The History of the 514th in Brief
C ontrary to its present notorious status as a devastating and powerful air machine, the 514th Fighter squadron first saw its natal day in military circles virtually unheralded and devoid of fanfare.
gruelling hike under a torid Mississippi sun.
Activated on 4 March 1943 at Key Field, Meridian, Mississippi, the squadron had designation of 630th Bombardment squadron (Dive) and was a component of the 406th Bombardment Group (Dive). It was a rather unimpressive beginning with only a nucleus of 23 enlisted men and officers, all weaned from the parent group—48th Bombardment Group (D). Lt. John L. Pegues, was first squadron commander.
pace along the curving, dusty roads that were common
The early stages of our tenure on Key Field after activation were devoted to organization and training of personnel. On the 26th of August 1943 the 514th first assumed its new designation in compliance with General Order Number 37, Section II, Paragraph I of the III Fighter Command, which dealt with the redesignation of the entire 406th Bombardment Group (D) as the 406th Fighter Bomber Group.
Simultaneously with this change, our squadron combined with the 631st of the same group to form one of the most aggressive units in the Army Forces. Majority of personnel of the organization from Lt. Pegues, commander, down through the enlisted ranks were kept intact and were augmented by a good share of men from the 631st. Aside from this renaissance and training and process of organization, nothing else of consequence was accomplished.
As the tempo of world conflict quickened, so did our program of training as was evidenced by the change of stations on 18 September 1943. This initial move of the Group brought us to the Congaree Air Field, situated near the city of Columbia, in South Carolina. Without much ado a rigid program of training was initiated for both enlisted and flying personnel. This was rather difficult at the time because of the limited number of aircraft assigned to the squadron. However, it wasn't too long before the much overworked A-24's and lone BC-1 were joined by several sleek-appearing P39 Aircobras. In step with this welcome addition of aircraft, a spirit of combat-preparedness pervaded the entire squadron and as a consequence all worked harder to make this a first-rate outfit.
Major Gene L. Arth discuss training problems.
The 5th of October marked the arrival of our new commanding officer in the person of Captain Gene L. Arth, who had several months of combat experience in the Alaskan Campaign, where he earned the Air Medal and was credited with one Japanese Float-equipped Zero. Shortly after Captain Arth's assumption of command, Lt. Pegues, original commander, departed, as did Lt. Colonel Harper, Group Commander. Their transfer and that of approximately 60% of the flying personnel in the group was necessitated by the dire need of more experienced pilots. This development alone strongly indicated that we were absolutely destined to see foreign service.
As the more experienced pilots began to arrive, a more intensive program ensued in all phases of flying with special emphasis being placed on bombing and gunnery. This period was ultimately peaked with acquisition of our final type of aircraft—the P-47 Thunderbolt—and eventually led to our departure for Wampee Strip where gunnery and bombing missions were actually performed under field conditions. The weather was quite adverse in early part of our stay there, hampering operations and making living as uncomfortable as it possibly could be. But, in the waning days it cleared sufficiently to permit many valuable hours of greatly needed gunnery training to be accomplished. It was here on this desolate, mud-clogged air strip that the pilots and ground personnel were christened to combat conditions—conditions that were waiting them just beyond the horizon.
The following period was monopolized by final preparedness for our departure to a destination somewhere on a wide global combat front. No one dared to venture a guess on our final disposition until the ominous date of 13 March 1944 on which date the 406th contingent was shunted to Camp Shanks, Port of Embarkation, near the city of New York. Then and only then did the majority sense undue proximity to the vaunted Wehrmacht war machine that was raising havoc in the European Theatre. This grim thought of stepping into a combat zone against a highly trained war machine fashioned by Adolph Hitler didn't deter our anxiety to go over, but advanced our hopes considerably to pit our untried qualities against his seasoned troops.
Our brief stay at Camp Shanks was culminated on 22 March 1944 at which time we, among other groups in the Army Air Forces, boarded the H.M.T. Starling Castle. Early the following morning our ship left the pleasant shores of the U.S. The ensuing voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, though tedious at times, proved to be interesting yet uneventful. Numerous cases of seasickness were experienced but on the whole rapid orientation to this mode of travel was observed.
After 13 days at sea, the worthy Starling Castle finally sailed into Liverpool, England, safely on 4 April 1944. Without semblance of doubt everyone was extremely delighted to see land once again. Shortly after landing, half of the squadron proceeded to our new station in Ashford, Kent near Dover. The remaining half stepped off the boat the following morning and continued to same destination via the same route. It was a dreary outlook from the initial glance at the surrounding area, with tent life as the most disconcerting factor. However, predominating thoughts of eliminating the enemy soon eradicated personal comfort for the business ahead.
Very little in the way of operational flights was accomplished in the embryo days of Station 417. For the most part we were concentrating on organization and acquisition of the necessary equipment. Our position at the time placed us only a mere seven minutes flying time to the Nazis.
Early in May Lt. Bernard F. Dugan, one of our promising airmen, lost his life in a heroic deed by which he saved the lives of three companions. Later Lt. Dugan was awarded the Soldier's Medal posthumously for his action.