History: The life of Lt. Col. ‘Wild Bill’ Crump – Part 1

“Wild Bill” Crump returning from World War II mission. (Photo courtesy the Crump family)

Part 1 of 2 parts

Imagine, if you can: You have just arrived in England 20 days after your 20th birthday, after completing a year and a half of intense flight training.  Five days later you will be flying combat missions in a P-47 deep into Germany during WWII. If you find that hard to fathom, then consider having a coyote pup that you had found and adopted, lying on the floor beside you in your cockpit on five of your earliest missions.  Find it hard to believe?

Well let’s take a glimpse back in history, to the life story of Lieutenant Colonel John W. “Wild Bill” Crump, who made Edmonds his home for many years. 

The Early Years:

John William Crump was born on July 2, 1924 in Opportunity, Washington, nine miles from Spokane.  At an early age his father introduced him to flying, and his first flight was in a Ford Tri-Motor when he was only 5 years old.

Bill is to the far right (5 years old) and his father is to the far left. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

By the time Bill was approaching his teenage years, he was taking flying lessons at Boeing Field.

Bill in front of Taylorcraft Cub at Boeing Field circa 1936. (Photo courtesy the Crump family)

While in high school, Bill continued taking flying lessons and mastering the operations of a number of aircraft. Although aviation was his passion, Bill was involved in a wide range of activities.

The pictures below from the 1942 Edmonds High School “Echo” yearbook show Bill as a member of both the varsity tennis and basketball teams.

Bill is in the bottom row, second from the left.  (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)
Bill is in the lower row, second from the right.  (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Although Bill graduated from high school in the middle of his senior year, the 1943 Echo yearbook’s profile lists the wide range of activities in which he was involved.

Bill’s high school senior picture. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum/Echo Yearbook)

Bill was recognized as Associated Student Body – Business Manager, while being a member of the school’s band and orchestra, where he played drums. He was also a member of the Drama Club and the Thespians, plus participated in the Junior and Senior Plays, while lettering three years in tennis and basketball. 

Initial Military Training

During high school, Bill had also joined the Edmonds Company of the Washington National Guard. Upon graduating he knew he wanted to help out in the war effort and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force on Jan. 30, 1943. He was soon on his way to basic training. After basic training, Bill was sent to Harlingen Aerial Gunnery School for a six-week program at a U.S. Army base in Harlingen, Texas.

The intensive six-week course (280 hours) included training on .50 and .30 caliber machine guns, turrets, sighting, aircraft recognition, ground and air firing as well as the handling of malfunctions.

Bill successfully completed the training and was awarded his Gunner’s wings on April 17, 1943

Bill upon graduation from gunnery school in 1943. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

After graduating from gunnery school, Bill was accepted into the aviation cadet program. He was reassigned to the base at Mission, Texas, and completed his flight training there. While in training, Bill found a coyote pup on a farmer’s field near Harding Field in Nebraska. Bill adopted the pup and named him Jeep, after the 1920s Popeye The Sailorman’s pet and sidekick. You can see an image of Popeye and Jeep here.

Bill completed flight school and earned his Pilot’s Silver Wings and was promoted to second lieutenant on Feb. 8, 1944. He next headed south to Baton Rouge for P-47 training, and he took Jeep with him. Jeep flew with Bill during training, and became accustomed to the routine. After graduating from P-47 training, Bill smuggled Jeep on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth, a converted luxury ocean liner for hauling troops, which transported the 356th Fighter Group USAAF to England. Bill and Jeep were assigned a cabin, but reportedly most of the luxurious insides of the ship were boarded off with plywood, while the troops were being transported.

Reporting for overseas duty

Bill and Jeep reported for overseas duty as a part of the 356th Group on July 22,1944. The 356th Fighter Group consisted of three squadrons: the 359th, 360th and the 361st. When arriving in England, they were first based in Coxhill in Lincolnshire, where they picked up their equipment and were assigned to their aircraft. The aircraft were Republic Aviation P-47 “Thunderbolts.” Many of the planes were flown to England via a northern route while refueling enroute in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.

