In August 2020 the Centre received material relating to 2nd Lt Richard Heyne USAAF donated by his nephew, Mr J Ray of New Mexico, USA. The material consists of a biography of Lt Heyne compiled by Mr Ray, 127 original letters, seven scanned photographs, and several scanned news cuttings. The letters include 82 wartime letters from Lt Heyne to his family covering his initial and flight training at various USAAF bases in the USA, and his deployment as a fighter pilot in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) until his death in action on 29 October 1944 on a raid over Landau, Germany.
Richard (‘Bud’ to his family) Heyne was born in Missouri, USA in July 1923, the second of two children to German born to naturalized American, Hans Richard Heyne and Marion Lipsey Heyne. The family moved to Mogollon, New Mexico in 1928 where Mr Heyne worked at the local mine. Bud was close to his sister, Janet, and the two spent many childhood hours hiking and fishing in the mountains and forests around Mogollon. After high school, he attended Colorado State University for a term during 1941/1942, and then transferred to the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts during the 1942/43 school year. It was during this time that he enlisted in the US Army Air Force in November 1942.
Bud’s letters home begin in February 1943 when he was doing his basic training at a Training School Squadron (TSS) at Sheppard Field Air Force Base, Texas. By early March he had been posted to an Army Air Force Squadron (Sqn F, Flight 29) at Texas Tech, Lubbock for more intensive studies. His letter dated 11 Mar 1943 suggested he liked it there:
‘…. I weigh 150. I think I might pick up though, for I have lost my cold, the hours are regular and the food is excellent …… My courses are not hard for me yet, but then we have not gotten into the higher math yet’
However, his next letter a few days later probably gave his parents more cause for concern:
‘To date, five men have died from our barracks, one from pneumonia, one from spinal meningitis, and three from scarlet fever. Barracks No 1 is still confined. Too bad things like that have to happen. The M.D. here said all sorts of hell is going to be raised at Sheppard Field, because we were the most worn out, run down gang he has ever seen’.
By the end of March 1943 he had been made up to Flight Sgt and his duties included drilling his flight for four hours in the afternoons, and commanding them on parades.
In April 1943 he got his first taste of flying:
‘At 2.10 this afternoon I got my first flying. Most of flight 29 is together in what is known as Flight H. We fly Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings (no classes!) and Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Only a few of the bunch here are taking it, and I’m lucky to be one of them …. All those who are flying are distinguished by the air corps braid on the khaki caps. I had mine braided last night. We have had no orders to wear them yet, but expect them any day’ (letter dated 4/4/1943)
Further letters that month showed his enthusiasm for flying:
‘I was the first one up this morning and really got a thrill out of it. Of the 45 minutes we were up, I had the controls about 35. It seemed 10. The air was terribly rough because the wind was so high. It was just on the border of being too high to fly. We did climbs, glides, turns, banks, crabbing (taking the wind drift into consideration) etc etc’ (letter dated 4 April 1943)
‘Boy oh Boy! This flying business is really the stuff! More fun than I ever dreamed of’ (letter dated 11 Apr 1943)
By late April 1943 Bud had moved on again, to the Army Air Force Classification Centre in San Antonio, Texas where he was assigned to a Cadet Squadron. Medical and other tests followed to assess his suitability for classification as a pilot. After a nerve wracking few weeks a relieved Bud wrote home on 5 May1943 –
‘I found I had been classified as a pilot …. will go to pre-flight school for nine weeks in a few weeks’
He duly moved into pre-flight school (housed on the same complex in San Antonio) on 26 May 43 and into a strict disciplinary regime:
‘Are we in it now! We moved across the street yesterday and moved right into a living HELL -and I do mean hell! This is the only pre-flight center in the country where the upper & lower class system is still in effect. Hazing¹ to such extremes that some underclassmen are hospitalized ….. This hazing is supposed to make good officers out of us, but some of the things we have to do are preposterous, it is only with superhuman willpower that we don’t sock them. We have to shine our shoes to brass at least 15 times a day – we stand “in a brace” (a position of attention that is so rigid that every single muscle in one’s body is strained) until some pass out’ (letter dated 27/5/43)
