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1st Lt. William R. Hemphill, USAAF, AS # 0-792117

Discussion in 'What Granddad did in the War' started by Wgvsr, May 26, 2014.

  1. Wgvsr

    Wgvsr New Member

    Feb 5, 2014
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    Collierville, TN
    [SIZE=12pt]As I sit here writing on this Memorial Day reflecting on the day’s true meaning, I think in particular of a young man from rural West Tennessee. The oldest of three brothers and a sister, he’d left the farm to go away to college, the first in his family. He was attending David Lipscomb College in Nashville when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After completing the semester, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Nashville on January 5, 1942 as an aviation cadet. The young man went through pilot training and got his wings, joining the 317th Fighter Squadron. [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]The 317th, a component of the famed “Checkerboard Clan”, the 325th Fighter Group, was activated on August 3, 1942 in Hillsgrove, RI. The squadron consisted of only sergeants for the first three days of its existence and only got its first pilot on September 1, 1942. After a fall spent in training, the unit began its move out of the continental United States on January 2, 1943. The destination was North Africa. The pilots and their planes shipped out onboard the USS Ranger (CV-4) while some of the ground echelon travelled via Oran and Mers el Khebir onboard the USS Lyon (AP 71). The air echelon flew via Miami and the South Atlantic to Casablanca. The elements reunited on March 1, 1943 at Tafaraoui airbase in Algeria. As the 325th Group only had enough fighters for two squadrons, lots were drawn and the 317th lost, not receiving their aircraft and rejoining the Group until May 11, 1943 at Montesquieu airfield, about 100 miles southeast of Constantine, Algeria, near what is now Tibissah, Algeria, close up by the Tunisian border. The 317th flew their first missions on May 19, 1943. The early missions generally involved escorting the B-26 bombers of the 320th Bomb Group which shared their airfield at Montesquieu. Many of the those missions were flown over Sicily or Sardinia.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]On May 27, 1943, the 320th flew Mission 24. A formation consisting of 36 B-26s escorted by 36 P-40s from the 325th flew out to bomb Decimomannu airfield on Sardinia. The bombing was successful but the formation was attacked by an estimated 30 Bf-109 German fighters only minutes after completing the bomb run. The escorts fought wildly with the interceptors and only a few Germans got through. The bombers claimed to have shot down 7 of the attackers and also to have seen the escorts bring down two. The fight lasted about 20 minutes and none of the bombers or their escorts were shot down.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]As the formation pulled out over the Mediterranean, the 317th suffered its first loss. Whether his plane was damaged by A/A fire, reported as heavy but inaccurate, was hit during the dogfight or just suffered mechanical problems is unknown but the P-40 flown by the young pilot from Tennessee had to force land at sea. He almost made it back to land, ending up in the water about 25 miles off Cape Bon, Tunisia. He made a safe landing and climbed out of his sinking plane. His wingman, Lt. Richard Catlin, dropped a raft and saw the young pilot climb aboard. Air Sea Rescue was notified and dispatched a British “Walrus” which landed at sea and picked up the wet Tennessee pilot. The Supermarine seaplane taxied into the wind and began its takeoff when suddenly it dipped a wing, digging in a float and cartwheeling to its destruction, killing all aboard. The young Tennessee pilot was initially listed as missing in action. He was officially declared dead a year and a day later.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]No, I never met the young pilot from Tennessee who died before I was born although I’ve seen his picture and looked at his schoolbooks. I’ve seen the pictures he made in North Africa, printed some which he took in the air and even used the camera he took them with. Family legend tells that his mother’s hair turned gray overnight when notified of his death; it was always gray when I knew her. Every day I feel his presence, even though I never knew the uncle for whom I was named.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]Rest well, 1st Lt. William R. Hemphill, your memory is secure.[/SIZE]
  2. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

    Jun 3, 2011
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    The Land of 10,000 Loons
    Nice write up. Thanks for sharing his story.
  3. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

    Jan 5, 2009
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    Nice writing and a fine tribute. Thanks.
  4. Howard York

    Howard York New Member

    Jul 23, 2017
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    This was my 2nd cousin . My name is Howard York. I would love to see a picture of him . My mother was Joyce Denton. Pauline daughter .

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