Unfortunately, the murderous madness of the September 11 attacks postpones the official ceremonies to a later date.
William Wyatt PATTON jr, better known under the affectionate name of “Junior” was born on January 10, 1918 in Stella, Missouri. Growing up on the family farm in Granby near Stark City, he was the son of William W PATTON Senior and Rhoda F PATTON. He was the oldest of three children. The young William, who pursues a brilliant schooling, shows himself particularly gifted. In 1930, at the age of 12, he received a certificate of honor from the Neosho school. He loved bananas covered with ice cream. Very quickly, a passion was born in him: airplanes. A passion that will write a short and intense destiny for him.
Voluntary at age 16
In disagreement with his father, he joined the US Army Air Corps at the age of 16 in June 1934 thanks to the signature of his mother. After graduating from Midway High School, first class PATTON 6256361 arrived in Texas at Randolph Field. Military superiors deeming him too young will initially assign him to the Officers’ Mess. In 1939, he was given the rank of sergeant by Colonel John B Brook. The destinies of these two men will cross again at the end of the war. On September 12, 1940, he was in Honolulu at Hickam Field, where he was appointed Staff/Sergeant by Captain Louie P Turner.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese fleet attacked Hawaiian military and civilian installations. More than 300 planes, in two successive waves, targeted ships, planes and bases…
Survivor of this entry into the war which caused many losses among his comrades, William was promoted to the rank of Technical Sergeant on February 1, 1942.
Still on the base of Hickam within the 5th bombardment group, he participated in June in missions against the ships of the Japanese squadron during the battle of Midway. On September 3, 1942, he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant.
On the recommendation of his head of unit, he joined the officers’ school. Declared fit for flight training, he was transferred to California, to the West Coast training center. Student pilot Patton made his first forty minutes of flight at the controls of a Boeing Stearman PT-13B. On June 15, he received his certificate bearing the mention “Primary flying time correct”. Student pilot Patton, back at Gardner, joined the Aviation Cadet School on June 27 for “Basic” training. On August 25, he will total 145 hours of flight. There he learned instrument flight, night flights with lighted landings or in “Black-out”.
After a twin-engine qualification on the Beechcraft B-18, it’s time to move on to the Pilot and Co-pilot qualification on the B-17F. It was on HOBBS airfield, on January 19, 1944, in New Mexico, that Second Lieutenant Patton graduated from the Army Air Force Pilot School on the B-17F. Finally it’s time to take the road to Europe to be part of the hundreds of bombers that take off every day for the Reich. During these perilous missions, dozens of crews suffered the attacks of the Luftwaffe and the fearsome barrage fire from the Flak.
In May 44, as soon as he arrived at his base in England, William was assigned to the 8th Air Force for long-range bombing. The installations of the 8th Air Force are a veritable hive representing nearly 2,000 aircraft. They are organized into 12 bases for bomber groups, and 15 bases for fighters. First in the 94th Bombardment Group, William was transferred to the 560th Squadron of the important 388th Long Range Bombardment Group.
During his service within this unit, he will obtain the Air Medal and four Bronze Service Stars for his missions in Normandy, in the North of France, the Ardennes and the region of the Rhine. In the summer of 1944, he volunteered to join the Top Secret Aphrodite project.
Following the direct threat of the V-1 and V-2, the American and British staffs are looking for a solution to destroy the launch pads for these new weapons. The English fill the holds of the enormous Lancasters with a single bomb, the “Gran Slam”. Weighing more than 10 tonnes, it was dropped at an altitude of 12,000 m and penetrated 30 m before explosion into the fortifications resistant to conventional bombing. The Americans, on the proposal of General Doolittle, are working on the drone project.
On June 26, 1944, General Doolittle agreed to modify 25 B-17s to transform them into drones and more particularly into flying bombs. The ultimate goal is to get the B-17s to crash into their target with 9 tons of high destructive explosives. A first camera placed in front of the instruments restores the piloting information so that the operator can take over after the ejection of the crew members. A second camera placed in the Plexiglas nose of the device, gives him a global vision of the objective. Remote piloting is done as far as the target via a Radio-Control system. But the Aphrodite project needs pilots despite its autopilot phase. For this, Doolittle recruits as usual small groups of volunteers, selected from among the best, because these missions turn out to be very dangerous.
