Sunday, June 7, 2009

WWII fighter pilot recalls his role during D-Day invasion 65 years ago

Above: WWII and Korea War veteran Stanley P. Richardson points to a map of the coast of France, where he patrolled the skies in a P-38 Lightning fighter on June 6, 1944.

The things he did would’ve made John Wayne jealous.

But unlike the venerable actor who appeared in many war films, WWII veteran Stanley P. Richardson Jr., didn’t get a time-out, and there was no director to yell “CUT!”

“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “But there were times when I was frightened, like when the German fighter planes tried to kill me.”

Sixty-five years ago this weekend, Richardson flew three sorties over the coast of Normandy on D-Day--the Allied invasion of German-occupied France. About 600 feet below his P-38 Lightning, more than 180,000 Allied troops came ashore in what became known as the “Longest Day.”

Left: Stanley P. Richardson Jr. in 1944.

He and his wingmen would fly six more sorties over the next two days, following the largest amphibious assault in modern warfare. They provided protective air cover as the ground troops made their way inland, paving the way for an eventual victory in the European theater during the waning years of WWII.

In spite of the six-and-half decades since that fateful day, Richardson’s memories remain vivid, as if it happened yesterday, he said.

“Thousands of men were attacking the beach and climbing the cliffs,” he said. “I looked down from my plane and could see these men dying by the hundreds. That’s a bad memory to have of D-Day.”

As one of the special guests for the 142nd Fighter Wing’s Young America Day at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Richardson spent the day meeting with the unit’s airmen, visitors to the base, and youngsters with the Civil Air Patrol and local scout troops.

Many paused to ask Richardson questions, or to look at photos on display of the then 21-year old first lieutenant who flew fighter planes for the United States Army Air Corps’ 338th Fighter Squadron.

“We had some good days and some bad days,” Richardson recalled. “One day I remember we called ‘Black Friday’. We mixed it up with the Germans and they shot down 11 of our guys—nine of them from my hut. When we got back, myself and one other guy were the only ones in our hut who returned.”
Above: U.S. Army Air Corps First Lieutenant Stanley P. Richardson Jr. (second from left), with his flight crew and his P-38 Lightning, "Miss Mona" at RAF Wittering, England in 1944.

Richardson said when he began flying missions in October 1943, the German Luftwaffe “owned the skies” over the continent.

“So many times there would be 100-200 German planes against our 50 planes,” he said.
But after D-Day, Richardson said there were no German planes to be seen.

“It was a gradual process, but we put more fighter units into the battle, and shot down the Germans,” he said. “Soon, there were no German planes over the continent because we owned the skies.”

After his discharge following the war, Richardson arrived in Portland, Oregon. He began flying again—this time commercial planes for Pan-American Airlines.

Richardson was recalled into the Air Force in 1949 for the Korea War, and underwent further training as a materiel officer, learning how to run aircraft maintenance operations at the fighter wing level. Because of his experience flying fighter aircraft in WWII, he was able to gain some experience in the F-86 Sabre, which the Air Force began using in Korea in early 1953.

In August 1953, Richardson returned to the Northwest, and was discharged from the Air Force. He went back to flying commercial planes. One day, while driving past the Oregon Air National Guard Base, he spied a flight line full of P-51 Mustangs.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” he said.

He soon joined the 123rd Fighter Squadron, and because he had flight time in the F-86 jets in Korea, Richardson was given the responsibility of instructing Oregon Air Guard pilots on the new jet.

“I served two years with the Oregon Air National Guard,” Richardson said. “It was a wonderful time of my life.”

Between civilian and military aircraft, Richardson has logged over 30,000 hours as a pilot. He volunteers at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore., and at 86 years of age, still gets to fly airplanes—his most recent flight in a friend’s P-51 Mustang about a month before.

Above: Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Stanley P. Richardson Jr. stands in front of a P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft, similar to the one he flew on June 6, 1944. Richardson volunteers as a docent at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore.

“I’ve been a pilot all my life,” he said. “But I’m a fighter pilot, and that’s what I want to be known as.”

Richardson makes no distinction between his military service, and that of some 17 million others who served their country in WWII and Korea.

“They served because their country needed them,” he said. “I signed on because my country needed me, and my country taught me to fly, and gave me an airplane with 3,500 horsepower and five guns—life didn’t get any better than that for a 20-year old kid.

“I’m very happy to have been a part of that,” he added. “This country has been very, very good to me.”

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the amazing tribute of a distinguished military pilot. Many men sought a career to do what this man did. Of the few that made it and survived to humbly share his experiance, I hade the privilage of speaking to this man. Ironically the men who volunteered to do what he did gave up their freedom for a great many years to serve with honor and patriotisim so that all Americans would have the luxury to continue to be free from oppression. I thank you Sir!
Eddie and Sherrie

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