Saturday at Hamilton County Airport will be the place to be! A Chili cook off, food, planes to see and so much more at the 26th annual Syracuse Classic and Antique Fly-In. It’s from 11 am to 1 pm and this year is incredibly special as there will be a memorial dedication for Syracuse native Captain James Browning. An F 16 Missing man fly over will follow and some VIP guest speakers will be part of the ceremony.
VIP speakers will be Brig. Gen. Ed McIlhenny, past Commanding General of the Kansas Air Guard, Connie Bowlin, past President of EAA Warbirds and Jim Anderson, son of WWII Triple Ace “Bud” Anderson who was a close personal friend of Capt. Jim Browning.
Also, on hand for the presentation will be Brig. Gen. Robert Titus who flew fighters in Korea and commanded fighter squadrons in Vietnam. Weather permitting, a two ship Missing Man formation of F-16’s from Buckley Air National Guard Bureau at 12:00. Weather permitting, Jack Roush’s P-51” Gentleman Jim” will be on sight for the dedication
Having the pleasure of writing a story about a local Syracuse resident who was shot down in WWII, Captain Jim Browning in 2015, remains one of my favorite stories. I first learned about Browning from local pilot and crop duster, John J. (Dusty) Dowd following the annual Fly-In in 2014. He suggested I do a story about one of our hometown heroes.
I am not much of a WWII historian, but managing the Northrup Theatre, we had recently shown a movie entitled Unbroken which was a story about Louis Zamberini, who was shot down in WWII and floated for 47 days in a raft before he was caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp for nearly two years.
After reading the book and seeing the movie, I became more anxious to learn about Browning and more specifically the P-51 Mustang. Being a Nascar fan, I also learned car and team owner Jack Roush owned a Mustang which he named after Browning’s called, “Gentleman Jim”.
According to an article by Michael O’Leary, in www.warbirdsintlnow.com, Browning named his Mustang P-51 “Gentleman Jim” saying it was quite befitting, although Browning was known to have a small speck of the devil in him. Browning piloted the Mustang P-51 on 75 missions for over 300 hours.
James William Browning was born October 21, 1917, in Syracuse, attended and graduated Syracuse schools, worked a few years before joining the Army Reserves. He received his wings on August 17, 1943, joining the famed 357th Fighter Group’s 363rd Fighter Squadron and was assigned to Captain “Bud” Anderson.
Browning is quoted in an article from The Syracuse Journal saying, “The Germans are afraid of the Mustangs, because they can fly farther and fight longer than any German plane. Almost all the German planes have belly gas tanks, and when engaged in a fight they get rid of these because a hit on them means the plane goes up in smoke. Consequently, their plane soon runs out of gas.”
He described his part in the war as not being anything at all out of the ordinary. Browning had nine German planes to his credit and in a letter Browning’s mother, Sidnie Browning had received, stated that he had shot down three more, “I should have had all five, but I got too eager.”
Following leave from England, Browning returned for a second tour, but unfortunately, on February 4, 1945, Browning, P-51D, 44-15630, B6-L, “Junior Miss,” was last seen in a fierce flight with ME-262’s (Messerschmitt 262 of Nazi Germany’s first operation jet-powered fighter aircrafts) and declared missing in action on March 2, 1945, he had two more missions to fly before completing his second tour.
He was downed about two miles southwest of Wurges, Germany according to a letter his wife Marcellyn Lee (Taylor) received from Brig. Gen. Leion Johnson, like many other American airmen before and after him, Capt. Browning simply disappeared in the battle-torn skies.
At the time of his death, he left three brothers, Francis, Clyde, Donald, four sisters, Mrs. Mary Alexander, Mrs. J. W. Conard, Mrs. Jess Puckett and Miss Lois Browning, in addition to his mother, wife Marcellyn Lee (Taylor) and son, Leslie.
According to www.toflyandflight.com, the late Merle Olmsted, Msgt. USAF and military historian for the American Aviation historical Society, documented Jim’s fate in March 1955, but the exact location of Jim’s crash was unknown.
Two young German police officers, Andi and Yannik used the information which included Merle’s report and the survey, to search for Jim’s crash site. Using a metal detector, they found pieces of Jim’s plane. Olmsted was contacted by Andi telling him of his find. They wanted to send pieces of the crash site to him, but Olmsted was going to be hiking in Switzerland in 2015 and the two escorted him to the site.
Local residents can help to honor Captain Browning, Hamilton County’s only ace (any fighter pilot credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft) by witnessing the presentation of a plaque on Saturday, October 2, 11:00 am in the new north hanger at the Hamilton County Airport.
Captain Browning’s decorations include three Distinguished Flying Crosses: Awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, Purple Heart: Awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving. Eight Air Medals awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight and the French Croix de Guerre: Rewarding feats of bravery.
Bud was the leading Ace of the 363rd Fighter Squadron and named his son, James Edward, after Browning and Eddie Simpson, who was also killed in combat. Bud turned 99 on January 13, 2021, and is the highest scoring living US Fighter Ace and the only surviving US Triple Ace. .
Most of Jim’s aircraft was removed from the crash site by the German army just after the crash, but some small pieces remained. Olmsted, after locating the crash site in a beautiful, peaceful forest, stated, “May he rest in peace.”
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