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Fighter Pilot

The First American Ace of World War II

William R. Dunn

Publication Year: 2014

At the age of twelve, American William R. Dunn decided to become a fighter pilot. In 1939 he joined the Canadian Army and was soon transferred to the Royal Air Force. He was the first pilot in the famous Eagle Squadron of American volunteers to shoot down an enemy aircraft and later became the first American ace of the war. After joining the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, he saw action in the Normandy invasion and in Patton's sweep across France. Twenty years later he fought again in Vietnam. Dunn keenly conveys the fighter pilot's experience of war -- the tension of combat, the harsh grip of fear, the love of aircraft, the elation of victory, the boisterous comradeship and competition of the pilot brotherhood. Fighter Pilot is both a gripping story and a unique historical document.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Edward M. Coffman

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pp. ix-xii

Most of us enjoy adventure vicariously. Television, movies, and books provide all we want of such experience. It is different for a few, as Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out in his essay "Heroism": "But whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge." Bill Dunn was such a man, and the time in which he lived was certainly filled with crises. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Say what you will about him: arrogant, cocky, boisterous, and a devil-may-care fool—the fighter pilot has earned his place in the sun. Across the span of nearly seventy years he has given his country some of its proudest moments and most cherished military traditions. But fame is short-lived. ...

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Prologue: The Early Years

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pp. 1-15

Since I've got to start some place, I'll begin at the very beginning. The Lord said, "Let there be light," and on 16 November 1916 He created me, like you, in His own image. This took place at Minneapolis, Minnesota. My father, Walter, was a doctor of medicine, a physician and surgeon. My mother's name was Ellen. ...

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1. The Ladies from Hades

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pp. 16-29

On September 1, 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939 England and France declared war on Germany. On 6 September 1939 I was on a train that crossed the Canadian-United States border enroute to Vancouver, British Columbia. My intention was to volunteer for military service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. ...

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2. First from the Eyries

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pp. 30-43

In October of 1940 a message was sent from the British Air Ministry to all army and navy units requesting the names of personnel who wished to serve with the Royal Air Force and who had some previous flying experience—at least 500 hours as pilots. These persons, if accepted, were to be immediately transferred to the RAF to make up the heavy pilot losses suffered by Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. ...

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3. Baptism to Air Battle

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pp. 44-62

Back at Martlesham Heath, Flight Lieutenant George Brown took me under his wing—and some wing it proved to be. We spent at least five hours in the air the first day doing formation flying, aerobatics, simulated attacks on bombers, and simulated fighter-to-fighter dogfighting. George was a very tough instructor. ...

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4. For the King's Shilling

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pp. 63-76

August proved to be a month of contrasting events—some good, some bad, some in between. To begin with the bad events, elderly Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh "Boom" Trenchard, the father of the Royal Air Force and its first Chief of Staff, paid an inspection visit to No. 71 "Eagle" Squadron at North Weald, "To meet our very first American allies," he said. ...

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5. The Ace

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pp. 77-88

It was still pitch dark on the morning of 27 August 1941 when the batwoman (yes, I said woman, a WAAF type) knocked on my quarters door, entered the room uninvited, and turned on that bloody bright light. "Four o'clock, sir," she cheerfully informed me. "You've got to be at dispersal in an hour. ...

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6. Holiday at the Seaside

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pp. 89-102

I awoke sometime in the late afternoon of the next day, 28 August, still groggy from the pain-killing shot the doctor at the airfield had given me and the other medications they gave me in the hospital operating room. I didn't seem to hurt any place, just felt lousy and tired out. ...

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7. In the Eye of the Storm

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pp. 103-118

I arrived back at North Weald airfield and the squadron about noon the next day, after a pleasant overnight visit with Wendy at her London flat. My squadron buddies welcomed me enthusiastically at lunch time, but they had to get right back to dispersal; a big fighter sweep over France was on for that afternoon. ...

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8. Air Offensive Europe

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pp. 119-131

The 406th Fighter Group entered the fray with a fury that was spurred by Colonel Grossetta's words as he opened his fighter's throttle on takeoff to lead the first full group mission: "All right guys, here we go! Remember, no guts, no glory!" An hour later we sustained our first combat casualty—Major Bill "The Green Hornet" Merriam, who was senior group operations officer. ...

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9. D-Day and Operation Overlord

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pp. 132-145

It seemed I had barely fallen asleep when I was suddenly awakened by the sound of multitudes of aircraft engines overhead. Ours or theirs? I lay in my canvas cot and listened for a moment. The engines didn't have the unsynchronized throb of the enemy's bombers; must be ours. ...

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10. The Battle for France

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pp. 146-158

Operation Cobra, which was the code name for the massive air attack on Saint Lo, was, as I've already mentioned, carried out on 24 and 25 July 1944. Saint Lo was the location selected for our armies to break through the German lines and begin their liberation sweep across France. ...

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11. War in the Far East

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pp. 159-179

I got my leave in the States all right—one whole week with Martha and Jerry! Martha seemed a bit fed up with me going off to war again so soon, but it couldn't be helped. It had been a long war—nearly five years—and it would prove to be still longer. My next assignment, before going to the Far East, was to attend the Command and General Staff School (Air Staff Course) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. ...

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Epilogue: The Later Years

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pp. 180-194

When I arrived back in the States from China, a bunch of us went to the "Top of the Mark" hotel in San Francisco to celebrate. There we spent several happy hours with a glass of cold milk in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other. I don't know which tasted better. Transportation arranged, I went to Picton, Ontario, to see my wife Martha and my son...

Appendix: The War Birds

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pp. 195-226


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pp. 227-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780813146096
E-ISBN-10: 0813146097
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813114651

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Fighter pilots -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Army Air Forces -- Biography.
  • Dunn, William R., 1916-.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American.
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