Colonel 'Bud' Mahurin D.F.C. D.S.C. Silver Star
Colonel ‘Bud’ Mahurin D.F.C. D.S.C. Silver Star
Born: December 5th 1918 at Benton Harbour, Michigan, U.S.A.. Died: May 11th 2010. Age 91.
One of the US Army Air Force’s outstanding fighter aces in Europe during the Second World War; he went on to serve in the Pacific and later became a PoW after being shot down during the Korean War.
Mahurin arrived in Suffolk in January 1943 to join the Eighth Air Force’s 63rd Fighter Squadron, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt, a robust long-range fighter escort.
Before experiencing combat he nearly killed himself when he carried out aerobatics around a Liberator bomber. Caught in the aircraft’s slipstream, he collided with the bomber and was forced to bail out. He expected to be court-martialled, but his commander simply fined him $100 and “chewed him out”.
Five days later, on August 17, Mahurin atoned by shooting down two Focke Wulf 190s as he escorted bombers on the Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid.
Whilst escorting bombers to Bremen on October 4, he shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 110s. After further successes on long-range escort missions, he became the Eighth Air Force’s first “double ace” (10 victories) on November 26, in a raid over Bremen. As Messerschmitt Bf 110s came after the bombers he was escorting, Mahurin shot the wing off a Bf 110, then sent a second down in flames.
His third target tried the Germans’ favourite – but least effective – evasive tactic: diving away. Virtually no other aircraft could out-dive the “Seven-Ton Milk Jug”, and Mahurin caught and destroyed his quarry.
During that winter Mahurin’s outstanding marksmanship accounted for another five enemy aircraft. Then, in March 1944, as he escorted bombers to Berlin, the Luftwaffe launched more than 400 fighters. The USAAF escort of 800 fighters accounted for 87 of the enemy, Mahurin destroying a FW 190. Shortly afterwards he achieved his third triple victory in a single day when he shot down two FW 190s and a Junkers bomber. These successes made him the highest scoring USAAF pilot at the time, with 19 aircraft destroyed and two shared.
On March 27 he attacked a Dornier bomber over northern France and shared in its destruction, but his P-47 was hit by return fire and he was forced to bail out.
He landed in a haystack and was hidden by the Resistance; they arranged his escape and he arrived back in England six weeks later. It was American policy not to allow evaders to return to operations, so Mahurin returned to the United States.
Walker Melville Mahurin was born on December 5 1918 at Benton Harbor, Michigan. He studied Engineering at Purdue University before joining the Army Air Force in September 1941. Having graduated as a pilot in April 1942, he was assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron.
On his return to America in 1944, Mahurin was put in command of the 3rd Fighter Squadron at Luzon in the Philippines. Flying a P-51 Mustang, he scored his only aerial victory in the Pacific in January 1945 when he shot down a Japanese bomber. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel, he became commander of the 3rd Air Command Group.
He stayed in the military after the war and was working in the Pentagon for the Secretary of the Air Force when the Korean conflict broke out. Mahurin quickly “got up to speed on jets”, and in December 1951 left for Korea on a 90-day tour of temporary duty with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, serving as a special assistant to the wing commander.
Determined to see action, he arranged a transfer to command the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, flying the F-86 Sabre jet from Kimpo in South Korea. On January 6 1952 he shot down a MiG 15 and six weeks later accounted for a second. On March 5 he shot down a third and shared in the destruction of another.
On May 13, while strafing ground targets, Mahurin’s Sabre was shot down by North Korean ground fire. After crash-landing, and breaking his arm in the process, he was captured.
Mahurin spent 16 months in a North Korean PoW camp. He was confined to a small cell and fed only enough water and food to keep him alive. He was subjected to “brainwashing” and forced to endure subfreezing conditions with minimal clothing. Interrogations sometimes lasted all night while the victim stood to attention, deprived of sleep and threatened with execution if he did not answer questions. The North Koreans insisted that he sign a confession admitting that he and the United States had used “germ warfare”.
He finally agreed to write a “confession”, but one so full of inaccuracies and implausibilities that any Western reader would know it was fiction. Unknown to him, however, the war had already ended. He was released in September 1953, well after the war’s end, and was promoted to full colonel.
On his return to the United States, Mahurin and other former PoWs were shocked to learn that some Americans, including the Democrat Senator Richard B Russell, thought that those who had signed confessions should be dishonourably discharged. The Defense Department thought otherwise.
After his release Mahurin’s experience in brainwashing techniques provided America with invaluable material to develop survival training courses.
Mahurin was appointed vice-commander of the 27th Air Division, but his prospects of further promotion had been reduced. He resigned his commission in 1956 to accept a senior position in the aircraft industry. He later used his wartime call sign, “Honest John”, as the title of his autobiography published in 1962.
Mahurin was the only US Air Force pilot to shoot down enemy aircraft in the European theatre, the Pacific and in Korea.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The British government awarded him a DFC.
Walker “Bud” Mahurin died on May 11. He and his first wife divorced; he is survived by his second wife, Joan, to whom he was married for 40 years, and by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.