4th FG REUNION DEBRIEFING"
by Wade Meyers © 2001-2009
The long-anticipated (for me) 2001 Reunion of the 4th Fighter Group (WWII)
was held in Savannah, GA October 3rd - 7th.
got real lucky and met the three guys I really wanted to see: Col. Don Blakeslee, Lt Col Jim Goodson, and Don Allen, 334 FS
crew chief and nose artist (by his count) of around 57 pieces of art on mostly 334 aircraft, but he did do two for 336, I
There was a great turnout, both in pilots, ground crews, medics, radio repairmen, heavy maintenance repairmen,
etc. Notables included, in no particular order, Dorn Painter, a 336 line chief who was already in a jeep watching Gentile
do his buzz job and was the first on the scene in the field on the west side of Howe Wood (a little less than a mile
west of the airfield) where Shangri-La came to rest; Bill Gier, who was a medic at DB from 42-45 and got to transport
Gentile one time when they were trying to "hide" him from Col. Don; and another guy who worked in the consolidated
radio shop for all 3 squadrons - he saw and knew them all.
Also, two pilots were there who witnessed the Green/McKennon
pick up. Neat!
Other personal observations:
Col. Blakeslee. What can you say? The man's a walking, talking
piece of history. I had several conversations with 'Col. Don', and have to say I was impressed immensely with the man. I
had the honor of personally describing my new "One-Man Air Force" painting to the Colonel, and was surprised at how genuinely
interested he was in my "take" on what happened that day. I guess he was more than surprised that younger folks like
me even gave a darn about those days so long ago. Several times I caught Col. Don sitting with Jim Goodson, and one
of those times I showed him a photo of he and Goodson together at Debden, and here they were 57 years later
sitting together at the same table. I asked the Colonel if there was any way he could have imagined back then that
they would be sitting side by side all these years later and he just shook his head silently.
Jim Goodson. I spent many hours sitting with
Jim and have to say that this is one of the most genuinely gentle and humble people I have ever met. Jim struck me as a person
who long ago accepted that life is a supreme wonder and mystery and he's simply grateful to have had a blessed life now, and
especially during and after the war, and to have been a part of the 4th FG. He told me, "You know, there was just something
special about the Fourth, and I don't quite know what it is." Carrying the conversation further later, we decided that
it was because of the tremendous risks the early Eagles took to get over to the fighting (potential loss of citizenship was
but one risk they took) which flavored the group and which uniqueness carries the legend to
this day at SJAFB. Jim was most gracious and made himself available every day to conversation and chit chat, solo or around
a table talking to 5 or 6 people. One of my most touching memories will be sitting with him on several occasions as he flipped
through some of the remarkable photo albums vets and collectors brought - true gold mines of original photos - anyway, watching
Jim touch the photos of his departed friends then and now made me a little misty eyed, I'm not afraid to admit. A remarkable
man - I'll never forget him as long as I live. Jamie Goodson is a chip off the old block and Jim is lucky to have such a loving
and caring son to ". . . watch over me", as Jim says. By the way, Jim lives, and has lived for many years, in England with
his British wife. However, he and his wife visit Jamie and family often in the northeast U.S.
Don Allen. Wow. His
photo albums would make you turn into a pile of quivering jelly. He said thank God his mother saved all the stuff he sent
home. Now they're for him (and us) priceless treasures. One memorable afternoon Don and I spent almost 2 hours by ourselves
flipping through some photos of his work on some of the most famous "nose art" of the war. Those photos, plus some of the
other photo albums brought many personal observations on Don's part and for a minute there I felt like his best friend sitting
Frank Speer. A genuine hero who evaded capture until he was just plain spent mentally and physically.
It was engrossing hearing him tell that story and others during breakfast.
Dr. Cal Willruth. A post war dentist, Dr.
Willruth Flew WD-Y DOTTIE many times on Col. Blakeslee's wing, and gave wonderful accounts of his service and what
it was like to admire Col. Don ("He was a God to us even back then") - and how nervous he was as a young pilot flying wing
for the BOSS! He and his wife were excellent company one night in particular when several of us went to the "Olde Pink House"
restaurant in downtown Savannah. The staff almost had to carry us out of there, we all talked so long. Truly one of
the most fun nights I've ever had sitting around with friends.
