We all have limits; we just have to be pushed to find them.

Ted Conlin – The Hero Behind the Hero

Although in Bean the Beans Henry Schmidt is a fictitious character, the real-life hero who served as our inspiration was P-51 pilot, Raymond “Ted” Conlin. Mr. Conlin passed away on March 12, 2012 at the age of 91. His passing occurred approximately one month after I started writing this book. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet him.

I found Mr. Conlin and learned about his life through various searches on the Internet, which started in February 2012 with a Google search of “P-51 pilots” that directed me to the website of Paul and Sue Liles. As a World War II fighter pilot, Mr. Conlin flew 71 missions, logging 270 combat hours I. He participated in many of the major Allied offensives in the liberation of occupied Europe, including D-Day. He was awarded the Air Medal with 4 Clusters, 4 Major Battle Stars, and the Russian Medal of Great Patriotic War.

Mr. Conlin returned from World War II and married Audrey, his wife of 64 years. They met during the war when he was stationed in England. The couple moved to Long Beach, California and bought a house in Los Altos. In 1950 he took the GED and enrolled at USC, earning a B.S. degree in Business. He owned his own insurance brokerage firm and retired from the business in 1985.

Mr. Conlin was a regular at Old Ranch Country Club and was among the first to join the club in the mid-1960s. He was a lifelong regular at the club, playing golf, backgammon and gin rummy. Provided below is a story he tells about his experience in World War II as a P-51 fighter pilot (in his own words), including a few photos of himself. Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. 

The War Started and Ted Joined As An Aviation Cadet

The start of the war is generally held to be September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by most of the countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth, and by France. On June 22, 1941, Germany, along with other European Axis members and Finland, invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. On December 7 (December 8 in Asian time zones), 1941, Japan attacked British and American holdings with near simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific. These included an attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and landings in Thailand and Malaya. It was truly a World War now! 

Ted Began Flying In Orange County California

In April, 1942, (which was 70 years ago today) as soon as my age would allow, I took and passed the entrance exam and was sworn into service, July, 1942 as an aviation cadet. Some 1,200 were called up in Chicago, January 1943, and sent to Nashville Tennessee for classification as pilot, navigator, bombardier or other ground or air duty.

I, among some 1,200 others, were trained to West Coast Training Command for ground school and then sent out to the various flying schools to begin our pilot careers.

Ted Moved To Santa Maria To Enter Primary Flying School

My assignment was to Santa Maria, CA., for Primary Flying. The Santa Maria Army Air Field was commissioned by the Fourth Air Force for a bomber base on May 1, 1942. Colonel Robin A. Day was the first Commander. As was the case with most U. S. bases during World War II, a historian was assigned to prepare a history of the facility. In this case First Lieutenant Edward E. Reed was the historian. The original record of the Base is at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Due to its strategic coastal location, the Santa Maria Air Base was considered ideal for training of bombardment groups prior to overseas duty. However, the base was transferred to the Fourth Air Service Command in December 1942. Instead the field was used for service and support training with little emphasis on flying. The field personnel grew monthly with the assignment of more recruits. New groups of trainees were rotated every month. As at Goleta, many amenities were provided, such as theater, bowling, laundry, restaurant, church, etc. Base activities were publicized in the field newspaper, The Bombsiqhter, first published on April 7, 1944.

We Moved To Chino For Basic Flying

After completion of Primary, a group of us were assigned to Chico for Basic. At Primary, we flew the wonderful biplane Stearman and then at Basic, we went into the Vultee BT-13, an increase in horsepower of 400.

The Vultee BT-13 was the basic trainer flown by most American pilots during World War II. It was the second phase of the three phase training program for pilots. After primary training, the student pilot moved to the more complex Vultee for basic flight training. The BT-13 had a more powerful engine and was faster and heavier than the primary trainer. It required the student pilot to use two way radio communications with the ground and to operate landing flaps and a two-position variable pitch propeller. It did not, however, have retractable landing gear or a hydraulic system. The large flaps are operated by a crank-and-cable system. Its pilots nicknamed it the "Vultee Vibrator."

Ted Was Assigned To Luke Field In July 1943

After completion of the Basic program in July, those of us that asked for and were recommended by our Basic Instructors, received assignment to Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona, single engine fighter school. Here we flew the P-40 Curtiss Warhawk to graduate as U.S. Army Air Corps Fighter Pilots.

During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Army Air Forces, graduating more than 12,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38, earning the nickname, “Home of the Fighter Pilot.” By February 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time. By 1946, however, the number of pilots trained dropped to 299 and the base was deactivated November 30 that year.

The Curtiss P-40 was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. It was used by the air forces of 28 nations, including those of most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in front line service until the end of the war. By November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation's main production facility at Buffalo, New York.

