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Lieutenant Albin O. Pearson

Chief Pilot, Flight Leader

442nd Bomb Squadron, 320th Bomb Group, 12th Air Froce, 1st Tactical Air Force 

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     Albin Otis Pearson was born in September 1921 to two Swedish immigrants in Worcester, Massachusetts. His parents, who arrived in New York around the turn of the century, had moved to Worcester for his father’s job at the Norton Abrasives plant. Norton, the world’s largest manufacturer of abrasives for a number of key industrial fields, dominated the Worcester area employing thousands of its inhabitants. Pearson attended the local high school before beginning his own career at Norton as a draftsman and file clerk, comparatively easier than many of the jobs that went into the abrasives production process. Outside of work, however, Pearson pursued a side passion for music, playing the tenor sax and clarinet for a number of orchestras, big bands, and combos in the region. One, the Harry Ellner Orchestra, had been started by his fellow Norton draftsman, Harry Ellner. Their group became quite popular and ended up touring New England and New York to do big band dance music. In 1941 Pearson’s life was interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the important work being done at Norton led him to stay in his position. By June 1942 he married his wife, June, a fellow musician, and began his own family with her. As the war dragged on, however, Pearson yearned to do more for his country than sit at home with the abrasives plant. In November 1943, he volunteered for service with the United States Army, joining America’s armed forces officially that December.

     Pearson’s intelligence and skill earned his place as an air cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, undergoing flight school at Moody Field in Douglas, Georgia before his selection for the two-engine bomber program. In addition to his time on the flight line, Pearson kept up his musical skills while traveling around with the Air Corps and, for a time, was even selected to play in Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band. Not destined for a musical service, however, in February 1944 his classification led him to the B-26 Marauder school at Dodge City Air Force Base where he completed advanced training in low to medium-level bombing using the technically advanced and rugged dual-engine B-26. With a capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 lbs of ordinance and a crew of seven, the B-26 was intended to support ground operations by bombing tactical targets. On August 27, 1944, Pearson left the United States for Europe, arriving two weeks later. After some time getting situated he was attached to the 442nd Bomb Squadron, 320th Bomb Group, 12th Air Force which was operating B-26s out of Alto Airfield in Corsica for strikes on northern Italy. A veteran unit from the North Africa days, the 320th had flown several hundred missions by the time Pearson joined them as a 2nd Lieutenant pilot in the fall of 1944. The 442nd, known as the “Ugly Duckling” squadron for the duck on their unit insignia, was in need of replacement crews to switch out their long-serving pilots and Pearson proved one such replacement. 

     In November Pearson began his combat missions with the 320th. Acting as a co-pilot until he gained the experience to lead his own crew, his first bouts of action were over Italy as the 320th sought to curb the flow of supplies to German forces east of Lake Garda and to support a British 8th Army offensive in the north. On 5 November Pearson took off on his first mission flying group plane no. 27 to target the Marco railroad fill. In the lead flight of nineteen planes composing the formation’s second squadron, there was no enemy action on the flight and the run proved quite smooth. Besides having to make a second run at the fill, the 500-lb demolition bombs of the B-26s fell just north of the target to hit trucks and tactical elements of the German forces. By lunchtime, he was back at Corsica and now a combat veteran. His next mission came three days later when he flew the Alabama Express to bomb the Casale Monferrato railroad bridge near Milan. Although in the back of the pack, he encountered the black puffy fields of flak for the first time. Flak, exploding anti-aircraft artillery shells fired from German guns on the ground, was one of the more dangerous threats to bomber crews and one with which Pearson would become much acquainted. The field of fire was quite heavy and within minutes one of the planes flying next to him received a direct hit to its left engine, beginning a slow roll which turned into a spiral towards the ground where it crashed and exploded into a large fireball. No parachutes were seen. In the end, the formation did not even get to drop its bombs as the lead plane’s bomb rack jammed, causing the remaining sixteen B-26s to turn for home, thirteen with flak damage.

