Although it has been nearly 70 years since General F. Michael Rogers, Colonel Hugh D. Dow and Lieutenant William E. Davis III flew as fighter pilots during World War II, these heroes can recount their wartime feats as vividly as if they happened just yesterday.
The three Santa Barbara residents were commended for their honorable service in uniform during a commemorative event—70 Years On: A Tribute to Three of Santa Barbara’s Most Highly Decorated Fighter Pilots, 1942-45—held at the Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort on April 19. The veterans gathered to recount some of their most trying moments in battle and to answer questions posed by luncheon attendees.
Rogers gave up a scholarship to Brown University to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RAF) in Ottowa, Ontario. He became an aviation cadet in 1942 and earned his pilot’s wings in 1943 at Yuma Army Airfield in Arizona. He then went to the RAF Greenham Common Airfield in England in 1942 where he was assigned to fly P-51 fighter planes, guiding bombers to France and Germany. His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star Medal and Air Medal with 20 Oak Leaf Clusters, Silver Star, and Distinguished Flying Cross with an oak leaf cluster that represents those who have received more than one particular decoration.
Colonel Hugh D. Dow earned his wings at St. Huberts RCAF station in Montreal, Quebec. Dow was sent to North Africa as part of Operation Torch, the British- American invasion of French North Africa, which began in November 1942. In January 1945, while stationed in the Mediterranean, Dow was captured and imprisoned in Moosburg, Germany, until he was liberated in April 1945. He retired as a colonel in 1973.
Davis, who served as a pilot on the aircraft carrier USS Lexington in 1944 and was awarded a Navy Cross, shared an especially riveting battle story: “I had a 500-pound bomb that I delivered in the center of a Japanese aircraft carrier, which was left burning and then sank,” he told luncheon guests. “I didn’t see it hit because I was trying to get away from there as fast I could. I blacked out, and when I woke up, I was skimming the waves from the plane’s propeller. I looked up just in time to see that I was flying into the side of a Japanese cruiser, so I rolled my plane on its side and flew through the cruiser’s number two gun turret and the bridge. I could see the Japanese crew in all their dress whites,” said Davis.