First name

John Simmons


Young, Jr.

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Kickapoo - John S Young Jr - Retired aircraft mechanic and contributor to The American Air Museum In Britain. My father was Lt. John Simmons Young from Dallas, Texas. He flew B-24D Liberator bombers in WWll in the 9th Air Force, that they named. "The Force For Freedom", the 98th Bomb Group, named, "The Pyramiders", and the 344th Bomb Squadron. John Young, like most of his fellow air cadets, were volunteers from all over North Texas. After earning his wings and finishing his advanced pilot training, the 98th Bomb Group deployed to North Africa in 1942. Lt. Young and the 98th Bomb Group began moving east, first, based at Tunis, Tunisia, Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in 1942-3. After his first B-24 was shot down by German fighters, in an air fight over the island of Crete, Lt. Young was assigned his second Consolidated B-24D which he named, Kickapoo, and flew until it was reassigned to a replacement crew for the famous mission, Operation Tidal Wave, to Ploesti, Romania. Kickapoo crashed on takeoff and was destroyed for the Ploesti mission. The two replacement pilots on, Kickapoo, Lt. Bob Nespor from the 98th Bomb Group and Lt. John Reilley from the 93rd Bombing group were killed along with six more of the replacement crewmen, who were also burned and killed in the crash. Two crewmen, who also were badly burned in the crash, miraculously escaped the burning wreckage. They both healed from their burns and after a long recovery, they returned to service in 1944 after transitioning to Boeing B-29s in the Pacific Theater of Operations with the 98th Bomb Group. Before the Ploesti raid, Lt. Young and his fellow "Pyramiders" in the 98th Bomb Group were attached to the British Expeditionary Force and the USAAF’s 9th Bomber Command. They flew tactical missions, all over the Mediterranean Theater of Operations area against assigned targets and targets of opportunity, including German land targets, enemy troops, trucks, tanks, equipment, enemy shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, enemy shipping ports and port facilities in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Sicily, and Italy. Young admired the flying skill, and the aggressiveness in combat he heard about and observed in his Group Commander, Col. John R. "Killer" Kane, named as such by the Germans ! Young considered Col. Kane to be an exceptional pilot, combat commander, and military leader, an example to follow, and a mentor. During the two years he was in the ETO and the MTO before the Ploesti raid, John Young and his crew had already flown and survived over 300 combat flight hours and 28 total combat missions, bombing and strafing the Germans and Italians at very low levels, sometimes, at 50 feet, right on the deck. On a bombing mission over Naples, Italy, Young’s first B-24 had his #4 engine fail and had to drop out of his formation. Soon after, he and his crew were attacked just off the Island of Crete, by two squadrons of mixed ME-109s and FW-190 German fighter planes flying out of German air bases in Italy and Sicily. Alone and unescorted, Young used a technique he had learned from the British Short Stirling bomber pilots he talked to in Britain, and rolled his huge B-24 into a steep spiraling, power off, "corkscrew" descent maneuver, in order to descend as fast as he could get down to the water's surface, first, to make his B-24 as difficult a target as he could on the way down, and, then, to rob the Germans of their vertical plane of attack until he and his copilot leveled out just above the Ionean Sea and shoved their three operating engines to war emergency power, desperately trying to reach the safety of the British held island of Malta, with the eight attacking German fighters following in trail, making gunnery runs on the American bomber. As the enemy fighters would approach from the rear, Young’s gunners called out ” breaks, (steep timed turns), over their plane’s intercom, “Two low, Johnny, at three o’clock, break right ! “ “ One, eight o’clock high, Big John, break left! “, so Young and his copilot could pull their big bomber into more defensive turns just above the water’s surface, turning right into the fighters and causing the faster German fighters to overshoot and fly past them to give their gunners passing shots as the German fighters could not turn with the B-24 at it’s slower maneuvering speeds. These tactics worked well enough for Young’s gunners to shoot down three of the attacking German fighters, including one of the FW-190s, shot down by Norman Whalen, Young's skilled navigator and nose gunner from Denton, Texas. Whalen hit the FW190 he was shooting at, squarely, with rounds from one of his .50 cal. nose guns and blew it to pieces with a loud explosion, causing Whalen to let out as loud a yell, “ . . . as good as any Texas cowboy.” Young wrote about the incident later, “When I heard Norm yell over the intercom, l almost thought for a moment we were back in Texas !“ With three of the Germans shot down and two more damaged and not likely to make it home alive, the remaining German fighter pilots disengaged, leaving Young and his copilot to nurse their shot up B-24, trailing oil smoke, streams of hydraulic fluid, and gasoline. And they did, finally, make it back to Malta to ditch their failing B-24 in the ocean just off one of Malta’s ocean beaches, with no one in their crew, killed or injured. Young was awarded his first Silver Star for that engagement. Also, he, his copilot, and his entire crew, all received their first Distinguished Flying Cross medals for the mission, as well. Finally, as planning for his very last combat mission started in June and July of 1943, Col. John Kane asked Lt. Young to assist him with the planning and training for the upcoming Ploesti mission. Kane also assigned Young to fly with him in his airplane as pilot in his element lead bomber, Hail Columbia, one of five designated element lead aircraft for