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Pierce Winningham McKennon

U.S. Air Force

(1919 - 1947)


Pictures and information by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

Forest Park Cemetery - Fort Smith Arkansas

"There was no mistaking that Major Pierce Winningham "Mac" McKennon was a native of the Great State of Arkansas. In 26 months of combat in the European Theatre of Operations, he flew several fighters which carried distinctive names and artwork". His most famous and most colorful plane, however, was the red-nosed P-51D Mustang, which he named Ridge Runner III and which sported an Arkansas Razorback Hog.

Major McKennon would amass 560 combat flight hours in WWII. He was shot down on two occasions, evaded capture both times and, after each evasion, managed to return to flight status. He would finish the war with 21.68 victories (12 aerial and 9.68 ground) and become his squadron's commanding officer for the last eight months of the war - not too bad for a young man who washed out of flight training in the United States Army Air Corps in early 1941. Also certainly not too bad for a 21-year-old Arkie who came to Canada, won his wings in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), lost them in a Court Martial, then, unbelievably, won them back again for a second time!

McKennon became a member of an Eagle Squadron in Shropshire, England, and practiced throughout 1942 with a Royal Air Force (RAF) training unit.

In anticipation of re-joining the USAAF, Mac applied for and was granted an honorable discharge from the RCAF in London, England, on November 23, 1942, after having served one year and 198 days.

McKennon joined the USAAF as a 2nd Lieutenant on 25 November 1942. On February 22, 1943, he was attached to the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group which was stationed at Debden Air Base outside London. After three attempts and almost two years of training, he finally became the only thing he truly wanted to he - a Fighter Pilot!

The Fourth Fighter Group was the successor to the RAF Eagle Squadrons, "The Yanks In The RAF." Initially composed of pilots who either couldn't get in the U.S. flying services to begin with or who flunked out of training, the Fourth went on to become one of the most successful air combat units of World War II.

In a group full of outsized personalities, from commander Don Blakeslee on down, Pierce "Mac" McKennon stood out. The late Capt. Rohert H. (Bob) Wehrman recounted:

"Mac had the greatest way of dealing with pre-mission jitters, not just for himself, for everybody. You could always tell who was set for a mission that day - they got fresh eggs and bacon. A lot of us, we'd be so worried or scared, we couldn't eat. Not Mac. He ate like a horse and he'd eat yours if you were going to leave it. When he was through, he'd get up and go over to this old piano in the corner of the mess. He'd turn and look at each of us, and then say, 'For those about to die...' Then he'd sit down and play The Old Rugged Cross all the way through. When he got done, he'd launch into the most outrageous boogie-woogie version of that song you ever heard, and he never did it the same way twice! You couldn't sit there in a funk while that was going on! When he was through, everybody was raring to go. An award-winning concert pianist before the war, Mac loved boogie-woogie more than anything. I don't know how many times I've heard how he could play 'Tiger Rag' on the piano in the officers' club with a full pint of bitters clenched in his teeth, drain the glass and not miss a note."

But it was not all fun and games. While strafing parked aircraft at Rosenheim-Gahlingen Airdrome in Germany on April 16, 1945, an airfield gunner put an explosive round into the cockpit of his Mustang. Despite being wounded on the right side of his head, face, and neck and bleeding profusely, Mac managed to land at a Forward Operating Location, where they picked the shrapnel from his wounds and bandaged him up. He was advised not to fly back to Debden, but he ignored this advice and led his squadron home. This would he his last combat mission, as he was medically grounded until his wounds healed. Three weeks later, on 8 May 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered and the European War was over.

Major McKennon stayed with the 4th Fighter Group until the last of its personnel arrived Stateside aboard the RMS Queen Mary in New York on November 9, 1945. The next day, the 4th was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. He applied for and was granted a permanent commission in the peacetime USAAF, retaining his wartime rank.

He married Beulah Irene Sawyer ("Bootsie") of Fort Smith on May 13, 1946, and became an instructor pilot at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

On June 18, 1947, Major Pierce Winningham "Mac" McKennon, age 27, was killed in the crash of an AT-6D Texan five miles northeast of Randolph Field. Also killed was his student, 2nd Lt. Robert A. Yunt, a navigator who was training to be a pilot. Left behind was McKennon's 21-year-old widow; who was two-months pregnant. His son, Pierce Jr., was born in January 1948.

Pierce McKennon

WWII Ace Major Pierce Winningham "Mac" McKennon with his most famous plane - the red-nosed P-51D Mustang, which he named Ridge Runner III and which sported an Arkansas Razorback.