A recurrent theme in Bud’s letters home is how much he missed his mountain home in New Mexico, as for example in a letter dated 17 Jun 43:
‘Boy how I envy Jan², in a couple of weeks she will be in good old Mogollon; cool, peaceful, quiet, trees, water, fish, and not – – – thousand men every where you look. Oh well, only 2 or 3 more years and I’ll be there (I hope)’
‘It seems much longer than four months, fourteen days, and thirteen hours since I was home’ (letter dated 7/7/1943)
On 22 Jul 43 he finished his academic courses at San Antonio having achieved good grades in all his subjects and qualified as a Marksman. A few days later he arrived at the Army Air Force Training Detachment at Curtis Field in Brady, Texas for the next stage in his flying training. This was much more to his liking with none of the rigid discipline of San Antonio:
‘….only one inspection a week, and all we have to do then is make our beds and straighten our lockers. Really it’s like taking a vacation from the terribly strict cadet life we had been leading …..This is the first place we have been treated as men, who have initiatives and minds of their own’ (letter dated 30/7/1943)
The risks of flying training were however ever present in more ways than one:
‘Day before yesterday one of the upperclassmen got lost, ran out of gas and crashed (to his death). Strangely enough, I can’t imagine anything like that happening to me. It seems out of the question that I shall be killed while in training. Statistics show that that 2% of all airplane accidents in the last 20 years has been due to mechanical failure, the other 98% to the shortcomings of the pilot. We were told by our C.O. that 35% of us will wash out³ here, 15% at Basic, and 6% at Advanced. We were also told that it is no disgrace to wash out, for only a few men have the ability to fly according to AAF standards. That ability is natural, in other words, one has to be a “natural born pilot”. Those of us that wash out will go to gunnery, mechanics, or radio school. We will all be in the flying crew’ (letter dated 2/8/1943)
The sheer enjoyment Bud got from flying is very evident in his letters at this time:
‘I’m writing on the flying line in the stage house. Planes taking off and landing as thick as flies. I have to keep an eye open for No 235, for I fly next. We rotate so that each one gets to fly early, for as the day goes on, the air gets rougher. We have been practicing stalls and spins lately. Stalls are fun, but spins can get a little rough, especially the power on spins. ……I’ll now continue after having my morning ride. I took off, climbed to 300’, broke traffic, did climbing turns up to 5000’, leveled off and cleared the area. Then I did 13 stalls, climbed back up to 6000’ and my instructor demonstrated a spin from a 720° power turn. That is the lightest, fastest spin there is. We climbed back up, and I did 2 spins myself. Then I did gliding turns down to 500’ and did some “S”s across a road. After a few minutes of that, it was time to come in’ (letter dated 16/8/1943)
‘I can remember a few years ago daydreaming about sailing through the air in an airplane, and hadn’t the faintest idea that I should ever be doing it. Yesterday while I was up solo I suddenly thought that here I am, actually realizing my daydreams. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I am floating on thin air 6 or 8 thousand feet above the earth’(letter dated 29/8/1943)
‘Today I had the most fun I have had in a PT⁴’ (letter dated 6/9/1943)
By October 1943 Bud had moved on again and was then at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo, Texas flying BT13 Vultee airplanes, seemingly better equipped than the Primary Trainers he had been on before:
‘You should see the flight line here. As far as you can see in both directions are BT13 airplanes. Parked wing tip to tip and nose to tail. After flying primary trainers these seem like an awful lot of airplane. They are equipped with such things as complete radio equipment, variable pitch propeller, complete night and blind flying instruments, 450 HP Wright air cooled radial engine etc’ (letter dated 1/10/1943)
There is a gap in his letters now until one posted in late February 1944 on the day of his arrival at Dale Mabry Air Field, Tallahassee, Florida at what he described as a ‘classification and ground school’ where he expected to stay for 4-6 weeks. The prospect of not flying for the next six weeks was not something he looked forward to:
‘You can imagine how a bunch of eager new pilots like myself feel about not flying for 6 weeks. It’s a terrible thought.’ (letter dated 25/2/1944)
However, during this time he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt and kitted out with flying equipment and clothing. He also wrote out his will during February 1944, advising in a letter home:
