Ben L. Griffin was born in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1922. In October 1942 he volunteered for service with the U.S. Army Air Corps. After induction in Miami, Ben went to Knoxville, Tenn., to fly Piper Cubs. At Jackson, Tenn., Ben flew Fairchild PT-23 Cornell primary trainers and earned his first solo flight. Vultee BT-13 and BT-15 Valiants were the next challenges at Newport, Ark..
Moving on to Jackson, Miss., Ben completed Advanced Flight Training in North American T-6 Texans and received a commission as a second lieutenant. Now officially an army aviator and officer, Ben went to Marianna, Fla., where he learned to fly the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. Additional gunnery training took place at Sarasota, Fla.
After sailing to England, Ben went to the Fourth Fighter Group and the 336th Fighter Squadron, a P-51 Mustang outfit. There he fell in love with the high performance fighters. The Americans soon began flying their mounts deep into occupied Europe.
Mr. Griffin eventually met the enemy in the air. On January 1, 1945, during his first mission over Germany, Ben shot down a German Messerschmitt Me-109. He also encountered one of the enemy’s much faster Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow) turbojet interceptors.
On his 38th mission Ben and his mates attacked an aerodrome near Prague, Czechoslovakia. Exposing himself, Griffin attacked aircraft on the field. His luck ended as shrapnel from a 40mm anti-aircraft shell mortally damaged his Packard Merlin engine. With landing gear retracted, he landed in a nearby field. Five German soldiers appeared and took the pilot, who was bleeding from facial injuries, prisoner.
Ben eventually found himself at Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, Bavaria. After weeks of deprivation, one day, near the end of May 1945, Gen. George Patton rode into the camp in a jeep. The liberator stopped about 30 yards away, stood up, placed a hand on the windshield and said, “Well, you boys can go home now!”
After the war Ben trained to fly the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet. His regular military career ended at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, but he remained in the Air Force Reserve until April 10, 1982. Ben retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He most recently piloted a P-51 at age 80.
The author (John Stemple) wishes to thank Ben Griffin for graciously granting him an interview.