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Major Pierce Winningham McKennon (1919-1947) - Arkansas' Boogie-Woogie Playing WWII Ace




Major Pierce Winningham McKennon (1919-1947) - Arkansas' Boogie-Woogie Playing WWII Ace





Pierce Winningham McKennon
Major U.S. Air Force
1919-1947

Forest Park Cemetery - Fort Smith Arkansas

[Note: Pierce McKennon was born in Clarksville, Arkansas, on November 30, 1919, to Dr. Parma D. McKennon, a dentist, and Inez Winningham McKennon. He had two older brothers. The family moved to Fort Smith in 1921.

He graduated from St. Anne’s Academy in Fort Smith and entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville on a music scholarship in 1937, but he left in 1938 after poor academic performance. He briefly returned to the university but never graduated.

Yet success cannot always be measured by academic performance. During World War II, he destroyed over twenty German aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with four clusters, the Air Medal with sixteen clusters, the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit Citation, and the Croix de Guerre.

He was killed in a training accident after the war down in Texas on June 18, 1947. In his honor, the city of Fort Smith named the street on which the Fort Smith Regional Airport is located McKennon Boulevard.]

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There was no mistaking that Major Pierce Winningham "Mac" McKennon was a native of the Great State of Arkansas. In 26 months of combat in the European Theatre of Operations, he flew several fighters which carried distinctive names and artwork. His most famous and most colorful plane, however, was the red-nosed P-51D Mustang, which he named Ridge Runner III and which sported an Arkansas Razorback Hog.

Major McKennon would amass 560 combat flight hours in WWII. He was shot down on two occasions, evaded capture both times and, after each evasion, managed to return to flight status. He would finish the war with 21.68 victories (12 aerial and 9.68 ground) and become his squadron's commanding officer for the last eight months of the war - not too bad for a young man who washed out of flight training in the United States Army Air Corps in early 1941. Also certainly not too bad for a 21-year-old Arkie who came to Canada, won his wings in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), lost them in a Court Martial, then, unbelievably, won them back again for a second time!

McKennon became a member of an Eagle Squadron in Shropshire, England, and practiced throughout 1942 with a Royal Air Force (RAF) training unit.

In anticipation of re-joining the USAAF, Mac applied for and was granted an honorable discharge from the RCAF in London, England, on November 23, 1942, after having served one year and 198 days.

McKennon joined the USAAF as a 2nd Lieutenant on 25 November 1942. On February 22, 1943, he was attached to the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group which was stationed at Debden Air Base outside London. After three attempts and almost two years of training, he finally became the only thing he truly wanted to he - a Fighter Pilot!

The Fourth Fighter Group was the successor to the RAF Eagle Squadrons, "The Yanks In The RAF." Initially composed of pilots who either couldn't get in the U.S. flying services to begin with or who flunked out of training, the Fourth went on to become one of the most successful air combat units of World War II.

In a group full of outsized personalities, from commander Don Blakeslee on down, Pierce "Mac" McKennon stood out. The late Capt. Rohert H. (Bob) Wehrman recounted:

"Mac had the greatest way of dealing with pre-mission jitters, not just for himself, for everybody. You could always tell who was set for a mission that day - they got fresh eggs and bacon. A lot of us, we'd be so worried or scared, we couldn't eat. Not Mac. He ate like a horse and he'd eat yours if you were going to leave it. When he was through, he'd get up and go over to this old piano in the corner of the mess. He'd turn and look at each of us, and then say, 'For those about to die...' Then he'd sit down and play The Old Red Cross all the way through. When he got done, he'd launch into the most outrageous boogie-woogie version of that song you ever heard, and he never did it the same way twice! You couldn't sit there in a funk while that was going on! When he was through, everybody was raring to go. An award-winning concert pianist before the war, Mac loved boogie-woogie more than anything. I don't know how many times I've heard how he could play 'Tiger Rag' on the piano in the officers' club with a full pint of bitters clenched in his teeth, drain the glass and not miss a note."

