WWII Vet Reminisces 100 Years Of Life
by U.S. Air Force 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Forty-one years after the Wright brothers
historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on Dec. 17,
1903, Lieutenant Colonel, Ed Cottrell, Army Air Corps and Air Force
Reserve veteran, found himself in a P-47 Thunderbolt, staring down
the barrel of an enemy cannon aimed at his flight leader.
radioed him to let him know that the [German] ME-109s were coming,”
said the almost 100-year-old remembering that fateful Dec. 17, 1944
flight. “The aircraft turned toward me and I could see his 20 mm
cannon blinking. All of a sudden, there was a big thud and
explosion. Black oil was all over my windshield and the motor
Cottrell was a 22 year old fighter pilot
in the Army Air Corps during World War II. This was his first
overseas deployment during the largest and deadliest war in history.
Left - Ed Cottrell, Army Air Corps and Air Force
retiree, tells stories about his time in service during
World War II. Cottrell turned 100 years old on January 17th,
2021. Right - Ed Cottrell, Army Air Corps and Air Force
retiree, smiles while wearing his flight helmet during World
War II. Cottrell flew the P-47 Thunderbird during WWII.
(Courtesy photos by Ed Cottrell)
Cottrell learned to fly in between his freshman and
sophomore year at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. He grew up
in Slippery Rock and chose to attend the local university where his
father taught and his mother was close by.
had a program for students who were interested in flying where you
could go to an airfield and take lessons in a Piper aircraft and get
a pilot's license,” Cottrell said.
While at university,
Cottrell studied health and physical education, but during his
junior year in February 1943, he was called to active duty in the
Army Air Corps. After basic military training, Cottrell went to
Wisconsin, where his education came in handy.
“Since I was
close to graduation, the commander of our troops found out I was
trained in health and physical education and asked me if I could run
the physical training program,” Cottrell added.
earned his wings by April returned home to marry his sweetheart
Mildred “Millie,” received orders to Utah. Then, he received orders
to the European Theatre.
“I was assigned to the 48th Fighter
Group, 493rd Fighter Squadron, in Cambrai, France, as a fighter
pilot” said Cottrell.
On December 17, 1944, Cottrell’s
fighter group entered a conflict just as the Battle of the Bulge was
beginning. After his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter jet was hit and the
oil completely obscured his viewpoint, Cottrell said he realized
more enemy jets were on his tail.
During World War II, Ed Cottrell, Army Air Corps and Air
Force retiree, flew the P-47D-23. While in combat, Cottrell
flew this plane and survived an attack from the Germans on
Dec. 17th 1944. (Courtesy photo by Ed Cottrell)
“I was about maybe 2,000
feet up, going 135 mph, almost stalling as my motor continued to
fire – but not very well. I looked over to my right and there was an
ME-109,” Cottrell remembered. “I looked to my left and there was
another ME-109; they criss-crossed behind me. I was waiting for them
to shoot but they didn’t. Instead they did a formation very close to
me and we chugged along. We got close to the bomb line, they made a
circle with their first finger and thumb, waved and peeled off.”
Cottrell doesn’t know why the enemy jets did not take him down
“I spotted the runway and went right towards it,”
he remembered. “Before my wheels touched down, my engine froze and
the propeller stopped but I did get down. I jumped out, kissed the
ground and thanked the Lord I was safe.”
lost his roommate that day, Arthur Summers, when his plane was hit
and crashed into a field. Cottrell lost another roommate, Theodore
H. Smith on Jan. 1, 1945. However, nearly 76 years after he lost his
two roommates, Cottrell still wanted to honor them.
was 90, I had the opportunity to jump out of a plane with [master
jumper] Mike Elliot,” explained Cottrell. “I made a promise that if
I were alive at 100 and physically possible, I was going to do it
again in memory of my two buddies who were killed in WWII.”
Just two months before his 100th birthday, on Nov. 8, 2021, Cottrell
kept his word and parachuted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina..
After the war, Cottrell returned to America and started his family.
He later decided to enlist in the Air Force Reserves, and served for
28 years. As a reservist, Cottrell worked on establishing the Air
Force Academy as an educational officer. When he wasn’t working as a
reservist, Cottrell was a professor at West Chester University, and
taught golf clinics across the nation.
“I have had a great
life,” Cottrell said. “I thank the Lord that we have such men and
women now serving in our military. We are fortunate in this country
to have this group of people. I would love to be on the flight line
and shake their hand every time they go off and come back because
they're the backbone of this country.”
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