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By Lt. Col. Thomas Graham | 158th Figher Wing | Aug. 23, 2018


You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. As the Vermont Air National Guard prepares to transition to the fifth generation fighter F‐35 Lightning II in 2019, it was only fitting they made time to learn from a Vermont native and Green Mountain Boy who was one of the oldest living combat pilots from World War II. On June 3rd pilots from the 134th Fighter Squadron welcomed Mr. Lyndol Palin and his family to the Air National Guard Base. Mr. Palin passed away six weeks later.

Lyndol Palin, who passed away on July 14th, was a 96‐year old combat veteran who flew 35 missions as a B‐17 pilot in the European theater during the Second World War. He was assigned to the 385th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force and received the Distinguished Flying Cross while flying combat missions over Nazi‐occupied Europe. Mr. Palin grew up in Derby, Vermont, always dreaming to be a pilot, and lived there with his wife of 73 years, Evelyn.

In early July, Mr. Palin spent an afternoon at the 158th Fighter Wing, recalling emotional memories, engaging with the squadron, touring the base, and sharing stories from his experience over 70 years ago as a bomber pilot flying missions over Germany. His recollections were stirring, especially as he recalled the final mission he flew with the enlisted airmen of his B‐17 crew.

“It really set the tone when he told us how his most meaningful mission was his 32nd, after which he got to tell his aircrew they could return to the U.S. – that was really inspirational to see how that affected him,” recalled Captain Dan Lacroix, an F‐16 pilot assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard. Lacroix, a fellow Vermonter who grew up less than an hour away from Mr. Palin’s hometown, also appreciated meeting a WWII pilot face‐to‐face.

“At the [Air Force] Academy, we would have pilots from Vietnam or Korea talk to our class, but this was the first time I had the chance to hear from a World War II pilot.  I appreciated his good nature and wit. I hope I’m that sharp at 96,” said Lacroix.

The pilots were equally awed at the daunting risks that the airmen in the Greatest Generation faced on their combat missions. Mr. Palin spoke of the limited evasive maneuvers they were able to fly in the B‐ 17 due to its size and flying in 36‐aircraft formations.

“After the IP (initial point), the bombardier took over and guided the aircraft to the target with no evasive action,” Palin recalled. “The IP to target took probably a minute and a half… more like an hour and a half,” Palin joked to the appreciative crowd.

On one mission Palin returned with 160 holes in his aircraft. When asked if there were any combat missions he returned from without battle damage, he said he couldn’t recall any.

Afterwards, many pilots spoke of the fortitude required of the Airmen to stay on target with that much enemy fire all around them.

“It’s hard to imagine how much danger those aircrew faced compared to what we do flying combat missions these days,” remarked Major Trevor Callens, an F‐16 pilot with the 134th Fighter Squadron. “We shouldn’t forget the sacrifice their generation made,” added Callens as he reflected on Mr. Palin’s experiences.

For the Green Mountain Boys, Mr. Palin’s visit was a unique and increasingly rare opportunity to reconnect with Air Force history and instill pride in values and legacy they share with earlier Airmen. The Air Force owes much of its heritage to the performance of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II and the spirit of the aircrews who flew, fought, and won in the flack‐strewn skies over Europe. The afternoon’s events were an experience the Green Mountain Boys will surely preserve and pass on as they move forward into their next mission, just as Captain Palin did nearly 75 years ago