15 June, 2008

Profile 7 - ELEEN & JERRY flown by Alden Rigby

Alden Rigby may well be the "last" ace of WWII.  In 2000, the American Fighter Aces Association confirmed an aerial victory at "Y-29" (see post on Dean Huston) raising his tally to 5 enemy aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat.

To meet Alden in person is to shake hands with a man who looks you in the eye, listens to your words and responds with a confidence and humility that can't be overlooked.  Frankly, Alden's the real McCoy of a man.  As this is Father's Day, I'm toasting Alden as this is being written - "Eleen & Jerry" was named after his wife and baby daughter.

Not to be sappy, but dads will understand that raising kids is like Alden's late-confirmed victory - we never really know if we've "made ace" until many years later.  In Alden's case, he's still married to Eleen and the proud dad of a whole tribe of Rigbys.

“August 16 (1944) the was the first real combat mission for me. The mission was to a target just south of Berlin and a little more than I expected. Escorting the bombers was quiet until just before the bomb run. We then had reports of bandits hitting the bombers ahead of us.

We dropped our wing tanks and headed for the front box of bombers. I still had about an hour’s fuel left in mine and hated to release them. When we located the action, I was so busy trying to protect my leader’s tail that I couldn’t see much of what else was happening. I did see my first enemy aircraft, but even my flight leader did not get any shooting.

I recorded in my log book that both Me-109s and Fw-190s were encountered. My flight leader had a lot of combat time, but only 2 victories. Now, I would not want to accuse him of running away, but I thought we left the scene a little early. We were separated from our Squadron, so we joined three other P-51s escorting a box of 36 bombers. We circled above them until after the target and then had to leave because of fuel.

I write to [Eleen] about how grateful I am to be flying fighters, as I also describe the heavy flak in the area of the target. I had seen it in many films, but now it became a part of real life. I soon learned that the time to worry, or take evasive action was when the red flame is seen in the black explosion, when it is close enough to be heard over the roar of the engine...shakes the aircraft or all of the above. After this experience, I wondered if I had gotten too far away from the farm...”

Happy Father's Day, Alden!