 

     Pearson’s next three missions over Italy proved just as hairy. The Germans had set up ample batteries near targets they knew the Americans would attack, making it difficult for the 320th crews to safely reach their destinations. His third mission took off on 10 November where he co-piloted the aluminum-plated Green Eyed Glodine, one of his most-piloted within the bomb group. Flying to hit railroad sidings and storage areas at Peri, the sixteen B-26s that made it to the target ended up not dropping their payloads due to a storm blocking the target. Right after the formation had turned to go home, however, several fast-moving specks were seen approaching the bombers. Before long, a group of German fighters, consisting of fifteen ME-109s, two FW-190s, and an MA-202, attacked Pearson and his comrades. Making several sweeping and diving attacks at the bombers to try and break up the formation, the machine-gun turrets of the Marauders turned the group of planes into a formidable cluster of firepower as they sought to turn away the enemy pilots. The suppression worked to an extent, causing the enemy fighters to act less aggressively than they had in other instances. Even so, they still made numerous passes at the bombers and caused some notable damage to several of the planes. Eventually, they peeled away to head for their airfield, leaving Pearson with a new impression of German anti-air capabilities. On 16 November Pearson took to the air for his fourth mission to bomb the Santa Margherita railroad bridge in a formation of eighteen ships. While no German fighters appeared this time, heavy flak was encountered along the route and at the target, damaging ten of the planes and leading their bombardment to miss the target just to the north. On the way back one of the ships ended up dropping out of their formation after losing an engine to the flak, taking on some P-47s for a personal escort back home to Corsica. Pearson’s final mission over Italy came on 19 November when he flew the B-26 Little Chum to hit the San Ambrogio railroad fill. Losing four of their planes to engine troubles on the way, Pearson and the fifteen surviving Marauders took heavy flak over Ala but successfully dropped their payload on the target, missing the tracks but damaging the nearby road and depot. As a result of the heavy flak, ten of the sixteen planes came home with extra damage. 

     A veteran of five combat missions over northern Italy, Pearson came out shaken but unscathed. These proved to be his last over the country as the 320th began its move from Corsica to the Dijon Airdrome in central France towards the end of November. With a fresh concrete runway welcoming them, the 320th became part of the First Tactical Air Force (TACAF), a provisional unit made up of several medium bomber and fighter groups from the 9th and 12th Air Force as well as a few French units. Rather than specialize in the strategic targets of the larger heavy bombers, the First TACAF prioritized tactical targets, meaning those closer to the frontline and more immediately relevant in supporting the operations of infantry and armor units on the ground. For First TACAF, their assigned unit of support was the Sixth Army Group and the U.S. 7th Army. Composed of numerous divisions, including a few French ones, the Sixth Army Group was tasked with clearing central France from the Vosges, to Alsace, and on to the Rhineland. As one of the two medium bomb groups operating full-time with the First TACAF, the 320th prepared for a combined-arms approach to support the ongoing efforts of the American and French ground pounders.

 

     Pearson was slated to join the first missions out of Dijon on 1 December to bomb the Rastatt railroad bridge, however, his bomber failed to take off. Grabbing a different plane, he was able to get airworthy for the second mission heading out but had no sooner left before an engine began to sputter, causing him to leave early and head back to base. Not one to give up on the group’s first day back at it, Pearson tried one more plane which still refused to take off properly. As his comrades flew off into the snowy skies of France, Pearson remained quite firmly grounded. This turned into a nearly three-week grounding for Pearson as the wintery weather of December proved brutal for the crews of the 320th. With rain and snow freezing up their planes and covering the airfield, missions became impossible to fly despite consistent efforts on their part to take off. It was not until 17 December that the bombers could once again support the ground forces. Taking off in Thar She Blows, Pearson and twenty-eight other B-26s set out to bomb defensive positions of the 245th Volksgrenadier Division along the Siegfried line just north of Steinfield. Supporting an attack by the 14th Armored Division directed at Niederotterbach, Pearson flew right at the very front of the formation in the first flight, guiding them to the target. After weeks of stand-down, the bomber crews proved they had not lost their touch by successfully dropping 224 500-lb bombs on the target in an “excellent concentration” that scored direct hits on the enemy positions. Unfortunately for Pearson, being at the front of the formation led him directly to the sights of enemy flak gunners who severely damaged his engines and plane with accurate anti-aircraft fire. Although Pearson and his fellow pilot were able to keep the plane in the air for the return ride home, they were unable to safely guide the plane down and ended up performing a crash landing along the runway. The impact destroyed the plane but Pearson and his crewmen came out unscathed. For his first mission in France, it set quite the standard. Pearson did not fly after his crash until 29 December as the co-pilot in Joisey Bo, the lead plane of a squadron of twenty ships to bomb the barracks at Kaiserslautern which were home to reinforcements and supplies for the German 1st Army. With five of the bombers returning early, the remaining planes took flak over the target but were unable to drop due to thick clouds covering it. They all managed to return, but half had been damaged. 

