Bill and Buck Pattillo - WWII Veterans Reunited with their Warbirds

Two P-51 pilots reunite with their warbirds

Most times when you look forward to a big event that is years in the making and is the culmination of a tremendous amount of time work, it can be a big letdown. This was not the case at Oshkosh this year. The airshow and our time with these two WWII legends far exceeded even my wildest dreams. They were AWESOME. Funny, lively, and absolute gentleman. When people speak of the Greatest Generation, I now know what they mean. It is Bill and Buck Pattillo they are referring to. These men are warriors and patriots, and it was a special honor to meet them and spend so much time in their company.

I could write a novel about the stories they told (Bill being shot down in Sweet and Lovely, the POW marches he was led on, Buck bailing out of airplanes on fire, his engine flaming out on takeoff in a plane loaded with napalm, the formation of the Thunderbirds demonstration team, and on and on...) but I'll just get right to a few pictures.

This is the moment Buck Pattillo saw his Little Rebel for the first time in 64 years. The last time he stood next to his P-51 was in England in 1945.

When he arrived at the airplane, a silence came over the crowd and everyone backed away to give him time and space. He was very quiet, and at first would touch just the wing and the drop tank. I have my back to the camera in that red shirt. I encouraged Buck to stand up next to the nose of his airplane and touch it. He did that, and when he turned back to face the crowd, the cameras and flash bulbs came alive. It was a special moment.

We gave Buck his space, and he slowly made his way around the Mustang. "This is my airplane," he said softly. "This is just how she looked."

Buck is in the middle, I am at the left. The airplane's owner/builder/pilot is at the right. The emotion on Buck's face is apparent.

As we worked around the airplane to the other side, I opened up the gun bay for Buck to peer inside. He placed his hands inside and touched one of the Browning .50 caliber machine guns. Once again, it was a very poignant moment.

"Now these aren't live are they?" he asked.
"No, they won't fire," I said. "We didn't want any funny business between you two brothers when we took you flying."
"Good," he responded with a hearty laugh. "Sweet and Lovely is a beautiful airplane. I'd hate to shoot it down."

The next few pictures need some set up. What we did was re-create a 65-year old photograph. This picture, featuring the Pattillo brothers was taken in Bodney , England in 1944.

65 years later, we found the old, original pilot gear and re-staged the scene. The crowd around the airplane as we set this up was incredible.

These guys were 20 years old flying around in England during WWII. They had wild fun then, and they continue to have fun today.

Here is a shot of Bill Pattillo in front of his WWII mount, Sweet and Lovely.

The two Generals together.

Bill on the left with his Sweet and Lovely hat, Buck on the right with his Little Rebel hat:

After the initial rush died down, we asked Buck to sign his name to the rudder:

Two years ago, when Bill saw Sweet and Lovely for the very first time, he also signed his rudder:

587,000 people attended Oshkosh this year, but these guys seemed to be the center of attention. It was like hanging out with rock stars.

On Saturday, the two airplanes and the brothers were featured in the "Warbirds in Review" program. We pushed the planes up on the stage and a standing room only crowd flooded in to hear the pilots speak.

The best part of the week was Friday night. We put each brother in the back seat of his own airplane and took them flying.

I think this flight turned the clock back 20 years in their lives. Their excitement and ear-to-ear grins were second in size only to mine. In the full-resolution version of these pictures, you can easily read the thrill on their faces.

Some more on the Pattillo brothers:

Maj. Gen. Cuthbert A. "Bill" Pattillo - Pilot

487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group
United States Air Force Thunderbird #3
A Distinguished Veteran

Cuthbert "Bill" Pattillo and his twin brother, Charles, were born seven minutes apart on June 3, 1924, in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Atlanta Technical High School in 1942, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in November, 1942 as an aviation cadet. After receiving training in the P-40 Warhawk (specifications ), he received his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant at Marianna, Florida, in March, 1944. He went to the European Theater and was assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, the famous "Bluenosed Bastards of Bodney". He flew 35 combat missions in the P-51D Mustang (specifications ), (HO-Y), number 44-11556, which he called "Sweet and Lovely". He shot down an ME-262 on April 10, 1945. On April 16, 1945, he destroyed six and damaged one enemy aircraft on the ground while strafing an airdrome near Straubing, Germany, and was later shot down by ground flak. He crashed landed in a farmer's plowed field, and became a POW until the end of the war. He was released from active duty in December, 1945, and he and his brother enrolled as engineering students at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While attending school, he participated in the Reserve Military Program as a flight commander of the 54th Fighter Wing of the Georgia National Guard, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt.

'Bill' Pattillo with brother 'Buck' Pattillo

Air Demonstration Teams:

In February, 1948, he was recalled to active duty as a P-51 pilot, and was assigned to the 31st Fighter Group in Albany, Georgia. He was assigned with his brother as P-80 pilots to the 36th Fighter Group, Furstenfeldbruck, Germany, and while there, he and his brother assisted in organizing and flying with the USAF Europe Aerial Demonstration Team, the "Skyblazers", flying the P-80 and F-84. In October, 1952, he was assigned to Pinecastle Air Force Base, Florida, as a fighter gunnery instructor with the 3542nd Flying Training Squadron. In March, 1953, he was assigned to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, as a fighter gunnery instructor along with his brother Charles.

They helped organize the original United States Air Force Aerial Demonstration Team, the "Thunderbirds." He flew right wing while his brother flew left wing.

Further Education and War
From July, 1956 to August, 1959, he first served as a tactical fighter squadron commander with the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing, and then with the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, at England Air Force Base, Louisiana. In September, 1959, he entered the University of Colorado, and after earning a degree in mathematics, he joined the 4450th Standardization and Evaluation Group in Langley, Virginia. After completing his assignment to the Army War College in 1965, he was promoted to Colonel and assigned to the Headquarters Seventeenth Air Force, Ramstein, Germany. Upon this assignment, he and his twin brother were separated for the first time in over 23 years of military service. In March, 1967, he was assigned as Commander to the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, Germany, flying the F-4 Phantom II. In March, 1968, as Vice Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, he went to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, and became the Commanding Officer of the wing in July, 1968. He flew 120 combat missions over Vietnam in the F-4. In 1969, he was promoted to Brigadier General and was Vice Commander of the Oklahoma City Material Area at Tinker Air Force Base. In November, 1971, he became deputy director for logistics, J-4, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C. In September, 1973, he became Commander of the Lowry Technical Training Center at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, and then Vice Commander in Chief, Pacific Air Forces. On March 1, 1979, he was promoted to Lt. General, and was the Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Readiness Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He retired from active duty in 1981.

Medals and Awards
Lt. General Pattillo was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters, Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star (BSS), Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation emblem with oak leaf cluster, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Air Force Distinguished Service Order 2nd Class, French Croix de Guerre with palm, and Air Force pilot wings – Nicaragua – Brazil – China – Peru.

More on "Sweet and Lovely:"


Anonymous said...

Please give us a history of the two aircraft. When was Sweet and Lovely recovered?

Nifty Nick said...

Anonymous said...

I am one of the decendents of bill and buck

Anonymous said...

I served with 'Capt. Bill Pattillo at Luke AFB in 1953 with the 3600 ATC. I worked at scheduling and keeping flight records and was there when the 'Thunderbirds' were formed. I loved it more than anyone could tell when he would take me up in the T-33 and dogfight with his brother. A/1C Harry Revelle

Anonymous said...

As a Veteran Services Officer, I am trying to contact Gen. Buck Pattillo. He might have information that would aid one of our Vietnam Veterans in obtaining disability compensation from the VA.

Milt Smith
Idaho Division of Veteran Services

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