Bill Overstreet, Famed WWII Fighter Pilot, Dies At 92
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We end this hour with a remembrance of a daring World War II flight that lifted the spirits of the French people and of the humble man who flew it. In 1944, American fighter pilot William Overstreet of the 357th Fighter Group was on a mission in Nazi-occupied territory. Flying his P-51 Mustang, Overstreet was escorting American bombers through France when a dogfight broke out. Overstreet broke away to pursue an enemy German plane.
PASTOR JEFF CLEMMONS: It started at 30,000 feet.
CORNISH: That's Pastor Jeff Clemmons, a combat veteran of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps and a close friend of William Overstreet.
CLEMMONS: This was a half-hour dogfight which would end up going through the streets of Paris and conclude itself through a pursuit through the Eiffel Tower where Bill shot down the German pilot.
CORNISH: Yes, you heard that right, from the stratosphere, down through the arches of the Eiffel Tower. Here's how Overstreet himself described the chase in an interview posted online.
WILLIAM OVERSTREET: He figured I'd try to get around and he'd have time to get away. He was wrong. I was right behind him, right under the Eiffel Tower with him. And when he pulled up, I did get him. But that's a huge space. That's not close at all. It's plenty of room to go under the Eiffel Tower. But it makes a good story.
CORNISH: More like a great one. Clemmons says the pursuit inspired thousands of people below who witnessed the feat.
CLEMMONS: The Paris citizenry actually rose up in defiance of the Germans for a period of three days, celebrating that victory. And they knew the Germans would lose the war.
CORNISH: The French people never forgot Overstreet's courage. In 2009, France presented William Overstreet with that country's highest award, the Legion of Honor. Clemmons tells us that Overstreet was a very modest man. He accepted the medal in memory of servicemen who died in the war.
CLEMMONS: Bill was selfless. He was authentic. He knew who he was. I was there when he died. I felt his last heartbeat. We will never see the likes of these men again.
CORNISH: World War II veteran William Overstreet passed away in Roanoke, Virginia this past Sunday. He was 92 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.