B-17 Nine-O-Nine

Feb 082017
 

Lt Leonard B. Fuller

First Lieutenant Leonard B. Fuller represents America’s Finest.  A farm boy from rural New York, in March 1944 he was a fighter pilot based at Steeple Morden, England in the 357th Fighter Squadron.  Four months later in July 1944 he had flown 40 missions over enemy territory, with 180 hours of combat flight in a P-51 Mustang.

On July 4, 1944 one of his buddies snapped this photo of Lt. Fuller with his plane “Myrt II.”

Lt. Fuller near “Myrt II,” his P-51D Mustang.

But this photo never made it home.  Lt. Fuller was killed in action three days later on July 7.  Thanks to Donna Bonning, who researched Lt. Fuller’s story, this photo has come to light after 72 years.  It was found in the effects of fellow pilot Francis Eshelman, whose son James happened to contact Ms. Bonning.  By an amazing coincidence she uncovered what is probably the last known photo of Lt. Fuller.

Lt. Fuller’s plane was hit by flak and crashed near Blankenhain, Germany.  The plane was completely destroyed and there are conflicting reports on whether he was able to parachute out, but he did not survive the fall.

Witness Statement:  I was leading Custard Squadron when we attacked fifty plus Me 410’s.  Lt. Fuller was flying number three in my flight.  The F/A led us over a town where we got heavy accurate flak at about 7,000 feet.  Capt. Haviland, who was flying my wing saw him jettison his canopy, but did not see him get out.  Lt. Fuller called me on the radio and said he was getting out.  I answered his call and he said he was okay.  I did not see him bail out.  /s/ Leslie D. Minchen, Capt., Air Corps.1

Lt. Fuller is credited with destroying 7-1/2 enemy planes during his brief career as a fighter pilot. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart.

As an aviation cadet, Lt. Fuller underwent primary flight training at Garner Field, Uvalde, Texas, then basic flight training at Goodfellow Field, San Angelo, Texas, and advanced flight training at Moore Field, Mission, Texas. He was in class 43-I.  Photos of him appear in two class books in the AAF Collection.

Lt. Fuller during basic flight training, Goodfellow Field, San Angelo, Texas.2

Lt. Fuller at advanced flight training, Moore Field, Mission, Texas.3

Another photograph from Lt. Fuller’s estate shows him during primary flight training at Garner Field.

Lt. Fuller at primary flight training, Garner Field, Uvalde, Texas, 1943.  Top: John L. Turner (NJ), Instructor Otway A. Shafer (WV), Robert E. Cole (NY). Bottom: Alfred P. Howard (TX), Leonard B. Fuller (NY).4

Here is Lt. Fuller at Steeple Morden, England near a P-51B.

Lt. Fuller standing by a P-51B at Steeple Morden, England.

There is much more to Lt. Fuller’s story.  Ms. Bonning has access to many letters written between Lt. Fuller and his parents, as well as additional photographs.  You can read one of the letters and see more photos here in the AAF Collection.5  The plane crash occurred in what would become East Germany under Communist control.  Lt. Fuller’s parents had great difficulty visiting their son’s grave after the war, but they eventually were able to transfer his remains back to the United States in 1950.

A recent view of the grave of Lt. Fuller, and his parents.

He is buried in West Middlebury Cemetery, West Middlebury, New York.  In July 2016 a well-attended memorial service was held to commemorate Lt. Fuller.  It included a fly-over by three P-51 airplanes in missing man formation.6  Another ceremony was held near Blankenhain, Germany where Lt. Fuller was shot down and first interred.

For more information, see Lt. Fuller’s entry at Find-a-Grave7 and at the American Air Museum in Britain.8  There is also information at the Army Air Forces of World War II forum.9

UPDATE:  April 18, 2017:  Thanks to the efforts of Donna Bonning, Lt. Fuller’s former grave site in Germany will have a memorial plaque.

Bonning1

Bonning2

Keep 'em Flying

Did you or a family member serve in the Army Air Forces during World War II? Please contribute your own biography, or that of a loved one, to the Keep ‘em Flying memorial at the AAF Collection. Contact the curator for details.

Citations

  1. Fold3 (http://www.fold.com : downloaded 4 February 2017), World War II, Missing Air Crew Reports, 1944, Aircraft Serial Number 44-13526.
  2. Army Air Forces Collection, “CAVU: Class 43-I, Goodfellow Field, San Angelo, Texas” (item 000176), AAF Collection, http://AAFCollection.info/items/list.php?item=000176 (accessed 06 February 2017), page 30.
  3. Army Air Forces Collection, “Mission of 43-I, The: Class 43-I, Moore Field, Mission, Texas” (item 000095), AAF Collection, http://AAFCollection.info/items/list.php?item=000095 (accessed 06 February 2017), page 20.
  4. Army Air Forces Collection, “Estate of Leonard B. Fuller: Collection of Lt. Leonard B. Fuller” (item 000801), AAF Collection, http://AAFCollection.info/items/list.php?item=000801 (accessed 08 February 2017).
  5. Army Air Forces Collection, “Estate of Leonard B. Fuller: Collection of Lt. Leonard B. Fuller” (item 000801), AAF Collection, http://AAFCollection.info/items/list.php?item=000801 (accessed 08 February 2017).
  6. YouTube, Donna Bonning, “Lt. Leonard B. Fuller Commemoration Ceremony” (https://youtu.be/ZvggPCHRp_E : viewed 7 February 2016).
  7. Jim Tipton, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/ : viewed 4 February 2017), Lieut Leonard Buell Fuller (1921-1944), Memorial 16709549.
  8. American Air Museum in Britain, Leonard B Fuller, http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/143403 : viewed 4 February 2017).
  9. Army Air Forces of World War II, forum, Lt. Leonard B. Fuller 355th Fighter Group 357th Fighter Squadron, Discussion in ‘Fighters’ started by Donna Bonning, Apr 3, 2016.  (http://forum.armyairforces.com/threads/lt-leonard-b-fuller-355th-fighter-group-357th-fighter-squadron.461/ : viewed 4 February 2017).

  One Response to “America’s Finest”

  1. Thank you for posting this. What an honor! If anyone has photos of anything or anyone associated with the 355 FG 357 FS I’m always on the lookout for other photos related to Lt Leonard B. Fuller. The photos of his plane Myrt Il were a miraculous find. The pilot who took the pictures actually crash landed in the French country side but he survived. If he hadn’t then those pictures would have surely been lost. All the stars aligned in telling Leonard’s story.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)

*