     On New Year’s Eve, the German army launched Operation Nordwind, a massive counterattack against the 7th Army in Alsace as a way to compensate for their failures at the Battle of the Bulge. While this fresh attack gave plenty of opportunity for the B-26s to support, severe winter weather with thick fog and clouds kept the crews grounded. The runway, covered in snow and ice, had to be consistently managed by ground crews in case of any possible operation. On 16 January the 320th was finally able to launch a mission supporting French and American troops near the Colmar Pocket. Pearson joined the flight flying Frisco Kid, but was forced to leave the formation within a few minutes of takeoff after one of his engines began cutting out, likely due to the severe weather that had affected the planes just as much as the runway in prior weeks. Afterward, cold weather, limited fuel, and dwindling ammunition kept the fliers down until 29 January when the ships went up to support the 7th Army once again. This mission was noteworthy for Pearson as it was his first as a chief pilot, leading his own crew into combat for the first time. Tragically, his leadership expedition ended quite quickly as troublesome engines brought him back to base within fifteen minutes of flying. Although he did not know it at the time, this proved quite a blessing in disguise as the bomber he flew ended up failing and crashing on its next mission.

 

     Early February saw the 320th Bomb Group strike ammo caches, fuel dumps, and interdiction missions against German forces along the Sixth Army Group front. Pearson flew spare on one of these missions, to the Ramsbach ammo dump on 2 February, but ended up not being needed for the final bombing run. In the days following, snow and rain still proved a formidable foe working against the aircrews, but a strong determination to support their allies kept the fighting spirit up. The 320th soon initiated its next campaign against the railroad lines and transportation hubs supplying German troops in the 7th Army area. By targeting these spots, the First TACAF hoped to cripple German logistical ties for frontline units and prevent any successful retreat. On 8 February Pearson joined in this effort aboard Green Eyed Glodine to lead a formation of twenty-nine B-26s against the Loffingen railroad bridge. On the route the men watched from afar as a French B-26 unit lost several planes to flak, reminding them of the non-environmental dangers still present in the area. Even so, the formation made it to the target successfully and dropped 144 500-lb bombs on the bridge from 12,000 feet, heavily damaging it. Pearson flew the next day in the same plane, this time at the front of the third formation of ships striking the Hornberg railroad bridge. With no enemy hostility, it was an easy “milk run” for the crews as their bombs walked onto the bridge, breaking a key rail line supporting German forces against the 1st French Division. 13 February saw Pearson flying once again, this time in Retonga, in the middle of a thirty-ship formation to bomb the Lebach marshaling yards, a critical supply route for German troops on the front. The strike ended up being called off, however, as clouds covered the target. The next day Pearson, in Green Eyed Glodine, and the formation headed back to Lebach for a much more successful attempt. Dropping their 500-lb bombs at 12,000 feet, the enemy flak did not prevent a solid concentration of explosives from hitting the rolling stock and ammunition depots kept in the target area. A black cloud rolled 10,000 feet into the air, visible for thirty miles in all directions, attesting to the 26th Infantry Division and other nearby U.S. units that the B-26s were back in action. Five days later Pearson flew his last mission of this railroad campaign against the Bad Munster rail bridge. While the primary target had too much cloud cover to drop, the bombers went ahead to their secondary target, a series of barracks and supply areas in Lahr. Dropping 159 500-lb demolition bombs in an excellent concentration, the crews set off large explosions of red flame leaping into the sky with fires spreading throughout the town. In a matter of days, the First TACAF managed to sufficiently cripple many key German transportation routes, aiding the Sixth Army Group forces to hasten their assaults. 

