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Tuskegee Airman gives account of 'lucky' day

(Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

2nd Lt. Clarence D. "Lucky" Lester protected B-17 bombers over enemy territory during World War II.

2nd Lt. Clarence D. "Lucky" Lester protected B-17 bombers over enemy territory during World War II.

Tuskegee Airmen distinctive "red tails" provided cover for bombing missions during World War II.

Tuskegee Airmen distinctive "red tails" provided cover for bombing missions during World War II.

African-American pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group, the famed "Tuskegee Airmen."

African-American pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group, the famed "Tuskegee Airmen."

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Famed Yankees pitcher "Lefty Gomez" once remarked "I'd rather be lucky than good," but for one Tuskegee Airman, luck and good combined to make him one of the most successful combat pilots of World War II.

During the summer of 1944, 2nd Lt. Clarence D. "Lucky" Lester was flying the P-51 Mustang over the skies of Italy's Po Valley providing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers with cover support on their way to attack airfields in southern Germany.

Lester was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, a part of the 332nd Fighter Group, and had earned the nickname "Lucky" "because of all the tight situations from which I had escaped without a scratch or even a bullet hole in my aircraft."

In a first person account, Lester describes the day that July of '44 that would seal that nickname for the rest of his career.

Lester describes meeting his bomber at about 25,000 feet and had reached a level of about 29,000 feet when he and his formation spotted enemy aircraft. "We were flying in a loose formation, about 200 feet apart and zig-zagging. The flight leader commanded 'hard right and punch tanks' (drop the external fuel tanks). I saw a formation of Messerschmitt Bf 109s straight ahead, but slightly lower. I closed to about 200 feet and started to fire. Smoke began to pour out of the 109 and the aircraft exploded. I was going so fast I was sure I would hit some of the debris from the explosion, but luckily I didn't."

According to Lester, he saw another 109 to his right as he continued to dodge debris from his first kill. "I turned on his tail and closed to about 200 feet while firing. His aircraft started to smoke and almost stopped. My closure was so fast that I began to overtake him. When I overran him I looked down to see the enemy pilot emerge from his burning aircraft. I remember seeing his blonde hair as he bailed out at about 8,000 feet."

Lester then began looking for his flight mates when he spotted his third 109 flying low, about 1,000 feet above the ground. "I dove to the right, behind him, and opened fire. As I scored hits, he apparently thought he had enough altitude to use a 'split S' maneuver (a half loop going down where the aircraft is rolled upside down and pulled straight through until it become right side up) to evade me. As I did a diving turn I saw the 109 go straight into the ground."

According to Lester, it took a while to sink in that in the span of about five minutes he had downed three enemy aircraft. "Everything went the same as in training except for the real bullets. Real Bullets!! Until then, the danger of the mission had never occurred to me."

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