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 pulled up. 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 Ron clearly China fight the Japanese before the United remembers the • Butler States entered the war. In 1942, the AVG day he learned was absorbed into the 14th Air Force. Ron the nation 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 R 40 by Jim McCarty jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2013

Rural Missouri - July 2013
Contents
Comments
Columns
That old-time religion
Natural nest
Long-distance lead
Outdoors
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
Keep it cool
On the banks of Bull Shoals
Retro renovations
Infamous ancestry
Around Missouri
Marketplace
Neighbors
Just4Kids

Rural Missouri - July 2013

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