‘my estate shall go to Mommie (I hope she doesn’t get it!)’ (letter dated 28/2/1944)
In April 1944 Bud arrived at 502nd Fighter Bomber Squadron, Punta Gorda Army Airfield, Punta Gorda, Florida for the final phase of his pilot training. As always, he thoroughly enjoyed his training flights and wrote home:
‘Flying is wonderful. We are told that the P40 is the hardest of all airplanes to fly, but I really like it. I guess I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I first fly a P51 or a P47, but right now I’m plenty satisfied with this ship. The last few days I’ve been flying formations with a Captain who has been flying 40s in China with Gen Chennault, and he’s taught me some of the tactics of the Flying Tigers⁵. The 3rd Fighter Command has an agreement with the bombers in this area to let us simulate attack on them, and we have a swell time flying circles and diving and zooming around B17s (Flying Fortress) and B24s (Liberator). I’ll never regret the day I was chosen for a pursuit pilot. Soon we’ll start gunnery, and firing 6 50cal machine guns should really be something.’ (letter dated 27 Apr 1944)
And his zest for flying is very evident in a letter dated 19 May 1944:
‘Today I believe I had the most fun I have ever had in my young life. First we went dive bombing, and one of my bombs wouldn’t release. I couldn’t land with it hanging because I had already armed it, and there is no way to dis-arm them. And the jar of landing would certainly knock it loose and blow me all over P.G.A.A.F. I put that ship through every violent maneuver I knew and a few more ones, and was just about to give up when it fell off into the ocean.
So then I gathered my wing men together (I was leading the formation) and we went to a pre-arranged rendezvous to have a battle with another formation. And what a fight it was! We fought all the way from 22,000’ down to 3,000’ then started back up but had to go back to the field because we were low on gas. We’ll see our film tomorrow and see who won. I think my boys did, but the camera will show it. Just before we took off, our flight leader cussed us out because we flew too far out from each other on formations, and because we “babied” the engines too much. So before we came in to land, everybody got very close (really too close) and I being the leader, brought us in with almost full throttle. So when we got on the ground we got cussed out again for flying too close and too fast, but I could tell that the C.O. was secretly pleased’
By June 1944, his training finally over, Bud left Punta Gorda on 15 June 1944 for an undisclosed location in the eastern US to await shipment overseas. There are no letters during his subsequent journey to the UK but he arrived in England in mid July 1944 having been assigned as a pilot to 378th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group (FG), which was then stationed at RAF Headcorn, Kent. 362nd Fighter Group consisted of three fighter squadrons – the 377th, 378th, and 379th, and each fighter squadron had a strength of 32 P47 Thunderbolt aircraft and 36 pilots.
The 362nd FG had arrived in the UK at Wormingford, Essex in February 1944 and moved to Headcorn in April 1944. Its primary role was initially as escort cover for bombing missions but, in the run up to D Day, increasingly included ground attack missions against transportation targets in northern France as part of the Allied strategy to prevent or delay German re-supply of the beachhead areas after the invasion.
Around the time of Bud’s arrival in the UK, the 362nd FG moved to Lignerolles airfield in Normandy (on 19 July 1944), but he does not appear to have immediately gone with them. As a newly arrived pilot it is likely that he would have completed a month’s ‘in-theater’ training in the UK prior to joining his squadron on an operational basis.
Censorship rules prevented him discussing his exact whereabouts in his letters, thus his first letter from England says only:
‘ “Somewhere in England” is all I am allowed to tell you’ (letter dated 17 Jul 1944)
He celebrated his 21st birthday later that month on 22 July 44 and wrote home that day of some of his fondest memories:
‘….horse back trips to Iron Creek and West Fork and Middle Fork ….hunting trips with Dad …….. the inevitable gang at our house on Christmas Day’
By 14 Aug 1944 he was with his squadron in France to begin operational flying with them though censorship again precluded any details of this in his letters. By this time 362nd FG had moved on to Rennes airfield in Brittany (arriving there on 11 Aug 1944) and its pilots were continuing to fly on ground attacks against transportation targets and, following the 362nd’s link up with Patton’s Third Army, as air support to the advancing US troops.
