Veteran Salute: ‘Pappy’ flies in WWII and lands in aircraft maintenance

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A retired Air Force Colonel turned 18, just four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Thorne Longsworth was in a college Infantry ROTC program at the time, and says he knew he didn’t want to go to fight on the ground.

He went on to become a pilot, and he would have so many close calls along the way.

Longsworth vividly remembered the day he was supposed to take an aircraft up for a test flight, but another pilot needed the flying hours.

He said the pilot only got about 1,200 feet into the air, when the aircraft blew into a million pieces.

He said saboteurs were just one threat they faced in WWII.

“This is my crew,” Retired Air Force Colonel Thorne Longsworth said.

Since Longsworth was the youngest on the crew, they nicknamed him ‘Pappy’.

“When I walked through, they were frightened, this kid, we are going to war with their kid,” Longsworth said. “He looks like he is about 16.”

He said as the Germans retreated across France they blew up everything along the way.

Longsworth said the crew had no running water, no showers for months, and they also had no place to stay.

“My squadron was in a little French village, beside the airfield and my crew and the officers and crew and I lived with the Catholic priest,” Longsworth said.

The crew flew 27 missions in a B-26.

“The first time somebody shoots at you and tries to kill you it gets your attention, but after a while you become kind of a blase’ about it,” Longsworth said. “If you are going to get shot, you are going to get shot.”

He says his crew with the 394th Bomb Group destroyed everything the generals wanted them to.

“We didn’t have a choice, I mean we were atttacked at Pearl Harbor and we had to fight,” Longsworth said.

The young pilot returned to college after the war, but he stayed in the Reserves, however he wouldn’t stay out of the cockpit for too long.

Although the Korean War was over, Longsworth flew another jet in Japan, on a nuclear alert.

“This is the B-57 Canberra,” Longsworth said.

Then he would go on to fly a B-47 for Strategic Air Command.

As he rose in rank, Longsworth decided to make a move to maintenance, where he earned a Bronze Star for his time as Deputy Commander for Maintenance during Vietnam.

“So, I didn’t take any guff off of the crews,” Longsworth said.

What he did take was hardware, even receiving the Thomas P. Gerrity Award, an honor given to the person who makes the biggest contribution to aircraft maintenance across the Air Force.

“It made me feel pretty good,” Longsworth said.

He said the highlight of his career was his retirement from Strategic Air Command Headquarters.

“We had about 300 people there, from all over the Air force, that I had known,” Longsworth said.

When the Colonel decided to finally retire, after more than 36 years, those who knew him best gave him a special depiction of him.

“They’d bring a briefing in and if I didn’t approve it, I’d say it leaves me cold, or it gives me a warm feeling,” Longsworth said.

He said he stayed so busy in Aircraft Maintenance that he never missed flying.

One thing he held on to on throughout his service though, was his call sign ‘Pappy’.

Longsworth says the best thing that happened to him in the Air Force was meeting his wife.

He said they got married right after he finished B-47 school at McConnell.

The two have been married for 61 years.


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