World War II & Korean War Fighter Pilot.
Welcome to Lunch with a Veteran, I have with me Jim Hardin, whom I have known for my entire life I think. Jim is a world war 2 fighter pilot and was a fighter pilot in the Korean war. We are going to have some soup and sandwich from the Shelby Café, and talk a little bit about military service and some other things. Thank you for joining me today Jim.
Were you originally from Shelby?
I was born and raised in Grover. As a kid, I plowed and tended to hogs and cows and everything like that. My dad was a rural mail carrier. He had all kinds of fowl, ducks, geese, I took care of all those. That’s what you did out there in the country, I didn’t enjoy it then, plowing.
What do you think it did for you? Responsibility?
Maybe I guess. My dad started carrying mail with a horse and buggy, and the first thing I recall was I was sitting in the open car he carried mail in when he could, and I remember seeing an autogyro coming overhead when I was just a little thing sitting in that seat.
What’s an autogyro, is it a helicopter?
Kind of like one but it’s pulled by a prop in front and has a rotor on top to give it lift. You don’t see them around anymore, but that was when I realized I wanted to fly. When the war came along, I was at Mars Hill College. I remember where I was on D-day, I was sitting in the brown dormitory and at lunch time they came on the radio with the news that Hawaii had been attacked.
It feels like it happened 75 years ago yesterday.
Yeah. The school at Mars Hill started a program for civilian pilot training, I was in my second year. They were conducting that program over at Asheville Hendersonville airport. It’s no longer an airport now.
What were you flying?
We were flying Cubs, you don’t go real far or real fast. I enjoyed that program and one of the requirements when you completed that program, you had to sign up for the Army, Navy or Marine Corp. When I finished, I had a friend who wanted me to go into the Navy with him, and I said, listen, I have enough trouble finding an airfield if it’s where I left it when I took off. So, he said, okay let’s go to the Marine Corp. No, I’m going into the Army Air Corp.
I signed up and went and took my physical in Asheville, and when I finished and left Mars Hill, I went home and waited for them to call me to go into the Aviation Cadet Program in San Antonio. I got a telegraph in May from the Army Air Corp, telling me to travel to San Antonio, and go to Kelly Field into the cadet program. I took a flight physical there, which was more strenuous than the first one. So, I finished my military training at Kelly Field.
You had to be an officer, right?
No, I was a private when I was at Kelly Field but when we were appointed as aviation cadets, it was the same rank and pay as a Staff Sergeant. When I finished, they sent a group of us over to Randolph Field which is on the north side of San Antonio to go through a special program that Hap Arnold, who was the head of the Army Air Corp had started. Normally you went through preflight, which was the ground part of it, then you went to primary flight training, then to basic flying training, and then to advanced flying training. That was the program you had to complete for flying training. The program Hap Arnold started was, you skipped primary and went directly to basic pilot training.
I don’t know if that was good or bad.
Well, we only had one cadet killed during training, and that was a night flight when he collided with another cadet. I graduated from pilot training from there. We did get a few hours in primary planes which were PT19’s. I didn’t get more than 3 or 4 rides in that. The rest of it was in PT 13’s. I flew PT13’s a little and PT 14’s, and as I got close to the end of my training, they brought in some AT6’s, and I got about 10 to 15 hours in AT6’s. I graduated Dec 13 1942 and was commissioned on that day as 2nd Lieutenant. I was 19 years old.
They shipped all of us new Lieutenant pilots out to various assignments, and I was assigned to Lake Charles, Louisiana, as a flying instructor. The Army Air Corp needed a lot of pilots at that time, that’s why they had these rushed programs. There was 10 of us that went to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and I was there until December or January 1943. They opened a new base in Victoria, Texas, which they had just built. The whole training unit was transferred there. This was an advanced flying school, we flew AT6’s. There was also another advanced flying school the other side of Victoria, called Foster Field, they also flew AT6’s. We were assigned as I remember, 5 trainees, each instructor would carry them all the way through their training.