     With the German transportation systems sufficiently damaged in the prior weeks of bombing, the First TACAF decided to utilize the 320th in Operation Clarion, a final effort to totally neutralize the rail and supply lines linking German forces along the 7th Army front to the rear. Pearson underwent his first Clarion mission on 23 February in Green Eyed Glodine, bombing the Standebuhl railroad bridge in two different runs with good damaging effect. He attempted to fly the next day as well, but Glodine would not take off. After some extra work by the ground crew, he was once again able to get her in the air on 25 February for the fifty-plane mission on the Siegelsbach ammo dump. A major ammunition depot for German forces acting against the 7th Army, the formation dropped 500-lb demolition and incendiary cluster bombs on the target area which set off heavy fires and a 5,000-foot smoke cloud into the air. The Siegelsbach raid was remembered as quite an impressive sight as tail gunners and fighter escorts watched more explosions and fires spread even as the formation was heading home. Pearson flew on 2 March to hit Siegelsbach again, however, Glodine gave him trouble right before reaching the target, causing him to turn back and reach Dijon only about thirty minutes before the rest of the crews returned. 

 

     Towards the middle of March, the group’s priorities shifted once again, this time to defensive positions and troop concentrations along the Siegfried Line as rumors of a 7th Army assault swelled. 11 March saw Pearson almost bomb the Bad Munster rail bridge as part of this effort, but engine trouble once again took him home early. On 13 March, however, he was able to join the action by flying ship 31 with seventeen other planes to bomb gun positions near Kirkel. The guns, firing against the 63rd Infantry Division, were defended by accurate flak but the bombers nonetheless covered their target well. Thanks to their raid, the 180th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division swiftly took the positions only a few days later. 

     15 March was one of the most important dates of Pearson’s entire tour. It was on this day that the 7th Army launched Operation Undertone, a massive army-wide push against the Siegfried line by its various divisional units to try and break the German defenses. On the 15th alone the 320th Bomb Group would fly no less than six separate missions against German defensive and battle lines near Zweibrucken, the heart of the 7th Army attack, to support the advancing infantry and armor. Pearson took off on the third formation of the day flying ship 31 toward the back of the formation. Their targets were a series of bunkers and defensive fortifications being used by elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier and 19th Volksgrenadier Divisions as a rearguard line while the remainder of those units attempted to hold back the U.S. 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions. With flak and weather keeping the formation at bay, they were unable to properly find the target and had to return home. The next morning, however, they set off at 0648 hours to bomb the same positions, this time finding it and walking their 250-lb demolition bombs right onto the target. Within a matter of days the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division pushed the 17th SS back into these exact positions and, thanks to the disturbing and disheartening effect of the bombing, were able to overcome them with relative ease. On 18 March Pearson once again took off in support of the operation by bombing the Rinnthall railroad embankment and bridge, which was unfortunately covered in clouds. Setting off on their second target, Neustadt, the formation did end up striking elements of the German 36th Volksgrenadier Division in the town, supporting the ongoing efforts of the U.S. 36th and 103rd Infantry Divisions pressing against them.

 

     The next day saw the final mission of the Siegfried Line bombing campaign as Pearson, flying ship 31, took part in a mission utilizing the newly developed SHORAN radar, a highly accurate and sight-free targeting system, to bomb the defenses and town of Ehrlenbach held by the 36th Volksgrenadier Division. As the U.S. 103rd Infantry Division was making a rapid advance towards this town, the B-26s supported their effort by dropping 428 260-lb fragmentation bombs on the bunkers, dragon teeth, and enemy troop formations running along the hills of the town. Making two runs to ensure good concentration, the strike had mixed results. When the 411th Infantry Regiment of the 103rd Division came through and took the ground on 22 March, they realized that the bombs did not destroy too many of the bunkers themselves. The bombs did, however, create an extremely demoralizing effect on the enemy troops while disorganizing their defenses and retreat, allowing the American infantrymen to more swiftly advance against and overtake them. During the mission on Ehrlenbach an Air Corps photographer flying with the formation took a photograph of the smoke clouds and, uniquely, captured Pearson flying ship 31 as they broke away from the target. In the four days since the beginning of the 7th Army campaign against the Siegfried Line, the 320th Bomb Group had flown seventeen missions targeting German positions in support of the attack. These high-intensity and round-the-clock assaults earned the group the respect of both the ground pounders they supported and the generals who led them. For its impressive actions, the group later received the Presidential Unit Citation.