On The Move Again; To Tallahassee Florida For P51 Training

After 30 days leave, a group of us were ordered to Tallahassee, Fla. There we were fitted with equipment we would need in the future and some 60 of my guys and I, were assigned to Tampa, Florida to become trained in the P-51A, Mustang, outfitted with the Allison engine, horsepower of 1250. it was a real thrill for us as the performance was so far advanced in comparison to the P-40 Warhawk.

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was a long-range single-seat World War II fighter aircraft. Designed, built and airborne in just 117 days, the Mustang first flew in RAF service as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft before conversion to a bomber escort, employed in raids over Germany, helping ensure Allied air superiority from early 1944.The P-51 was in service with Allied air forces in Europe and also saw limited service against the Japanese in the Pacific War. The Mustang began the Korean War as the United Nations' main fighter, but was relegated to a ground attack role when superseded by jet fighters early in the conflict. Nevertheless, it remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980.

Upon completion of our learning to fly the P-51, dive bombing, strafing, aerial gunnery acrobatics, navigation and instrument flying, we were ordered to Boston, MA to ship over to Europe. The time frame was late Feb, 1944.

Ted Leaves The USA For England

We left Boston Harbor after a heavy snow storm in late February, 1944 bound for the European Theatre of War with our destination being Liverpool, England. Our means of transport was a captured German liner of World War I vintage and was very well maintained for all those years in captivity.

After a stormy crossing of some five days, we landed at our port and offloaded to trains for a trip across the English countryside to our ultimate destination, Goxhill, a training facility on the east coast. It was there that we were acquainted with the mighty war bird, the P-51B and where we were trained in the coastal requirements of procedures of British Coastal Defenses and uses of the radio systems and the new devices known as radar.

RAF Goxhill is a former Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force station in England. It is located just to the east of the village of Goxhill, on the south bank of the Humber estuary, opposite the city of Kingston upon Hull, in north Lincolnshire. The base was relegated to satellite field use by RAF Kirmington until August 1942, when it was taken over by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). The transfer ceremony was attended by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. During World War II it was known as USAAF Station 345.

RAF Goxhill - 1942

RAF Goxhill – 2002

The facilities at Goxhill, however, had a lot to be desired. Three wooden barracks were supplemented by a number of metal fabricated buildings (aka: tin cans) for living quarters. Typical of the RAF bases of that period, living quarters and mess facilities were 1-2 miles from the hangars and flight operations area. The station was unofficially known by the USAAF units based here as "GoatHill".

The USAAF used Goxhill as a training base though the balance of the war, with several squadrons using it after their initial deployment to the UK, then moving on to a permanent facility for their operational missions.

Six Weeks Later We Were Deployed To The 357th Fighter Group ("The Yoxford Boys")

A period of six weeks was spent at Goxhill and then we were split into replacement units. In my case, ten of us were assigned to the three squadrons of the 357th Fighter Group at station 373 in the village area of Leiston and Yoxford. (Raydon, UK 30 Nov 43 – 31 Jan 44 and Leiston, UK 31 Jan 44 – 8 Jul 45).

The 357th Fighter Group was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. The 357th operated P-51 Mustang aircraft as part of the U.S. Eighth Air Force and its members were known unofficially as "The Yoxford Boys" after a village near their base. (Group tradition holds that the name was the invention of Lord Haw Haw in a broadcast greeting the night of its arrival at RAF Leiston.) Its victory totals in air-to-air combat are the most of any P-51 group in the Eighth Air Force and third among all groups fighting in Europe.

The 357th arrived in England at the turn of 1943/44 and was committed to combat on 11 February 1944, the first Group of the 8th AF to fly the mighty Mustang. The 357th flew 313 combat missions between 11 February 1944 and 25 April 1945. It is officially credited by the U.S. Air Force with having destroyed 595.5 German airplanes in the air and 106.5 on the ground. The 357th existed as a USAAF unit only during World War II and its immediate aftermath. Its history, lineage and honors were bestowed on an Ohio Air National Guard group, but the Ohio ANG considers itself a direct descendant of the 357th FG.

The Group had moved in to that base at the end of January, 1944 from Raydon Wood near Ipswitch. The ten of us were dispersed into the three squadrons with two of my friends and I being assigned to the 362nd. Three went to the 363rd and the other four to the 364th.

May 1944 The First Military Assignment

We settled into the routine of learning the art of war, they called it Clobber College. We flew local missions of getting to know the area, flying formation, familiarizing with radio protocol and becoming familiar with weather problems, which were many in the coastal areas of England. Finally, we were given our first mission assignments, in May.