When I first got there, you were taken through all phases of that training, which included formation flying, gunnery training, the T6 had one gun in the nose which fired through the propeller.
When you say, it fired through the propeller, what do you mean?
The gun was behind the propeller up near the cockpit, so it fired through the prop. That’s the way they did it in world war 2. They had to be timed just right so it didn’t hit the prop.
They had to have some kind of mechanism that knew when the prop was in front of the gun and couldn’t fire.
Yeah. Later, they got around that by putting the guns in the wings.
So, that’s what you taught them, how not to shoot their own propellers off.
We hoped the armament people had that all fixed. We didn’t worry about that. We would go down to Matagorda Island, which was just off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico for our training. So, we would take our students down there for gunnery training.
I stayed there as an instructor and then they started a special training unit there at Aloe Army Airfield, I was assigned there. They started a section that just instructed instrument flying training. I went to an instrument instructors school in Bryan, Texas, and I was assigned to that unit. I was there until May 1944. They took some instructors from there and sent them out to go to combat. So, I went to Tallahassee, Florida, and was farmed out to some base in the lower part of Georgia. While I was there, we got some P40’s in, and I managed to get a few flights in P40’s because I wanted to fly fighters. Then they shipped me down to some place in Georgia and they had some P47’s.
Is that the Mustang?
No, the Mustang was the P51. When I first learned I was going to fly a P47 I walked up to that thing, it was the biggest thing I had ever seen for a fighter. It was a lot bigger than the P51. It had a radial engine which meant the engine had the cylinders around it.
Why would you want a big fighter? What’s better or worse?
Well, if you fly bombers you fly straight and level and all that, I liked to do air acrobatics and fly upside down, and you could do it in a fighter. With an AT6 you could do anything, it spins and rolls.
Could you do that in a P47?
Oh yeah, and it had a 2000 horse power engine. So, after I finished that school, I was shipped out to New Jersey to go overseas, and we left on a ship from some harbor up there across from New York City. I rode a ship over with a whole lot of pilots and others. It took us about 10 days to get over there because they went various routes on account of submarines. We were in a convoy.
We landed in Blackpool, England, and I went from there to an overseas combat training unit before we went into combat, and that was at Atcham, England. I was there flying P47’s, and I was there on D-Day, training. In the briefing room that morning, the briefer said, whatever you do, do not go near the English coast today. I had an instructor who had been in combat, and he had a flight of 4, himself and 3 students. We took off and the minute we got the wheels up in the wheel well, he headed straight for the English Channel. We were up probably 3 to 5000 feet and I never saw as many aircraft in my life. The sky was covered with airplanes. We were above most of them. When we got near the coast, we didn’t go over the English Channel but we could see the ships, it looked like you could step from one ship to another there were so many of them.
As we completed our training, they asked us if we had a special unit we wanted to go to. I always wanted to fly a P51, so I told them I wanted to go to a P51 unit. At that time, they had the 8th and 9th Air Force flying out of England. The 9th Air Force had two P51 units, and they shipped me to the 363rd fighter group, the 380th fighter squadron.
Where was that in England?
I don’t remember, it was somewhere between London and France. They had the buzz bomb then, which they called the V1.
It wasn’t a rocket, it had a pulse jet engine in it. They had 3 routes those buzz bombs were taking toward London. We were under the middle route, so we would hold our breathe when the buzz bombs came over until they got past us, and we would cheer on the anti aircraft gunners cause we didn’t want one of those landing on us. A month after I joined that unit, we moved to Cherbourg, France. That was the first base I was at and I flew my first combat from Cherbourg in a P51. We moved one time after that. We were supporting the 9th Air Force, who were supporting the ground forces. We didn’t do many escort missions. The only escort missions I flew, was escorting the twin engine bombers like the B25 and B26. They later had other twin engine bombers called A-Twin 6’s, which after the B26 was retired, the A-Twin became B26’s. Those were the only bombers I escorted. I flew 29 combat missions with the 363rd fighter group, the 380th fighter squadron.