     With the 7th Army well on its way to breaking the Siegfried Line, the 320th undertook a series of rearguard missions intended to prevent an orderly enemy retreat by targeting the transportation networks connecting the German forces in the area. On 20 March Pearson went up in ship 31 towards the back of a pack of eighteen planes to bomb a road and rail block at Albersweiler. The town was the focus of an advance by the 10th Armored Division which was attempting to connect with the 36th Infantry Division to cut off some German forces. The run was successful, dropping 500-lb demolition bombs in an “excellent pattern” with many hits on the town. The danger came, however, on the flight away from the target when the formation took heavy flak from Neustadt just to the east. Thirteen of the eighteen planes in the flight were damaged, two critically and one so bad that it crash landed upon return. Despite their general retreat, the Germans demonstrated that they were still going to put up a fight, and the dangers faced by the B-26 crews were not yet over. Two days later Pearson went up in ship 36 to bomb the Heidelberg Railroad Bridge. On the way to the target the formation once again took very heavy flak and the lead plane of the formation, which contained the commanding officer of the 442nd Bomb Squadron, was hit directly in its left engine. Watching as they salvoed the bombs before going into a steep dive to the right of the group, Pearson and the other pilots could only count three parachutes, less than half the crew, before the plane hit the ground and burst into a fireball. Over the target, things went better and Pearson’s squadron put down another “excellent concentration” on a critical German rail hub. Pearson’s final target for the campaign was the Heilbronn Marshalling Yards on 31 March. Although the railyard itself was important logistically, the bombers loaded up with 500-lb M-17 incendiary cluster bombs since German troops were believed to be fortifying and occupying the city in anticipation of an attack by the 100th Infantry Division. The results of the bombing run were mixed, but it nonetheless had an impact on the German troops holding the town. Less than a few days later the 100th Division assaulted the city in a massive bout of urban combat that caused many casualties on both sides.

 

     As April came the priorities of the 320th changed again, this time to hit enemy supply depots and troop concentrations. With the massive success of the 7th Army advance breaking through the Siegfried Line and pushing into Germany beyond the Rhine, the Americans hoped to use the surviving scraps of the railroad to support their own drive into the country. The 320th, then, would target other components holding up the German defenders. On 1 April Pearson flew in the back of a formation dropping demolition and incendiary bombs on the Vaihingen barracks and depot area, a retreat point for German forces and equipment. Despite receiving heavy flak from the target, the crews dropped an accurate spread of bombs and saw numerous explosions and fires erupt from the town below. The day following had Pearson up once again to hit the Tubingen barracks and supply area, however, he was only flying spare and wasn’t needed so he left early, returning to their new base at Dole rather than Dijon. Dole became the new home of the 320th in early April with the 442nd Squadron troops staying in a former mental institution nearby. While the field was long with a solid hard-surface runway, the spring thaw left the airfield a muddy mess that still caused problems getting the ships off the ground. Pearson flew his first mission out of Dole on 5 April against the Kleinenstingen ammunition dump but flak and hazy cloud cover prevented a drop. Three days later the flight took off again to bomb the same target, this time with Pearson flying Miss Hazelton, achieving more success. Heavy flak still tore through the flyers but they managed to score numerous direct hits on the target, setting off fires and explosions across the area. 9 April saw him go up yet again in the same plane originally with the plan to bomb whatever the 7th Army command called and told them to, however, no target ever came so they dropped on Kleinenstingen again with good results. 