My first was called "radio relay". I was called aside at the briefing on May 13 and informed I was to be a radio relay. The Group had been informed that the mission that day was Big B, Berlin and I was told that I would relay messages from the leader, Col. Graham, at the target area, as to his observations at the target site. I had no idea as to what my duties entailed but the briefing guys told me to fly a course into the North Sea to an altitude of 25,000 feet, set up a parallel pattern and wait for further information from the Col. I was airborne for 5 hours out there and had quite a time trying to relay the info to London. It was a strange flight for me.

That was the start of my 71 missions during my tour which was a total of 270 combat hours.

The next mission of note for me was on May 21, a Sunday, The squadron was sent to Germany for a fighter sweep. We had a full cloud cover beneath us so we never were certain as to our exact location and so we ran into heavy flak over Hanover. It scattered us like a flock of geese and I wound up with two other guys, Lt. Ankeny, the flight leader and Lt. Rodney Starkey. We strafed an airfield at Tarnewitz and I was credited with an e/a destroyed in front of a hangar. The other two hit aircraft on the tarmac and probably were credited with several destroyed.

June 6th D-Day Assignment

June 6th, was the big one, D Day and I was assigned to fly the wing of the squadron commander. Capt. Joe Broadhead. We took off at 5 am on instruments and broke out at 26,000 off the Normandy coast near the Jersey and Guernsey islands almost at H hour which was 6 am. Joe wanted to get a look at the invasion so he and I went back down to the deck to have a look. Just prior to our reaching 2,000 ft. we heard on the radio that 2 ME109s did a strafing along the beachhead so we missed them by inches. After a sweep of the area, we climbed back to our assigned level for a patrol that lasted for another several hours. According to my flight log, we were airborne for 8 hours and 15 minutes.

Ted Moves On To France To Support Post D-Day Operations

On July 25th, we were split into two half squadrons and sent on a fighter sweep into Northern France. After a swing down the western coast, near the submarine bases at Ste. Nazairre, we made an easy wide turn to head back up the center of the area, being led by Captain Kit Carson. I was on Carson's wing and Capt. Johnnie Pugh was his element leader on the other wing. Sometime near noon, as we cruised ahead, we neared Paris and saw that a group of P38s were having a field day, beating up on a rail head and marshalling yard.

They Never Saw Us Coming

Just then, we saw a gaggle of 109s and FW 190s ahead, on our level. They never saw us as they rolled over to dive down and hit the 38s. Carson and I latched onto a FW 190 and headed almost straight down. Pugh and his wingman tacked onto a ME109. The FW ahead of us went into large barrel rolls down but Carson stayed with him and he was getting hits as we hurtled down at near flank speed.

We all flared out at about 300 ft. and by this time, as I flew alongside the 190, the pilot was dead and the craft was a smoking wreck, headed straight for the Arch de Triumph. I did a quick turn down to the Seine River, and headed back to base. Carson used the same route and when I got back, I confirmed his victory.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the early 1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters of the era, including such features as an all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, and retractable landing gear. Having gone through its baptism of fire in the Spanish Civil War, the Bf 109 was still in service at the dawn of the jet age at the end of World War II, during which it was the backbone of the German Luftwaffe fighter force. An inline-piston engine fighter, the Bf 109 was supplemented, but never completely replaced in service, by the radial engine Focke-Wulf FW 190 from the end of 1941.

Originally conceived as an interceptor, later models were developed to fulfill multiple tasks, serving as bomber escort, fighter bomber, day-, night- all-weather fighter, bomber destroyer, ground-attack aircraft, and as reconnaissance aircraft. It was supplied to and operated by several minor Axis states during World War II, and served with several countries for many years after the war.

The Bf 109 was the most produced warplane during World War II, with 30,573 examples built during the war, and the most produced fighter aircraft in history, with a total of 33,984 units produced up to April 1945.

August 1944 Was Dealing With Russians

I was on leave the first week of August and arrived back in Ipswitch on Saturday. As I was enjoying a cup of tea and a few cookies at the Ipswitch Red Cross, one of our guys came over to me and told me I was due to go to Russia on the 2nd Shuttle Run the next day but, if I did not make it back in time, someone else would get my spot. Well, that really got me going. I hurried back to base and asked the squadron commander Joe Broadhead, if I was still eligible to go.

He said "yes, if the Medical Officer agrees. Our Medical Officer Doc Snedden, told me, if I could stand the six shots I needed, three, in each arm, I could go. So we went to his office and he gave me the shots. My arms were sore but the hurt disappeared in 20 minutes, once we were airborne. It was some trip. We spent a week, flying several sorties out of Piryatin, our Russian fighter base, to Poland to help the Polish holdouts in Warsaw and other cities.

Did you know? - The 357th flew escort for the second shuttle-bombing mission by the Eighth Air Force, "Frantic V", on 6 August 1944. Escorting two B-17 groups of the 13th Combat Bomb Wing to bomb a Focke-Wulf manufacturing plant in Rahmel, Poland, 64 Mustangs of the group continued on to the Soviet Union, landing at Piryatin airfield, a P-39/Yak-3 fighter strip southeast of Kiev, Ukraine, while the bombers, carrying 357th maintenance crews, continued further east to Mirgorod.

