Personal Stories
My First Experience With Death

by Dave Hutton

I was assigned, with 10 other replacement pilots, to the 66th Fighter Squadron. Several were close friends that I had been through pilot training with. We had our overseas training in P-40s at Waycross, Georgia and arrived at Alto Field in Corsica. As we circled to land all I saw were P-47s all over the field. Many of us had never seen a P-47 before so the day after we arrived we were assigned to training flights let by experienced combat pilots. Six of us, who had never flown a P-47 were involved. I and two others were in a flight led by Steve Bettinger. My closest friend, Bob Bittner, and the other two were assigned to another pilot.

We took off, practiced combat formations including dive bombing and landings where we came in on the deck, peeled off, made a tight 360 degree turn and touched down as quickly as possible. We also did slow rolls, chandelles, etc. I felt the P-47 handled well but also stalled out at a much higher air speed than the P-40. We were up about 45 minutes when our leader led us back to Alto Field.

As we came over the field I saw a P-47 burning just off the end of the runway. I don’t why but I suddenly got a sick feeling in my stomach and hoped it was not my friend. We circled until the fire had been stopped and we were cleared to land. When we landed I asked the crew chief who had crashed. He said he had no idea. I climbed out of the cockpit and went over to the control tower and asked. They said it was one of the new pilots named Bittner. He had stalled out on approach.

Here I was, my 2nd day with a fighter squadron and my best friend killed, not on a combat mission but on a training flight. I did not sleep well that night thinking about how I would write to his parents about his first and last flight in a P-47.

Dave Hutton 2005 57th FG Reunion, Hartford CT