Thursday, October 5, 2006
Locals extend hospitality to fighter pilots
By SUE WATSON
Members of the 364th Fighter Group received a hearty welcome from Holly Springs residents at a potluck dinner held in their honor at the Hugh Craft House. Approximately 100 came out to share great food, fellowship and home town ambience.
On the table were the best of dishes - chicken, pasta, corn, beans, shrimp, warm potato salad, and lots of cakes and pastries, enough to serve perhaps a hundred more.
The 364th Fighter Group held its 24th reunion in Nashville in a four-day celebration beginning September 21 with about 60 veterans of World War II - airmen who served with the Allied forces in 1944 and 1945 war against Adolf Hitler.
The Fighter Group met for the first time in 1983, a gathering stimulated by Chelius H. Carter of Holly Springs who had contacted fighter pilots across the country in an attempt to learn more about his Uncle Chelius Howard, who was killed in action.
Wives said their husbands remained silent about their service during World War II and they never heard any of the war stories until the Fighter Group reorganized.
Quickly, they heard all the war stories.
A great sense of humor is what keeps many of these aging pilots alive 60 years after the war.
“Stubby” Stubblefield, Nick Nicholson and Richard “WGFP” Heyman, secretary of the association laughed about how their war stories have been embellished down through the years.
“WGFP” stands for World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot, Heyman said.
“We have been good friends for over 60 years. We were together in the big war in 1944,” Stubby said. “Several of us were fighter pilots. I first flew the P-38 twin engineand then we changed to the P-51 (Mustang) in July 1944.”
The fighter pilots flew a variety of missions, he said, “mostly trying to keep the German fighters from attacking our planes. We also did strafing of trains and airplanes parked on airfields and dive bombing at railroad switching yards to disrupt the German supply route.”
Since his first reunion in 1985, Stubby has seen a number of his generation pass on.
What’s good about the reunions?
“It is fighting the war all over again,” he said.
Chelius’ uncle was in his squadron and joining the war as Stubby was on his way home. He never met his Uncle; Chelius H. Carter was not born yet when his uncle became one of the casualties of the war.
The fighter group gives Chelius credit for the impetus of getting the association started, Stubby said.
The formation of the 364th Fighter Group Association was “a long and unlikely story,” he said.
“We were scattered all over the country,” he said. “Our membership chairman has access to some 1943 order that listed my home address and my father was living at the same address. Chelius would have missed me if had he written a few years later because my father died.”
“Chelius got the conversation started; that stimulated others.
“So, once we organized, Cheli was officially designated as our historian.
“Cheely has been the spark plug for our whole organization.”
Stubby was age 21 when he signed up and by age 23 he was shooting in the war. His squadron commander was a mere 26, but pretended he was older so airmen would respect him.
Heyman didn’t stop fighting at World War II. He flew as a fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam, as well.
“I was the youngest fighter in the group when we went overseas and the oldest when I retired,” he said.
Heyman flew about 50 different types of planes, mostly fighter planes.
Stubby came home in 1944 after flying fighter cover for the famous Invasion of Normandy beach, to Warren County, Tennessee, and farmed seven years and decided aviation would make a better living. He worked as an instructor in the Air Force primary flight school then flew for Vulcan Materials Company in Birmingham until he retired. He has one son who served in Vietnam.
Nick Nicholson said he has many stories, most which won’t do to tell. One of his favorite stories he tells is inheriting his roommate’s whiskey and British girlfriend after his buddy got shot down.
He didn’t marry the Brit but got out early in 1946, wandered a while taking “stupid” jobs, he said.
“I finally got smart and went back to school - Caltech - and wound up working in aerospace on the shuttle,” he said. His job was helping with engineering the steering and airloads for the first stage rockets built by Rockwell. He retired in 1985 and he and his wife have spent lots of time after retirement cycling all over the United States, Canada, in New Zealand and throughout Europe. His tours of Europe were the most exciting.
Nicholson described his cycling tours as mostly bicycles, mosquitoes and rain.
He also made a home-built airplane and flew it, once force-landing on a highway.
Some local veterans enjoying the party and telling war stories included Gene Brown Sr., Clark Cochran and Gene Brooks, Bill Fitch.
Brown was a B-17 navigator and flew over 30 missions over Germany, France, Belgium and Poland in the spring and summer of 1944.
Brooks cleared mines in Kuwait Harbor during the first war with Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq.
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