Captain John Pershing Perrin, 1918-1944
July 4th is Independence Day in the United States, a day of family get-togethers, hot dogs, baseball games and fireworks. But for one small town in England, July 4 is the day chosen to honor the memory of Army Air Corps Captain John Pershing Perrin, who stayed with his aircraft and perished rather than letting it crash into the village of Stafford.
On July 4, 1944, Perrin had just taken off from Wharton, Lancashire, on what was to be a routine training flight to another town 160 miles away. The flight should have taken Perrin about forty minutes. Perrin was already an ace, meaning he had shot down five enemy aircraft, and was an experienced pilot. However, he was flying a P-51D Mustang for the first time. The plane had an 85-gallon fuel tank attached, and he was learning the P-51's flight characteristics with this added piece of heavy equipment.
Shortly after takeoff, a fuel leak developed in the engine. It became worse, filling the cockpit with fuel vapor and then smoke. Perrin was unable to see out of the aircraft. At this point, he should have bailed out, but chose to stay with the plane and attempt to land it at the nearest air base, as he was flying over a populated area. Perrin knew how explosive his plane would be with a full load of fuel, and didn't want to risk it.
According to one eyewitness who saw the last moments of Perrin's life: “It was a very courageous decision to stay with his craft, to accept the worsening risk of an explosion in the cockpit rather than bail out. He was skimming over houses and schools, people - untold others in the town, going about their daily business, kids walking home from school, and this then-pilotless plane, fuel-laden, would be crashing among them."
As Perrin attempted to bring the craft to an unpopulated area, the vapors finally exploded, killing him instantly. No one on the ground was injured.
So along with the United States, Stafford England will be having its own celebration today---honoring the valor of a brave American who gave up his life to save others. At today's ceremony, Perrin's relatives and British villagers, along with diplomats from both countries, will honor Perrin by dedicating an eight-foot stone monument in his memory.
The monument will be in the shape of Perrin's beloved Mustang.
The town also has a Mustang Drive in honor of Perrin.
The BBC website for Stoke and Staffordshire has an excellent article on Perrin and his last actions, and I highly recommend it. The link is http://www.bbc.co.uk/stoke/content/articles/2005/06/06/captain_perrin_feature.shtml
John Pershing Perrin ‘40
(b. November 5, 1918, Atlantic City, NJ-d. July 4, 1944, England)
Attended Toms River High School, Toms River, NJ
Entered Rutgers September 1936, attended one term
Entered Service March 11, 1941, U.S. Army Air Corps, commissioned 2nd Lt., January 14, 1942, 1st Lt., July 1943, Captain, April 1944
John served overseas in England where he died during a plane crash at Creswell, Stafford, England. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters posthumously.
In 2005, Stanley Jones, a British man who lived in Strafford as a child, recalled Perrin's final flight for a BBC online presentation entitled, "'Saviour of Stafford' WW2 pilot Captain Perrin."