But it was not all fun and games. While strafing parked aircraft at Rosenheim-Gahlingen Airdrome in Germany on April 16, 1945, an airfield gunner put an explosive round into the cockpit of his Mustang. Despite being wounded on the right side of his head, face, and neck and bleeding profusely, Mac managed to land at a Forward Operating Location, where they picked the shrapnel from his wounds and bandaged him up. He was advised not to fly back











Katherine Stinson - Aviation Pioneer, "The Flying Schoolgirl"




Katherine Stinson - Aviation Pioneer,





One of the historic photographs on display at the Stinson Field Terminal.

From the Handbook of Texas:

STINSON, KATHERINE (1891-1977). Katherine Stinson, pilot, was born in Fort Payne, Alabama, on February 14, 1891, twelve years before the Wright brothers made their first successful flight. As a young woman, she planned to study music in Europe so that she could be a piano teacher. In order to earn enough money for her trip, she decided to become a stunt pilot and, after convincing her parents, asked Max Lillie of Chicago to instruct her. Lillie, one of the early great aviators, looked at the petite young woman and promptly refused. However she persuaded him to take her up in one of his planes, and after a mere four hours of instruction she was flying alone. Lillie then agreed to teach her stunt flying, and Stinson's career in aviation was underway. On July 12, 1912, Katherine Stinson became the fourth American woman to earn a pilot's license. As the "Flying Schoolgirl" she toured the country and thrilled thousands of viewers with her stunts at county and state fairs. Before long she not only relinquished her plans to study music, but also inspired her family to become involved in aviation. In 1913 Katherine and her mother, Emma, founded the Stinson Aviation Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the family's home at the time. Katherine's younger sister, Marjorie Stinson, and two younger brothers, Jack and Eddie, also adopted flying careers. Later that year Stinson moved to San Antonio. Lillie had gained permission from the United States Army to turn the parade grounds of Fort Sam Houston into a flying field. Furthermore, San Antonio's mild climate and flat terrain offered an ideal place to fly and practice stunts. The family soon joined her and established the Stinson School of Flying. Between supervising the construction and repair of the planes and managing the airfield, Stinson taught herself increasingly daring tricks. The loop-the-loop stunt was considered particularly dangerous. In a plane she had built herself, she became the first woman and fourth pilot in the United States to master the stunt.

She also pioneered in other areas of aviation. She was the first person of either sex to fly an airplane at night. Moreover, in 1915, in Los Angeles, California, she flew into the dark sky to spell out "CAL" with flares, thus becoming the first pilot to perform night skywriting. In 1916, the year Amelia Earhart graduated from high school, Stinson became the first woman to fly in the Orient. Fan clubs developed all over Japan to honor the "Air Queen." Chinese leaders were granted a private exhibition, one of the thirty-two flights that Stinson made in that country. In 1917 she set a long-distance record of 610 miles by flying alone from San Diego to San Francisco, over the mountains of Southern California. When the United States Post Office started air-mail service, Stinson became the first woman to be commissioned as a mail pilot. She broke her flying record while carrying airmail with a 783-mile flight from Chicago to near New York City. When the United States became involved in World War I and the army asked for volunteer pilots, Stinson applied, but the military twice rejected her applications because she was a woman. Undaunted, she volunteered her services as an ambulance driver and was accepted. The combination of Europe's cold climate and brutal wartime conditions proved, ironically, to be more injurious to her health than her career as a stunt pilot had been. When she returned from the war, she strled to overcome tuberculosis by moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her recuperation called for a new, less frenetic life. Trading aviation for training in architecture, she designed apartments in Santa Fe that were influenced by the architecture of the Pueblo Indians and Spanish missions. In 1928 she married Miguel Otero, Jr., a veteran airman who later became a district court judge. They had no children. At the age of eighty-six, the "world's greatest woman pilot" died in Santa Fe on July 8, 1977. She was buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery.











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