The next day, the Mustangs escorted the B-17s against synthetic oil production plants in Trzebinia, Poland, returning to Piryatin, and on the 8th, escorted them to Foggia, Italy, bombing Romanian airfields en route. Temporarily based at San Severo with the 31st Fighter Group, the 357th supported a C-47 mission to Yugoslavia on 10 August to evacuate Allied evaders and escaped POWs. On 12 August 1944, the entire Frantic force returned to England, attacking German lines of communication in Toulouse, France, as part of the preparation for the invasion of Southern France.

When it was time to leave for Italy, my craft and some others were accidentally filled with 80 octane fuel. I was able to get airborne but had to abort the flight and return to Piryatin. Those of us that had the problem, were forced to have our tanks drained, cleaned and refilled with 100 octane fuel. That took several days, so six of us flew to Italy as a group later. I landed at Lake Lessina, but was told to go to fly over to San Severo airbase as they had no room for me at Lessina. We flew back to England on August 12th, mission complete. 

Operation Market Garden

September 17-19th was big. Field Marshall Montgomery had a plan called Market Garden where the British Airborne and our 82nd and 101st Airborne Divs. would drop into Holland behind the German lines at Arnheim and Nimijen and trap the German armies between them and swing around the Maginot Line into Germany proper. We did a fighter sweep on the 17th, into the area and brought the British Horsa Gliders up to Arnheim for the drop zone. There was a lot of action at that time, the Germans resisted stoutly and used a lot of fighters to ground strafe our troops. On the 19th, we engaged a large mixed bunch of 109s and 190s and lost 4 while shooting down 5 of the enemy. I lost my only wingman, Lt. James Blanchard, in this engagement.

Operation Market Garden (September 17–25, 1944) was an Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in World War II. It was the largest airborne operation of all time.

The operation plan's strategic context required the seizure of bridges across the Maas (Meuse River) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine) as well as several smaller canals and tributaries. Crossing the Lower Rhine would allow the Allies to outflank the Siegfried Line and encircle the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland. It made large-scale use of airborne forces whose tactical objectives were to secure a series of bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands and allow a rapid advance by armored units into Northern Germany.

Initially the operation was successful and several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured. However the ground force's advance was delayed by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son, delaying the capture of the main road bridge over the Meuse until September 20. At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division encountered far stronger resistance than anticipated. In the ensuing battle only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them they were overrun on the 21st. The rest of the division, trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge, had to be evacuated on the 25th. The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine in sufficient force, and the Rhine remained a barrier to their advance until the offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945.

Combat Tour Completed In October 1945

After several more sorties, I finished my combat tour on October 15th, when I took my flight of four to escort a mother ship and two bombers, loaded with explosives at Manston RAF base. We escorted the three ships to their destination, Heligoland, off the north German coast. The mother ship sent the two bombers, a B-17 and a B-24 into the base there and the resulting explosion looked like the A-Bomb at Hiroshima, some eight months later.

Post Combat Assignments

After my combat was over, and after a month of travel and leave time, I was sent to Santa Ana for reassignment, assigned to Gardner Field. Ca. and then sent to Flight Instructors School, Randolph Field, Texas. After the completion of this course, I was assigned Marana, AZ to instruct Primary Flying. I had 3 classes before being sent to Seymour Johnson AFB, Goldsboro, NC to be a combat tactics instructor, flying the P-47 Republic Thunderbolt. The war ended August 1945 and so did my flying career. I was released to inactive status as of Sept 10, 1945 and received my final discharge in September, 1956.

Civilian At Last

Upon my release in 1945, I returned to school, took a refresher course in math, English and history and took the entrance exam and was admitted to USC, Los Angeles. I graduated with a B.S. Business, in May, 1950. I had been working in the insurance field since 1948 and started my own insurance brokerage firm after graduation in 1950. I retired from the business in 1985 but kept my licenses and did part time in consulting and writing of some personal accounts since then. I still maintain my broker-agent position with a local insurance agency.

In Summary

In summation, I flew 71 missions, 270 combat hours and had one enemy aircraft destroyed, on the ground, many box cars, engines, armored vehicles and trucks destroyed, crashed one P51 at Brussels, Belgium, due to mechanical problems and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 4 Clusters, 4 major Battle Stars, Russian Medal of Great Patriotic War, flew 5 missions as platoon leader and 12 missions as flight leader and received 1 overseas bar.


Medals bestowed upon Ted Conlin
 (Distinguished Flying Cross | Air Medal | Russian Medal of Great Patriotic War)


Photos of Ted Conlin

(April 13, 1920 - March 12, 2012)