At that time, they changed the fighter group to a reconnaissance group. They mounted cameras to take pictures of the German’s. So, I was shipped out again and I went to the 36th fighter group which was flying P47’s. I have a picture from the end of the war of a P47 that the Germans recovered and were flying. They would go up next to our bombers and direct their fighters next to the bombers. The bombers didn’t realize, they knew it was a P47 but they didn’t know it was German. Anyway, for what we were doing the P47 was better suited because they could take more punishment than the P51. The P51 had a liquid cooled engine, and the P47 had an air cooled engine. Anyway, I joined the 36th fighter group and was assigned to the 58th fighter squadron, and most of our missions were supporting the army. Part of that time we were supporting General Patton’s unit. We were dive bombing and strafing and some of our bombs were fire bombs. I flew 61 missions with the 36th fighter group, and I was at Castle Germany Air Base when the war ended. I stayed there until I could get transportation home which was about a month later.
When the British came in and took over these airfields, they threw a phosphorous grenade into the cockpit of each German plane so they couldn’t be flown.
I was flown back to Paris where I caught a C47 to fly me home. We landed in Iceland, and we landed in Greenland, and we ended up somewhere in New England. I was separated there, put on inactive duty. I went in to the reserves.
You came back for the Korean War didn’t you?
Yeah, I was inactive for 2 years but I came back in before the Korean War, on active duty and I went to the 363rd fighter group in Roslyn, New Mexico. That was the home of the B29 wing and we were assigned to the bomber unit. I was there about 2 years when the whole fighter group was transferred to Otis Field in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
You know of the UFO that landed at Roswell New Mexico in 1947, I was there at the base where this thing supposedly landed. Something landed and to this day I don’t know what it was. Whatever it was, they sent a bunch of people out and picked whatever it was up, brought it back and put it in an aircraft hangar where I was stationed. It was top secret. Nobody could go in there.
From there I went to school in Panama City, Florida to aircraft control and warning school and became an aircraft controller. That was a 10 week school. After I completed that, I was assigned to Orlando, Florida, Orlando Air base at that time. We didn’t even have a radar there, so not long after that I was transferred to Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. I was assigned to the National Airport as a GCI controller, and we would pick up aircraft coming in from overseas. If we couldn’t identify them, we would scramble interceptors to identify them. They would get the tail number and type of aircraft. We would intercept them if they were not on the right time, or the right course that they were supposed to be, otherwise we didn’t intercept.
I was up on a hill overlooking the ocean there, near Highlands, New Jersey, and was there until the Korean War started. They came out with an order that anyone who had been flying fighters before becoming a GCI controller could request to be returned to fighters, which I did.
You weren’t married yet?
I was married a year after I graduated from flying school in 1943 in Victoria, Texas. I have two sons called Jim and Bill. Jim was born in 1944, while I was on a train going to the port from Florida, and he was born in the Gastonia Hospital. Bill was born in New Jersey, and there’s a funny story about that. When we were stationed in Germany, I had my family with me, he was playing with some of the other little boys in the area, and they were telling about where they were born, and Bill told them he was born in New Jersey, and they beat him up. Betty went out to get him and he was crawling up the stairs, and he said, mama, don’t tell anyone I’m a Yankee. We always had a big joke about that.
Anyway, when the Korean War started, I asked to be returned to flying status and they assigned me back to the 36th fighter group, which was at Otis Field, Massachusetts. They had 3 squadrons and one of them was stationed in Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts. I was transferred there, and I left from Westover Field to go to Korea. I was up there maybe a year flying F86’s.
What’s an F86?
It’s made by North American, it’s a swept wing jet fighter with the intake and radar in the nose.
That’s a cool looking aircraft, I remember you having a model of that aircraft.
It was quite a step above from an F80. Back when we were in the Army Air Corp they were P80’s. So, I was at Westover maybe a year flying the F86, and they had one F86 unit over in Korea, the 4th fighter unit, but they were sending another fighter unit, the 51st fighter group, so I went with a group of F86 pilots, and they flew our F86’s out to California, and loaded them on an aircraft carrier. They flew us out at the same time by commercial. When I was notified, they called us into a meeting, a pilot’s briefing room, and they said, all pilots who have not been to Korea, go home and pack your bag, you are leaving today. So, I went home and packed my bags and we took our parachutes and escape kits and all that kind of thing with us.
