I Pushed and Booted Him out of the Plane
By Bob Dewel
Don T. St Hilaire is a pretty modest guy, and served in WWII as a pilot in the Aleutians. Don’s story is not about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It simply illustrates the ingenuity and bravery of the young men of that fated generation when confronted with a problem, in this case a rescue. Actually it is a letter to a magazine requesting information on a story they had published. Here is Don’s letter and story, in his own words:
By Donald T. St Hilaire, to the Saturday Evening Post
Please accept my request to locate a story which appeared in your Sat. Eve. Post entitled “And Then I Jumped”. It was written by a former army doctor whose name was Dr. Shapiro or Dr. Schaeffer. It was in your magazine (or Cosmopolitan or some other competitor) in 1945, ‘46 ‘47’ or ’48.
In 1945 I was an Army Air Corps pilot on a C-47 flying troops back from the Aleutian Islands. We landed at Cold Bay (Randall) to refuel before proceeding on to Elmendorf Field in Anchorage, Alaska. While on the ground at Cold Bay we learned that a plane from my 54th Troop Carrier Squadron was overdue.
We assumed that they must have crashed into a mountain side, so we immediately took off searching for the plane. We discovered it on the side of a mountain and saw a man waving at us. We waggled our wings to let him know we saw him. Since dusk was setting in, we returned to Cold Bay to begin a rescue plan for the next morning.
By sheer luck, we discovered we had a ground force doctor and two ground force medics on board our plane. All 3 men volunteered to parachute to the survivors, with plasma and other medical items strapped to their sides.
They were the bravest men I have ever met. Because of the mountainous terrain, we only had a very limited area to drop these men, so we had to do it quickly and with split second timing. It had to be “paratrooper style”, to drop them between a 400‘and 500’ altitude.
Lt. Estes was the pilot, while I was strapped to a bulk head by the open door to help these brave men out. The red light was on as we approached our drop zone. When it turned green, the Dr. said “Well, this is it” and jumped out like a champion.
The second man pulled his chute too soon and the chute dropped behind him on the plane floor, and I kicked it out for him. Thank God he missed the plane’s tail. The third man froze in the door. I actually pushed and booted him out. All three heroes survived the split second jump. They saved three lives and I recall another three men had died in the crash.
A dog sled team carried (them back) to the Bering Sea where a ship was waiting for them. They were later flown to a hospital at Elmendorf Field, and later to a hospital in the States. I believe these three rescue men should be awarded a Soldiers Medal, for valor, or a bronze star.
Signed Donald T. St Hilaire
What Don does not make clear in his article is that none of the three men had received parachute training, and had never jumped before. The reason he booted the third man out is that with even a moment’s hesitation the plane would have moved a great distance, and the jumper would not have landed even close the first two. On landing he might not even know the direction to go to reach them and the downed place. This would require another rescue mission, if he could be found even.