Cool war story (if there can be such a thing)


Supermarine Spitfire. A British single-seat World War 2 fighter plane.

In case you fall asleep, pass out or drop dead before you finally get to the bottom of this page, let me know so I can spice things up in future posts. If you do nothing else today, watch the video (Spitfire 944) at the bottom of the page. It is a rewarding clip.

This morning a friend sent me the video link. It’s about a World War 2 pilot that had some fun stuff happen to him during the war and later in life.

I’ve always been intrigued by World War 2 planes. Spitfires, Mustangs, P-40’s, P-48’s, etc. As I watched the vid, it reminded me of my father who was a paratrooper in Japan right after the war ended. He chose the paratrooper job as the Army gave him an extra ten or fifteen bucks a month for the added danger of jumping out of an airplane.

Dad was never a dare-devil so apparently he must have been hard-up for cash at the time.

He was raised in Heber Valley, UT. I remember him telling me that one of the guys he grew up with in the same little country burg of Daniels was named Russ McDonald. Russ was in the war but I’m not sure where he served. I’d heard that much later after he came home he acquired a P-51 Mustang and kept it hangered in Heber.

Around the year 2000, our family was at a 4th of July parade in Provo which is about 30 miles south of Heber. That same P-51 with McDonald at the controls made several low passes over the parade route, bopping along at a respectable 450 mph .  It was breathtaking for me. The speed, power and noise made my day.

After getting the Spitfire link today, I watched it and quickly shifted into my fighter plane mode. I  thought about Russ McDonald. Since I didn’t know much about him, I looked up some online info on Mr. McDonald just to see if he’s still flying. I soon happened upon his obituary which gave me a strong indication that he had probably quit flying.

Then I noticed something very intriguing. He was born the same year as my dad (1927), they went to Wasatch High School together and…they both died on December 18, 2004. The same day!

They each lived over 28,000 days and they picked the same day to die. I was vaguely aware they knew each other but had no idea they were that connected.

It reminded me of my grand daughter Jo who was born the same minute on the same day in the same year that my mother, also named Jo, died. How do things like this happen? Is it by accident or something more ethereal? To be straight up, grand daughter’s name is JOcelyn and mom’s was JOan.

Back to the P-51 guy.

After reading his obit, I tracked down his sister Zona in Orem, UT and called her just to say hi. I’d never heard of this lady before today. Orem is 600+ miles away from my home.

We had a lot of connections in common which blew me away. The most shocking was the fact that after she heard my last name and found out who my dad was, she stated her mother  was a sister to my grandpa Joe Casper. Another Jo!

Russ and my dad died on the same day. Russ and my dad were first cousins!

She asked if I had ever heard of Glade, Joe’s son who was killed in an car accident in 1953. Interestingly enough, my middle name is Glade. I was named after him. He was my dad’s older brother. Like Wally Disney once said (or sang), It’s a Small World After All.

The picture below is Russ’s plane. Zona’s husband told me after Russ died they sold it to a guy named John Bagley in Rexburg ID for a million bucks. There’s a good chance that Russ was in the pilot’s seat back in the day this picture was taken.

P-51 Mustang Survivors

P-51 Survivor 67-22579 N551BJ

 History of Russ’s plane/ Previous Identities:

1967: Cavalier Aircraft Corp., Sarasota FL, New Cavalier F-51D
1967: Bolivian AF, FAB 519
1977: C-GXRG, Arny Carnegie, Edmonton Alberta Canada
1978: C-GXRG, Neil McClain, Strathmore Alberta Canada
1985: Sep, N52BH, Robert Hester, Bladenboro NC
1992: Apr 16, N251RM, Russell McDonald, Park City UT, “FF-579”
2006: Aug 24, N551BJ, John Bagley, Rexburg ID
2006: December – forced landing on highway median in Rexburg ID., engine quit. John Bagley walked away with minor injuries from a very damaged P-51. Glad to hear that John is OK, sorry to hear about his new P-51.
2009: June – repairs are done and aircraft is airworthy again as “Mormon Mustang”


So I did some more research on Russ’s “Mormon Mustang” plane and here’s what I found…

Even though Russ’s plane was in the war and is now called the Mormon Mustang, I don’t think it was the original “Mormon Mustang”.

Russ’s plane is now owned by John Bagley. Here’s some footage of him and that same plane, courtesy of the LDS church. ( Skip it if you’re so inclined but you must watch the video that follows at the bottom. It’s the reason I made this post.)

As the years go by, these venerable and valuable World War 2 planes are experiencing rapid attrition, mostly from wrecks. They fly so fast a pilot can get in major trouble in the blink of an eye. There’s only a finite number of planes from that era. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

The following video won an award at the Sundance Film Festival which is located just a few miles between Heber and Provo. This clip is long (15 minutes) but very cool. The old pilot lives in Seattle and even mentions just about getting in a fight in Moses Lake which is just a hop, skip and a jump from Basin City, my hometown.

It gets especially good at the end as the old pilot learns some new facts. Almost a tear-jerker for me. Here’s the story:

The film crew made that guy’s day!


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