the mission. Kane also requested that Mission Commander General Uzal Ent be removed from flying in, Hail Columbia, on the Ploesti Mission, for reasons that became known later after the mission. General Philip Ardery reported in his book, “Bomber Pilot - A Memoir of World War II ”, that the 8th Air Force's standing orders, while in Britain, were for all group, and squadron commanders to ride on missions strictly as mission commanders leading their squadrons, and, as such, they should occupy the copilot’s right hand seat so as to be free from the duties of piloting their airplanes in order to concentrate on observing, commanding, and directing their bomb group's or squadron's airplane formation. Col. Kane observed this policy on the Ploesti mission, assigning Lt. Young as his pilot in, Hail Columbia's left seat for takeoff, the first part, and much of the last part, of the Ploesti mission’s flight. Kane did switch seats with Young as they finished their descent coming out of the Danube River Valley approaching Ploesti, and Kane continued flying, Hail Columbia, from the left seat while approaching and strafing the enemy's flak guns ahead of them, and later while they bombed their target, White IV. Harold Korger, Norman Whalen, and the rest of Young’s crew from, Kickapoo, crew, we’re also assigned to fly in, Hail Columbia, for the Ploesti mission.  However, on takeoff for the mission, Kickapoo’s replacement pilot, Lt. Robert Nespor crashed, Kickapoo, in an explosion of flames, after, Kickapoo’s number 4 engine seized and caught on fire, as Lt. Nespor attempted to save his valuable B-24 and return to his airbase to land. The crash and resulting fire killed all, but two of, Kickapoo's, replacement crew members, including 27 year old Lt. Bob Nespor, and John Clark Reilley, who both died of their burns later. Even though the 98th Bomb Group continued the mission over the Mediterranean Sea, several of the 98th's pilots turned back en route to Ploesti, and the 98th took 46 per cent casualties over the Ploesti refinery complex. Several of Young's crewmen in, Hail Columbia, were injured over Ploesti by flak splinters, as their plane absorbed over a hundred and fifty flak hits, approaching and flying over their target, White IV. Still, Kane, Lt. Young, and their bombardier, Lt. Harold Korger, somehow, flying through all the explosions, smoke, and fires ahead and under them, found their target, the Astra Romano refinery complex, and under the extreme stress of the impossible circumstances of the moment, they bombed White IV, but missed hitting their target's important cracking plants with their bombs, yet escaping the target area and the hellish ground flak, south of Ploesti by running their crippled airplane at full throttle settings on their three good engines, very low on the deck as they fled from greater Ploesti, and flew on south over Turkey, to crash land on the British airbase at Nicosia, Cyprus, hours later after dark. Lt. Gilbert “Gib” Hadley in his plane, Hadley's Harem, Col. Walter Stewart in his plane, Utah Man, Lt. Robert Sternfels in the B-24D he named, The Sandman, and Lt. Royden LeBrecht in, The Squaw, all followed John Kane’s lead in, Hail Columbia, out of the greater Ploesti area and also flew on south, through Turkey, knowing that, with the exception of Lt. Royden Lebrecht, whose B-24 was relatively undamaged by flak, and flew cover for the other planes, like Hail Columbia, that could not make it back to home base on three engines, two damaged propellers, and leaking fuel. Col Kane, Pilot John Young, Harold Korger, and their excellent navigator, Norman Whalen, knowing they couldn't make it home to Benghazi, decided to try for the much closer island of Cyprus, and, once decided, Whalen successfully navigated the entire group of shot up straggler B-24s all the way to Cyprus, minus Gilbert Hadley and his shot up B-24D, Hadley's Harem, which lost power, running out of engine oil and gasoline for his engines, and crashed into the sea in the dark, as Hadley was descending for an attempt at ditching off the Turkish coast. The rest of Kane’s straggler airplanes made landings at Cyprus, excepting Kane and Young’s landing, which was a crash landing. Robert Sternfels in, The Sandman, gave Col. Kane a ride from Cyprus to Cairo, Egypt, a day or so after the Ploesti mission, and flew him back to Benghazi, Libya, three days later. Col. Kane, Lt. Young, Col. Stewart, Lt. Robert Sternfels, Lt. LeBrecht, and their crewmen, all survived the Ploesti mission. For his part in the mission, Lt. John Young was awarded another Oak Leaf Cluster to his Distinguished Flying Cross medal, another one to his Air Medal, and another one to his Silver Star. Lt. Norman Whelan, and Deputy Lead Commander of the 93rd Bomb Group, Col. Walter Stewart, both received Distinguished Service Cross medals and oak leaf clusters to their DFC medals, for their leadership on the mission. Col. John Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor and a second oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Flying Cross. Shortly after the Ploesti raid, John Young returned to Britain with many of the 93rd, 44th, and 389th Bomb Groups. And, not too long after that, he flew home to Fort Worth, Texas, in the iconic B-24, The Blue Streak, and began a year long war bond tour starting at the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Factory at Plant #4, part of Consolidated Vultee's Fort Worth's B-24 Factory complex across from Carswell Air Force Base. For the rest of his nationwide war bond tour, Young flew, the iconic B-24, The Blue Streak, along with Lt. Royden LeBrecht flying his own plane, The Squaw. Walter Stewart flew the B-24D, Bomerang. After his war bond tour in the United States, Lt. Young was promoted to Captain, and remained a flight officer in Fort Worth, Texas, until he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army Air Forces, in 1945 with the final rank of Major. John Young died in 1983.

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