Phil Coudert: the veteran of the veteran

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On May 13, 1938, after eight years of legislative attempts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill declaring November 11 a federal holiday, known as Armistice Day, to honor the brave men and women who had served during World War I.

The date was chosen because on November 11, 1918, at 11 am – “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” – fighting between Germany and the Allies on the Western Front would have ceased. (In fact, reports suggest the fighting continued throughout the day and into the evening!)

This date continues to be celebrated around the world and is known in many parts of the world as Remembrance Day.

On October 6, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed HR7786 renaming Veterans Day to honor not only those who served in World War I, but also those who served in Korea and in all subsequent wars of our country.

This week, we here in Valencia County pay tribute to all of our veterans, both those still with us and those who have passed away.

I would like to offer a particular Valencia County veteran whose service and heroism truly represent the best of anyone who has served – US Air Force Major Philippe “Phil” Coudert Jr. Coudert, who passed away on June 19. 2019, is particularly notable for his service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, a service record that can be claimed by less than 1% of all U.S. veterans.

The first years

Philippe Coudert Sr.

Phil Coudert was born in New York on April 17, 1919. His mother, Odette Le Flaguais, was an opera soprano, who sang with the John Phillip Sousa group and the New York Metropolitan Opera, as well as touring and singing on various radio broadcasts.

His father, Philippe Gustave Coudert, was an opera baritone and music teacher in New York. Philippe and Odette had three children – Odette-Corinne, Yolande and Philippe – before divorcing in 1932.

After his parents separated, Phil was sent to St. Patrick’s, a private French-language high school in Quebec, where he excelled in athletics, particularly ice hockey, and was the editor of the school yearbook. After graduating in 1938, he played semi-professional hockey for the Manhattan Arrows and often played at Madison Square Garden.

In 1941, after the death of one of his best friends and mentors, Phil was motivated to join the military. He was posted to an Army National Guard artillery unit, but was quickly chosen to take the Officer Candidate Program. His unit was mobilized the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

From training to the war zone

In January 1942, Phil was selected for pilot training and was sent to Santa Ana Army Air Force Base in Santa Ana, California. He did not complete pilot training because, as he later said,. “

However, his grades in pre-flight training were so good that he was selected for bomber training and transferred to Deming Army Air Field in southwestern New Mexico in December 1942. The installation of Deming was one of several Army Air Corps facilities in New Mexico used for training pilots, navigators, and bombers.

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator from Maxwell Field, Ala., A four-engine flight school, glistens in the sun as it performs a high-altitude turn in the clouds. Heavy bombers

New Mexico was considered an ideal location for these activities because it was far from any coastline and therefore almost immune to enemy attack; it has had excellent weather most of the year; and there was a huge amount of vacant land owned by the United States government suitable for bombing and strafing practices.

After completing his bomber training in 1943, Coudert was assigned to the 454th Bombardment Group, a sub-unit of the 737th Squadron of the 15th Air Force. The men of this organization were trained to fly and fight B-24 “Liberator” bombers. The B-24s were heavy bombers built by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in San Diego, California.

These planes were the successors of the B-17 “Flying Fortresses” and were capable of flying at just under 300 miles per hour for 1,700 to 2,100 miles at an altitude of 28,000 feet with bomb loads of up to. ‘to 5,000 pounds. They consisted of a crew of 11 – a pilot, a co-pilot, a flight engineer, a navigator, a bomber and six gunners, each of them equipped with one of the 50 caliber machine guns intended to repel enemy combatants. .

As a bomber, Coudert took control and piloted the aircraft during its bombardments from its station in the cockpit directly above the sight. Phil’s B-24 was equipped with the Sperry sight rather than the more well-known Norden sight. Phil later said he preferred the Sperry because the Norden was “overrated and had been chosen as the preferred component ‘for political reasons'”.

Phil’s crew, led by Pilot Captain Edgar “Ed” Haynie, assembled at Morrison Army Airfield in Palm Beach, Florida, before crossing the Atlantic. They took the southern route, which took them south to Puerto Rico for a short repair stopover, then to Brazil for refueling, then a 10 hour flight across the ocean to Dakar, in Senegal, where they refueled again.

From Senegal, they crossed the Sahara Desert to Casablanca before the short flight to Tunis, where they enjoyed their first baths in over a week in the former headquarters of the German Africa Korps, General Erwin Rommel . Leaving Tunis, they made a small jump across the Mediterranean Sea, arriving at their assigned airfield, Cerignola, Italy, on January 26, 1944.

Many WWII planes received nicknames from their crew. Famous names included “Miss Snafu”, “Ten Knights in a Bar Room”, “Pistol Packin ‘Mama” and, of course, “Enola Gay”, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, in the United States. Japan. Haynie’s crew eventually named their bomber “Ragged but Right,” presumably to reflect the damage she often suffered.

The crew of the “Ragged but Right”.

From Cerignola, the “Ragged but Right” carried out key strategic missions to Italian and German targets in northern Italy, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. In total, the crew of the “Ragged but Right” was credited with 51 missions and 251 hours of combat.

This in itself is remarkable since the average number of bomber missions in Europe before an aircraft was shot down or disabled was between eight and 12. In fact, 51% of bomber crews were killed in action. In addition, 12 percent were killed in accidents and 13 percent became prisoners of war or escapees.

The only casualty of the “Ragged but Right” crew was a flak injury to pilot Ed Haynie during their mission to Ploetsi. The plane was not as lucky as its main crew. During a mission in June 1944, while piloted by another crew, “Ragged but Right” was shot down over Vienna, Austria. The whole crew was lost.

Haynie, Coudert and their comrades did not accomplish their incredible longevity by avoiding combat. In fact, their planes were damaged by flak and rockets on multiple missions and often had to limp home with only three engines. During the attack on Bad Voslau, described below, the bomb bay was so filled with high octane fuel and hydraulic oil that the crew feared it could catch fire from the hot casings. which fell into it from the upper turret.

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