Donald "Bush" Bryan was a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a decorated veteran of World War II.
Up until his passing on May 15th , 2012, he was the 352nd Fighter Group's, with whom he served during the War, leading living ace.
On August 15th , 1921, Ellis E. and Ethel Birdsall Bryan gave birth to their son Donald Septimus Bryan in Hollister, California.
Donald was raised on their farm near Paicines, California and obtained his private pilot license in college from the Civilian Pilots Training Program (his flight training consisted of 39 hours in a 65hp Aranca). First applying to the US Navy, but declined to enter because he was found too short, he joined the US Army Air Corps on January 6th , 1942, and was assigned to King City, California, where he began his Air Corps training as a fighter pilot (already having his private pilot license and knowing how to fly probably gave him the edge to be picked for fighter pilot training).
Don took his basic training at Moffet Field, California, followed by advanced training at Luke Field, Arizona.
He graduated flight school in the class of 42G on July 26th , 1942, just under 7 months after entering the service. After graduation he was assigned to the 79th Pursuit Squadron of the 20 th Fighter Group at Morris Field, South Carolina, where he was checked out in the P-40 on August 15th. He soloed in the fighter just two days before he could legally buy a drink.
Don recalls: “ The P-40 was the hardest plane to fly. Every landing was the start of three ground loops, first left, then right, then left (you hoped) before the plane would settle down. We called it the ‘Ground loop recovery'.”
He stayed with the unit until after it moved to Pinellas Army Air Field, Florida, as an instructor in P-40s and P-39s, where he learned what he calls the “inverted vertical reversement” from a student pilot he was doing a mock dogfight with: “At Pinellas during one training mission, my student and I got into a ‘friendly' dogfight against each other. I had turned into him and was about ready to ‘gun' him, when suddenly, he vanished from my sight. I eventually found him, and we engaged again. Once again, I was able to turn in on him and was about to gun him, when again he vanished. That was it! We flew straight back to base, and once I landed and taxied my plane, I got out and walked right over to his plane. I had to know what he had done in order to vanish so quickly. He called it the ‘inverted vertical reverse'. When I was about to gun him, he had his plane to the point where it was about to stall. He would then pull back on the stick as hard as he could, apply full left rudder, and then pushed the stick forward. You sure experienced a lot of negative Gs doing this maneuver. The torque of the engine prop flipped the plane around and he would vanish”.
This maneuver would save his life later on over the skies in Europe. The maneuver itself is difficult to explain on paper, but you can hear from Donald himself in this video.
After his instructor duties with the 79th , Donald Bryan was transferred to the 328th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group in March of 1943. He was checked out in the P-47 and not much later, he was assigned as a flight leader flying P-47s.
“When we were training in P-47s in the States, the 328th was assigned to Mitchell Field on Long Island, New York. One day, in May of 1943, my wingman and I were flying at high altitude when I called him on the radio to inform him his plane was on fire. He replied that my P-47 was also on fire!
It turns out our planes were putting out condensation trails, and I think we were the first ones to put contrails over New York City. We probably shook up a lot of people.
During training, we would often call the 487th, which was stationed down the coast, and routinely challenged them to a friendly dogfight. During one of these training missions, I got in a dogfight with George Preddy. When we would press our gun trigger, the gun camera would start recording, and we were able to later view the films and see who won. Well, George forgot to turn off the gun switch, so when he fired, bullets came at my plane. He missed me. I was pissed! I sure am glad he wasn't as good a shot then as he was later.
The 352nd FG was transferred to Bodney, England, in June, 1943. He flew with the group on its first combat mission in September of 1943, in his P-47D-2 “Little One”, named after his petite girlfriend Frances Norman.
Donald Bryan and P-47D-2-RE Thunderbolt, PE-B (© 352nd FG Association Archive)
On his first mission, Don was the junior flight leader of the last flight taking off from a grass strip. Just when the tail wheel of Don's P-47 came off the ground, he heard a tremendous rattling noise coming from the cockpit. Here he was thinking that he would have to abort the mission even before he got airborne on his first time out as flight leader, when he looked down and found out what was going on. His knees were shaking so bad that he was hitting the rudder pedals and they were clanking back and forth .
The fighters would usually go on a mission in the following layout: there would be four flights. The lead flight is called " white" and comprises of 4 aircraft in a standard finger four formation. The lead aircraft is called "White 1", "White 2" is the flight leaders wingman.
The next section of four aircraft is red, the third sections is yellow and the fourth and last section is blue. Each section comprising of four aircraft in the same formation.
Don started out as element leader in blue flight.
Approximately two months after the Group's first mission, they started engaging aircraft. Donald Bryan's first aerial engagement with the German Luftwaffe occurred on January 29th, 1944, when he spotted a FW-190 swinging into their formation. As it turned out the Focke Wulf swung in towards Don who's first thoughts at that time were “oh boy” . Don crouched down in his cockpit as the FW-190 went on by. The Mustangs turned 180° and both Don and Lt. Harold C. Nusman eventually shared the kill en route to Namur, over Belgium.
