Richard Parker P47 Pilot
P47s Over Germany
Webmaster: When did you graduate from High School?
In June of 1942.
Webmaster: You attended Shattuck which was a military academy. In my day when you graduated from a military high school, that didn't get you a commission in the US Military. What was different about Shattuck?
We had the same four years of ROTC that they had in college along with six weeks of summer camp. Shattuck was an honor military school and this qualified those of us who participated in the program to become second lieutenants at completion and attaining age 19. As a result, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. As it turned out, I had just turned 19 prior to graduation so I qualified for that last requirement and was commissioned at graduation, receiving my diploma, commission and shipping orders.
Webmaster: We are well into the war at this time and you received shipping orders upon graduation?
I had asked our commander at school if I could have my first duty assignment in pilot training and he was able to accomplish that.
Webmaster: Why did you want to get into flying?
There was a number of reasons. My father was a fighter pilot in WWI and I had been around airplanes all my life. More than that, I had trouble with my feet and I felt I would be a poor ground officer. In my graduating class at Shattuck, there were 45 of us, 22 of whom were killed in the war. I had two roommates who were killed in the war. One did not participate in the ROTC program but went to Annapolis and graduated in January of 1945 and was killed by a Kamakazi. My other roommate was killed in Europe.
Webmaster: When you went into flight school, your basic training was where?
My first assignment was pre-flight at Kelly Field in San Antonio. I went through flight training and came out of the war with very little flying time. After pre-flight, I was sent to primary school in Corsicana, Texas. The minimum required flying time there was a hundred hours and I think I had a hundred and one when I was sent to basic to Greenville, Texas and I got another hundred hours of basic. Then they sent me back to San Antonio to Brooks Field for advanced training. I got another hundred hours there and got my wings. From there I went to fighter training and got forty hours of training and then I was sent overseas. I hadn't dropped a bomb or shot any rockets. At that time, the P-47 was a high altitude gunnery platform and that was the extent of my training.
Webmaster: What plane did you fly for your primary trainer?
The PT-19 Ryan.
Webmaster: In Basic?
The BT-13, the old Vultee Vibrator, and I just loved that airplane and I was in the best dogfight I ever got into with that airplane. We were student officers training with cadets. On this particular day they had sent the cadets on a cross country and told us just to fly and get in some time. So three of us went out at 12,000 feet and dog fought for forty-five minutes. Frankly it was great experience and we had a lot of fun.
Webmaster: Your advanced trainer was the AT6?
Webmaster: So by now you have about 350 hours?
Yes, when I was shipped overseas.
Webmaster: Were you assigned to the 510th at that time?
No, we were shipped over on the Queen Mary in March of 1944. There were 15,000 people on board at the time. There were twelve of us officers housed in a two person stateroom. There were four bunks stacked three deep in this one room. However, that was better than the troops who were loaded below into hammocks stacked twelve deep. It was pretty rough one night when the seas were high. The biggest load they ever had on that ship was 25,000. We always went over unescorted because we were fast enough to outrun any submarine.
We landed in Glasgow then were sent to another training base where I must have gotten another 10 or 15 hours of flying time in a P-47 before being sent down to Christchurch to joint the 510th Fighter Squadron.
Webmaster: You were a replacement?
Yes, we were the second group of replacement pilots that came into the squadron. In the states the squadron strength was 25 pilots and 25 airplanes. When we got into combat, they decided that the squadron strength should be 35 pilots and 25 airplanes.
Webmaster: Replacement pilots often had a problem going into units with these experienced guys. Did you encounter that?
In a way but actually the experienced fellows had not had much experience. They probably only had four or five missions at that time. The group had gone over on the Mauratania a month ahead of us so they just had a slight edge. I remember when we first walked into the squadron they commented, "why are they sending us more pilots because we have more pilots than airplanes now?" By the time D-Day came, I had been on only a few missions.
Webmaster: Most of your experience came after D-Day?
Yes, that is when we started to lose a lot of fellows. I can remember one bridge that we were supposed to knock out. We lost six people after three trips down there. After that we got to fly all the time as our casualties mounted.
Webmaster: Unlike navy pilots, you flew the same airplane as long as it was flyable?
Usually unless it was down for repairs.
Webmaster: Did the planes all fly the same?
Yes, they were all about the same. We kept getting new models all along. When I started we had the razorback then the bubble canopy. All replacements were bubble canopies.
