Past Meets Present: Green Mountain Boys Host World War II Combat Pilot

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Thomas Graham
You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. As the Green Mountain Boys prepare to transition to the fifth generation fighter F-35 Lightning II in 2019, it’s only fitting they found time to learn from one of the oldest living combat pilots from World War II. Pilots from the 134th Fighter Squadron recently welcomed Mr. Lyndol Palin to the Vermont Air National Guard Base.

Captain Lyndol Palin, is a 96-year old veteran who flew 35 missions as a B-17 pilot in the European theater during the Second World War. He was assigned to the 8th Air Force, serving with the 385th and 548th Bomb Groups. Mr. Palin grew up in Derby, Vermont, always dreaming to be a pilot, and he lives there today with his wife of 73 years, Evelyn.

Mr. Palin spent an afternoon at the 158th Fighter Wing, retelling emotional memories, engaging with the squadron, touring the base, and sharing stories from his experience over 70 years ago as a bomber pilot
flying missions over Germany. His recollections were stirring, especially as he recalled the final mission he flew with the enlisted airmen of his B-17 crew.

“It really set the tone when he told us how his most meaningful mission was his 32nd, after which he got to tell his aircrew they could return to the U.S. – that was really inspirational to see how that affected him,” recalled Captain Dan Lacroix, an F-16 pilot assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard. Lacroix, a fellow Vermonter who grew up less than an hour away from Mr. Palin’s hometown, also appreciated meeting a WWII pilot face-to-face.

“At the [Air Force] Academy, we would have pilots from Vietnam or Korea talk to our class, but this was the first time I had the chance to hear from a World War II pilot. I appreciated his good nature and wit. I hope I’m that sharp at 96,” said Lacroix.

The pilots were equally awed at the daunting risks that the airmen in the Greatest Generation faced on their combat missions. Mr. Palin spoke of the limited evasive maneuvers they were able to fly in the B-17 due to its size and flying in 36-aircraft formations.

“After the IP (initial point), the bombardier took over and guided the aircraft to the target with no evasive action,” Palin recalled. “The IP to target took probably a minute and a half… more like an hour and a half,” Palin joked to the appreciative crowd.

On one mission Palin returned with 160 holes in his aircraft. When asked if there were any combat missions he returned from without battle damage, he said he couldn’t recall any. Afterwards, many pilots admired the fortitude required of the airmen to stay on target with that much
enemy fire all around them.

“It’s hard to imagine how much danger those aircrew faced compared to what we do flying combat
missions these days,” mused Major Trevor Callens, an F-16 pilot with the 134 th Fighter Squadron. “We shouldn’t forget the sacrifice this generation made,” added Callens as he reflected on the recent D-Day

For the Green Mountain Boys, Mr. Palin’s visit was a unique and increasingly rare opportunity to reconnect with Air Force history and instill pride in their common values and legacy. The Air Force owes much of its heritage to the performance of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II and the spirit of the aircrews who flew, fought, and won in the flack-strewn skies over Europe. The afternoon’s events were an experience the Green Mountain Boys will surely preserve and pass on as they move forward into their next mission, just as Capt. Palin did nearly 75 years ago.