EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
“We Were Soldiers Once and Young” will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember…
My name is Alvin Deeds. I grew up just to the west of Ovilla in the Onward Community and went to school at Midlothian.
I was a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Air Force, where I served as a fighter pilot in the 353rd Fighter Group in England.
We were assigned to the 350th Fighter Squadron. Our planes were known for the yellow and black checkerboard pattern painted on the engine cowling.We were part of the 66th Fighter Wing of the 8th Air Force and stationed at Raydon Airfield in Suffolk, to the northeast of London.
It was beautiful green farmland around our base, with planted fields right up to the edge of our runway. That was a sight, horse-drawn reapers and modern fighter planes parked right alongside each other. It seemed a little strange to me.
We had three intersecting concrete runways and two large hangars. There were dispersal points for our planes all over the base. The rumor was that the base beneath our runways was built out of the rubble of London homes that had been bombed during the blitz.
We lived in what was known as “Bomb Alley,” because of all the German V-1 buzz-bombs that flew directly over us on their way to London. Some of the guys affectionately call this place, “Camp Chicago.”
All in all there were about 3,000 Americans here at our airfield.
Whenever we were off duty we would visit the nearby towns and villages in the English countryside. The folks there were very good to us and we made many friends in the local district.
Our job was to fly escort for our bombers over Europe and keep the German Luftwaffe from shooting them up.
Those boys in our bombers sure loved to see us coming along. They called us their “Little Friends.”
My job was to stay between our “Big Friends” and the German fighters; mostly they were Messerschmitts, but some were Focke-Wulfs. They were both good, the ME-109’s and the FW-190’s.
We had our good days and we had our bad days. The worst part was losing your friends. … Seeing them burned. … Some nights you couldn’t get any sleep, just knowing what was coming the next morning. I guess that nerves were the biggest problem we had.
Our missions now had the added complication of attacking enemy combat units on the ground.
This was pretty tricky business as we faced not only hazards of low-level flying, but there was also the added dimension of up-close and personal ground fire.… We lost a lot of men.
Always our first job was to run interference for the bomber boys, but our spirit was keenest when the squadron went out and looked for trouble.
When our escort missions were finished, we looked for any targets of military value, moving trains, truck traffic, bridges, but my favorite was train-busting.
I don’t imagine that those Jerry’s ever expected revenge raining down on them from an Ovilla farm boy.
The flying was pretty intense. Many times the boys had to do belly landings when their planes were all shot up. It wasn’t unusual to see some of our planes come home completely covered with engine oil, and one time there was one of our fellows that brought home some telegraph wire and a small piece of the telegraph pole dragging behind his plane.
All things considered, the boys in our squadron kept in pretty good spirits. We knew what we were doing would probably make a difference.
I sure hoped it would … because I saw a lot of good friends die.
Little by little we made gains against Hermann Goring’s Luftwaffe. Slowly but surely we were rolling back the Nazis across the continent.
This was the goal that all of us had worked so long and hard for. Our objective was now in sight – Victory in Europe!
I had flown 38 combat missions over enemy territory in my P-51D Mustang, which we considered to be the “Cadillac of the Sky.”
Listening to that Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was just sweet, with a cruising speed of 360 miles per hour.
My plane was named “Bee Jay” and she was a honey. I don’t expect a better fighter plane had ever been built.
The coming winter looked like it was going to be a bad one, with a lot of snow and cloud cover. That limited our operations, but we continued to escort our bombers, now mostly to Germany.
That was too bad, because all our troopers down on the ground sure could have used our close company.
Dec. 5, 1944, at the briefing this morning, this mission looked especially rough. Our bombers target for today was the Rheinmetall-Borsig Works, a factory that made guns, large guns.
We had 24 bomber groups going on this one. … It was going to be a big day.
An eight-hour mission, although nobody was real excited about the prospects of such an assignment, this was the kind of day that could bring this whole show closer to an end, and a ticket home.
Berlin can always be figured as a rough one, and our route in and out was an open invitation to enemy fighters all the way.
Our course took us across the Zuider Zee and Holland, and direct to the target. We stayed at altitude because of the towering cumulus clouds.
Nearing the target we could see that our “Big Brothers” were taking a beating from all the flak bursts. There were fighter attacks here and there, but nothing major.
Someone called in “Bandits!” over the radio and I looked up to see a huge swarm of enemy fighters.
Never before had I seen so many together at one time! There must have been over a hundred of them! It looked like a dark cloud of bees.
I looked into the Mustang to my left, and then to the Mustang to my right, we nodded and waved, and then we pulled up to meet them.
It was a Tuesday, and I was 27 years old.
Remember us, for we were airmen once and young.
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2011 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.