Webmaster: Your missions after D-Day were mostly ground missions?
Yes, although the P-47 was designed as a high altitude escort fighter. When they got overseas, they determined that the 51, which was supposedly a lower altitude fighter, couldn't take the punishment that we could. The P-51 was vulnerable to hits in its cooling system. The P-47 didn't have the range of the P-51 but it did have more firepower. It also had a better kill ratio and did more ground destruction than the 51. After February of 44, the 47s were replaced in the 8th Air Force and were sent to the 9th Air Force as a ground support airplane.
Webmaster: You were in the 9th Air Force?
Right and of my 101 missions maybe I had five escort missions.
Webmaster: Escorting 8th Air Force guys?
Prior to D-Day we did. After D-Day we escorted A-20s and B-26s which were in the 9th Air Force. These were not high altitude missions.
Webmaster: I understand that within these 101 missions you flew, you damaged seven airplanes?
I lost one in training in the states. The other six I lost to ground fire. We had a squadron strength of 35 pilots during the war. While I was there, we lost 50 pilots. Of the 50 we lost, only three were shot down by enemy airplanes, 47 were lost to ground fire. After the end of the war we learned that only 18 of those 50 had been killed, 34 were prisoners of war and five escaped through enemy lines.
The ground fire, flack and anti-aircraft. Was one worse than the other?
I don't think so. In my 101 missions, I was probably hit during half of them. If you are after a bunch of German troops down there and a thousand shooting at you with a rifle, some of them are going to hit. It seemed like we always had a few holes in our airplane when we came home and that is why the 47 was such a great plane. It could always take a lot more punishment than the 51.
Webmaster: In combat, you were shot down six times. Apparently you always landed in friendly territory because you were never captured?
Often I was able to fly, crippled, back to friendly territory.
Webmaster: How about the boxcar incident?
That is where I got my Purple Heart. When I got home, I would be asked how I got my Purple Heart and I would say I got hit by a boxcar. They would ask, "You can get a Purple Heart for that?"
"Oh sure, if it draws blood," I would respond. But what really happened was that I was leading a 16 ship formation into Germany near Saarbrucken and we had a rule that when somebody got down to a certain point in their gas, we would all head home. When someone called in and said they were down to their last 50 gallons or whatever it might be for that mission and I said "OK, lets form up and head for home." I noticed up ahead they were unloading some boxcars in this marshaling yard and I said to get into single file, make one pass, and continue on to France. Being the leader, I was the first in and when I was at an altitude of 150 feet and a thousand feet short of the train, I opened up with all my 50s and really bore in. My intent was to be about 25' above when I passed over and when I was several hundred feet short of the train, it blew up. It turned out to be an ammunition train. Traveling at maybe 300 miles and hour, the only thing I could do was duck and get my head down into the cockpit. When I went through the explosion, part of the boxcar took my canopy and part of my shoulder off. I didn't duck down far enough. I came through the explosion looking for a place to land. I was out in the open with my bubble canopy torn away and my engine kept running although vibrating badly. You try to get back and my engine wasn't on fire, so I slowly climbed back up to 3500 feet. Of course everybody that was behind me made a quick right turn and didn't go through the explosion.
My squadron formed up again behind me and we continued toward France. I was talking to air controllers and they vectored me into a forward emergency landing field which was just a flat pasture. As we got close to it, I sent everyone on home except Buzz Norr, my wingman. I made a circle of the field and everything was working pretty good, the gear came down and the flaps came down and I made a nice approach but as I touched down, I was all over the field fighting for control. When I finally came to a stop, I nosed down and came up in a vertical position on its nose then fell back on its tail. I got out of the airplane and was looking at it when Buzz landed beside me.
We looked over the airplane. It was absolutely amazing. The hub was smashed against the propeller. There was holes in the propeller from the boxcar. There was boxcar stuck in the leading edges of the wings and tail. Two cylinders were knocked out of the engine, the canopy was gone. The whole underside of the airplane was scorched from the explosion. All three tires were burned away and that is why I had so much trouble handling the plane on the ground. There was no one else near the field so Buzz and I removed our parachutes and I got in his airplane and he sat on my lap and we got back to our base and I got some medical help. In a few days I was flying again.
Webmaster: After your 101 missions, you were recycled home and the war ended while you were at home?
I was somewhat disappointed because I was not with my unit at the end of the war.
Webmaster: Thank you for your time and service to our country.