Paul Ostrander '46: Fight for the Sky

Lt. Ostrander in front of a P-47 plane Duxford, England, 1944. (Courtesy Photo)

A minister’s son and a thoughtful pacifist who wanted to study law, Paul Ostrander probably never dreamed he would become a fighter pilot.

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A few days later he wrote home again. “I am glad to hear that somebody has been visiting good old Pacific. I remember when I was there on furlough. I realized that memories are not of the school itself but of the people and things that have been done. The other day I took a cross-country trip to a bomber base and visited my old friend Boyd Lewis. We discussed the latest bomber and fighter tactics, talked of Pacific, etc. After taking off I went over the field and did a slow roll at about 100 feet…On the way home I came clipping along the countryside just over the tree tops. The sun was shining and it was quite a beautiful day.”

On March 19th Ostrander led Blue Flight on a mission that took them near Onasbruck, where they spotted German fighters several thousand feet above. Climbing fast, the four P-51s engaged the enemy aircraft. In the twisting, turning melee, Ostrander got into a dogfight with an ME 109 that began at 11,000 feet and continued all the way down to the deck. For a while neither could gain the advantage; the enemy pilot was good. Ostrander stayed on his tail, trying to make difficult deflection shots as his opponent dropped dangerously near the ground trying to elude him. Then: “I reversed my turn and drew deflection though several turns…getting strikes on the wings and canopy. Almost immediately the enemy aircraft dove into the ground and exploded. The pilot did not get out.”

Ostrander’s wingman Jim Moore also downed an enemy aircraft later in the same mission. Jim recalled that when he returned to Duxford, “Ostrander was waiting to find out if I had scored. We congratulated each other and felt pretty good that night.”

Ostrander, two months shy of his 21st birthday, was now a veteran of over fifty combat missions. A few days later both men went to a rest center where combat-weary pilots could relax and recover from the strain of combat. Jim wrote of their visit, “The flak home was an English mansion out in the country. There were about twenty-five pilots there and we had the opportunity of becoming well acquainted in our seven-day visit. We got some much-needed exercise playing tennis and going on long bicycle rides. The food was very good and the informality of civilian clothes was better.”

The two friends returned to combat on March 30, escorting the bombers to Hamburg. Afterward, Ostrander found an enemy airfield north of the target and led his four-ship flight down to attack it. He strafed the field, destroying one German jet fighter and damaging another.

The next day, the group escorted bombers to Stendal, in north-central Germany. Ostrander led his flight down through the clouds looking for a target; they broke out over a small German town. Enemy gunners fired intense flak at the two Mustangs and the pilots quickly climbed back up through the clouds. Ostrander radioed Jim, asking him to check his ship. Pulling in close, his wingman noticed a hole in the tail of Ostrander’s plane but nothing more. Jim could see Ostrander grinning disgustedly; the ship he was flying was Capt. Dorian “Rocky” Ledington’s, the squadron commander, who was sure to give Ostrander a hard time about it.

Just to be on the safe side, they set a course of 270 degrees and headed for Duxford. Leaving Germany, they crossed the Dutch coastline and relaxed as they headed out across the North Sea toward England. Around 1200 hours and 50 miles west of The Hague the engine in Ostrander’s plane inexplicably caught fire. He radioed that he was going to bail out. He did.