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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedTwins flew Mustangs together in combat
By Frederick A. Johnsen, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen
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 Bill…

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 the kill.

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...

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