Off Beat: Military pilot tells tales spanning several wars for documentary

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When a pilot's missions stretch from World War II to the Vietnam War, there's more than one story to tell.

Jack Darrow has some good ones, including the day his enemy target was an American bomber.

Darrow flew 54 missions as a P-38 fighter pilot in Europe. On some, he escorted American bombers on raids over targets such as the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. That's where his tent mate was shot down.

Almost three decades later, he flew helicopters in the Vietnam War. That was the intended topic when Mike Burton of Vancouver interviewed Darrow.

Burton, a Vietnam veteran and a former college administrator, is working with a film team on a documentary. The Columbian was invited to the taping session this past month at the home of Darrow's daughter near Battle Ground.

A look through Darrow's WWII flight log briefly took the interview in another direction. It was an entry on July 14, 1944: "Dive bomb B-24 N. Italy."

B-24s were American bombers, which made it a curious assignment. But this plane was in enemy hands, said the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

"The B-24 was coming home with two or three wounded men on board," he said. "The pilot didn't think they would survive."

A German airfield in northern Italy was closer than any Allied base.

"He landed and surrendered," Darrow, 90, said.

The Americans couldn't let the Germans have a bomber that could be used against the U.S., and Darrow was one of the P-38 pilots assigned to put take it out.

"We each had two fragmentation bombs," Darrow said. "We probably put 1,000 holes in it."

There was another unusual mission a month later. Darrow didn't fly on it, but he had a stake in it.

Several B-17 bombers took off empty and landed in Romania. They came back with hundreds of prisoner of war airmen who had been shot down over Ploesti and Bucharest, Romania.

"My tent mate was one of them," Darrow said.

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story, or just tell a story.