The squadrons then flew to Martlesham Health Airfield near Ipswich, England. Pilots of the 359th were billeted in Kesgrave Hall. Pilots of the 360th — which Bill was a member of — were billeted in Playford Hall, and members of the 361st were housed in homes around the airstrip.

The American pilots also shared the airstrip with members of the 56th squadron of the British RAF,who were also flying combat missions out of Martlesham Heath.

Bill with Jeep sitting atop a 500 lb bomb on a P-47 Thunderbolt, in which P = Pursuit. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

When Bill and the other members of his squadron arrived at Playford Hall they found that it was an Elizabethan mansion built by Sr. Anthony Felton, Sheriff of Felton around 1590, and it had a moat surrounding it.

Playford Hall (Photo courtesy Crump family)

The mansion was extremely cold, according to one of Bill’s oral accounts. Jeep and Bill slept together, keeping each other warm during the chilly nights. According to Bill’s oral history, Jeep created no problems as he was highly domesticated and completely potty trained.

Bill and Jeep practicing their howls in front of Playford Hall: (Photo courtesy Crump family)

Bill’s first combat mission was on May 27, 1944. As Bill’s partner, Jeep had become the mascot of the unit, and had his own dog tags, log book and immunization records. Jeep flew with Bill on five low-altitude missions. The P-47s were able to climb to an altitude above 40,000 feet, but there was not an oxygen mask available that would have fit snugly over Jeep’s snout, so Jeep only flew on missions up to approximately 10,000 feet.

Bill stated that Jeep usually fell asleep on the floor of the cockpit. Apparently the noise and vibrations of the plane had a soothing effect on him. On one of the missions, Jeep woke up suddenly and started barking unexpectedly, which warned Bill of incoming flak (anti-aircraft fire) from somewhere on the ground. Bill was able to exercise evasive maneuvers and escaped unscathed. Jeep’s barking may have saved both of their lives.

Bill and Jeep in a P-47 Razorback. (Photo courtesy the Crump family)

Bill and the other pilots were flying almost every day and sometimes they flew two missions in a single day.

A page from 2nd Lt. John W. Crump’s 1944 combat mission logbook, with notations of Jeep.  The five flights were dated Sept. 18 through Sept. 26, reflecting low flying strafing and flak- busting missions primarily. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

Tragedy Strikes

Jeep stayed on the grounds of Playford Hall when Bill was flying high-altitude missions. The town’s children who lived less than about a half mile away, would come and put Jeep on a leash and take him into town to show him off. One day the children had taken Jeep into town, when it began to rain hard. They tied Jeep up to a tree and went inside to get out of the rain.

Unfortunately Jeep broke free from his leash, and apparently was heading back to Playford Hall when he was struck by a military vehicle on the road.  Several witnesses said the driver swerved to try to avoid hitting him, but he was seriously hurt and did not survive.

Jeep was subsequently buried with full honors on the grounds at Playford Hall by the members of the combined squadrons.

Photo of Jeep’s grave marker under a tree in the courtyard of Playford Hall.  Note that NMI means No Middle Initial. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

On the same day as Jeep’s death — Oct. 28, 1944 — Bill was promoted to 1st lieutenant. After Jeep’s death, Bill flew numerous combat missions, ending up with a total of 70. He amassed 310 combat hours while performing strafing, flak-busting missions, and flying escort for larger bombers.

Author’s Note: Strafing is repeated attacks with bombs and machine guns with low-flying aircraft.  Flak busting included flying at low altitudes to draw the fire of camouflaged anti-aircraft batteries.  Once those locations were identified, they would subsequently be eliminated or nullified by aerial bombardments and attacks, helping to ensure the safety of other allied aircraft.Escorting the larger and slower B-17 bombers and B-24s often resulted in “dogfights” with Germany’s Messerschmitt ME 109s and Focke Wulf FWs, both that proved to be reliable and roughed fighter aircraft.

According to one of Bill’s oral histories, the P-47 was also proven to be a very reliable aircraft. The P-47 was powered by a 2,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine with a top speed of 428 mph and capable of climbing and flying at 42,000 feet.  It had a range of nearly 1,000 miles.

