Last Flight Home
By Dick Perue
On March 25, Gov. Mark Gordon and his support staff launched the Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Day Statewide Tour at Saratoga’s Angus England Post 54 American Legion, home to more than 50 Veterans, family members and friends.
This was the first of four stops during the 2023 tour, saluting Cowboy State Veterans and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
The governor, the first lady, the state adjutant general (AG) and the Veterans Commission chairman all flew into Shively Field, which the AG mentioned was named in honor of local World War II Fighter Pilot Lt. Jack Shively, who was killed in action. Which is another tale needing to be told.
During the AG’s talk, Air Force Veteran Dick Perue interrupted to mention one time when Lt. Shively was home on leave, he flew his plane under the river bridge. This remark sparked a memory from 80 years ago.
An article in the Sept. 16, 1943 issue of The Saratoga Sun noted, “Lt. Jack Shively of Luke Field, Ariz., flew here for the wedding . . .” – that of his sister Jane and Navy Officer John Glode.
A few days later, Lt. Shively hopped into his P-51 and returned to Luke Field.
This was the end of the news item for most folks. However, as an impressionable six-year-old child, here’s how I recall – with a few necessary additions – my hero’s departure from Saratoga Airport on a sunny autumn day in mid-September 1943.
Lt. Jack fired up his P-51 fighter plane, taxied to the dirt runway and took off west toward the Sierra Madres to avoid the bright rising sun, supposedly on his way to Arizona. But, not so, since he looped around to the east and then west to make a pass over the Bridge Street river bridge and his family’s Shively Hardware, thus buzzing the center of town, again to disappear in the Western sky.
Most folks started to return to their homes and businesses when the hum, and finally the roar, of the Packard V-1650 Merlin engine shook the silence of the still morning, as the Mustang approached from the south along the Upper North Platte River, barely clearing the tree tops of Veterans Island, dropping down as to skim the riffles and a still pool before darting under the high steel-span river bridge.
Shooting out the other side of the bridge, Lt. Shively pushed the power to all 1,270 horses of the Mustang and headed skyward, performed a full barrel roll, flattened the plane out and then dipped each wing in a farewell salute before heading south at a cruise speed of about 275 miles per hour, before finally blending into the majestic mountains of the Snowy Range and never returning home.
Lt. Jack Shively was shot down and killed by an enemy fighter on June 3, 1944. His airplane crashed in Chinon, France, near the bridge of the town. . . but then that’s for another story when we next honor our Veterans.
Readers are warned this story is the recollection of a six-year-old from 80 years ago. The debate still rages whether Lt. Shively did or did not fly under the bridge. However, there is no debate the Army Air Corp fighter pilot flew into Saratoga and then buzzed the town before departing in his P-51. – Dick Perue