I am not a professional Historian.

I have never studied the processes involved in research, library cataloguing and genealogy.  I did not serve in any branch of our nation’s military nor have I studied military history, tactics or strategy.  I am not an archaeologist and I would not even know where to begin to learn about that field of study.

However, I did grow up on a civil war battlefield and it is the memories, emotions, encounters, and even the sweat from my childhood experiences on those ancient fields of battle that have all pointed me in this direction.  It is that battlefield that has guided me – always looking back to a forgotten past that is usually overlooked by most people as they go about their daily lives.  I have always wondered about the past and I am always curious about the “what if” of history and am constantly floored by the “wow” factor of historical events.  I enjoy hearing and even recounting old stories to people who will listen and so it is that appreciation that has brought this page to the internet.

Back in the summer of 2011, I sat at my kitchen counter one night and stared at a photo of my great uncle that was taken sometime during World War II.  He is dressed in his flight gear, wearing a leather flight jacket, his Mae West draped around his neck and hanging over his shoulders.  His soft cotton canvas flight helmet slightly crooked under his goggles.  There is an embroidered patch depicting the head of some snarling animal sewn onto his jacket.  In the background, the 14 foot propeller and cowling of a P-47 Thunderbolt is visible over his right shoulder.  His oxygen mask rests to the left of his cheek.  

This photo is the first connection I had to the 367th Fighter Squadron of the 358th Fighter Group.  Back then, I didn’t know much about my uncle.  I only knew he had been killed in the war either on a transport plane crossing the Channel or on his fourth or fifth combat mission.  Since 2011, have since learned that the photo was taken in Pontorson, France on an airfield that was not too far away from the ancient abbey perched atop the rock known as Mt. St. Michel.  I know the photo was taken during the first two weeks of September 1944.  I have learned that the patch on his flight jacket does not represent the 367th Fighter Squadron.  I now know that my great uncle flew over 45 combat missions and was an element leader when he was shot down on December 16, 1944.  He was not a rookie.  He was an experience aviator and he had become a true fighter pilot in every sense of those words.  He was a warrior and I had to learn more about him.

After about two years of looking for more information, I realized that in order to learn Jack’s story, I had to know the history of his squadron.  The subsequent path of discovery I ventured out on took me to France and Germany, introduced me to many new friends, taught me how to research military and genealogical records, find grave sites and obituaries and track down individuals and families.  It brought me close to veterans who flew with him or who served in the unit before and after him.  It put me in contact with so many people whose father, brother, husband, grandfather or uncle had also flown in the 367th.  The journey, if you will, showed me that much of the history had been forgotten but there was still an interest in the history of this unit.  It was all there in front of me and more and more pieces were coming to light.  I just had to put it all together.

And that is what this page is for.

If I have forgotten someone or something, it is not intentional.  If I have stated facts, dates or depicted events incorrectly, I do not mean to do that.  Please correct me if you can and if there is anything that needs to be added, subtracted or edited please let me know.  This page is for them and is all about telling their story.  I have tried to record everything as correctly as possible, but I am human and make mistakes.  And besides, there’s a lot of information about the 367th and the men and boys who served in it during WWII.

Claiborne M. Stokes

Mobile, AL USA