Being one of the few pilots in his class to be designated as a fighter pilot, Strait was assigned to the 356th Fighter Group, flying a P-47 Thunderbolt. He trained in Massachusetts and then
shipped out for England in late 1943. “That’s where I wanted to be … in a fighter. A bomber or transport would have killed me.” He paid homage to his home state by naming his fighter
The Jersey Jerk. “I loved the P-47. It was fantastic for attacking targets on the ground. Shooting up trains, trucks, airfields, whatever else was around. It was superb.”
Known as the “John Wayne” of 356 Fighter Group, he was based at Martlesham Heath Airfield from 1943-45, where he was recognised with a Silver Star for his bravery, and was given the title of “Top Ace”.
Some years after his retirement his connection with Suffolk was rekindled. Charles “Holly” Hall, an aviation writer and cartoonist, met with Maj. Gen. Strait and other members of 356 Fighter Group during a visit to America in the late 90s. It was then that the airmen learned about Martlesham Heath Aviation Society (MHAS) and its aim to preserve the connection between the US Army Air Force and Suffolk.
Rob Dunnett, MHAS vice-chairman, said it started a “wonderful relationship” with biennial visits between the US and Martlesham as well as much financial support from the Americans to help MHAS and its Control Tower Museum.
Mr Dunnett, who hosted the General during his visits, described him as a “great gentleman who will be held in the highest regard by many”. “Donald Strait was an example to all men about how a life can be spent in achievement, fulfilment and contribution to others,” he added.
Despite his many accomplishments, General Strait’s memory focussed on the men he served with during World War II, and it is their memory he honored through his support of the
American Air Museum in Britain. “I supported the Museum even before the first spade of soil was turned. I have visited Duxford almost yearly. And I make sure I contribute every year. I do so because the 8th Air Force conducted the most important air operation in history, and we lost 30,000 men doing it. We need to keep their memory alive.”
DFC with 2 Oak Leaf Cluster;
AM with 14 Oak Leaf Cluster;
Pres. Unit Citation;
WW II VM;
ETO with 4 battle stars;
Am. Def. Ribbon;
USAF Exceptional Civilian Service Award;
Republic of Vietnam's Gallantry Cross with palm '66 - '70
Units served with
The 356th Fighter Group flew 413 missions between 15 October 1943 and 7 May 1945 and suffered the highest ratio of losses to enemy aircraft claims of any Eighth Air Force Group. This gave the Group the reputation of being the 'hard luck' outfit. The...
Assigned to 361FS, 356FG, 8AF USAAF. Personal aircraft of Major Donald J Strait. Re-assigned to Capt Edward L Faison. Transferred to 346FS, 350FG, 9AF USAAF. Failed to Return (FTR) bombing mission to Bologna 23-Dec-44 to flak pilot Lt John Diffendal...
||East Orange, New Jersey
||28 April 1918
Joined the 119th Observation Squadron of the New Jersey National Guard in 1940. The unit was nationalized in September 1940 in the Lead-up to World War II, and Strait was accepted into the pilot program in 1942.
||March 1943 – April 1945
||North Carolina, USA
||30 March 2015