The Flying Veteran: WWII Pilot Returns to the Air
October 20, 2015
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  • World War II fighter pilot Pat Stayton proudly wears “The Jug” pin on his jacket. When veterans see the emblem, they know he piloted the P-47 Thunderbolt plane in combat.

    It probably goes unnoticed by most others. Not by Brad Smith.

    The pin caught the eye of Smith, a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church.

    “Pat has been coming to Tabernacle for awhile and I’m a greeter at the door,” Smith said. “I noticed the flight pin one day and asked him about it.”

    Smith learned that Stayton, a 91-year-old resident at Stewart House in Carrollton,was a P-47 pilot in World War II and often flew as escort for B-25 bombers over Europe during the final months of the Allied push toward Berlin.

    “When Dr. (John) Burson told me about the B-25 bomber coming to West Georgia Regional Airport this weekend and invited me to see it, I asked him if I could bring Pat along,” Smith said last week.

    So on Saturday morning, Stayton was treated to a ride aboard the restored B-25, the type of bomber he protected in eight escort missions during the war. And Stayton didn’t hesitate when offered to fly the aircraft, even though he never flew a B-25. He flew for about 30 minutes around Carrollton.

    Frank Searcy, also a 91-year-old WWII veteran, also flew the bomber Saturday morning.

    Stayton had wanted to be a pilot since he was about 10 years old. He graduated from high school in Bay City, Texas, in May 1941, and headed off for Texas A&M to study aeronautical engineering. He enrolled in college on Sept. 7, and three months later the Japanese bombed the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and World War II began.

    Meanwhile, things weren’t going too well for Stayton in college.

    “I was on the verge of flunking out,” he admitted.

    While a student, he often went to the movies and one of the extra features was the Movietone News, a pre-TV era attraction that showed movie-goers the latest news. By early 1942, many of the video scenes were from the U.S. forces in Italy.

    “I saw the troops in Italy, sloshing through the mud,” he said. “I decided I didn’t want to fight that kind of war.”

    He talked his college roommate, Bob Taylor, into going with him to take the tests to enter the Army Air Corps, which would later become the U.S. Air Force. While testing for the Aviation Cadet Program, they met another Texas A&M freshman, Oscar M. Wilkinson. The three of them would spend much of the war together, often called “The Three Musketeers” by their buddies.

    All three passed the air cadet entrance exams, but were sent home to await orders.

    “They said ‘Go home and wait ‘til we call you,’” Stayton remembered. “They said the pipeline was full and we’d have to wait about two months. I got orders on March 19, 1942, to report to Wichita Falls, Texas, on March 30 for basic training.”

    From there, Stayton went to primary pilot training in Oklahoma, basic pilot training in Kansas, and back to Texas for advanced pilot training. He graduated as a flight officer on May 17, 1944.

    He was shipped overseas and was based in Italy, eventually flying 39 missions as a fighter pilot.

    “Nine of those were bomber escort missions and all were escorting B-25 bombers,” he said.

    The war in Europe ended in May, and Stayton’s fighter group was put aboard a cargo carrier, headed by way of the Panama Canal, to the war zone in the Pacific.

    “Two days outside Panama, the engineering officer, came up to the deck where we were drinking and told us that a B-29 had dropped a super bomb on Japan,” Stayton recalled. “I thought he’d already had too much to drink or had been listening to an Orson Wells radio program. We didn’t believe him.”

    They would soon learn that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and another one on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. They heard that Japan was going to surrender. By the end of the year, Stayton was discharged from service and headed back home.

    He re-enrolled at Texas A&M in January, 1946, where he would eventually earn his degree in general engineering. On June 16 of that year, he would also meet his future wife, Corine “CoCo” Mylius of Yoakum, Texas.

    Stayton had a 36-year career in the engineering department of Aetna Life and Casualty, before retiring in 1984.

    He and his wife were married nearly 64 years before she passed away on Feb. 10, 2010 from Alzheimer’s disease. They had three children, a son, Brad, and twin daughters, Barbara Gale and Beverly Gay. Stayton relocated to Carrollton to be near his son.