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Feature | Aug. 31, 2006

Aces to return for Tattoo

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Air Combat Command and 1st Fighter Wing Tattoo is about history, and what better way to understand history than to meet some of the men who helped make it? 

Former 1st FW World War II aces will attend this year's tattoo, including Joel Owens, a former 27th Fighter Squadron commander credited with being the first pilot to shoot down an ME-109 German fighter. 

"I've always been very proud of my service in the 1st Fighter Group," he said. "We were always 'The Squadron.'" 

Mr. Owens joined the 27th FS in June 1941 as a second lieutenant, flying P-35s. By January 1943, he had taken command of the squadron, flying the new P-38 Lightning. 

"We were all a bunch of green weenies being led around by some sharp pilots," he said. "When I arrived from flight school, the group was being filled because all the pilots had been sent to the Phillipines. About 16 members of my flight school class came into the squadron." 

It was in the aftermath of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, that Mr. Owen, then Capt. Owen, drew first blood on behalf of the 27th during a mission to escort B-17 bombers to Bizerte. His exploits are highlighted in John Mullins' book, "An Escort of P-38s." 

At that time, I saw another ME-109 about a quarter of a mile to our left and slightly below us. I had closed to about 200 feet when the 109 banked slightly to the right. I thought, "Oh, oh this is it. You had better do what you are going to and right now!" 

"I fired a short burst, and had him bore sighted. Then, I clamped down on the gun button until there was an explosion in the fuselage and the tail blew off."

It was the 1st FG's first one-on-one kill of World War II. 

Mr. Owens shot down five enemy aircraft, with one probable kill and another damaged. He left the 27th for the 14th Fighter Group in April of 1943. 

Although Mr. Owens has never attended a Langley tattoo, he said he's looking forward to the experience. 

"Some of the guys told me it was very impressive," he said. "I'm very honored."
The ACC and 1st FW Tattoo is Sept. 13 at Memorial Park. 

For more 1st Fighter Wing history, log onto the 1st Fighter Association Web site at www.1stfighter.org.