James Herbert

When Legend, Major Jim Herbert, flew a P-51 for the first time, there was one thing missing; the training. Standard operating procedure required a pilot several hours of cockpit time in a P-38, or P-51 before being permitted to even start a plane. When Herbert returned from a three day pass after flying his last mission in a P-38, his operations officer asked, “Herb, are you checked out in a P-51?”

“I’ve seen one at a distance,” Herbert responded, “but I’ve never been close to one.”

“You’d better check out in one,” he said, “You’re flying out in one tomorrow morning.”

After an hour and a half training session, and a one shot landing, Jim Herbert flew in his first combat mission in a P-51.

Jim was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina and graduated from Princeton University in 1940. After farming for a year, he requested active duty in 1941 and became a fighter pilot in the 77th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, flying fourteen combat missions in P-38s and forty-three in P-51s.

Herbert arrived at the 77th Fighter Squadron a few days after the D-Day invasion. He considers himself lucky to have been assigned to Captain Jim, “Slick” Morris’s flight flying P-38s.  From Morris, Herbert adopted the much appreciated practice of turning around on a journey home to escort a crippled bomber calling for help. 

Herbert recalls one such mission in P-51. He was escorting one bomber back when another called for help. Realizing the second bomber was ahead of the first, he remained with the first, but soon learned the second bomber was throwing everything out of their plane to make it lighter. Herbert convinced them to throw out their radio too, and if he hadn’t, they may not have even made it to their emergency landing in field on the English coast. Herbert stayed with them for half an hour after they ditched and called for ‘Dumbo.’ He then buzzed them, did a slow roll and headed for home. He ran into the crew a few days following in a London pub, and he spent no money on drinks that evening.

On a mission, August 12th, 1944, Herbert and his flight, led by 1st Lieutenant Alvin Clark, spotted a long, well-camouflaged train. They first shot up the engine, and then the box cars.  Clark’s plane was badly damaged, but both Herbert and Clark believed he’d be able to make it home. Herbert stayed with him, but Clark’s engine caught fire. Herbert called him to bail out and Clark complied, landing safely and taking cover in a small clump of trees. Herbert’s plan was to land the plane in a nearby field, but a ditch ruined the possibility.  He had to fly home without Clark.

When he returned to the base, he was ridiculed, and asked what he was going to do with Clark. Herbert’s plan was to throw out his dinghy and parachute, and sit in Clark’s lap to fly out. Clark was rescued eventually, after having spent several weeks in the attic of a French family.

One week later, Herbert read where a Captain Bert Marshall, one of his roommates on the England bound SS Argentina, earned some high decoration for doing just as Herbert had planned to do with Clark.

Herbert could add many tales to the above, and for his heroism, he was awarded the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross and retired with the rank of Major. 

He married his wife Betty in 1948 and they have three sons, two daughters and nine grandchildren