Rural Missouri - July 2013 - (Page 40)
N E I G H B O R S
Last of the breed
Capt. Ron Phillips ﬂew with the Flying Tigers in World War II
port, reaching 540 mph. He also attempted
to ﬂy under the Mississippi River bridge at
Jackson, Miss., aborting that attempt when
he spotted cables stretched in his path. He
on Phillips was a 20-year-old Kanquickly pulled up and didn’t try it again.
sas farm boy when his Uncle Sam
He did ﬂy through the smoke stacks
handed him the keys to a fast ride.
of a factory in Birmingham, Ala., making
It wasn’t the typical old jalopy
a series of rolls through the smoke as he
young men in his era ran around in. Ron’s
new ride was a Mustang ﬁghter plane.
These antics helped him when he got
“It was a hot rod you might say,” says
into combat. “You feel good and feel
Ron, who lives in Butler. “It could out ﬂy
relaxed because you know what you can
and out maneuver and out dive anything.”
do,” he says.
His pilot’s wings took him to China,
Eventually, Ron was sent to New York
where he served with the 14th Air Force,
where he was given his overseas orders. He
the famous Flying Tigers. Today, at age 91,
wasn’t allowed to read them until the plane
Ron remains one of the last of his breed
carrying him was over the ocean. That’s
— World War II veterans who shed the
when he learned he would be joining the
clothes of civilian life
14th Air Force “Flying Tigers” in China.
at an early age and
The Flying Tigers began as the 1st
went off to war.
American Volunteer Group (AVG) helping
China ﬁght the Japanese before the United
States entered the war. In 1942, the AVG
day he learned
was absorbed into the 14th Air Force. Ron
joined this group in 1944 when the U.S.
was at war.
had achieved air superiority in China. He
“I was drivnever engaged in a dogﬁght, but he did
ing Dad’s truck
have more than his share of close calls.
one Sunday morning,” he recalls. “I had
Ron’s sky-blue eyes glow as he tells of
the radio on, and I heard they had bombed
ﬂying through burning napalm, of trying
Pearl Harbor. I’m a 19-year-old at the time.
to skip bombs into tunnels and weaving
I thought, I’m the right age for that.”
through deep mountain gorges in search
He headed to St. Louis where he landed
of targets. Though constantly exposed to
a job building ball turrets for bombers
ground ﬁre, he came through it all without
while waiting to be drafted. He ﬁnally
a single bullet hole in his plane.
decided to join the Navy.
In China, Ron ﬂew for a while a P-40.
“I thought the Navy was where I wanted Above: Ron Phillips proudly wears a leather jacket similar to the one he
wore with the famous Flying Tigers during World War II. Below: Ron,
This was the plane made famous by the
to be,” says Ron. “I had passed everything
left, is shown with his crew chief and the Mustang he ﬂew. The plane
Flying Tigers. Later, he was issued an older
except the eye exam. They said come back
was a variation of the P-51 set up for photo reconnassaince.
P-51 Mustang but quickly moved up to
on Monday. On Saturday, my brother
an F-6, a Mustang set up with a 50-pound
brought me my draft notice.”
camera with a 12-inch lens for photo reconnaisRon was sent to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas,
sance. He only ﬂew two photo missions, however.
now a member of the Army. “This was the ﬁrst of
He ﬂew every plane he could get his hands on.
two times I volunteered,” Ron says. “They wanted
These included a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber,
someone to be a truck driver. They gave me a
the fork-tailed P-38 Lightning, a P-47 Thunderwheelbarrow to pick up rocks.”
bolt and the P-40 Warhawk. But the Mustang
But Ron watched the bulletin board for opporremained his favorite.
tunities, and one quickly came along with the
Ron planned to stay in the service after the war
Army Air Corps. He was given a choice between
ended. But kidney problems ended his career.
airplane mechanics or meteorology.
He returned home in 1946, where his sweet“I didn’t know a cloud from a snowball,” he
heart, Elsie, waited for him. The two wanted to
says of the weather forecasting job. “But I was a
marry during the war, but Ron told her she had to
farm boy and knew something about mechanics.”
wait because he gauged his odds of surviving the
While training for this role, a friend talked him
war at 50 percent. The two have been married for
into applying for ﬂight school. Ron was one of
67 years, and they raised four children.
went. We ﬂew low and slow, but not at the same
two from his unit who was accepted.
After such an exciting tour of duty, Ron
time. We did things you weren’t supposed to do
After completing advanced ﬂying school, Ron
returned to civilian life where he managed a paint
and got called on the carpet a couple of times.”
was asked to list his top three choices for his next
store and built cable TV systems in small towns.
The daredevil pilots would ﬂy over the cotassignment. “I put ﬁghter for all three,” he says.
He’s returned to China several times. Ron says
ton ﬁelds, leaving a trail of cotton sucked off the
“That’s what I got.”
the Chinese were gracious hosts who literally
plants in their wake. Another stunt was to buzz
Now came the second time Ron volunteered.
rolled out the red carpet for the Americans.
the windmills and see how fast they could make
The Army was looking for pilots to ﬂy low-level
Of the 100 in Ron’s squadron, only three
them spin when they were hit by the ﬁghter
tactical reconnaissance, and Ron asked for the
remain today. Ron keeps the memory of his complane’s prop wash.
job. He was based in Meridian, Miss., for this
rades alive, recounting their many exploits to all
On one occasion, Ron put the Mustang into
stage of his training, ﬂying the latest P-51 Muswho will listen.
a full throttle dive from 8,000 feet above the airtang. “We had a lot of fun,” Ron says. “Anything
by Jim McCarty
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2013
Rural Missouri - July 2013
That old-time religion
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
Keep it cool
On the banks of Bull Shoals
Rural Missouri - July 2013