Donald C. Utermahlen

Age 86: Carroll County native was a longtime telephone company employee and a fighter pilot in World War II.

June 09, 2008|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Donald C. Utermahlen, a World War II fighter pilot and longtime telephone company employee, died of complications from cancer June 1 at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. The Parkville resident was 86.

He was born in Union Bridge in Carroll County, where his father was a power engineer at a cement factory. As a boy, he hunted squirrels, pheasants and rabbits. His mother died when he was 9 years old, and his father died when he was 17. He graduated from Elmer Wolfe High School and received an award from teachers for his academic and athletic achievements.

"He entered his adult life without parents or money," said his son Brian Utermahlen of Kingwood, Texas.

After high school, Mr. Utermahlen moved to Baltimore and went to work for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., his son said, starting as a pole climber. Wearing steel spikes, he clambered up telephone poles to install wiring.

"He really did start at the bottom and work his way up," the son said.

Not long after he started with the telephone company, he volunteered for the Army Air Corps and began training to be a pilot. He traveled by train from Maryland to California to attend training camps and was eventually selected to be a fighter pilot, his son said.

In 1943, just before heading to Italy to join the 14th Fighter Group, he married his high school sweetheart, Reba Green, a Carroll County farm girl with whom he had been on a blind date, his son said.

Based in Foggia, Italy, Mr. Utermahlen participated in numerous air raids on oil fields and a refinery in Polesti, Romania, his son said. The oil fields were a major source of fuel for German trucks and tanks, and the Allies wanted desperately to destroy the fields and refinery.

Mr. Utermahlen flew a P-38 fighter with his wife's name in large block letters on its side, protecting the much larger bombers. His son said the missions were dangerous but that his father told him later that he and the other pilots didn't dwell on their mortality.

"He knew a lot of people who never came back from those missions," the son said of his father, who also flew combat missions over the Alps and southern Germany.

After the war, Mr. Utermahlen returned to Baltimore and his job at the telephone company, rising from pole climber to repairman and telephone systems salesman. When he retired in 1970, he was in charge of phone services for the state government, a large account that included hundreds of telephones, his son said.

Mr. Utermahlen never lost his passion for flying. After the war, he joined the Maryland Air National Guard, flying P-51 Mustangs out of Harbor Field in Dundalk. In all, he served 38 years in the military, his son said, and retired with the rank of colonel.

In his retirement, he spent winters in Florida with his wife and enjoyed fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and entertaining his granddaughter.

Services were held Thursday.

Besides his wife, son and granddaughter, he is survived by another son, Steve Utermahlen of San Francisco; a daughter, Susan Schmidt of Hanover, Pa.; and three great-granddaughters.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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