Donald Bryan (1921-2012)
Born on August 15, 1921, in Hollister, California, to Ellis E. and Ethel Birdsall Bryan, Donald S. Bryan was raised on a farm near Paicines, California. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and served in the air force for twenty-three years. During his military career Bryan garnered high honors. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters and the Air Medal with fourteen oak leaf clusters. (Oak leaf clusters indicate additional awards earned after the original metal was bestowed.)
Importance of Bomber Escorts
One of the
The Mighty Eighth
Bryan and his fellow 352d pilots were so effective as bomber escorts that their German counterparts begin to call them "those blue-nosed bastards of Bodney." Flying out of Bodney, England, and later out of Chievres and Asch, Belgium, Bryan and other pilots of the 352d officially were credited with the destruction of 806.5 enemy aircraft. In addition to Bryan, the 352d produced twenty-eight other aces and won the Army Air Force's highest unit citation twice. The 352d was the top-scoring fighter squadron in the European theater.
Bryan also led the ultimately successful mission to find a fellow fighter pilot, Fremont Miller, who was forced to ditch in the very cold waters of the North Sea on April 15, 1944. Miller survived on a dinghy for three days, during which time Bryan attempted two rescue missions in foggy, dangerous conditions. Finally, leading a group of sixteen Mustangs after another mission on April 18, Bryan decided to search one more time for the lost pilot—a successful search that led to Miller's rescue and saved his life.
After his retirement from the air force in 1964, Bryan worked at O'Brien and Geer, an engineering firm in Syracuse, New York. In 1981 he moved with his wife, Frances, to Adel. The couple, who had four children and eleven grandchildren, lived in Adel for the remainder of their lives and were active members of the community. Bryan died on May 15, 2012, at the age of ninety.
Bryan's personal exploits, as well as those of his fellow P-51 pilots, are well documented in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, located just outside Savannah. A replica of Bryan's third P-51 (Little One III) is on display, and visitors can watch combat film from the archives of the Eighth Army Air Force.
Roger A. Freeman, The Mighty Eighth: A History of the Units, Men, and Machines of the US 8th Air Force (New York: Orion, 1989).
William N. Hess, The American Aces of World War II and Korea (New York: Arco, 1968).
Robert H. Powell Jr. and Thomas Ivie, The "Blue-nosed Bastards" of Bodney: A Commemorative History (n.p.: 352d Fighter Group Association, 1990).
The Last Reunion: A Gathering of Heroes, dir. Brent Wilson (Winter Park, Fla.: Split S Productions, 2003), video.
John T. Hiers, Aucilla Pines, LLC
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