Veteran C. A. "Bill" Patillo

C.A. "Bill" Patillo

Cuthbert A. “Bill” Pattillo was born June 3, 1924 in a middle class suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. His identical twin brother, Buck, was born seven minutes after he entered this world. The two twin brothers have been very close during their entire lives and their civilian experiences and military careers have been very similar. During the Great Depression Bill worked as teenager in various part-time jobs. His abiding interest was in air craft and flying and his major hobby was building model airplanes. Pilots were his heroes and his life’s ambition was to join the Army Air Corp, qualify for the Aviation Cadet Program, and become an Army Air Corp pilot. Pearl Harbor and the rapid expansion of all U. S. military forces gave him the opportunity to achieve his goals.

Bill completed high school in June 1942, enlisted in the Army the following November, and in January 1943 entered the Aviation Cadet Program. He and Buck received their wings and commissions as 2nd Lieutenants at the same time in March of 1944. After additional training on the Curtis P-40, Bill and his brother were assigned to the 352nd Fighter Group in England flying P-51 Mustangs. The primary missions of the group were to provide fighter escort for B-17 and B-24 bombers of the 8th Air Force that were flying bombing raids and to conduct fighter sweeps over Germany.

The massive flights of bombers flew at 25,000 feet and the fighter escorts flew above them at 30,000 feet to protect them from Germany fighters. The bombers were slower than the fighters and the fighter pilots had to weave back and forth to maintain their defensive positions. While the fighters could maneuver, the bombers were required to maintain a steady course because of their speed, the size of the massive formations, and the need to be on course when dropping their bombs. The bombers were subjected to intensive anti-aircraft fire, especially as they neared their targets and were unable to do much to protect themselves. As Bill observed these bomber crews he developed a great respect for their courage and determination as they sought to complete their missions under very dangerous conditions.

Late in the War, the Germans deployed their new ME 262 jet fighter. This plane was much faster than American fighters, but could stay airborne for only 30 minutes. While aloft, however, they were capable of wreaking havoc on the bomber formations. On one mission Bill was able out maneuver and destroy an ME 262 in spite of it faster speed.

As the Allied Armies advanced across France and into Germany, the 352nd Fighter was moved to the European Continent in December 1944. As a part of the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans launched a full-scale attack on Allied air bases in Europe in hopes of destroying the superior Allied air power. The attack included the base where Bill was stationed, but he was not involved in the fighting. After the Battle of the Bulge was over, the 352nd was ordered back to England and resumed escorting the bombers.

On a bombing raid in April, 1945, Bill was flying an escort mission. After the bombers had dropped their bombs the fighters were ordered to seek targets of opportunity. They attacked a German air base and Bill was able to destroy six enemy aircraft on the ground. As the fighters regrouped for the return to England, Bill became aware that flak had damaged his engine and that he needed to get out of his plane. He knew that he was too low to jump and had little chance of surviving a crash-landing in the extensive wooded area below him. Suddenly, a plowed field appeared in the wooded area and presented an opportunity for him to crash-land his plane. He retracted his landing gear and made a belly landing in the plowed field. He survived the crash-landing, immediately exited his burning plane, and soon was captured by German soldiers. After a cold and hungry week he was sent, accompanied by a guard, to a POW camp. On May 5, 1945 the camp was liberated by the 3rd Army and Bill was able to make his way back to England and rejoined his squadron and his twin brother.

At the end of World War II Bill left the U. S. Army Air Corp in November 1945 and attended the Georgia Institute of Technology. While in school he served as a Flight Commander in the Georgia Air National Guard. He was called back to active duty in 1949 and was a jet pilot in the U. S. and in Europe. While in Europe, he flew with NATO’s “Skyblazers,” an aerial demonstration team. Later he and his brother were instrumental in forming the “Thunderbirds,” the first U. S. Air Force aerial demonstration and both flew on the original team in 1953.

Between 1953 and 1974, he held a number of command positions in the U. S., Europe, and Vietnam where he became of Commander of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing. During those years Bill also furthered his education and earned a degree in mathematics at the University of Colorado and a masters degree in International Affairs at The George Washington University. He also graduated from the U. S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. Following numerous assignments he became in 1973 Director of Operations at Headquarters, U. S. Air Force. A year later Bill was assigned to the Allied Forces Central Europe as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Intelligence where he served as the Senior U. S. Representative.

His distinguished service brought to him numerous decorations and awards including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Throughout his career he logged over 5,000 flying hours.

Bill married the former Joyce Mathews and the couple has two sons and two daughters. He retired from the Air Force in 1980 with the rank of Major General. His twin brother also retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant General and lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Bill and Joyce have lived at Sunnyside since 2008.

As told to Bill Blair

(A sad footnote; Joyce died shortly after this account was written.  Dick Young)