05 August, 2008

Profile 23 - TARHEEL flown by George Preddy

George Preddy was just another combat pilot in the South Pacific, flying rugged but outclassed P-40E's against the agile Zeros of the Imperial Japanese Navy. By July 1942, he was in the hospital, recovering from injuries sustained in a mid-air collision with another P-40 during a combat-zone training exercise.

By October, Preddy was on the boat home - a likable, smart guy, but otherwise just another pilot flying a (then) losing war.  But things change.

By 1944, George Preddy was in Europe, on his way to become the 8th highest scoring American fighter pilot.  He had become a celebrity of sorts, earning the love and adoration of superiors and subordinates alike.  Clever, charming, philosophical, Preddy's Kingdom had come.

On Christmas Day, he was killed while following a German Fw-190 over a "friendly" anti-aircraft battery.  Bang.  Obscurity, fame, finish - a fast climb, a horrible crash.  

Earlier this week, I finished the airplane above for the Preddy Memorial Foundation - a group set up to keep George's uncanny knack for leadership alive and well.  The profile was a team effort.

No less than four WW2 fighter pilots have weighed in on "Tarheel," offering advice on exhaust patterns and weathering. Every known photograph of the actual airplane was scoured, ensuring that this rendering is the most accurate yet.  

This morning, I received an email from one of the pilots who flew with Preddy on his fateful Christmas Day flight...and also, talked to a pastor friend who gave a short sermon at George's gravesite in France; both men commented on the need for hope and leadership, personally and nationally...

Time flies, things change, and then, they don't.

Waxing selfish, this kind of intertwined history is my fuel.  Preddy was a poet, artist who rose from obscurity to greatness, then after that life was extinguished, was resurrected (sorta) by others who experienced inspiration from his short-lived but vibrant example. 

Thank you to the Preddy Memorial Foundation for this opportunity.

"I must go back, Back to do my part, Back to fly and give again; And I am not afraid. My plane may be shot away; But I shall not fall, For I have wings-- Wings not of wood or steel or stuff, But wings of a firmer kind-- Wings God gave my soul. Thank God for wings." George Preddy to his pastor.