     One of Pearson’s more notable infantry support missions came on 10 April to support the 42nd Infantry Division. The 42nd, helping lead the 7th Army advance into Germany, began an assault on the town of Schweinfurt, a long-time target of the Army Air Corps, on 9 April. Filled with seasoned SS troopers, the town had been heavily fortified with roadblocks and artillery positions filling the streets. Combat for the infantry was intense house-to-house fighting which only got worse the deeper they pushed in the city. To help break up the many emplacements in the city center, the commanders of the division called for heavy air support from the First TACAF. Pearson took part in the strike as the pilot of Miss Hazelton on one of three B-26 flights, each composing around seventy bombers, hitting the target. Heavy flak from the many German 88’ positions rocked the formation but they nonetheless dropped thousands of 1,000 and 500-lb demolition bombs on the SS troops. American infantrymen recalled watching in awe as wave after wave of bombers flew over to demolish the German positions, covering the city in smoke and flame. Thanks to the support of the Marauder crews, the embittered defenders gave up only a day later and another major target along the American front was secure.

 

     With American forces moving rapidly through Germany, targets became more and more sparse for the bomber crews so new missions were created to support what miscellaneous targets they could. After hitting Schweinfurt, Pearson and the group took off the next day to bomb a fuel dump at Geislingen. Facing no opposition except a distant FW-190 that left them alone, they dropped their payloads easily from 12,000 feet to cause massive fires below,  creating a 9,000-foot cloud of smoke into the sky that nearly touched them. After a brief respite, Pearson flew his first double mission day on 16 April to support the 66th Infantry Division and French forces fighting near the Royan Pocket. Located along the far western Atlantic coast of France, several pockets of surviving German troops managed to hold out around the island of Ile D’Oleron. With bunkers manned by Heer and Kriegsmarine troops of the “Tirpitz” battalion, Pearson took Mizz Hazelton to first bomb the German defenses near Jaffe, leaving a good concentration of hits, and then only a few hours later returned on a second mission to drop demolition bombs at German defenses near Coubre, achieving similarly positive results. 

     After his busy day in western France, Pearson returned to flying support missions along the Sixth Army Group area as the American and French units closed in on the final German forces in southern Germany. When the 12th Armored Division was stuck fighting determined combatants as the spearhead of the 7th Army, Pearson, in Joisey Bo, took off alongside twenty-nine other B-26s to strike one of the enemy ammo dumps near Altendettelsau, covering the target and causing large explosions in the area to decrease the firepower capabilities of Germans holding back the 12th Armored. Pearson ended up being quite lucky going on this mission, as the second formation which came an hour after him was jumped by ME-262 fighters which shot down several of planes. On 18 April he went up again, this time in Oozin Suzan, leading the second formation of a sixty-three-plane strike force hitting the Bad Schussenreid L/G and dispersal area for German troops and supplies. Heavy and accurate flak along the run damaged many of the planes in the formation, shooting one down, but it did not prevent the dozens of other bombers from making direct hits on the wooded dispersal area, destroying countless pieces of German equipment. Lack of targets and bad weather kept the bombers grounded for a few more days before Pearson could go up again on 26 April to bomb the Lechfeld airfield, only to turn around when cloud cover prevented sight of the target. As the German army in the west collapsed before them, this was Pearson’s final mission supporting the 7th Army, the last of many successful but hazardous missions providing meaningful combat support for the operations of American troops striking hard at the southern German defensive lines. From the Vosges to Bavaria, Pearson and the 320th Bomb Group played a major role from the air ensuring Allied success on the ground.

 

    Pearson flew his final three combat missions back along the Atlantic coastline supporting the French at Ile D’Oleron as the 7th Army front had dried up of meaningful targets. Flying yet another double-header, Pearson took off on 30 April at 0708 to hit a minefield near Ile D’Oleron, guiding the formation from the front with a photographer onboard. The bombs were accurate and took out many of the mines exactly as planned. After returning to base, he refueled and rearmed, taking off again at 1428 with a dozen aircraft to hit troop concentrations on the island only to be called off last minute by French ground forces who had advanced too close to the strike zone. His final mission, and the last for the First TACAF of the entire war, was on 1 May when he took Oozin Suzan to drop 1,000-lb demolition bombs on coastal gun positions towards the northern edge of Ile D’Oleron, only getting a fairly inaccurate pattern thanks to strong winds and weather. Bad weather kept the entire bomb group grounded for the days after the mission until the entire German surrender was announced on 7 May 1945. 

