An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The Last Lightning Strike- The last P-38 Reunion

  • Published
  • By Wendy Day
  • 82nd Fighter Group Association

Years come and go, often without much to do in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes, we find something extraordinary to celebrate, like those who served in the military though extraordinary wars. World War II was a time when the world came together to fight the evils of mankind to ensure a better future for tomorrow, with justice prevailing. In January of 1939, The Lockheed P-38, nicknamed the Lightning made its first flight from March Field, Calfi. When World War II broke a few months later, the United States military ordered nearly 10,000. The P-38 would begin flying combat missions in 1942 and would be the plane responsible for the interception and shooting down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy and mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack.

80 years after the first combat missions, on a hot summer day as the crowd files into an old airplane hangar converted into a museum exhibit of the P-38, Lightning, to celebrate the 82nd Fighter Group Association closeout and final reunion of the 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons with the last four surviving pilots in attendance; Leo Press, Lute Thompson, Dick Ostronink, and Mel Roaslvig. These men survived World War and have carried their stories back home and have over decades. Lowell Phillips, the 82nd Fighter Group Association president said

This group has been operating for forty-four year. Since the last reunion, the group has lost four pilots. I lost my dad two weeks ago, he almost made it here. It's important to celebrate and turn our heritage over to a new group, the current Air Force pilots. So it's one last goodbye, farewell tour. Stories, ceremony, and comradery.

The story of the P-38 and the men who fly them have become history legends and is one of the planes attributed to the success of winning World War II. The stories of the men that flew them become T.V. shows and movies. The real stories, the real heroics are sometimes hard to believe. One P-38 Lightning pilot, Dick Andrews. Andrews managed to land in a combat zone with active fire to save his downed wingman and flight leader, Dick Willsie. In a one seater plane, they managed to fit both men, take off and make it back to their base. “It is important to honor our heritage, our legacy, the men and women, who paved the way and set the foundation for everything we do in the Air Force today. This might be the last opportunity we get to spend with these men. Two remaining from the 96th and two remaining from the 97th. It is a treasure that we get to spend an evening with these men hearing their stories” said Major Andy Caluoun of 96t Flying Training Squadron.

As we take heart with growing global aggressions, and how we can help in European Support operations, we can look back into the heroism and leadership displayed by the men and women of World War II, who paved the way for the next generations. Each generation growing and learning from the living history, our brave fighter pilots of World War II.



notes:

The 82nd Fighter Group Association is dedicated to honor the WWII members of the 82nd Fighter Group and the 95th, 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons and to promote and perpetuate bonds of friendship among those veterans, family, friends and related United States Air Force units.

The National P-38 Association has its facility here on the museum grounds. It displays a full-size replica of the classic twin-boom fighter in the Quonset hut just south of Firebase Romeo Charlie.