First hand accounts from the man who lived through it all
Joe Peterburs enlisted on November 30, 1942 and was called to active duty as an Aviation Cadet on January 26,1943 after less than a year. He was selected for single engine pilot training on April 15, 1944 and received his pilots’ wings and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.
During his first assignment he flew the P-40N and A-24 during combat replacement training and on November 6, 1944 he arrived in England. He was assigned to the 55th Squadron of the 20th Fighter Group flying out of Kings Cliff RAF station. Lt.
Peterburs was 19 years old. The unit was equipped with the P-51 and he checked out in a P-51B and accumulated about 20 hours in the B, C and D models before he started flying combat. He flew many memorable missions the 49th and last of which was the most exciting.
On 10 April 1945, the Group was escorting 450+ B-17s to targets in Oranienburg an area near Berlin. Just as the bombers were unloading, a swarm of Me 262 turbojets hit the formation. Lt. Peterburs was flying high cover and saw a 262 slicing through the B-17s. Before he could latch on to the 262 he had blown 4 B-17s out of the sky, 2 of which Peterburs saw him destroy. Peterburs had considerable altitude advantage and pulled into the 262s 6 0’clock with his six .50 calibers blazing. Peterburs saw hits and smoke on the 262s left wing and engine but broke off the chase when the 262, with the left engine burning, entered a cloud bank.
60 years later Peterburs found out that the damaged he
inflicted on the Me 262 resulted in the engine disintegrating and the pilot bailing out. The pilot of the Me 262 wasberleunant Walter Schuck, a top German Ace with 206 (198 in the Me 109 and 8 in the Me 262) confirmed air victories. Shortly after breaking off the 262 Peterburs started strafing an airfield and after a couple too many passes his aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire and he headed for friendly territory.
Before pulling off from his attack on the airfield he damaged several hangers and destroyed at least 5 enemy aircraft on the ground. Unfortunately, he was unable to make it back to friendly lines and had to bail out over Burg, Germany, immediately captured and became a POW. He was placed in a forced march with British soldiers to the POW Camp (Stalag III) at Luckenwalde near Berlin.
In about a week he escaped and was picked up by a Russian Tank column, given a rifle and fought with them from the Berlin area to the battle of Wittenberg on the Elbe.
From 1945 until 1950 he held command and administrative non-flying jobs. In June 1947 at 22 years old he was promoted to Captain.
In December 1951 he was assigned to the 12th Squadron of the 18th Fighter Bomber Group flying F-51Ds out of its base at Hoengsong (K-46), Korea. After about 5 hours of refamiliarization in the P-51 he was flying combat. He flew 76 missions over North Korea sustaining battle damage on several, including one in which he received multiple facial wounds from a bullet and shrapnel in the cockpit. While assigned to the 18 th he was Squadron flight leader, Assistant Group operations officer and Group training officer. After Korea he was assigned to Tyndal AFB, Fl. where he was Operations Officer for a support unit flying F-51Hs and later F-80 A Bs and the T-33. In 1954 he participated (setting in a trench whilst a 20 KT bomb was exploded) in an Atomic bomb test at Camp Desert Rock,
In January 1955 he ejected from a T-33 with a fire in the plenum chamber. In the 1950s Major Peterburs served in Newfoundland, in the early 1960s at NORAD Headquarters and from 1965 to 1967 with RAF Fighter Command Headquarters, England.
In 1967 Lt. Colonel Peterburs was assigned to 7th Air Force Headquarters, Viet Nam as staff operations officer for command and control in the war zone. During Tet, a 122 mm rocket hit outside his barracks blowing up his room while he was in bed. From 1968 until 1972 he was director of the 31 st NORAD Region Combat Operations Center; promoted to Colonel in 1969 he assumed the position of Director of Operations for the 507th Tactical Air Control Group where he integrated the automated 407L system into the Air Force.
From 1972 to 1978 he was assigned to Germany where he was the principal architect for the introduction of Mobile Command and Control Systems, the integration of Mobile and fixed radar command and control systems and the rapid deployment of mobile systems throughout NATO. During this period, he held positions as the Air Liaison Officer to the US Army’s 7th Corps Commander, Simultaneous Commander of both the 600th and 601st Tactical Air Control Groups and Deputy Commander for Tactical Control of the 601st Tactical Control Wing.
In 1979 Colonel Peterburs retired after over 36 years and 5 months of active military service. He is a Command Pilot
with over 2000 hours conventional and 2000 hours jet time, 125 Combat Missions, 407 Combat Hours in the P-51; a Master Air Weapons Controller and an inductee into the USAF Air Weapons Controller Hall of Fame. His military decorations include: The Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross w/1olc, Bronze Star w/1olc, Purple Heart w/1olc, Air Medal w/7olc, P.O.W. Medal and 32 other Medals and awards.
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