This is an amazing story of how the leader of the squadrons of the 355th fighter group, Major Bert Marshall, was rescued by a fellow pilot after being shot down by German flak.
In this P51 named Jane 4, Marshall was an ace and worked his way up to the commanding officer of one of the squadrons of the 355th. One of the men flying under his command was Lt. Royce Priest, flying a P-51 named Weepin’ Deacon II.
Royce looked up to Marshall as they’re both from Texas, and Priest even followed Marshall’s stellar football career before entering the army, calling the latter his “personal hero.”
Little did Priest know that on August 1944, the tables would turn, and it was the person that he looked up to, Major Marshall, that would need the saving.
During this mission, Marshall along with the 354th Fighter Squadron carried out sweeps to the north and east of Paris. Under each wing lies a 250-pound bomb intended to strike ground targets.
Marshall and three other Mustangs went down to check the area for flak and anti-aircraft, but they quickly realized it was a trap. As the Mustangs prepared to fire, the walls of the train fell to reveal it was actually a German flat car- one of the deadliest threats to P-51s at low levels.
A Bold Move
Marshall’s plane took a direct hit and decided to bring his plane to an emergency landing. Lt. Priest, however, hated to watch his hero left behind. So, he came up with a bold idea.
“I got back on the radio and suggested that he head for a field about a mile away and I would land nearby to pick him up,” Priest recalled.
However, Major Marshall ordered the young lieutenant not to land and risk himself multiple times, according to a later report, making it clear he didn’t want the latter to land.
Marshall successfully landed his plane on a field and it seemed certain that he would be a POW for the remainder of the war. However, Priest blatantly disregarded orders and came down anyways, landing half a mile away. A truckload of German infantry was headed in the lieutenant’s direction. Fortunately, the rest of the flight lined up and destroyed the truck in a hail of gunfire.
To the Rescue
Priest ran to Marshall, who was livid, berating the young pilot and told him to take off and save himself while the Germans were closing in. But Priest didn’t want to take off without his leader. Marshall had no other choice but to hop into the cockpit, directing Priest to sit on top and fly while he (Marshall) sat underneath.
Designed for only one person, the P-51’s cockpit was cramped, and they barely fit, but somehow, they made it work. A second German convoy appeared throwing fire at them but failed to land any hits. After gaining some altitude, and after a long and cramped flight, they headed home.
When they landed, the crew had to do a double take when they saw two pilots climb out of the P-51 cockpit. Major Marshall sincerely thanked the young pilot.
Court Martial or Medal of Honor?
Lt. Priest was fairly sure that he would be transferred out of the unit or completely taken out of combat duty as he ignored a direct combat order- twice.
To his surprise, days later, Priest received news that he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross instead of disciplinary action. Both men would go on to survive the war and would remain as close friends.