I was stationed down in San Diego, new wife, great apartment and I got to my shop and they told me I was leaving Wednesday, and it was Monday, so over the next several months I was pretty much gone, and then to a six month cruise. They don’t give you a lot of warning, your theirs.
Normally they give you more than a day at least. So, I went home and told Betty to get ready, pack your bags, get the kids ready. They stayed with her parents in Kings Mountain while I was gone. We drove all night long, got back to Kings Mountain. The next morning, she got up and drove me to Charlotte where I caught a commercial airliner to Oakland, California, across from San Francisco.
They had a Navy base and there was an escort carrier sitting there. It was loaded with F86’s. We got on the carrier and departed a day later. They took us to Japan, which was about a week to get there. We met a group of pilots at Johnson Field, and they were forming the 51st fighter group, and Colonel Harrison Thyng from Maine was in the officer’s club. A group of us officers were there and some of us knew him because he had been the commander of the 36th fighter group at Otis Air Force Base. So, we went up to talk to him, and asked if he would request us. So, we went to the 4th fighter group. Colonel Thyng was our commander while I was there at Kimpo Air base. I was at Kimpo the whole time I was in Korea. I was there for a year and I flew a hundred combat missions in F86’s.
That’s a lot of combat missions.
Well I didn’t get into a fight except one. Our opposites were MiG15’s built in Russia, and they had a couple of airfields right there on the border with China on the Yellow river. The North Koreans had a base on the south side of the river, but they kept their planes on the north side. We weren’t attacking anything on the north side because we weren’t supposed to go into China.
Most of our missions were flying top cover for F84’s, F80’s, and naval aircraft that were bombing and strafing. My crew chief was awarded the bronze star because he kept my airplane in such good shape it flew 100 missions without an abort because of mechanical failure. I did start flying F84’s at Roswell.
They have fuel tanks on the tips of the wings, is that smart?
Well, I had one come loose on the end of the wing when I was over Washington D.C. I was flying with one of the guys in our outfit. We had been down to Florida for the weekend for flying time, and we were going back and his folks lived in Washington D.C. He was doing acrobatics, and I was in the trail, I was following him, and one of the braces that held that tank level on the wing fell off, and the tank fell over. I almost lost control of the airplane when it happened.
But the MiG, I don’t care what anybody tells you, I was flying F86 80’s and F86E models, they later got F86F’s which was a greatly improved F86 but the ones I was flying could not climb as fast as the MiG15. It was about the same speed, we could go faster going down in a dive but we couldn’t climb as fast or as high as they went. Usually when we went up there, there would be flights of MiGs up above us, but they wouldn’t come down to fight. If they didn’t come down to fight we couldn’t tangle with them. Those that did come down, quite a few of our pilots shot down a lot of MiGs, but we couldn’t reach them if they stayed above us.
I got into one fight. My boss, he was the wing operations officer, we were flying with the 335th fighter squadron, and he was flying my wing, I was leading the flight. We were paralleling the Yellow river on the south side, and he called out, bogies at ten o’clock low, so I looked down and I didn’t see any enemy airplanes, I kept looking and I still didn’t see anything, and in a little bit he called them out again but I still didn’t see them, so I said, you got it, which meant the flight was turned over to him. We went down in a dive and we dove all the way down. Well, he crossed the Yellow river. That’s why I didn’t see them, I wasn’t looking there.
