I should start this piece with a confession. Although I have been involved in 353rd FG history and heritage for a long time, I have never kept a list of its aircraft before the one on this blog. Knowing that a particular aircraft had a particular name, code, serial and was flown on a particular occasion by a particular pilot does not add anything to our historical understanding to my mind. There are, however, dedicated people out there who devote many hours of painstaking research to such matters and I would be the very first to concede the limitations of my knowledge and the superiority of theirs in this area.
I use a fairly academic definition of history that probably needs some clarifying. Historians
divide over whether vast impersonal forces, individuals, blind chance or the divine drive history. They also divide over whether history has a lesson or is essentially meaningless and should be studied purely for its own sake. They probably all agree that history is all about explaining continuity or change in human affairs using the evidence available (though they again divide over what constitutes evidence and how it should be used). So from an academic perspective it’s difficult to see how aircraft serial lists could ever help answer questions relevant to historians. As a caveat I would suggest that important facts do not become so until a historian attributes significance to them, so maybe someday somebody will discover the historical significance of serial numbers.
I would be lying, of course, if I did not admit that I carry around in my head a certain amount of knowledge on whose aircraft carried what names or if I denied some interest in such things. Aircraft identities, and the stories behind them, are often a very direct way to connect to the personal and human heritage (I prefer this term to “history”) behind the military exterior. They serve to open up what many perceive as the glamorous world of the fighter pilot and the often tragic stories behind a faded photograph or tattered document. The families of veterans, of course, can gain great satisfaction and comfort from confirmation that an aircraft is “Dad’s aircraft” rather than just a “Thunderbolt” or “Mustang.” It’s much more widespread than this though – from the “spotters” who enjoy compiling lists to the war-bird restorers, re-enactors, modellers and computer gamers, literally thousands of people have an intense fascination for accuracy and detail on the aircraft of the Eighth Air Force and the 353rd as a subsection of this.
So here are some good serial numbers that will hopefully resolve some of the confusion that has banded around the internet over the last few years (though I hope it does not cause too much angst among the modelling community). The origins of the confusion go back to 1969 and the publication of Ken Rust’s Slybird Group. Page 73 has a picture of SX-B “Butch II” that “Weep” Juntilla supplied and that Rust attributes to Bill Bailey – commander of the 352nd Fighter Squadron. SX-B was Bailey’s aircraft code and has a long association with him. So it would seem obvious to attribute the name to him also. But here’s the thing – it’s not Bailey’s aircraft. Bailey flew it, but another pilot was responsible for the name “Butch II.”
As I said, I’m new to this list game and I have not yet compiled a full listing of all Bailey’s SX-B’s. What I do know is that he didn’t actually name his Thunderbolts – when I asked him once if he named his P-47s he was very vague and said that some people had attributed names to my aircraft. In actual fact the record suggests he didn’t name them, preferring just to have a lion painted on his early aircraft by Phil Rossi, the former Disney artist in the 378th Service Squadron. Names for Bailey’s aircraft only begin with his P-51s “Double Trouble” and “Double Trouble Two.”
The earliest SX-B I can confirm at the moment is a P-47D-22-RE (a/c 42-26036). The aircraft had a rough time with the Squadron – Lt Reinhardt crashed landed it at Wattisham on June 10, 1944 and it was repaired and recoded as SX-P. Its new life did not last long, however, and it was lost to flak August 1, 1944. The pilot, Lt. Del Harris, survived the experience and became a POW. Meanwhile Bailey, still flying operations, was given a P-47D-25-RE as replaceme (a/c 42-26459). Bailey completed his first tour on August 8, 1944 and left for leave in the United States – he would not be back until around October 15, by which time the Group had converted to Mustangs. This left the last P-47 SX-B to be flown and named by somebody else in Bailey’s absence.
Lt. William T. ‘Bill’ McGarry joined the Squadron on May 19, 1944 and just under a month
later was assigned his first regular aircraft – a P-47D-25-RE (a/c 42-26631) coded SX-I. He named the aircraft “Butch” and flew it regularly on operations throughout the summer until August 4. The aircraft was lost, along with its pilot Lt. Richard Daines, to flak a few days later on August 7. Bill McGarry therefore needed a replacement aircraft and, as Bailey’s aircraft was available, he took SX-B and soon named it “Butch II.” McGarry flew the aircraft through the remainder of his tour completing on September 21, 1944.
Answering questions often leads to further questions and this post was actually prompted by a photo of another earlier “Butch II” in the 352nd Fighter Squadron. As the white identification band shows, this aircraft dates from the Squadron’s Metfield days and my strong hunch is that it is Mac McCollom’s aircraft. As commander of the 61st FS, 56th FG he called his P-47 “Butch.” His daughter Patty explains that “Butch” was her father’s humorous nickname for her mother – a very diminutive, feminine and educated woman who you could never imagine calling “Butch.” When he left the 56th to join the 353rd, McCollom’s old P-47 would likely have remained on the 56th FG books and the natural thing to do would be to call the new 353rd aircraft “Butch II.” Roger Freeman lists McCollom as operating SX-C with the Group, but I have no confirmation of a serial yet or what caused the wing tip damage in the photo.
So that’s some of what’s in a name – I’m not sure any of this is historically significant, but hopefully it’s interesting to some of you out there…