39th Bomb Group (VH)

Pilot's Badge

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1st Lt Billy P. Pratt

 Billy P. Pratt was born on June 1, 1912, in Sarasota, Florida. He learned to fly early on in life, soloing at the age of sixteen. He met Verna Parnell of Lake City, Florida and on January 23, 1939, they were married. He was sixteen; she was eighteen. Billy and Vera had three daughters - Barbara, Sheila and Cheryl, and two sons - Billy, Jr. and Paul.

Pratt joined the Army Air Corps on November 25, 1942, at Orlando, Florida. His flight training began in Nashville, Tennessee and progressed to Maxwell Field, Alabama, George Field Illinois, and finally to Lockbourne Army Air Base in Columbus, Ohio. At Lockbourne, he served with the 76th Bomb Wing, 2214th Base Unit, as a B-17 pilot.

In late October of 1944, Billy was transferred to Smoky Hill Army Air Field in Salina, Kansas, and in a month of flew a B-29 for the first time. It was at Salina, that Pratt met and was assigned to Sterling Pile's crew (P-32) as co-pilot and began B-29 combat training. The cold Kansas winter restricted training severely so the group was moved to Havana Cuba for six weeks in January to complete their training requirements.

After returning from Cuba, the crew picked up their brand new B-29 in Wichita, and after overseas staging, departed for North Field, Guam pacific station for the 39th Bomb Group. Pratt elected to stay in the service after WWII and continued doing which he loved best - Flying. By August of 1950, he was back in the pacific flying B-29 combat missions in the Korean War. He was promoted to Major, and assigned as operations officer for the 371st Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group. He made it safely through 65 combat missions but sustained the loss of his flight engineer and best friend of four years, August Hinrichs. Ironically, he was killed while on temporary assignment to another B-29 that was lost in combat.

After Korea, Billy was assigned 8th Air Force, 77 th S.R.S at R.C. Air Base in Weaver, South Dakota. There he piloted the massive ten engine B-36, Peacemaker, the largest bomber ever built. In 1952, he was transferred to Furstenfeldbruck, Germany where he flew B-29s with 12th Air Force, 105th R.C.F. By now his flight time with the B-29s reached 3, 350 hours. Later he was transferred to 317th T.C.W. flying C-119G. In 1957, Pratt was sent back to the States where he trained in jet fighter aircraft. Upon completion he joined the 2nd Air Force, 68th Bomb Wing, 65th Bomb Squadron. There at Chennault Air Force Base, Lake Charles, Louisiana, he flew the B-47 Stratojet bomber.

Pratt, after 21 years of service, retired from the Air Force as a command pilot in 1963. He began flying for Air America, a covert air operation in Southeast Asia. This marked the third time he flew combat - This time in Vietnam and Laos. For eight years, he flew under the most demanding conditions. Though landing and take-off in frequent torrential rains from narrow, muddy primitive airstrips carved into mountain terrain, he never lost a crew or aircraft in combat.

Billy Pratt died in on September 22, 1971, after a lengthy and losing battle with cancer. At the time of his demise, he was qualified in 36 various aircraft ranging from single engine to STOL aircraft to jet fighters, to multi-engine bombers. He spent nearly 16,000 hours of his life doing that which he loved - Flying.

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Sons of 1st Lt Billy Pratt

Crew 32 Main Page
61st Squadron Crew Index
Source: Excerpted from a profile of Crew 32 entitled "Piledriver - P-32" written by Paul P and Billy Pratt, sons of co-pilot of P-32
for "History of the 39th Bomb Group"