1st Lieutenant William "Bill" Rhodes Preddy
William "Bill" Rhodes Preddy William

Purple Heart ribbonAir Medal with seven Oak Leaf clusters ribbon
American Campaign ribbonEuropean-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbonWorld War II Victory ribbon
Units: 503rd FS, 339th FG
WWII score: 1 aerial kill
1 probably aerial kill
1 damaged strafing
Born: Greensboro, July 20th, 1924
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Medals:

* Purple Heart (posthumously)
* Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters
* American Campaign Medal
* European-African-Middle Eastern
Campaign Medal with 3 Battle Stars
* World War II Victory Medal

Aircraft: P-51K-5NA, D7-A
SN: 44-11623
"Rusty"
   
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More then just "the brother of..."

William Rhodes Preddy was born in 1924 in the small town of Greensboro, North Carolina. Besides Bill, his mother Clara had three other children: George, Jonnice and Rachel Preddy. His older brother George Preddy would go on to become the top Mustang ace and 8th highest ranking US ace in WWII. At the time of his death, George was the leading American ace in the ETO with 26.83 confirmed air-to-air victories. You can read the George Preddy biography here.


Clara Preddy, Bobby Boaz, George Preddy, Bill Preddy and Rachel Preddy

Bill Preddy was five years younger than his brother George.

In January of 1942 he took a temporary job in Wilmington as a welder's helper. He entered Texas A&M while visiting his aunt and uncle in Texas in June and entered N.C. State College in September.

He entered the Army Air Corps in February of 1943, and went to the basic training center at Miami Beach, Florida. Bill made Student Commander of the 400-student Post, the highest position a student can hold. On August 11th , Bill received the task he was hoping for: fighter pilot training.

Basic fighter pilot training was done at Waco, Texas and the single engine advanced training followed at Moore Field near Mission, Texas. Bill soloed on Thanksgiving, 1943.

J. Fred Baumann of Tennessee attended class 44-E at the flying school with Bill. Fred said it was only by chance that Bill's classmates learned that he was the brother of the famous ace. Bill never attempted to take advantage of that fact. Baumann thought quite highly of Bill; he said “He was an outstanding individual, cadet, and pilot; moreover, he was our Cadet Group Commander. His personality and bearing were almost commendable”.

Bill received his wings and was commission on May 23rd, 1944.

After graduating, Fred went to the 5th FS of the 52nd FG in southern Italy where he flew 19 combat missions before getting hurt in a crazy accident. He was flying a “training mission” in his Mustang when his oil line ruptured and the plane caught fire. Fred bailed out, hit the horizontal stabilizer, was knocked out, came to in time – just barely in time – to pull the cord. He was in a cast for three months and returned to the US.

Bill Preddy and a number of his classmates left Boston on a converted cruise ship bound for England. Among his classmates was Lt. Philip W. Barnhart who told how they got to England, in a roundabout sort of way. Bill and Barnhart were shipped out as casual officers on the ship; that is, they were not assigned to any particular unit. The officers were quartered in staterooms while the troops were housed below. The troops were replacements so they had no officer contingent along. Therefore, the casual officers had to pull duty down below periodically. The plan was to drop the pilots off at Southampton, England, before taking the troops on the Continent. But the Battle of the Bulge had reached a critical stage so the ship didn't stop until it docked at Le Havre, France.

(© 352nd FG Association Archive)

Bill, Barnhart and the other pilots disembarked and immediately boarded a train to Paris – the 9th AF replacement Depot. They were supposed to fly back to England the very next day, but poor weather delayed those plans for several days. This time, rather than the luxury of staterooms, they were given tents in the woods at a Rothschild residence. Barnhart remembers that tents in the snow in January is not high living, even in Paris. The pilots were restricted to the area each day, because it was anticipated that they would be flown to England the following morning. That finally occurred after several days, so they really didn't get a chance to visit Paris.

News of George Preddy's death was withheld from the press for about twenty days while Army Air Force brass attempted to determine why such a thing was allowed to happen. Generals Spaatz and Doolittle personally investigated to find out who was responsible for violating the regulation forbidding ground troops from firing when friendly aircraft were present. They wanted to learn the circumstances surrounding this particular violation. This sort of thing had happened before and it was hoped that it would not happen again after the regulation was put into effect.

A letter telling the Preddy family that Bill had arrived in England followed closely the telegram stating the cryptic and tragic news of George's death. Of course, that made matters even worse for them. Clara and Earl Preddy could have had Bill returned to the US and excluded from combat duty, all it would have taken was a letter to the War Department. Bill was torn between what would be best for his mom and dad, what he thought George would want him to do, and what his country expected him to do.

