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Donald R Emerson


Born 17 May 1923, Donald was raised on a farm in Minnesota during the Great Depression. He graduated from high school in 1941, not having excelled to any degree academically. He did not feel destined to be a farmer, so he soon moved to Chicago to find work. Jobs were scarce, but a friend got him a position at Montgomery Ward and took him in as a boarder. At Christmas, although he was not previously interested in flying, he took his first airplane ride.
With the advent of the Pearl Harbor attack he felt that he or his brother would be drafted. Donald, not interested in running the farm, decided to enlist so his older brother would be deferred to attend that duty.
He chose the Army and was sworn in during July 1942. He was assigned to the Air Corps and shipped to Lowery Field, Colorado, to become an armourer. Although his academic background was weak, he applied for, and was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. In October 1942 he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, for Primary Training, graduating as a Second Lieutenant on 1 October 1943.
After further training in fighters in Florida he headed to New York, to embark on the 'Isle de France' bound for England. There he became attached to the 4th Fighter Group. He flew Mustangs and his embellished with a fighting-mad "Donald Duck" image.
Donald was big-hearted and wore a perpetual smile. He was soon endeared by his comrades as a friend and a leader. During 89 combat missions escorting bombers, strafing, etc., he destroyed seven enemy aircraft and wrought destruction on many trains, trucks, and other surface targets, becoming an "Ace" and a Captain in the Russian Shuttle mission. When his first tour ended he volunteered for a second.
On 24 December 1944 the group flew an uneventful escort mission to Giessen. Upon returning to England they discovered Debden was closed for operations due to thick fog, so the group landed at Raydon. The pilots were extremely disappointed at not being able to return to their base for the annual Christmas celebration, where 250 British Blitz orphans were treated to a grand party. Debden base rallied to the occasion and sent a truck loaded with turkeys, cigarettes, whiskey, money, and blankets to the pilots at Raydon to help restore their Christmas spirit.
Unfortunately, the business the following day called for an escort mission, this one to the Bonn/Trier area. Thirty-plus Me-109s and Fw-190s tried to attack the bombers out of the sun but immediately engaged by the 4th group escort. Twelve enemy aircraft were destroyed, but one of the Group's pilots joined the ranks of the 'Missing In Action' list.
Donald became detached from the group and was seen to engage six Me-109s single-handed, downing two of them; and then, out of ammunition, he headed for home on the deck. He failed to return to base and was later found dead in the wreckage of his plane in Belgium, the victim of ground fire. He was buried in his flying clothes the following day at the age of 21.

In Memoriam

'Captain Donald R Emerson, Eighth Air Force, 4th Fighter Group, 336 Squadron, was born and raised in Kittson County Minnesota. Donald Gave his life 25/12/1944, fighting for his country in his P-51D. May he and all the others who made the ultimate sacrifice never be forgotten.'
Remembered by William H Sugden, Hallock, MN



  • Charles Poage

    Military | First Lieutenant | Fighter pilot-1055 single engine
    Charles Poage arrived the the 4th Fighter Group on 13 July 1944. He was assigned to the 335th Squadron. During September, he accounted for four enemy aircraft destroyed. ...

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Units served with

  • 336th Fighter Squadron

    336th Fighter Squadron

    The 336th Fighter Squadron was constituted by the War Department on 22 august 1942, and was activated at Bushey Hall, England, on 12 September. It had been designated as No. 133 (Eagle) Squadron, and was made up of American volunteers to the Royal Air...


  • 43-6889

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 336FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Failed to Return (FTR) strafing mission to Poix. Pilot 2nd Lt Frank D Caple called 'mayday' off Le Touquet and attempted to abandon A/C, canopy was stuck, so finally attempted belly landing on beach. 10-Jun-44. POW....

  • 44-13317

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 336FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Baled Out Engine Failure 3/4miles East of Fordham, pilot Lt Gilbert L Kesler RTD, 18-Mar-45.

  • 44-15054

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 336FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Capt Donald R Emerson took this aircraft over from Lt Earl A Quist, who had become a POW on 8-Nov-44. ...

Associated Place

  • Debden

    Military site : airfield
    RAF Debden, construction of which began in 1935, is perhaps most famous as a Battle of Britain fighter airfield, partly responsible for the defence of London in 1940. In 1942 it was also home to three RAF 'Eagle Squadrons’ of volunteer American pilots...


Event Location Date
Born 17 May 1923
Died Belgium 25 December 1944

Killed In Action.

Lived in Minnesota, USA


Date Contributor Update
09 August 2017 06:33:03 fugari Changes to nickname, service number, role, biography and awards

JCook Photo Collection & Archives

Date Contributor Update
12 March 2015 20:14:12 apollo11 Changes to highest rank, biography, awards, events and place associations

Personal research & 'Eighty-One Aces of the 4th Fighter Group' by Frank Speer.

Date Contributor Update
26 November 2014 11:59:31 Emily Changes to memoriam

William H Sugden, via American Air Museum Memory Book Correspondence.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:07:40 AAM AAM ingest

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / no # given