We went down and MiGs were taking off in pairs, and we got down into the middle of that. We couldn’t catch the MiGs, they were out of range, and our leader was shooting at one but he was out of range. I was flying his wing clearing my tail. I had 2 MiGs on me and he had 2 on him. They kept getting closer and closer, we were at full throttle because we were trying to catch the MiGs in front of us. I called them out to him and he said, roger, and just kept shooting. Finally, when they got closer enough to open fire on me and him, I called him and said, I’m breaking to the right, which meant I was going to make a sharp turn. I broke and headed out to the ocean. I didn’t see my leader anymore. I went full bore, and when those MiGs got close enough that I thought they were going to fire, I’d make a break and do a three hundred and sixty degree turn. I had a g-suit on, and I knew those MiG pilots didn’t have g-suits, so I would turn tight enough to that point where I would just start to grey out and then hold that turn, and I would make a three hundred and sixty degree turn and roll out to the ocean again. When I looked back, there was only one MiG behind me. So, I would keep going at full throttle towards the water. When he got close enough that I knew he was fixing to fire and hit me because he kept that close, he wasn’t shooting out of range, I broke with him again, and did the same trick on him. I couldn’t out climb him because he would catch me anyway, so I make a three sixty and looked behind me, and he was gone. My fuel was low because I was down at low altitude all this time. A jet burns more fuel at low altitude. As you go higher it burns less fuel. So, I was low on fuel and started to climb it back up to altitude. I was worried about my fuel all the way home, but I made it.
How did your leader do?
He got home.
Sounds like he was just interested in getting a kill?
Yeah, he was interested in getting a kill, I was interested in not getting killed.
I’m sure that was scary?
It was, that’s why I was headed for the water. I was sure he was going to get me. That was the only way I could figure I could get rid of those guys. In the turn, I knew when I started to black out, he would black out. He could have spun in or whatever. I don’t know what happened to him. At the time I didn’t care what happened to him.
It wasn’t cool they gave you an under powered aircraft but they did give you a g-suit.
We‘d been flying in g-suits for years but they didn’t have them.
Could you explain for anyone who doesn’t know, what is a g-suit?
It has a band around your stomach and your legs, so when you start to pull G’s, it inflates and keeps the blood from going down, and keeps the blood around your head, so you don’t black out.
These are the medals you were awarded for your service.
Lieutenant Colonel James M Hardin United States Airforce Awards and Decorations.
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal with Thirteen Oak Leaf Clusters
Presidential Unit Citation with One Oak Leaf Cluster
Airforce Outstanding Unit Award
American Campaign Medal
European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign medal
World War Two Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
What’s your favorite medal?
The Distinguished Flying Cross. General Stirling awarded me the DFC at the Castle.
Why did you get the distinguished flying cross?
I got that in world war 2 for dive bombing a bridge and railroad yards in Germany and I got hit by eighty eight millimeter flak. It hit my aircraft between the fuselage and the guns on the right wing and knocked part of the wing off. I was in a dive at the time so I was pulling g-forces, and the aircraft started shuddering and stalling going down. I had to release some of the back pressure and pull out more gently so it would stop stalling. I finally got it to climb and went back up and went home. When I got home, I flew over the tower to get them to see if there was any damage and they couldn’t see any so, I came around to land. I landed a little fast because I had lost part of my wing. What I didn’t realize was, when the flak hit me, it flattened the right main landing gear tire, and with the brakes and rudder I couldn’t hold it on the runway. It went off the right side of the runway and nosed up. I was looking straight down at the ground. I said to myself, oh no, this thing is going to flip over onto its back, but it twisted a little bit on the nose, then fell back down on the tail and broke it in two behind the cockpit.
You were okay?
I was fine. The crew chief brought the aircraft forms up for me to fill it out, you know, if there was anything wrong with the plane and my flying time and so forth. He brought the form to me and I put it on the wing. I was fine until he handed me a pencil and I started to fill it out. I got to shaking so bad I couldn’t fill it out. I handed it to him and said, I’ll get this later.
What other medals do you have?
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal
Airforce Longevity Award Ribbon
Armed Forces Reserve Medal
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
ROK (Republic of Korea) Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Service Medal
The Republic of Korea War Service Medal
When I retired in 1964, I was stationed at Syracuse, New York, I was Air Force Advisor to the Air National Guard. I made Lieutenant Colonel.
Jim, I appreciate you coming by and everything you and your family has done for this community and for our nation, thank you.
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