Joe Peterburs is a retired Air Force Colonel, and a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
He was trained on P-40s, and was part of the 20th Fighter Group, 55th Fighter Squadron, flying P-51s, escorting B-17s, and defending against German fighter attacks. He was able to fly 49 missions, and approximately 269 combat hours.
Twist of Fate
If the war didn’t happen, Peterburs would have been back in his hometown Wisconsin, studying to be a priest. But fate had plans for the adrenaline-filled 19-year-old.
He was soaring the skies chasing off an enemy fighter that blew off a B-17 bomber and was close to hitting the second number.
“Just as he blew up the second, I came in from the rear,” Peterburs recalled, “I saw smoke and fire on his left wing. He immediately rolled over and started to the deck. I just broke off the chase.”
Unfortunately, Peterburs’s plane was hit, causing the engines to overheat. His plane was losing altitude quickly.
He debated whether to bail out or not, but then he saw a German Focke-Wulf 190 coming towards him. The enemy’s plane fired but missed.
Then, at 500 feet, he devised a belly landing, but at 300 feet, his plane caught fire. He then landed on an open field and was sent to a POW camp. However, he managed to escape with a small group soon after.
Peterburs’ group soon came across a Russian tank unit, and his group fought with the Russians for the next three days.
Eventually, an American patrol spotted his flight suit when the Russian crew camped near the Elbe River. He then began his journey home.
Joe Peterburs then married his girlfriend, Josephine, whom he nicknamed his P-51 Mustang that managed to down so many enemy planes during his 49th combat mission.
During the 1990s, he got an unexpected letter from a German man who was a young boy when he watched Peterburs’ plane fall on the farmland. The man managed to track Peterburs from a piece of the downed plane that he managed to save.
Then, in 2005, Peterburs received a letter again from the man telling him that they found the identity of the German pilot who he chased in the sky that fateful day. He wasn’t just an ordinary pilot either- he was Walter Schuck, a top German ace with 206 aerial victories.
During the event, Schuck claimed four American B-17s before Peterburs shot him down.
Both men met for the second time when Schuck traveled o the US in 2005. They soon became close friends. Schuck explained that his plane started disintegrating and had to bail out. He had difficulty bailing out, and he hurt his legs.
Still, he credited Peterburs for saving his life since he thought that he would be killed on future missions as Germany was starting to lose the war.
“Both of us reconciled the relationship by recognizing that we were each doing our job,” Peterburs said.