Last, but not least, Bob Tullius, owner of the current P-51D Donald Duck was there with his
"Stang", and had it parked over at Savannah Int'l in the hangar of his friend Bob Jepson, who had three of his (five?)
Mustangs there. Bob J. invited us all out one afternoon to drool over the four P-51s, and we preceded to do just
that! Glad to see folks with the means spending their money in the right places!!
We also took a tour of the Gulfstream
plant there at Savannah Int'l . . .get your deposit in now for a nice custom GV-SP for just about $45 million! Neat place.
(Above) Group Shot of attending "Debden Eagles". The turnout was great, and we all had a super time.
334 FS crew chief and nose artist Don Allen. Don personalized over 50 aircraft, including "Salem Representative",
"Boise Bee", and many others. Here we flip through some of the amazing photo albums attendees brought to the reunion.
That red book on the table in the foreground is my copy of "Escort to Berlin", by Garry Fry and Jeff Ethell, which is one
of the best books on the 4th Fighter Group in WWII. This particular book not only now has the signatures of many 4th
FG alums, but it also accompanied me on my visit to Debden in July 2002 - a true 4th FG memento!
Here I am with the legendary Col. Don Blakeslee. His leadership was one of the biggest reasons the 4th became
the most successful fighter group in U. S. history.
Blakeslee and Goodson. Notice my painting "One-Man Air Force" behind Col. Blakeslee. I unveiled the piece
at this reunion. Mark Phelps, Senior Editor for Aviation International News, is to Col. Blakeslee's left.
Goodson and Blakeslee share a laugh.
Jim Goodson, Cecil Manning, Jr., and Jim Chapman look over a photo album.
Jamie Goodson and his dad. Two first class fellas.
Yours truly and Jim Goodson stand next to Jim's photo on the "Ace's Wall" at the Mighty Eighth Air Force
Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia. Jim said he remembers that photo being taken. He was walking out to his Jug when the
photographer said something to him. Jim turned, and the photo was snapped.
A typical scene from the reunion in the "ready room", our daily gathering room in the hotel. Jim Goodson
is shown talking to us gathered around the table. He really enjoyed answering our questions during the few days we were all
together, and seemed like he had as much fun as we did.
Jim Chapman, our favorite Texas attorney and a big 4th FG buff, and the Frank Speers at breakfast one day.
Jim, Mrs. Cecil Manning, Cecil Jr., and myself took off early Saturday to go to Hilton Head, SC for a few hours. Great time!
CMSGT Dave Raphael, USAF (Ret), his wife, and 4th FG pilot Cecil Manning look over the late Jack Raphael's
(Dave's dad) treasure trove of photos. Jack flew with 336th.
We at the reunion got a special treat. On Saturday, we were invited out to the Savannah airport, where Bob
Jepson keeps his stable of Mustangs. Bob Tullius, former driver for Jaguar, kept his P-51D (pictured) in Jepson's hangar
for the reunion, and was the catalyst for our invite. FOUR Mustangs in the same place, all immaculate!
Bob Tullius (purple polo shirt, back to camera), and Bob Jepson (standing, right) tell us about their "precious
metal" inside Jepson's hangar.
Cecil Manning, Jr. and Jim Goodson next to Bob Tullius' P-51D, which is painted to represent Capt. Donald
R. Emerson's last Mustang from his first tour. Emerson was shot down and killed during his second tour with the 4th
FG (25 Dec 1944). This P-51 is now exhibited in the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon.
Close up of the bomb/tank rack and bomb on Tullius' Mustang. Personally, I'd prefer to see a couple of Bowater
108 gallon "paper" drop tanks strapped on the wings. Ah, what do I know . . .
complete 4th Fighter Group o
334th, 335th, and 336th Fighter Squadron
Operational Diaries - now in PDF format!
You will get one CD containing high-quality (printable) scans of the WWII Operational Diaries
of all three WWII 4th FG squadrons. Do your research, and print out only what you need, as you need
it. The CD contains 31 PDF format files (ordered and arranged by squadron and dates) consisting
of over 2,500 pages and 88.4 MB! All can be viewed/printed with the popular Adobe Reader.