On October 15, 1944, aboard B-17 G 42-37743, accompanied by Lt JW Hinner, William took off for one of these Aphrodite missions. These missions were not very successful and proved to be more dangerous for the crews than for the Germans. The project was stopped on January 20, 1945.
Having found that the German fighters or the Flak had never succeeded in driving back the bombers of the 8th Air Force, but that bad weather had managed to do so several times, Colonel Budd J Peaslee proposed that fighters be sent as scouts. They will transmit vital information regarding the weather and enemy activity on the objective. After being a bomber pilot and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, William fulfilled his duty. However, he again volunteers to be a fighter pilot. Going from bomber pilot to fighter pilot is quite rare and proves the recognition of his command. After a tough selection that only passes the best, William is assigned to the Goxhill conversion base to fly on T-6 NA. Then he was again transferred to the 55th Fighter Group at Clobber College for his P-51 training.
On January 15, 1945, his former bomber group, the 388th BG, went on a mission south of Munich to the Ausbourg marshalling yard in the Lechfeld region. The 3rd Scouting Force will do weather reconnaissance. Raids were reported that day for Europe involving more than 800 Allied bombers and 560 escort fighters. Lieutenant Patton carries out his mission without too much problem with his leader, Lieutenant Brian .J.Booker at the controls of their respective Mustangs. Returning from the mission to their base in England, overhead Roubaix at 11:15 a.m., Lieutenant Patton’s plane left its formation while describing a 180° turn on the left wing without responding to radio calls from its leader. A maneuver that brings up a sudden problem: mechanical failure, toxic emanation, … fire on board? His Leader will indicate in his report that he then lost sight of him, because the fog did not allow the observation of his trajectory.
Following the discovery of the wreckage of his P51 in February 2001, the body of William Patton was found, 56 years after his disappearance. William Patton is buried on November 9 at Springfield Military Cemetery, Missouri, after a religious service at Neosho, near Stark City. The “Welcome home, William” that resounds with so much emotion in the mouths of his family, is answered in France by the respect of an entire community. It is a great proof of Franco-American friendship that is symbolized. Around the memory of this hero of the 2nd World War, today’s youth can remember that this man, who came from afar, sacrificed his life for our freedom.
Le 15 janvier 2003
58 ans après sa disparition, le lieutenant Patton avait donc rendez-vous ce 15 janvier 2003 avec l’Histoire. En coopération avec les autorités américaines, les communes de La Longueville et Feignies avaient organisé une journée qui s’annonçait mémorable. De nombreuses personnalités civiles et militaires s’étaient déplacées: M. Jeanjean (sous-préfet de l’arrondissement d’Avesnes) M. Decagny (député), M.Pauvros, (maire de Maubeuge), M. Baudoux (président de la communauté d’agglomération), Mme Morisson, commissaire-adjoint de Maubeuge, ainsi que de nombreux élus locaux.
Les Etats-Unis étaient représentés par le lieutenant-colonel Kelley, adjoint de l’attaché de l’armée de l’air, M. David Roth, directeur des affaires mortuaires en France, M. Gilles Roserens, de l’ambassade des Etats-Unis, Mme Catherine Koch, consul des Etats-Unis et M. John Davis, président de l’association des vétérans américains des guerres à l’étranger.De nombreuses autorités militaires françaises étaient également là, M. le représentant du ministère de la défense, M. le commandant de la légion de gendarmerie, ainsi que beaucoup de ses représentants locaux.
On comptait également dans le public, d’importantes délégations des bases aériennes 103 et 123. Citons aussi les associations patriotiques régionales qui avaient dépêché pour la circonstance de nombreux porte-drapeau.Enfin, Connie Patton, nièce de William, accompagnée d’une amie, Mme Tamara Hadock, avait effectué le déplacement depuis le Missouri pour assister à la cérémonie à la mémoire de son oncle.