TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Henry "Hap" Pummer has been flying planes for the past 66 years. At the age of 87, he may well be the only World War II P-38 pilot still flying with a current license.
As a fighter pilot in World War II, Hap Pummer flew his P-38 lighting on 43 combat missions. The death and wounded toll was so high in one 12 month period, that there was a 100% turnover in his 370th fighter group. Numerous publications record Pummer's exploits.
Hap was shot down while flying his P-38 and spent seven months as a POW.
Ironically Pummer had joined the Air Corps in July of 1940 to learn airplane mechanics. But, it was fighter piloting that he was destined for.
"Most of our work was tactical, down on top of trees shooting up trains and shooting up tanks and shooting up gun positions and those kinds of things," he explained.
Flying low presented special dangers.
"You're vulnerable to all kinds of ground fire because everybody can reach you because you're down there," he said. "Consequently our losses were high."
It was on Pummer's 37th mission over France that he was to find out just how vulnerable he was.
"I was flying a guy's wing and I was behind him so he got hit a little but I got hit worse," he said. "They came out of the overcast and they blew me to pieces really. [I] lost both engines and all the covering.
"Did you have to jump out or did you have ejection seat," I asked Pummer.
"Oh no," he replied. "[We had] no ejection seats. You have to manage on your own."
Jumping out of P-38s posed additional problems because of its tail design.
"That doesn't leave you much room to jump, does it?" I said.
"No," he replied. "So you have to jump from there to there in between."
"Now, you hit in a kind of, you call it, no man's land in between the two lines," I said to Pummer. "What happened then?"
"That's where the French women pulled me up and took me in their house to hide me, hide me from the Germans."
Badly wounded, Pummer doesn't remember much after that except the women were able to get him to American military. The next two and a half months were spent in the hospital before Pummer returned to flying.
"Normally people won't go back after they're shot down," he said. "I did."
Only two months after Pummer returned to combat, the unthinkable happened. Again, on a mission over Germany.
"They hit me with the third salvo and it was all over. The airplane was on fire and I had to get out."
But, after opening his canopy, getting out wasn't all that easy.
"As I hit the wind it pinned me and I put my foot on the control wheel and pushed it over real hard that way and it shot me out."
Pummer was taken captive by German soldiers immediately and was to spend the next seven months as a Prisoner of War.
"General Patton himself drove through and said, 'Men, you're free men today,' and they pulled down the German flag an put up an American flag.
Hap Pummer retired from the Air Force in 1963 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He still flies and keeps his pilot-instructor license current, not for the excitement of flying, he says he's had plenty of that, but because flying is just in his blood.
If you or someone you know served our country in combat, we'd like to hear from you. You can write us at Freedom Fighters, P.O. Box 957, Tyler, TX 75710.
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