gave us Bill Marshall-

    With Deep Affection,

    Deacon Priest

    December 2002
     
  5. Daviducus2

    Daviducus2 Member

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    Amazing story. Hollywood couldn't make that up. Your dad was quite a man.
     
  6. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Royce "Deacon" Priest was one helluva man..my father was the fortunate recipient of Priest's 'gambler's instincts'.
     
  7. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    Very cool story Bill!

    That's true heroism for ya!
     
  8. lesofprimus

    lesofprimus Active Member

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    Great stuff as before Bill, Priest was a hellova guys for sure....
     
  9. TheMustangRider

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    Wonderful story Drgondog, it clearly reflects how strong the bonds of men going to a war to fight for the same cause becomes; your father was a brave pilot and a great man.
     
  10. Messy1

    Messy1 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing Bill! You must be very proud. Your dad sounds like quite a man!
     
  11. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Ahh, the Deacon! Below is a pic of Kepner when Deacon was awarded DSC.

    IIRC the 355th FG, including WWII and VietNam and Iraqi Freedom/Afghanistan, has one MoH and 14 DSC/AFC. Priest was the 5th Distinguished Service Cross awarded to the 355th. Only the 4th FG and 354h FG are in that category for USAAF/USAF Fighter Commands.

    Half of the Air Force Cross/Distinguished Service Crosses were down graded from Medal of Honor - Only Leo Thosness got the Medal.

    I am extremely proud of my father but perhaps most proud of the fact that he strapped it up everytime after getting the crap shot out of his 51 - five times/five belly landings by German flak gunners. Only one of his seven birds survived combat ops.

    Ya gotta be thinkin that sooner or later the lead will be perfect..
     

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  12. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Great stuff Bill, thanks for sharing.
     
  13. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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  14. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Great stuff, Bill!

    It still fascinates me how Priest managed to pull that off with all the obstructions in the field and angry natives everywhere!
     
  15. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    The 'natives' were great, it was the bad tempered square head infantry that were the problem - doubly so after Woolard took out the truck and the troopers in it. I'm sure they weren't very happy.

    and how close he came to sticking it in the ditch, then dumping it on takeoff with a red line coolant temp.

    he had to be good - and lucky, Dave.

    I loved the man. His oldest daughter Patsy retired as a bird colonel to carry on the tradition.
     
  16. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Well I don't know Bill...locals converging on my position with sickles and pitchforks wouldn't get me to believe there's an invitation to a BBQ and beer. Though I can understand the landsers being a bit stressed (and in a very bad mood) after getting waxed by Woolard...my guess is that things would not have gone well for Royce and Bert had he blown the takeoff. :(

    Very cool regarding Patsy!
     
  17. MikeGazdik

    MikeGazdik Member

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    Awesome story, thanks so much for posting this. Please let us all know when the book is on sale. I will be a buyer for sure! The 1st Piggy-back should be an episode on the "Dogfights" series!
     
  18. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Deacon went back to visit after the war and met with the town people, including the family that owned the field. They were trying to get to both pilots before the Germans to try to hide them.

    Apparently there was a small hidden cave cut into the creek bank that they intended to use to hide them both.
     
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