Maj. George Preddy
CHRISTMAS DAY 1944
The 9th Air Force, already operating from the continent for months providing close ground support for Allied armor and infantry, found itself much in demand and greatly overworked. The 9th sent an urgent request to the 8th Fighter Command requesting two additional fighter units to come to its aid. On the 23rd of December, Major George Preddy led his 328th Fighter Squadron along with the 487th and 486th to a small remote 9th Air Force field located at Asch, Belgium, designated Y-29. The field was so close to the German lines that aircraft in the landing pattern were occasionally fired upon by enemy antiaircraft units.
The 352nd was not accustomed to the tough living conditions it now faced. Living in tents was a far cry from the Nissen huts the pilots occupied at Bodney. Most of the troops thought they would freeze to death the first night. The next day was spent getting the unit settled down and assembled. The ground crews who were transported in C-47s became lost and arrived a day late. The first mission from Y-29 was a milk run, no action. Christmas Day found flyable ceilings and two missions were scheduled that day. Preddy led his unit on the second, a support mission into Germany with the bombers from the 8th Air Force. Lt. Gordon Cartee was Preddy's wing man. Cartee recalls, "After stooling around for a while, due to no action, we were vectored to an area close to Koblenz, Germany, where enemy aircraft had been encountered. Maj. Preddy receiving the call said, "They've started without us, let's join them." Preddy immediately turned in that direction. Just as Ray Mitchell was about to peel off, he looked up and spotted two 109s coming down on him and Lambright. He called to Preddy for assistance, but there was so much chatter on the radio that Preddy never heard him. Mitchell believes to this day that, had Preddy heard his cry for help, he would never have placed himself into the series of events that were to follow.
Cartee continues, "Preddy spotted two 109s and got into a Lufberry with the first one. Neither were gaining much advantage when all of a sudden another 109 cut in front of him. He eased up on his controls just enough, gave it a short burst, blazed it and then resumed his pursuit of the first one. The 109 lost his concentration seeing his buddy flamed and Preddy nailed him. Preddy's score now totaled 27.5 aerial and five ground victories. Moments later, Preddy and Cartee were vectored to an area southeast of Liege where it was reported that enemy aircraft were strafing Allied ground troops.
Cartee reported later that they were joined by a white-nosed Mustang from the 479th Fighter Group. This was Lt. Jim Bouchier, who had become detached from his own unit. It did not take Preddy long to pick out a long-nosed FW-190 at treetop level in the distance. In trail, the flight of three pushed over and began descending towards the deck in hopes of using their superior height and increasing speed to close on the enemy aircraft. Leveling off at about 500 feet, they were closing rapidly when they approached the small village of Langerwehe (approximately 15 miles inside the German border).
There is a very large church in Langerwehe. In its steeple that day, as had been the case on several other occasions, was Sgt. Harold M. Kennedy and his buddy Elmer L. Dye (both from the 104th Inf. Division). While the Battle of the Bulge raged just a few miles away, it was relatively static in their sector where the Division had dug in on the chance that the Germans might veer in their direction. Division headquarters had been set up in large steel foundry just north of Langerwehe. Dye and Kennedy had spent quite a few hours killing time by posting themselves in the church tower with binoculars and watching the considerable air activity along the front. Both witnessed what happened to the flight of Mustangs.
Cartee recalled that just as the pursuing three Mustangs passed over a wooded area, they started receiving heavy ground fire. Kennedy added that as the flight passed over the church, firing became continuous and heavy. Lt. Mitchell, some distance away, recollects seeing multiple tracer rounds that appeared to be "a whole field of golf balls", so intense was this antiaircraft barrage. Preddy, apparently noticing the intense ground fire, attempted to break off the attack with a chandelle to the left. Cartee noted that about half way through the maneuver, at approximately 700 feet altitude, Preddy's canopy came off. After that, Preddy’s aircraft just went on in, cartwheeling and ultimately disintegrating upon impact. No parachute was seen. As flak and tracers were still thick, Cartee, “Went balls out until over it.”
Lt. Bouchier, who also took hits, began smoking heavily and was able to climb to about 1000 feet. He rolled his Mustang over and bailed out, landing safely in the British sector north of the Langerwehe area in the direction of Frenz.
Back at Y-29, Art Snyder, Preddy’s crew chief, waited patiently for his ship to return. Aircraft were landing and taxied by his hard stand. He noticed that as different pilots went by, they would give an accounting of how many victories they had gotten with their fingers. Shortly, a pilot came by him and when their eyes met, he gave him a thumbs down. Art knew then that his friend and commanding officer had been killed.
Lt. Mitchell, having successfully disposed of his attacker, returned to Y-29 and landed. After parking , he went to his tent, contemplating the loss of his leader. A fellow pilot asked him if he would join him for Christmas dinner in the mess tent later in the day? Mitchell replied "Christmas dinner?" In his effort to survive, he had completely forgotten what day it was, "It had been that kind of a day," said Ray Mitchell.
To top off their Christmas meal, a keg of beer had been delivered to the group. In tribute to their fallen comrade, its spigot was “opened but 'nary a cup was drawn.”
George E. Preddy, Jr. has been labeled by many as the fighter pilot's pilot. The late Gen. John C. Meyer said of him that he "was just the greatest fighter pilot who ever squinted through a gunsight; he was the complete fighter pilot." Other historians have speculated that had he lived he could have become the highest-scoring ace in the European Theater of Operations. Had he been a part of the New Year's Day battle over Y-29, it is likely he would have topped Gabreski's WW II score of 28 aerial victories.
From "The Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney", 2000, by Bob "Punchy" Powell, Thomas Ivie, and Samuel L. Sox, Jr.