The very next day he got his first “own” kill, near Emmen, in the form of a FW-190.
He was promoted Captain on January 31st , 1944.
Another shared kill followed on February 20th . That day, three pilots shared in the destruction of a twin-engine heavy Me-110 fighter over Vogelsand.
Don augmented his tally to 2.83 on February 24th, with the destruction of another Me-109 near lake Dummer, Germany.
The 352nd returned to bomber escort missions on March 15th and added another 5 confirmed victories to its scoreboard. Four of the kills went to pilots of the 328th and the 5th was claimed by Capt. Stephen Andrew of the 486th . Andrew had scored the first victory of the day when he destroyed a Bf 109 near Enschede, Holland, and after Henry Miklajcyk damaged a second Messerschmitt, the remaining enemy aircraft fled the area.
Donald Bryan in his office, the cockpit of P-47D-2-RE Thunderbolt, PE-B. Note the rear view mirror on top of the windshield (© 352nd FG Association Archive)
Thirty minutes later the 328th spotted a gaggle of 14 Bf 109s and went into action. Two fell to Lt John Thornell, the third was claimed by Capt. Don Bryan and the fourth Bf 109 was credited to Lt Fremont Miller.
On April 10th , Don engaged the Luftwaffe once more and was credited with another shared kill of a FW-190, bringing his total in the P-47 "Little One" to 4.33. In addition to enemy aircraft, Don also accounted for several trains and other ground targets destroyed.
Donald Bryan in the cockpit of P-47D-5-RE Thunderbolt, PE-B. The crew chief is painting Don's forth kill marking under the cockpit rail. (© 352nd FG Association Archive)
Also in April of 1944, the 352nd FG was assigned the new P-51B Mustang fighter. When Donald got his, it was promptly dubbed “Little One II”. He flew his first mission in the Mustang after receiving only one hour of training on the type.
Don absolutely loved the P-51 and certainly was glad they received those instead of the P-38 Lightning: “The Lightning was a great aircraft, don't get me wrong, but we often referred to it as the ‘Allison Time Bomb', because they were powered by Allison engines, which were not very reliable. On one particular mission, my section was assigned to escort four
P-38s on a photo recon mission. When we met at the rendezvous point, only three P-38s showed up, the fourth having to abort due to mechanical problems. After penetration, another P-38 had to abort due to mechanical problems, so I sent the 2nd flight to escort him back to base. Later in the mission another P-38 aborted, again due to mechanical problems, so I sent my element back with him. That left two of us to escort the lone P-38 on the mission. I sure am glad we had Merlin's in the 51s. The P-38 just didn't hack it in Europe.”
Donald Bryan also led the ultimately successful mission to find a fellow fighter pilot, Fremont Miller, who was forced to ditch in the very cold waters of the North Sea on April 15th , 1944. Miller survived on a dinghy for three days, during which time Bryan attempted two rescue missions in foggy, dangerous conditions. Finally, leading a group of sixteen Mustangs after another mission on April 18th , Don decided to search one more time for the lost pilot, a successful search that led to Miller's rescue and saved his life.
Don completed his first combat tour in May of 1944 and returned to the United States on R&R. He signed up for a second tour and returned to the 328th FS in August of 1944, after marrying the original “Little One”, Frances Norman.
Upon his return, he was assigned a new P-51D-10 Mustang which was christened “Little One III”. Don kept his new Mustang highly polished and brilliant.
A Bridge too Far
“I flew only one mission with Bill Whisner (he was a pilot in the 487th FS), one of only a very few pilots that were Aces in two wars, World War II and Korea. The Germans, Koreans, and the Chinese couldn't kill him, but a wasp did). The mission was known as ‘The Holland Drop', which the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far' was based on. It was a maximum effort mission, and to my surprise, when I walked into Ops, I saw I was not scheduled to fly, as each plane had already been assigned a pilot. I marched out to my P-51 only to discover my crew chief wouldn't release the plane to me because it was scheduled for a 100-hour inspection. You see, my crew chief owned the plane, I only borrowed it. I was told if there were any ‘war weary' planes available, I could fly one of them. We had two available in the 328th, so I called over to the 487th, and to my surprise, discovered Whisner wasn't flying the mission either. He had a war weary Mustang available, and after contacting the 486th, we had four planes ready to go, even though we had no assigned mission. Over Holland we began looking for targets of opportunity. I saw a C-47 get hit by flak, and for some reason, the two gliders it was towing didn't release the tow cables. All three went down. We started hunting for the flak guns, but couldn't find them. Soon, another C-47 was hit by flak, and again, it went in along with the two gliders it was towing. Why didn't they release? There must have been at least 30 men in those planes. We still couldn't find the triple A site, so I flew with the sun at my back and very low, and continued to search the ground for those guns. Wouldn't you know it, another C-47 was hit by flak, and again, the two gliders went in with it, but this time I saw the gun flash on the ground. The four of us went in, worked the place over, and we chewed the hell out of them. We took out the guns, the trucks, everything. It was the only time I ever fired my guns in anger.”
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