[I wrote this years ago, but I figured I’d post it today. It is a somewhat different take on Memorial day.]
Today we celebrate Memorial Day. Most people in this nation think it is a time to have parties and barbecue, but I wanted to take a minute and remind everyone what Memorial Day is really about. It is about remembering our fallen soldiers who died to keep our country free. These men and women paid the ultimate price for our freedom. I hope everyone enjoys the day but take a moment to remember a few of our heros.
We know many of the famous names Doolittle, Sgt. York etc. But many names sort of get lost in history. Traditionally it is because they never made it thru the war to claim hero status. But these brave heros gave more than the ones who returned to the ticker tape parades. Today I thought I would share the story of one such hero. He was a pilot in WWII. Many people who achieved far less than he did came home to a hero’s welcome and their names are etched in history. You’ve probably never heard of him.
His name was Maj. George E. Preddy, Jr.
Before the war, Preddy was a barnstormer pilot in the states. In September of 1939 he made 3 attempts to join the USAAF and was rejected each time because of physical problems. In the summer of 1940 he tried to join the USAAF again and finally passed all the tests. That time he was told he would have to wait for an opening. Not wanting to wait, he joined up with the Army National Guard to gain some experience. In April 1941 he was ordered to report to flight training. He graduated December 1941. By August 1942, he had flown a number of combat missions and damaged two Japanese planes. Preddy was then involved with a serious mid-air collision that killed the other pilot and left Preddy in the hospital for several weeks. He could have been discharged at this time but chose to fight.
In Dec. 1942 Preddy was assigned to the 487th FS, 352nd Fighter Group. His new Commanding Officer, John C. Meyer, was not impressed by the small size and meekness of Preddy. “This fellow couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag”, is what Meyer said of Preddy upon meeting him. In the summer of 1943, the 352nd Fighter Group was sent to England as part of the 8th Air Force. Preddy went on his first combat mission in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) in September 1943 and would wait almost 3 months for his first victory which was over an Me109. Three weeks later, he scored a second victory, fighting a superior force, as he was to do many times. He led his flight of three P-47s (one stayed up as top cover) against six Me-210s covered by 10 Bf-109s that were attacking a lone B-24 straggler. In the melee, Preddy knocked down one Me-210, broke up the attack, and then lured the remaining enemy aircraft away from the damaged B-24, earning for himself a Silver Star. (16 enemy fighters against a single damaged bomber and they lost)
Preddy got his fifth victory on May 13, 1944 and was on his way to becoming the leading active ace in the ETO. While escorting bombers to Magdeburg on June 20, Preddy shot down a FW-190 and shared an Me-410. He had officially made Ace. Preddy was running out of time as he approached the end of a 200-hour combat tour. He requested, and was granted, FOUR (4!) successive 50-hour extensions that kept him in the fight until early August.
On July 19, 1944 his patrol encountered 60 enemy aircraft. The 352nd destroyed 21 of them while only losing 1. Preddy was responsible for 4 kills an Me 109 and 3 Ju-88s.
On August 6 from an altitude of 30,000 feet, Preddy spotted more than 30 Bf-109s coming in on the third box of B-17s. He led his flight into the midst of the Bf-109s, shooting down three in rapid succession. At that point, four other P-51s joined the fight. Preddy shot down two more Bf-109s, then followed the formation down to 5,000 feet, where he found himself alone with the enemy. One of them broke to the left, followed by Preddy in his “Cripes A’ Mighty.” After a hot duel, George shot down his sixth of the day. That earned his the title “Ace in a day.” He later commented, “I just kept shooting, and they just kept falling.” The mission earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and an unsought leave in the States.
Preddy returned to the ETO in October 1944 as CO of the group’s 328th Squadron. Leading the squadron on November 2, they ripped apart a gaggle of Bf-109s, downing no fewer than 25, setting a squadron record for the ETO. During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, elements of the group were moved to fighter strip Y-29, Asche, Belgium. On Christmas Day, Preddy led 10 of his P-51s on a patrol. They were vectored to a formation of enemy planes, and in the ensuing fight, though the squadron became scattered, Preddy downed two more Bf-109s. He and his wingman, Lt. James Cartee, were then vectored to an unknown number of bandits near Liege. Preddy was joined by Lt. Jim Bouchier of the 479th FG as they dived on a FW 190 at tree top level. They entered the area where the 12th Anti Aircraft Group was firing and they kept on firing. Both Preddy and Bouchier were shot down by US gunfire. Bouchier survived, but Preddy was dead in his aircraft when they arrived at the crash site.
In just 12 short months Maj. George E. Preddy, Jr. had 26.83 air victories and 5 ground victories bringing his total to 31.83 kills. Almost certainly, he would also have come out as top American ace in Europe had it not been for that tragic error on Christmas Day in 1944. He would no doubt have been a part of the air battle called Operation Bodenplatte by the Luftwaffe when many of his squadron mates shot down as many as five enemy aircraft on New Years Day 1945. John C. Meyers, CO of the 352nd who upon meeting him said that Preddy “couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag” later said of him: “He’s just the greatest fighter pilot who ever squinted through a gunsight”.
Maj. Preddy could have not fought at all. He could have gone home on no less than 7 occasions to a hero’s welcome. Instead he continued to fight for his country. Thanks to people like Maj. Preddy and countless others we get to enjoy Memorial Day in freedom. Think of him while you enjoy the day.