Bill, after due deliberation, would have nothing to do with the suggestion that he return to the US; he had worked hard to get his silver wings and his assignment to fly fighters. Now that George was gone, he wanted even more to get into the scrap. The letter to the War Department was never written…

Because of Bill's circuitous route to England, the news of George's death didn't reach him until a week after it was public knowledge. As soon as he heard, he visited George's base at Asch, Belgium (Y-29) and talked with several of his brother's close friends. Then he wrote a most inspired letter to his parents:

England
January 23, 1945

Dearest Mother and Dad,

As you may know, I've been moving around pretty much but have been assigned to the 339th Fighter Group recently. It seems to be a very good outfit.
The boys are tops and I'm flying Mustangs at last.

Yesterday I learned about George. Today I went to his home airfield and talked to many of the boys there.

What I have to say now is difficult to explain because I hardly understand it myself. There is no use to say not to grieve for I know that is impossible. It is useless to say try and forget, for we can't and shouldn't. We should remember, but in doing so we should look at it in the true light.

A  man's span on this earth is not measured in years. Above all, that is least important.  To find happiness, success, and most important   to find god is the zenith of any man's worldly activities.   I think a man has not lived until these things have been achieved.  Some have lived a complete life in a few short days.  George lived his life in the last year and a half.  His life was full, rich in success and happiness.  His work was himself.  It was not his lot to obtain benefit from his work.  His was to contribute and that he did.  The men who flew with him would go through any scrape for him.  His mechanics knew no end to his enthusiasm shared in doing a great job.  Yes, George knew a full rich life.  He surely reached out and touched the face of god many times: something that very few can experience.   I can't ask you not to grieve any more than i can remove the ache in your heart, but i ask you to join me in rejoicing his contact with the divine.  I don't know what it is, but i seek with all my heart.  Only then can complete happiness and satisfaction be found.  That is why this is unexplainable for me.  I have not found it, but it is there and to contact your god is to live a most complete life.  Let me say that what George found we must all seek.  

I close offering you my eternal love and devotion. Let us carry on as George wanted and may we arrive at his standard.

Always love,

Bill Above: Capt. William Whisner and Lt. Bill Preddy at A-84 Chièvres - Below: Lunn, Bill Preddy and Art Snyder at A-84 (© 352nd FG Association Archive)

It was now up to Bill to uphold the high standard set by George. Perhaps Bill thought other airmen expected him to continue the record-setting achievements of his older brother. The task before Bill was difficult enough without having it made worse so by suspecting that great things were expected of him.

Bill started flying Mustangs as soon as he settled in with the 339th FG based at Fowlmere, just ten kilometers south of Cambridge, England. With just a few hours in a P-51 he was flying escort missions to targets like Osnabrück and Nürnburg, Leipzig and Kassel. Upon completion of the escort phase of the mission, strafing attacks against trains, substations, autobahns and airfields were carried out if ammunition permitted.

Bill was assigned P-51K-10 44-11623, D7-A. He retained the name "Rusty" from its former pilot, Capt. Jeff French.

Bill Preddy prior to mission, early 1945 (© 352nd FG Association Archive)

 

Seeking out the enemy

The entire 339th FG accounted for only one aerial victory during February of 1945 (an Me-262). They made up for their low score by blasting the enemy on the ground in an attempt to get the Luftwaffe back into the air. It worked, as a result of tremendous losses on the ground the Luftwaffe decided to come up and fight. By the end of February Bill had not even encountered an enemy aircraft in the air. He was itching to test himself.

It was not until his 7th mission that Bill got an opportunity to see what he could do in aerial combat. Major William E. Bryan, Jr. was leading the 503rd FS on an escort mission to Ruhland. It was March 2nd , 1945.

They took off at 0739 hours. Rendezvous was made over the Zuider Zee at 0840 at about 20,000ft. Escort was provided the Big Friends to the area of Magdeburg where, at 1015 hours, about 35 to 40 enemy aircraft were spotted at 14,000ft and climbing. They were FW-190s and Me 109s and they were coming up fast to intercept the bombers. They never made it.

The 503rd spotted the bandits soon after they poked their noses through the clouds. The undercast was thick, rising to about 6000ft. Outnumbered but with the advantage of altitude, the 503rd proceeded to make a bounce on the enemy. Bill, flying wing for Bryan, reported the action as follows:

“I was flying Beefsteak Red #2 when we went down to attack approximately 20 FW-190s in the vicinity of Magdeburg. We pulled up behind the formation of enemy aircraft and Beefsteak red Leader, Major bryan, opened fire. The 190 he attacked peeled off into the undercast with flames pouring from his engine; I substantiate this claim for one FW 190 destroyed by Major Bryan.
Another 190 came in front of us and began turning in on our left and behind us. I turned into him and opened fire when I was in range. I kept firing until I saw his engine flame up and black smoke pour out. The Jerry then snapped over on his back and fell off into a spin burning fiercely; the pilot did not get out. I claim one FW 190 destroyed.

