General Information on Mark Stepelton
(Notes provided to Jim Anderson by Mark before he passed away July 2002.)
1. During combat over Germany in WWII flying the P-51 aircraft on 73 missions:
Promoted to 1st Lt. on April 1, 1944
Promoted to Capt. on June 23, 1944
Was a 1st Lt for 53 days. I feel my Flight saved hundreds of lives and many aircraft.
2. Escorted 8th Air Force Bombers on 36 missions (B-17s and B-24s) over enemy territory.
3. While a Captain:
Was a Flight Leader of 4 aircraft for 20 combat missions
Led the 364th Fighter Squadron o 9 combat missions (16 aircraft)
Led the entire 357th Fighter Group on 2 Fighter missions.
4. On July 14, 1944, near Lyon, France, I participated in a very important " Top Secret" mission protecting 8th Air Force Bombers while dropping supplies to the underground forces called the "Maquis". French underground forces caused serious problems for Germany by destroying many ammunition dumps and troop trains taking men and supplies to the German front. Some of our troops assisted the "Maquis." We dropped our troops (special) by parachutes at designated locations
Our Squadron (364th FS) was selected to protect at all costs the 359 8th Air Force Bombers who were dropping supplies via parachute from a very low level flight, about 500 feet. We were told that we must destroy any German Fighters who might report the "Maquis" activities.
My wingman, Lt Reed and I were attacked by 20 FW 190 German Fighters. A dogfight resulted at tree top level. As I got on the tail of two Fighters, they split up and I chased a long nose FW190 west and finally got close enough to fire a burst from my machine guns. My shells started hitting his aircraft at the tail and up to his cockpit. His aircraft hit the ground and exploded. I claimed that victory.
Our mission finished, we resumed our escort of the bomber force back to England. We were never given credit for that mission.
My flight time for that very important mission was six hours.
5. Disastrous Combat Mission, March 5, 1944
After a very long mission escorting Bombers to and from Berlin, Germany yesterday, we logged 5.5 hours and lost Mederious, a Flight Leader. And now Flight Headquarters selected our 357th Fighter Group for another long mission. This March 5, 1944 mission was given the orders to attack targets in Bordeaux, France area, mainly the German Bombers that are devastating our shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. We encountered a vast amount of resistance from enemy ground fire and there was much fighter activity and at one point a pilot (ours) said, "Hi Fellas, I just got hit, and have to bail out." This pilot was Chuck Yeager. A new type long nose FW190 had got on Yeager's tail and shot him up. We searched the area to make sure that Germans had not picked up Yeager.
After some additional damage was done our commander, Col. Spicer said, "Lads, let's go home." I was flying Lt. Col. Hayes wing as we headed toward England. Col. Hayes was our Squadron Commander. It appeared that Col. Spicer had damaged his plane on the strafing runs and now announced he was having considerable trouble keeping his plane in the air and would have to bail out quite soon. The Colonel was over water, as we were, and we told him that we would request the English Air Sea Rescue to pick up the Colonel. He had gotten into his dinghy and was paddling out to sea. He was not going to give up. Lt. Col. Hayes ordered a flight to go to our base at Leiston, refuel and rearm and return to the area where Col. Spicer was down, so to give him cover while we waited for the Air Sea Rescue boats.
We were getting low on fuel so we had to return to Leiston. Upon arrival we expected to refuel and return to help cover Col. Spicer. Our Group Executive Officer had advised our Fighter Wing HQ, who refused to allow any of us to return to the area where Col. Spicer was down.
An International Red Cross message was issued for the Germans to pickup Col. Spicer. The Colonel became CO of a POW Camp in Germany. The Air Corp's lost the finest of all Fighter Pilots for the duration of the war.
Colonel Russell Spicer was so mistreated by the Germans that he passed away a few years after WWII. Our loss was great!