From dirt-poor, small-town roots during the Great Depression, Don was the quintessential all-American boy—student body president and star athlete. At age eighteen, he was attending college, had fallen in love, and appeared destined for a bright future. Then fate stepped in. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II. Don joined the military and went to war. Before shipping overseas, he married his high school sweetheart, Laura Jeanne. On December 24, 1944, Don’s P-47 fighter place was shot down in the Battle of the Bulge and his life changed forever.
A year younger than Don and Bob, the Salt Lake City-raised fighter pilot was known as a “good kid” and the guys all treated him like their little brother. While in Baton Rouge, Jerry not only became friends with Bob and Don, but also befriended two pilots from Missouri. He nicknamed his new fight training buddies “The Five.” They all shipped overseas together and joined the same fighter group in France. Three months later, on just his tenth combat mission, Jerry’s plane was hit by flak and disappeared into the clouds over Germany. He was reported Missing in Action. His loss was felt deeply by the men in his fighter group.
Perched on her front porch swing, the sophomore cheerleader cast her gaze toward two new tennis courts located just across the street, fixing her eyes on the handsome tennis player walking onto the court. Don later wrote: “She was so cute. Seeing her watch me play made it much more difficult to keep my eye on the ball.” After graduating from high school, Laura Jeanne traveled to San Angelo, Texas with both mothers and married Don. Eight months later, she kissed him goodbye as he headed off to war, afraid she might never see him again. On January 16, 1945, she received a telegram that Don was Missing in Action.
Laura Jeanne Brown
Kenny grew up in Parksville, Missouri. He met the Utah members of the Five at Harding Field during flight training in Baton Rouge. A good high school athlete, he loved playing ball—especially baseball. Don used to tease him that he slept with his baseball glove on. Kenny survived close calls during the war, returning to base several times on a “wing and a prayer.” He was discharged as a decorated combat veteran a few months after the war ended. The author was named after him.
Growing up in a poor Salt Lake City neighborhood during the Great Depression and being abandoned by his father at age two didn’t deter him. Bob later wrote, “I had a great childhood with my dog and my bike, and can’t imagine being any happier than I was.” Bob and Don first met in Baton Rouge, Louisianna during their P-47 flight training. They remained together during the war until Don’s plane was shot down. Bob was an exceptional pilot, surviving several harrowing combat missions. Following a two-year stint during the Korean War, the highly decorated fighter pilot finally retired as a Lt. Colonel. He remained one of Don’s closest friends after the war.
Pat was from Joplin, Missouri. He and Kenny had been friends since the beginning of their flight training, meeting on a latrine detail of all places. They didn’t leave each other’s side until after the end of the war. Jerry once wrote, “Pat is a good guy and he laughs a lot.” Like the rest of the Five, he survived close calls while flying combat missions in Europe. Like Don and Kenny, he was discharged from the Air Force as a decorated fighter pilot shortly after the end of the war.