I was looking around for my flight when an Me 109 came in on my left from above. We went into a Lufberry to the left and I opened fire slightly out of range but closing all the time. The Jerry tightened his turn but I dumped 10 degrees of flaps and got my sights back on him. I saw strikes around the cockpit and tail which I believe killed the pilot because he dropped out of the Lufbery and went into a spin to the right. I followed him down very closely and as he hit the clouds at about 6000 feet his ship began to disintegrate and pieces were flying off. I claim one Me 109 destroyed.
I was in a tight spiral when I broke out below the clouds at about 3,000 feet and immediately climbed back up to 14,000 feet where I bounced another 109. Before I could get in range I was attacked from above and behind by two FW 190s and one Me 109 so I headed for home alone; I was forced to land on the Continent and, as my ship has not been ferried back yet, my film has not been entered and ammunition expenditure is unknown.

CLAIM: one FW 190 destroyed

One Me 109 destroyed

The latter was later credited as a probable.

Bill actually flew "Princess Pat" when he scored his kill on March 2nd (© 352nd FG Association Archive)

Bill made it back to Fowlmere in time to fly a mission on March 5th . Sitting in a P-51 for over six hours at a time is grueling to say the least. Foul weather and rubbernecking for bandits made it even more so. Escort, patrol and strafing missions continued. Bill flew missions on March 5th , 8th , 11th , 14th , 15th , 17th , 20th and 24th . He accounted for over 50 combat hours for the month of March. On March 23rd , Bill was promoted to 1st lieutenant.

(© 352nd FG Association Archive)

He continued to fly missions from April 2nd till April 7th (all days), 9th , 11th , 15th and 16th . On an escort mission to Regensburg on April 16th , Bill damaged an unidentified twin-engine aircraft while strafing one of the five different airfields he attacked that day. Because of intense flak, attacks on three of the airfields were abandoned. Total claims for the 503rd were 31 destroyed and 19 damaged that day.
It was during this period that the 339th FG, and most notably Lt. Col. Joseph L. Thury, established records for aircraft destroyed on the ground. On April 10th , Joe Thury, CO of the 505th FS, brought his total ground victories to 18.5, then on April 17th added 7 more giving him the ETO record at that time. That record was topped by Lt. Col. Elwyn Righetti, who ended the war with 27.

April 17th was to be Bill Preddy's final mission. On that day the 503rd flew an escort and patrol mission to Pilsen, Czecho-slovakia. Taking off at 1135 hours, they made rendezvous with the bombers near Frankfurt at 1325 hours at 18,000 feet.

They escorted the bombers to Selbat where they broke off and started strafing aerodromes doing considerable damage.

After strafing Klatovy and Eisendorf, Bill and his CO, Capt. Raymond Reuter, investigated other airfields but found the flak too intense. At 1440 hours, about time to head for home, both men spotted two Me 262 jets and gave chase.

Both Me 262 jets outran the Mustangs and left the area. Their chase led both Raymond and Bill to Ceske Budejovice, about 75 miles south of Prague, where they decided to make one last strafing run before going home. It would be the last for both of them.

Bill Preddy's assigned P-51K-10 44-11623, D7-A "Rusty" (© 352nd FG Association Archive)

Both men were shot down by enemy ground fire. Reuter's aircraft exploded when hit. Bill's Mustang crash landed at a small village (Zaluzi) where he was rescued by a Czech citizen, Jan Smejkal. Jan took him about five kilometers in a horse-drawn cart to a German emergency treatment center where he was given first aid only. Bill never regained consciousness. The German doctors refused to take Bill to the hospital in Ceske Budejovice. So Mr. Smejkal took him ten more kilometers to the hospital where he died, probably on the 18th. He was buried on the 19th in a cemetery near the hospital.

Later, his body was moved to the Lorraine American Cemetery near St. Avold, France, and buried next to George in Plot L, Row 22, Grave 1693. His remains were moved again on January 18th , 1949, to a permanent grave next to George in the same cemetery, now named Lorraine American Military Cemetary. George's body was moved to St. Avold from a temporary grave in Margraten, Holland. His grave site is Plot A, Row 21, Grave 43. Bill's is Plot A, Row 21, Grave 42.

Captain Reuter is also buried at Lorraine.

A big thanks and my sincerest appreciation to Joe Noah of the Preddy Memorial Foundation for letting me publish this story and to Samuel L. Sox, Jr. and the 352nd FG Association Archive for the pictures of Bill Preddy.

Source: Joe Noah and Samuel L. Sox, Jr., researchers and writers of the incredible book "George Preddy, Top Mustang Ace".

Please visit and support the Preddy Memorial Foundation to help keep the memory of Bill Preddy, and all those brave men and women who fought so bravely over the skies in Europe and the Pacific, alive.

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