Today, I attended the Pima Air & Space Museum with a Boy Scout troop. It was amazing to see just how many planes they had. If each aircraft could speak, it could tell its own story of the places it flew, the battles it fought, the people that piloted (or navigated, gunned, maintained, etc.).
There was a P-51D that was particularly interesting. On its side was recorded the planes that it had downed:
Besides the 7 German & 1 Japanese aircraft there was a symbol that I didn’t recognize (#6) and a U.S. flag:
There has to be a story behind that.
When I got home, I did a search for CURDES and P-51 and found this page about Air Commando Aces.
This is what I learned about the pilot:
Lt Col Louis Edward Curdes
Born: November 2, 1919 Fort Wayne, Indiana
POW: August 27, 1943 Benevento, Italy, P-38G mechanical trouble
Died: February 8, 1995 Fort Wayne, Indiana
Louis Curdes joined the Army Reserves on March 12, 1942. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt, and rated a pilot on December 3, 1942 at Luke Field, Arizona. He joined the 329th FG, but transferred to the 82nd FG, 95th FS, where he saw action over North Africa, Sardinia and Italy flying P-38Gs. On April 29, 1943 he shot down three German Me-109s and damaged a fourth near Cap Bon, Tunisia. Two more Me-109s fell to his guns near Villacidro, Sardinia on May 19. On June 24 he brought down an Italian Mc.202 over Golfo Aranci, Sardinia. Another Me-109 was damaged on July 30 at Pratice di Mare, Italy. His last two victories in the Mediterranean Theater were two Me-109s over Benevento, Italy. During that action he was forced down and taken prisoner. He escaped from the POW camp on September 8, 1943 and managed to survive behind German lines until crossing into Allied territory on May 24, 1944. He requested combat duty in the Pacific, and joined the 4th FS (Commando), 3rd FG (Commando) in August 1944. On February 7, 1945 he shot down a Dinah while flying a P-51D thirty miles SW of Formosa. This feat made him one of three aces to have shot down enemy aircraft of all three Axis Powers. On February 10, 1945 he shot-up an American C-47 which was attempting to land on a Japanese held airstrip in the Batan Islands, Philippines; a chain of small islands north of Luzon. The aircraft force landed and thirteen crew and passengers were rescued. One of the passengers was a nurse that he later married. An American flag was added to the German, Italian and Japanese flags painted on his P-51D. After the war he transferred to the Air Force. He was promoted to Maj on September 1, 1951, and retired from the Air Force as a LtCol in October 1963.
Talley Record: 9 confirmed, 2 damaged
Decorations: 2 DFCs, PH, 15 AMs
There were many other planes that hinted at stories. I wonder what they would tell me if they could.
Do you have any stories of things you learned from the side of a military aircraft?