Accommodation for the 362nd FG had been tented camps in Normandy, but while flying from Rennes they were more comfortably housed in a former German military barracks. Bud’s letter dated 16 Aug 44 reflected this:
‘And it’s certainly not a bad existence, for we have relatively nice quarters, and good food. The food is as good or better than we had in England, and the general atmosphere so much more pleasant than I have experienced before’
but the realities of operational life were already apparent:
‘we all have the live-today-and-let-tomorrow-take-care-of-itself attitude, and that suits me, for I never had an eye too much in the future’
As the Allied ground forces advanced across France, 362nd FG moved its base eastward again to Prosnes airfield, near Reims in late September 1944 and extended their operations to targets in Germany itself. The 362nd’s pilots had by now already achieved a good reputation for their skill and effectiveness, and the group had been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its earlier operations in Brest. This did however come at a high cost, 54 of the group’s pilots were listed as Missing In Action or Killed in Action between June-October 1944⁹
At Prosnes, the group’s pilots were housed in a nearby chateau, their most comfortable accommodation so far in the ETO, and described by Bud in a letter dated 5/10/1944 as ‘excellent’. In the same letter he wrote:
‘I suppose I can tell you that I have earned the Air Medal, although you’ll probably know about it before you get this letter, for I understand the Government puts such notices in the newspapers’
His last letter home is dated 19 Oct 44 and was written from England where he was then on leave. He wrote mainly of family and friends but added:
‘I have one cluster on my Air Medal now which means I have been awarded the Air Medal a second time’
‘… I enclose the long awaited picture of the “Brush”. By now, ze mustachio is much longer and the grin not quite so wide. How about it Mommie, should I cut it off, or continue to be the owner of the best one in the group, and soon the best in the E.T.O.?’
He returned to his squadron in France after UK leave, and on 29 October 1944 took off from Prosnes flying a P-47 Thunderbolt on a mission to attack marshalling yards at Landau, Germany from which he did not return. A US War Department telegram dated 16 Nov 44 to his parents advised them that he had been reported:
‘missing since Oct 29 over Germany’.
Further details were received from the US War Department in a letter dated 22 Dec 44 quoting from a recently received report which:
‘states that at approximately 10:45 am your son’s fighter strafed a marshaling yard in the target area and failed to rejoin the formation. His plane was observed to have sustained damage and was last seen as it disappeared into the clouds. It is regretted that the foregoing constitutes all the information presently obtainable’
No further information was received, and any faint hopes that he may have survived were dashed in October 1945 when a letter of presumptive finding of death was sent to Bud’s family by the US War Department. Finally, in August 1946 they were advised that:
‘an official report has now been received that he was killed in action on 29 October 1944 in the European Area’
And a further letter later that year advised that Bud’s remains had been identified and interred at the US Military Cemetery at St Avold, France.
During his active service in the European theatre Lt ‘Bud’ Heyne was awarded the Air Medal and clasp, and he was also awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. The Centre is honoured to have his material in its archive and is most grateful to his nephew, Mr Jeff Ray, for its donation.
The Second World War Experience Centre
¹ Hazing is the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group (military.wikia.org)
²his sister, Janet
³fail pilot training
⁴Primary Trainer aircraft
⁵ First American Volunteer Group of USAAF, US Navy, and US Marine pilots in China 1941-1942
⁹p52 ‘The Art of Wing Leadership: exploring the influences of Air Crew Morale in combat’ by John J Zentner (thesis, School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, Maxwell Airforce Base, Alabama June 2000)
For further reading on 362nd Fighter Group’s operations in the ETO 1944-45
‘Thunderbolts triumphant: the 362nd Fighter Group vs Germany’s Wehrmacht’ by Chris Bucholtz (Casemate Publishers 2018)
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