LETTERS HOME: Part I

 

Perhaps the best accounts of what a man experiences at war are revealed in the letters he writes to his girl back home. 

These narratives tend to be written as the events unfold, thus capturing moments in time that might be difficult or even impossible to remember later on.  As such, they often serve as the foundation for one's memoirs or other reflective writing later in life.

While he wrote no memoirs, per se, Hillis did leave behind a significant body of correspondence between he and his wife, Mary.  These letters reveal a number of intriguing details; wartime censorship notwithstanding.

This section contains a series of written snapshots extracted from the aforementioned  letters. Contents of a strictly personal nature, or those which did not involve the war (or his actions in it) have been omitted. 

Special thanks to Cynthia Hillis McBride and Mary Abney Hillis for their kind cooperation in preparing the material used in this section.

 


 

Fred and Mary Hillis in San Antonio, 1942
Fred and Mary in San Antonio, Texas 1942


 
 DATE PLACE  EVENT
     
AUG 44 On ship to Europe He and his friend from Elgin Field, Burt MacDowell, are aboard separate ships for trip.
23 AUG 44  Arrived in Europe  Received letters from home.
24 AUG 44 England "MacDowell received letter from Major Charles Wilder in China/Burma/India Theater stating that a mutual friend from Eglin Field, Lieutenant Charles Martin, has been Killed In Action in China."
3 SEP 44 France Arrived and is "flying the aircraft he expected to fly."
5 SEP 44 France "Will send photo of Cookie II" (New airplane).
10 SEP 44 France The more he flies the P-47, the more he likes it. Noticed airspeed reached 470 in combat.
02 OCT 44 France Has flown 35 hours in combat in the last month. This is three times the work as the 54 hours a month he flew at Eglin. Cookie II is a P-47 D·10 model: it has a larger cockpit and is faster than new ones. 

Flew as Element Leader for first time.

Now has medals for European Theater and battle for Brest, Air Medal twice. 28 sorties, 17 missions to date.

20 OCT 44 England Past two weeks has been to Paris, London, Liverpool, Belfast. Has been flying AT·23, a converted B·26. Not combat flying at present. 

MacDowell is flying P-51s.

30 OCT 44 France Flying combat missions again, but is very down; there are heavy losses.
15 DEC 44 England Finally got someone else checked out on the TB·26 so he will not have to fly both it and the P·47 in combat rotation. Every time he gets someone checked out on it, they transfer them to another location.

He and MacDowell are together again for brief visit in England.

17 DEC 44 France Leading flights and the element in combat.

"Losing too many young kids."

03 JAN 45 France Painted his first swastika on Cookie III. First confirmed kill is a Me 109. Is flying "lots of missions."

Six Air Medals to date.

12 JAN 45 France Snowed in again.  Is now acting as photo officer and gunnery officer while is weather bad.
14 JAN 45 France Now has over 90 hours in combat. If it weren't for having to fly the AT·23 he would have 140 hours. 

Got a boy safely out of Germany so he could crash land in friendly territory.  He is a Lieutenant who came to the squadron on the same day he did.

14 JAN 45 France Cookie III's Crew Chief is Sergeant C.L. Kern; Assistant Crew Chief is Sergeant L. Steiner; Armament man is Sergeant R.M. Graves
17 JAN 45 France Cookie III gets a new wing. Germans hit her on a strafing run.
18 JAN 45 France "Lost a very good friend, T.T. in combat today -- VERY down.  Ask him about it when this is all over."
20 JAN 45 France Is now in 1st Provisional Air Force under Colonel Tipton. Captain Shook went home in October.
23 JAN 45 France Cookie III shot down. She was being flown by another pilot who managed to make it to friendly territory to bail out. Got both of his victories in her, sorry to see her go.
25 FEB 45 France Just back from England.  Also went to French Riviera and flew over Italy.
26 FEB 45 France Flew as Squadron Leader for the first time.
10 MAR 45 France Cookie IV received a new engine and has new landing gear. IV isn't as good a plane as III was.

In his spare time is converting an army airplane beam receiver into a desk radio.

15 MAR 45 France Been very busy and can’t talk -- just compare date of letter with news and you will know why. {Editor's note: The U.S. 3rd Army was advancing on the German border on this date.}

Received news that best friend MacDowell was Missing In Action.

20 MAR 45 France He is leading the "wing" on mission today.
25 MAR 45 France His group is called "Orange Tails", Colonel Tipton's idea to paint tails orange. Other groups average 4 to 1 kills, Orange tails average 20 to 1."
31 MAR 45 France He has been flying a movie cameraman around some making a feature movie on the Orange Tail group. "Cookie IV is very much in it, as am I." He is flying an A·20 for the photographer’s aerial shots.

 


Squadron mates Matthews, Ballard, Miller & LaRose

 

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