Veteran served as Lindbergh wingman
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(PUBLISHED Sunday, Aug. 6, 2000)
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. While stationed on
the South Pacific island of Biak off the coast
of New Guinea in the summer of 1944, 1st Lt.
Joe Price was preparing to climb into his P-38
Lightning for another strafing mission when
he was told he wouldn't be flying his trusty
aircraft that day.
Someone else was.
Infuriated by his crew chief's declaration,
Price headed straight for the operations tent.
Once inside with his commanding and operations
officers, Price dropped the subject once he
discovered the temporary pilot for his No. 196
P-38 would be the legendary Charles A. Lindbergh.
"I wasn't too happy about it because Lindbergh
was old enough to be my daddy," said the
79-year-old Johnson City resident, who served
with the 433rd Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter
Group, 5th Air Force, during World War II.
"Lindbergh was a wonderful aviator, but
he was a civilian at that time and had come
over to help us extend the range of our P-38s
for longer missions," he said.
For this particular mission, Price was ordered
to serve as Lindbergh's wingman during a strafing
mission on a Japanese airbase at Manokwari,
located on another Indonesian island approximately
300 miles west of Biak.
"The colonel said to me, 'We cannot lose
that man. He has to be taken care of, so you
must be all right or they wouldn't have chosen
you to be his wingman. You are to always look
out 20 feet from your aircraft, and if you don't
see that number 196, you might as well land
on Manokwari at that Jap airbase,' " Price
Though somewhat disturbed, Price pressed on
and joined three other P-38s for the mission.
It wasn't long, however, before problems began
"We took off normally, but Lindbergh didn't
pull up his landing gear, and he still had his
flaps down," Price said. "He was still
climbing, so I called him on the radio, but
he didn't respond. Finally I said, '1-9-6, 1-9-6.
You aren't flying the Spirit of St. Louis. Pull
your damn landing gear up!' It wasn't long before
I saw his landing gear disappear.
"Then we strafed the airbase from one end
to the other, and Lindbergh flew so low that
I thought he was going to land a couple of times.
But luckily we only had some small-arms fire
during that run. Just enough to keep you alert,
but it was still more flak than we thought we
would have," Price said.
Having flown 82 missions during the war, Price
experienced more than one scary moment in the
sky, including the time he crash-landed his
P-38 after flying into a dark mass of clouds
and running out of fuel.
"It was on April 16, 1944, and we called
that day 'Black Sunday,' " he said. "That
was the largest loss the Air Force lost in any
one day other than in enemy action, because
that day's losses were due to just the weather.
There was a lot that went on that day, and I
was lucky to live through it."
On another mission with Lindbergh famous
for being the first man to fly solo nonstop
across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris
in 1927 Price thought bad weather would
give him major problems, but he said the "Lone
Eagle" saved his squadron.
"We were flying with Lindbergh on another
mission and were approaching a dark weather
front," he said. "It was black from
the water up, and we were all a little uneasy.
Then Lindbergh's calm voice came across the
radio and said, 'Boys, I believe if we fly due
north for 15 minutes and look for a hole, we'll
get out of this. If that doesn't work, we'll
fly due south for 30 minutes.' But after 10
minutes, Lindbergh found us a hole, and the
whole squadron flew straight through and away
from the front. I was thankful to hear his voice
and really felt like my daddy was with me then.
"Lindbergh was a great aviator, and I have
a lot of respect for what he did for aviation.
He was a great American," Price said.
© 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605,
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