The P-47 weighed over 14,500 pounds, was capable of enduring a lot enemy fire, and yet was able to get the pilot back home safely. The P-47 was equipped with up to eight machine guns and capable of carrying up to 2,500 pounds of bombs or rockets. On deep-penetration missions it was also capable of carrying extra fuel tanks. The fuel tanks were jettisoned when a dogfight began, as the plane had enough fuel aboard to get the pilot home. Later the P-47 was replaced by P-51s, which provided even longer-range missions.

Photo of Bill before the last of his 70 combat missions: (Photo courtesy Crump family)

The missions were filled with peril.  Due to the number of dangerous missions the squadron flew, Bill recounted that his squadron suffered more losses than any other squadron in the war, losing over 50% of their pilots. In total, 72 American pilots that flew out of Martlesham Heath lost their lives during the war.

Bill also recounted another possible fate. During one of his “deep-penetration” missions into enemy territory, he realized that he didn’t have enough fuel to get back home.  So in bad weather he landed his plane on a remote airstrip “on the continent.” After he had refueled and the weather had cleared, he was able to fly to his home base from where he had landed in France.

An account from the Martlesham Heath Aviation Society describes yet another challenge that the American pilots faced:

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our American friends. They arrived over here as young men after learning to fly in the wide open and usually clear skies of America, only to be faced with our notorious maritime climate, often with thousands of feet of cloud to descend through. It should not be forgotten that these were single seat aircraft. Navigation was crude by today’s standards and the Martlesham pilots considered themselves fortunate to be based relatively close to the coast.  As many of them said “we would fly down the North Sea until we found the radar masts at the mouth of the river Deben. Then it was a simple matter to follow the river as far as Woodridge. Take a left turn and look for nearby Martlesham”.  We truly owe them a debt of gratitude”.

By the time World War II ended, 21-year-old Bill Crump had risen to the rank of captain (March 6, 1945), and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor and service to his country.

Bill is standing near the wing of his P-51 fighter plane toward the end of World War II. His name is displayed near the cockpit. A drawing of Jeep howling is painted on the side. The name “Jackie” painted on the nose was the name of a girl he had dated in high school before he enlisted. (Photo courtesy Crump family)

With WWII ending, Capt. “Wild Bill” Crump was discharged from the military on June 6, 1945 and returned home to Edmonds. He enrolled at the University of Washington and there met a beautiful young woman named June Sorensen, whom he had gone to high school with but never dated. They fell in love and were married in 1946.

For the next two years, Bill kept flying both professionally and recreationally. He gave flying lessons and flew from Paine Field to various locations in the Alaskan bush, delivering goods and supplies.  He was also appointed captain in the Air Force Reserve on May 13, 1946. In addition, he loved flying by himself and with friends just for the fun of it.

In 1947, one of those recreational flights turned into a harrowing experience. Bill had rented a small plane at Paine field and while flying with his friend Don Meyring, the engine died. Bill had to land the plane in a small grassy field next to Pacific Highway, five miles from the airfield. The landing gear, and the tip of one of the wings, were severely damaged when it made contact with the ground, but fortunately Bill and Don walked away, largely unscathed.

A photo of 22-year-old Bill Crump and 23-year-old Don Meyring at the crash site of their small plane on May 30, 1947. (Photo courtesy Sno-Isle Genealogical Society)

At the time of the accident, Bill would have had no way of knowing that his country would soon be calling him back into the military service.

Part 1 of this article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes with the help of the Crump family and others, who will be listed at end of Part 2.

 

  1. Thank you Bill, although words can not really say enough. I was born after the war to stories told of that terrible sacrifice England made and many other countries sent so many men to help the Brits, including the USA. Thanks again for your young , eager life to put on the line.

    1. Thanks Jenny for the comments that I think we all feel, when we look back at the sacrifices and how the nation came together to preserve our freedoms.

  2. Great story. Both Bill and Don Meyring were great flyers and I remember many of their stories from my growing up in Edmonds. Thanks for another outstanding article, Byron.

  3. Bill grew up in Opportunity, Washington which is two miles from Millwood, Washington where I was raised. Bill mentioned his initial flying experience at Felts Field, an air field in Orchard Avenue, Washington near Millwood.
    I did not know Bill at that time, but his eventual involvement in flying activity and participation in many activities in Edmonds is renown and memorable to all who knew him.

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