Donald Emerson, Memorial for a Fighter Pilot
Donald Emerson was born on a farm near Joliette North Dakota in 1923. While growing up Don was fascinated with airplanes. Occasionally, young Donald would see a small biplane flying over the farm, and chores were forgotten as Don ran after the plane to watch it disappear over the horizon.
Don Graduated from high school in May of 1941. Early in 1942, he volunteered for the Army Air Corp.
Donald wanted to be a pilot, but a college education was required for a flight cadet, so Don started training as an gunner for a bomber crew. Don didn’t care, as long as he got a chance to fly, but the air forces were in dire need of pilots, and in 1942 the qualifications for aviation cadets were loosened. Don took the Air Corp test and was accepted into flight school, receiving his wings in October of 1943.
Lt. Emerson was ecstatic. He had achieved his lifelong dream, and to top it off he was assigned to the hottest fighter the Army had. The North American P-51 Mustang.
Early in 1944, Emerson was sent to England and assigned to the 4th Fighter Group, 336th Squadron. Between March and December he flew 87 combat missions and became an Ace, destroying 7 enemy aircraft. In August of 1944, he was appointed Air Operations Officer for the 336th Squadron, achieving the rank of Captain.
Emerson’s personal plane, a P-51D, was emblazoned on both sides with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck, wearing flight gear and poised for action.
On Christmas Day, 1944, while returning from an escort mission to Kessel, Germany, he encountered 6 Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. In the rolling fight that followed, Emerson shot down 2, but ran out of ammunition. Dropping into a heavy cloud bank, he was heard to transmit that he was "on the deck, and heading home."
At the same time Emerson was returning to base, the Allies were being attacked by German fighters. In a tragic friendly fire incident, Emerson’s plane was mistaken for the enemy and shot down by American anti-aircraft fire. Emerson was killed when his plane cartwheeled into the frozen ground.
On this date in 1944, Captain Donald Roswell Emerson was buried at the Military Cemetery near Margraten, Holland. He was 21 years old.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Sources: The Preddy Memorial Foundation, Donald Emerson