Now, May 27, 1945...........
I was 13 years old at the time; my sister's husband, H.M. Hall (who is now 97 years old and is retired and living in Gulfport, Florida), worked for the Air Force at old Wright Field; we had all gone over to "The Field" (as everyone called it then) to watch the air show.
The papers reported there were about 100,000 people at the Field, 70,000 of which were sitting on bleachers set up for the air show. We watched a C-46 Commando snag a glider and yank it into tow, and then we were the first civilians to get a peek inside the B-29 Superfortress. (Believe me, the B-29 was BIG NEWS in 1945 !) There was a fly-over by the massive, (for then) one-of-a-kind XB-19. Legendary war aces Maj. Richard "Dick" Bong (who was the leading Ace of all WW 2) and Capt. Dominic "Don" Gentile flew fighter demos — Bong in a P-38 Lightning and Gentile in a P-51 Mustang. Lt. Steve Pisanos flew a P-59 Airacomet, the Army's futuristic, jet-powered fighter. (Kinda sounds funny, hearing about "the Army"........but back then, the "Air Force" WAS part of the Army ! ) (I can see all you retired USAF types "flinch" at that!)
At 4 p.m., several fighter pilots lined up for a flyby. According to an eyewitness account by Capt. John Ducas, who was squeezed into the back of Bong's P-38, ( hey.....P-38's only hold one guy, but Bong was a little guy, and I guess Ducas was too), five fighters were to fly over the field in single-file formation, led by Capt. William C. Glasgow, 28, of Niagara Falls, NY. Glasgow was a combat veteran who had been shot down over Germany, taken prisoner and escaped. He held the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and an Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters. He was flying the XP-55 Ascender (commonly referred to as the "Ass-Ender" or "Flying Goose")
"After completing the pass across the field, we were to make a slow roll and then continue the direction of flight," Ducas wrote in an account published by the papers. Glasgow made his roll, and then the plane "seemed to wobble to the right and left, almost completing a second roll." Bong began his pass, then suddenly turned away. Bong gestured toward the ground; Dugan looked down and saw "a mass of red flames and then a second later the inferno was engulfed by black smoke." According to other witnesses, Glasgow's plane "swooped close to the ground and tore off 150 feet of fence" near Airway Road. The plane "burst into flames and began falling apart."
At that moment, local resident Wesley Roehm was turning his car around on Airway to take his family and a friend to the show. The XP-55 "sideswiped" the car and splashed gasoline on it before breaking into pieces and crashing into a ditch across the road. The gasoline ignited, engulfing the car and its occupants in flames. Roehm and a friend, Kathleen Eyre, died; Roehm's wife Susan and their two children were critically burned.
This XP-55 was the third of only three built, according to Wikipedia. The first crashed in 1943 when it flipped over in a stall test and went into an uncontrolled, inverted spin. The pilot was able to bail out, but the plane was destroyed. After Glasgow's crash, the Army apparently lost interest in the last remaining Ascender; it eventually became the property of the National Air and Space Museum, which displayed it for many years before loaning it to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan, where it was restored and remains on display. One very interesting thing I noticed; the XP-55 had a lever in the cockpit that the pilot could use to jettison the propeller in case of a bail-out; it looks like that idea saved at leads one guy's butt !
|Curtis Wright XP-55 Ascender ( commonly known as "Ass-Ender" or "Flying Goose"|
|Artist's Rendering of XP-55 Ascender|
The above eye witness account by Captain Ducas is very close, but he being in Bong's plane, and from my vantage point on the ground, this is what I remember; the XP-55 actually impacted the ground briefly, (kinda like a flat stone skipping across a pond"), then bounced back up, ( by now a fireball), continued maybe 75 to 100 feet towards the perimeter fence, which it only partially cleared, and by now only 20 or so feet high, traveled across Airway Road, directly over the car driven by Wesley Roehm, then finally coming to rest in a ditch on the far side of the road. There really is no way of describing the sheer pandemonium of a crowd that big, after such a horrible spectacle; suffice to say, it creates an indelible impression on one's memory.
Then, the next day when I returned home I found this out; My Mom rented an upstairs apt. to a young couple; The fellow was an Ohio Highway Patrolman, (Cpl. Charles "Charlie" Brown) (we all called him "Brownie); Brownie had been on traffic duty at the Air Show on a motor cycle; for a few minutes just before the plane crash, he had been sitting on his MC, then just SECONDS before, he had spotted a motorist doing something, had just climbed off the MC, and was less than 100 feet away from it when the burning plane came flying over the road, and a HUGE burning chunk of wreckage had landed on the MC, literally pulverizing it ! After missing certain death by "inches and seconds", he then had to "deal" with the car with five people in it, two who died instantly, and the other three succumbed to their burns over the next few months. ( And I'm 13 years old and hearing all this from the guy who lived upstairs !) It's probably why I remember it so well..........