The citizens of Crawford County, Missouri buy P-47 WWII fighter plane
This blog started in a serendipitous manner. A local man named Mardy Leathers ran across a photo of the WWII Spirit of Crawford County Missouri while he was doing research for his MBA. Thinking that it was a cool photo, he put the photo on his Facebook page, which I shared to the Cuba MO Murals & More Facebook page. Then I started thinking. What was the reason behind this plane’s name that linked it to Crawford County Missouri where Cuba, Missouri is located. Did the pilot have a local connection? Thus, the googling began. It led me to several sites, some in the UK, where vintage photos and WW II aviation history is maintained. With permissions obtained to use photos and info, here’s the rest of the story of the Spirit of Crawford County Missouri P-47 plane.
One of the first links that I found was to the Nose Art Research Project in the UK. There I found out about the WWII Buy-A-Bomber campaign. According to the website, the campaign let communities, whether town or county, purchase planes. The amount of money raised through the sales of War Bonds or Stamps determined the type of aircraft which would be “purchased.” Initially $275,000 allowed a community to have a heavy bomber (B17 or B24) named after it. Lesser funds could buy a twin engine B25 or pursuit fighter.
In the early months of the war, the aircraft was flown to a local airfield and a naming ceremony was carried out with full publicity. As the war escalated, there wasn’t time for this. The aircraft name was painted as it left the factory and a photo was sent to the community representatives or local newspapers. On the website listed above The Spirit of Crawford County Missouri, a P-47 fighter, is listed as one of these planes. At this time, none of the original publicity of the Spirit of Crawford County Missouri has come to light.
Another piece of research was found online at the Crawford County Missouri Photo Album. The info accompanied by the photo of the Spirit of Crawford County Missouri above stated:
During World War II, the story is any city or county through a war bond drive raised a total of $105,000, bought a P-47, the front line fighter of the era. Those who raised the funds went to the plant and had their name put on the aircraft, then it was shipped overseas. This plane wound up with the 56th Fighter Group, the most famous fighter group in the European Theater of Operation. The time period was most likely 1944. The man in this photo is Capt. Joe Curtiss, the pilot of the plane.
The next stop in research took me to the Little Friends site in the UK dedicated to keeping the memory of the planes and their crews alive. The site curator Peter Randall stated that there were three known photos of the plane, and I was welcome to use them for this blog entry. The photo below shows the invasion stripes around the fuselage. Randall also said that the black & white photos in this post are free of copyright as they were taken by the unit photographer who was using equipment and materials paid for by tax dollars, they are now in the public domain.
This plane was lost on Sept. 21,1944 while being piloted by 2nd Lt. Oscar L. Cagle Jr.; he was Killed in Action. They were on an area support mission near Arnhem. They were headed down to bounce a flight of Fw 190s, and he was not seen again.
Oscar L. Cagle, Jr was from Birmingham/Jefferson, Alabama, and his name is listed on the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The third photo from the Little Friends site features Lt. Joe Curtis of the 63rd Fighting Squadron, who was the pilot for the fighter. However, he was not flying it when it went down.
In our research, we found a fourth photo that shows the Spirit of Crawford County Missouri on a runway in a que of planes ready to taxi. This is from the World War II Color Archives: the Jeffrey L. Ethell Collection.
Accompanying text says the following:
A very poignant historical shot (one a of number taken the same day) of the 63rdFS P47Ds taxiing to runway head prior to a mission, at Boxted, 21st September 1944. Center picture, is Spirit of Crawford County Missouri, Capt. Joseph Curtiss’ plane, ‘UN-C’ ser# 42-26316. However, when this shot was taken, the plane is at the back of the que. This is because on this day it was being flown by Lt. Oscar Cagle. This was most likely the last time anyone on the ground ever saw the aircraft.Both Lt. Cagle and plane were lost (KIA) on this exact mission.
Peter Randall of the Little Friends site also sent us a closeup photo of the plane on the runway on that fateful day. Randall stated that the code on the aircrafts is UN-C. The UN indicates the 63rd FS, and the bar or underscore to the C indicates that it was the second aircraft in the squadron carrying that letter. They had more than 26 per squadron at that time. Randall said that the photo below is a copy of the original held by the 56th FG Museum at their old base at Halesworth, England and credit should go to them.
A search of the United States Air Force serial numbers found this information: Serial number 26316 (56th FG, 634e RW, Spirit of Crawford County Missouri lost Saasveld near Weerselool, Netherlands September 21, 1944. MACR 9165. Pilot KIA
Another photo that I found was on the A2A Simulations website, which uses software to simulate fighter action.
This is the story of the Spirit of Crawford County Missouri. It’s a record of patriotic Crawford Countians who raised a large sum of money during war time to do their part in maintaining our freedom. It’s the saga of the young men who flew these fighters and in some cases sacrificed their lives.
I hope the story is not over. I hope that someone will unearth a yellowed newspaper clipping about raising the money to buy the plane in Crawford County so that it can be added to this record. It was a large amount of money at the time. I hope some of the pilots or people related to pilots of these planes will comment and tell us some of the human interest stories associated with this time. It is my hope that the story goes on and is remembered as “at what price freedom.”
Feel free to utilize the comments sections to add information or anecdotes. The comments section is a rich resource for our history.
You can read about Invasion Stripes here
For another Cuba, Missouri related WWII story read, A New Chapter in the Gold Star Boys Mural: The rest of the story.