     Celebrations erupted in Dole at the good news. The 320th held a parade through the city with B-26s flying in formation overhead as the men, weary of long months of tough combat, could finally breathe a sigh of relief and reprieve at the thought of no more missions. Before long, the celebrations turned into training and refitting as the 320th was tasked with disarming elements of the Luftwaffe and concerns over a transfer to the Pacific theater swept across the airmen. Even still, recreation was commonplace and the men enjoyed many freedoms not permitted during their time in combat. On 21 May the First Tactical Air Force was officially disbanded, ending this unique, provisional, and never official conglomeration of American and French air forces which contributed so much towards success at the southern end of the line. 

 

     For Pearson, now one of the more experienced pilots left in the group, occupation found him training new pilots that had arrived towards the end of hostilities. On 4 June Pearson was on one of these routine flights as co-pilot, teaching a Second Lieutenant, Bernard Kent, the tips of the trade in Green Eyed Glodine. Originally intending to only fly around the nearby area, the crew did not create any elaborate navigational plans. While in the air, however, a heavy thunderstorm swept through the region and the onboard compass stopped working. With the rather inexperienced Kent swerving to dodge the storms, the crew quickly became lost and sought refuge at the first airstrip they could find. Unaware of their location, Kent noticed a landing field he thought was Dole. In actuality, it was a different airfield near Vichy. Pearson and Kent circled the field and mutually agreed it was long enough to make the landing and went in for the approach. Kent, tragically, failed to calculate the effect the wet strip would have on his tires and only after touchdown realized the error. Rather than slowing them down, the brakes of the landing gear skidded along the runway out of control. Now too slow to regain altitude, the crew braced for impact as the B-26 slid right off the strip and nose-first into a nearby river. As the cockpit began filling with water, the crew quickly escaped the aircraft and began swimming towards the shore. Lieutenant Milton Beckman, the navigator of the ship, noticed that Pearson was getting caught under the swift current of the river and going under. Jumping back in to save his friend, Beckman used his right hand to hold onto the prop of the plan while grabbing Pearson with his other hand, slowly pulling him back until some Frenchmen were able to help pull him out of the water and onto the engine. Pearson was in a daze, his back and ribs badly injured in the crash with extreme pain preventing him from moving at all. Thankfully it was about this time that a French ambulance arrived, taking Pearson and the other injured crewmen to the local hospital. Although the crash proved the death of Glodine, she had managed to keep her crew safe one last time.

     Pearson’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening. He only ended up staying in the hospital for a few days before getting permission to return to the United States for good. Sad to leave behind his friends in the 442nd Bomb Squadron, he nonetheless took the opportunity and arrived back in the States in July 1945, receiving his final discharge that December. 

 

     A combat veteran of forty-two missions over Europe, Pearson’s career of flight made a tangible impact on the lives of the ground pounders he supported. The crash was an unfortunate incident to occur after surviving so many harrowing missions unscathed and put Pearson on disability for the rest of his life. Not one to be stopped, however, he went on to use the GI Bill for his college degree at Worcester State Teachers College then on to Worcester Polytechnic where he received his engineering degree. In 1949 he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA, where he worked in transonic pressure tunnels, project fire, life support, and environmental studies. In his free time, he still remained active in the music field, playing with the Townsmen Orchestra and other combos while his career took off. Upon the transition from NACA to NASA, Pearson stayed on as a project engineer in charge of major tests examining regenerative life support units, research that became essential in the development of the International Space Station. He retired as the head of the Marine Environments Branch, developing techniques and tools to detect water pollution via remote sensors. By the end of his NASA career, he had published a whopping thirty-five research papers contributing materially to the advancement of aerial flight and space exploration. In retirement he still worked as a project engineer with the Bionetics Corporation and, throughout his entire career, was active within his community as a thirty-two-year member of the York County Board of Zoning Appeals and York Wetlands Board in Virginia. In 2002, following a long life of service to his country and community at home and abroad, he passed away among friends and family.

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