Thunder over Louisville’s F-22 Raptor and Mayfield’s World War II flying ace

The US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, star of this year’s Thunder over Louisville, is a descendant of American World War II fighters like the P-40, P-47 and P-51, all flown by the air ace Herschel. H. “Herky” Green of Mayfield, Kentucky. Green, who ended the war as a lieutenant colonel, shot down German and Italian fighter planes, including half a dozen on one mission.

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He might have had more had he known he had extra ammo. Captain Green, a retired Air Force Colonel, flew a borrowed P-47 Thunderbolt fighter.

Even so, Green’s flying feat has few parallels in aerial combat history. He is even commemorated in the stone of his birthplace.

“ON JANUARY 30, 1944, COL. GREEN SHOT 6 PLANES IN ONE DAY,” reads the inscription on Green’s gleaming black granite monument on the lawn of the Graves County Courthouse in Mayfield, where he survived the deadly and destructive December 10 tornado. .

After retiring from the Air Force in 1964 and working for Hughes Aircraft, the 1937 graduate of Mayfield High School, who attended Vanderbilt University, moved to Rancho Palos Verdes, California. He returned home for the unveiling of the memorial on November 11, 1992, Veterans Day.

In total, Green, who died in 2006 aged 86, shot down 18 aircraft over North Africa and Italy in 1943-44. Aircraft on the ground were not safe from him either. He destroyed 10 of them during raids on enemy airfields.

Green was America’s top ace in the Mediterranean theater when he was promoted to Headquarters 15th Air Force in 1944 (the US Air Force was not created until 1947). He logged 100 combat missions and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In a memorable non-combat mission, he “flew in a B-25 on a resupply trip to Cairo, returning with souvenir fez, 60 gallons of whiskey, 300 pounds of peanuts and a hitchhiker,” according to Acepilots.com.

Mayfield welcomed Green home on June 26, 1945. “He is one of America’s greatest aces, and Mayfield is certainly proud of him,” wrote longtime Louisville Courier Journal sportswriter Earl Ruby. , who took the time to cover a golf tournament in nearby Paducah. take part in the festivities. “The city turned out for him…Three civic organizations celebrated him and the governor [Simeon] Willis made him a Colonel of Kentucky in addition to all of his other honors.

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Green’s decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 26 Air Medals (his monument says 25) and a Purple Heart, according to the American Air Museum in Britain.

He ended up commanding his outfit, the 317th Fighter Squadron of the 325th Fighter Group, nicknamed the “Checkertail Clan” for the distinctive yellow and black squares painted on the tails of their planes.

Herky Green

Flying a P-40 Warhawk, he shot down a German Messerschmitt 109 fighter on his first mission, May 19, 1943. Green and the German pilot were charging head-on, guns blazing, into a game of high-altitude chicken.

Bullets ripped both planes apart, but Green proved to be the better shooter. “Fortunately, or perhaps more accurately, by the grace of God, I was getting hits all over him and parts were starting to fly out of his plane,” Green wrote in “Herky! Memoirs of an Ace of checkerboard”. “We narrowly missed having a head-on collision…as he flew past me, his plane exploded in a huge ball of fire.”

Green was injured and his plane was so badly damaged that it was abandoned. A mechanic handed the young pilot a fragment of shell he found lodged in the engine. “If that fragment had been a wee bit lower, the engine would have stopped dead and my story would have been considerably different – if I were alive to tell it,” the pilot wrote.

On his most famous mission, Green flew another P-47 as his plane was grounded for repair. The 23-year-old West Kentuckian shot down four German transports, an Italian fighter and a German bomber, apparently in just 15 minutes.

On his last “kill”, tracer rounds flew from his .50 caliber machine guns, which he took as a signal that he was low on ammunition. So he went home.

Green and most other pilots carried 400 rounds per gun in their planes to save weight, making them faster and more maneuverable. When they had used 400 rounds, tracer bullets appeared as a warning.

Green was unaware that the fighter pilot he was using carried a full load of 800 rounds. When this pilot saw the first tracers, he knew he had 400 rounds left.

After the 325th switched to the legendary P-51 Mustang, generally considered the best fighter of World War II, Green shot down five more German warplanes, bringing his total to 18. Thus, Green became one of rare air force airmen who were aces in two different fighters.

Green, who is in the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, thought of Mayfield during his first dogfight, which appeared to be his last. Before shooting down the Messerschmitt, it rocked two more 109s but spun and nearly crashed.

Berry Craig is professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and author of seven books and co-author of two others, all on Kentucky history.

“I knew death sat in the cockpit with me,” Green also wrote. “…There was no time for my life to pass before my eyes, but I had time to wonder how a small-town, country boy like me had gotten himself into such a mess .”

Berry Craig is professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and author of several books on Kentucky history, including Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2020 .

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