Johns Charles Macgill

Catonsville Native Was A Decorated World War Ii Pilot Who Later Flew In The Berlin Airlift And Missions In Korea

November 03, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Johns Charles Macgill Jr., a decorated World War II bomber pilot who flew 30 combat missions and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, died of heart failure Oct. 22 at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg, Va. He was 88.

The son and grandson of physicians, Mr. Macgill was born in Baltimore and raised at "Eureka," the old Macgill family home on Frederick Road in Catonsville.

Mr. Macgill was interested in flying since he was a child.

"Coming from a long line of doctors, it became embedded into Charlie's mind what his future would be. However, at the age of 9, he saw an airplane, and as happened so often in the early days of flight, he became enamored with flight," wrote Robin Smith, historian for the 486th Bomb Group Association, in a profile.

FOR THE RECORD - An obituary published in Tuesday's editions misspelled John Charles Macgill's first name.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

"To his bewilderment, his dad never tried to change Charlie's mind," Mr. Smith wrote.

After graduating from McDonogh School in 1939, he earned his pilot's license the next year.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Macgill learned that the Army Air Corps had established the Aviation Cadet Program, which meant that those without a college degree, if they could pass an examination, would be taken into the program.

"It took Charlie a matter of seconds to realize that he could be paid for flying rather than have to pay if he could get his wings," Mr. Smith wrote.

"Having flying time already made it somewhat easier, but he had to learn the 'Army Way,' which was some different than the barnstorming he had been doing," he wrote.

After flight training in Texas and Louisiana, he completed a short stint piloting a submarine chaser bomber assigned to the Ninth Anti-Sub Squadron in Miami.

Mr. Macgill was sent to Davis-Monthan Field near Tucson, Ariz., and after completing combat crew training, he was sent to Sudbury, England, where he joined the 834th Zodiac Squadron of the 486th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force.

He flew half of his 30 combat missions aboard Virgo, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engine bomber; with the remainder aboard Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses.

"While flying a B-17 bomber on a mission, an engine was hit by flak and set afire, causing the airplane to lose altitude and be flipped on its back and into a spin by the propeller wash from the bomber in front," said his nephew, J. Wistar "Pete" Huey III of Ellicott City.

In order to stop the spin and in an effort to extinguish the flames and save the damaged wing, Mr. Macgill dove straight down some 10,000 feet, his nephew recalled.

"He leveled out having been successful in putting out the engine fire, only to be jumped by several German fighter planes, which caused additional damage," Mr. Huey said.

"Just as he was about to give the order to jump while there was still sufficient altitude to do so, the fighters disappeared, scared off by two P-51 Mustangs, who then escorted the crippled B-17 as far as the English Channel," Mr. Huey said.

Through his flying skills and with more than a little good luck, Mr. Macgill was able to fly the severely damaged plane across the English Channel before crash landing in England.

"The entire crew survived with only minor injuries," his nephew said.

For his courageous exploits, Mr. Macgill was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for "extreme gallantry in combat."

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant at war's end, Mr. Macgill's other wartime decorations included six Air Medals and two Air Force Commendation Medals.

After the war, Mr. Macgill, he returned to Baltimore and purchased two surplus Boeing Stearman biplanes and established a crop dusting business that was based at the old Curtiss-Wright Airport on Smith Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

"This proved to be a short-lived venture when it became apparent that Charlie was having entirely too much fun in buzzing the family house, on one occasion removing the weather vane with his landing gear," his nephew said.

"Another of his stunts was to, after dark, approach a car traveling on Route 40, glide over it and briefly place his landing gear on the hood - not the sort of thing the authorities would find amusing these days," Mr. Huey recalled, laughing.

One day Mr. Huey and his sister Louisa took a ride with their uncle.

"We were strapped into the front seat of one of the Stearmans, while Uncle Charlie flew it from the rear cockpit," Mr. Huey said.

"Our mother, watching from the ground, was horrified to witness what we thought was even more fun than the roller coaster at Gwynn Oak Park, as he exhibited his aerobatic skills. Obviously, she wasn't amused."

Despite all of the fun, Mr. Macgill itched to get back into the Air Force, and an old family friend, W. Stuart Symington, who had served as first secretary of the Air Force from 1947 to 1950 and later was a U.S. senator from Missouri, helped him reacquire his commission in 1948.

Mr. Macgill, who acquired 600 hours of combat flying hours during his career, flew during the Berlin Airlift and later combat missions in Korea.

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