An Armed Forces Day Tribute
This wonderful story was originally sent to me by a ‘Nam Navy corpsman friend. He didn’t know its source so I hunted around the internet, found many versions but never the name of the person who originally wrote it so that I could attribute it when sharing this amazing tale with you. The closest source I found was someone had said the story was retold in an ebook called “US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife” by retired Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson, but still could not find original source so I’m retelling it here. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Armed Forces Day today and honor the Warriors among us, both young and old. Thank you, all, for your service to your country and to your countrymen.
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In 1942, the United States needed pilots for its war planes – lots of war planes, lots of pilots. Lt. Louis Curdes was one of them. When he was 22 years old. He graduated from flight training school and was shipped off to the Mediterranean to fight Nazis in the air over Southern Europe.
He arrived at his 82nd Fighter Group, 95th Fighter Squadron in April 1943, and was assigned a P-38 Lightning. Ten days later he shot down three German Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters. A few weeks later, he downed two more German Bf-109s. In less than a month of combat, Louis was an Ace.
During the next three months, Louis shot down an Italian Mc 202 fighter and two more Messerschmitt Bf-209s before his luck ran out. A German fighter shot down his plane on August 27, 1943, over Salermo, Italy. Captured by the Italians, he was sent to a POW camp near Rome. No doubt this is where he thought he would spend the remaining years of the war, but the Universe had different plans for him.
A few days later, the Italians surrendered. Louis and a few other pilots escaped before the Nazis could take control of the camp, and he made it back to American lines.
You might think that such harrowing experiences would have taken the fight out of the Lt. but you’d be wrong – he volunteered for another combat tour! This time he was sent to the Philippines where he flew P-51 Mustangs. He named his plane “Bad Angel” and took off for the clouds, happy to be “home”. You might say he had found his calling in this brutal war.
Soon after arriving in the Pacific Theater, Louis downed a Mitsubishi reconnaissance plane near Formosa. This action made him one of only three Americans to have kills against all three Axis Powers: Germany, Italy and Japan.
Up until this point, young Lt. Curdes’ combat career had been stellar. His story was about to take a twist so bizarre that it would have made an Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster movie.
While attacking the Japanese-held island of Bataan, one of Louis’ wingmen was shot down. The pilot ditched in the ocean. Circling overhead, Louis could see that his wingman had survived, so he stayed in the area to guide a rescue plane to him and protect the downed pilot.
Before too long, he noticed another larger airplane, wheels down, preparing to land at the Japanese-held airfield on Bataan. He moved in to investigate, thinking it was a Japanese decoy. Much to his surprise, the approaching plane was a Douglas C-47 transport with American markings! He tried to make radio contact with no success. He maneuvered his Mustang in front of the big transport several times trying to wave it off.
The C-47 kept heading to its landing target. The pilot had become lost during a flight from Art Island in the southern Philippines and had been forced to head for the nearest visible strip because of a fuel shortage. Apparently the C-47 crew didn’t realize they were about to land on a Japanese-held island and soon would be captives.
Lt. Curdes read the daily newspaper accounts of the war, including the viciousness of the Japanese soldiers toward their captives. He knew that whoever was in that American C-47 would be, upon landing, either dead or wish they were. But what could he do? At that point, the Jap ack-ack sound of guns opened up at the Bad Angel but not the transport.
Audaciously, he lined up his P-51 directly behind the transport, carefully sighted in one of his .50 caliber machine guns and knocked out one of its two engines. Still the C-47 continued on toward the Bataan airfield. Curdes shifted his aim slightly and knocked out the remaining engine, leaving the baffled pilot no choice but to ditch in the ocean.
The big plane came down in one piece about 50 yards from his bobbing wingman. At this point, nightfall and low fuel forced the Lt. to return to base. The next morning, Louis flew cover for a rescuing PBY that picked up the downed Mustang pilot and 12 passengers and crew, including two female nurses, from the C-47. All survived, and Lt. Curdes would later end up marrying one of these nurses. Ya can’t make this stuff up, folks.
For shooting down an unarmed American transport plane, Lt. Louis Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Thereafter, on the fuselage of the Bad Angel, he proudly displayed the symbols of his kills: seven German, one Italian, one Japanese . . . and one AMERICAN flag!