Major General Richard Bodycombe 4.30.09

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t recognize the value of the Tuskegee Airman—but it’s impossible to find anyone who appreciates the exclusive unit of African American pilots more than Major General Richard Bodycombe of Ann Arbor.
The Tuskegee Airmen, who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps, were responsible for saving his life more than a few times.  

“They were always on time, always prepared,” the feisty, eighty-seven year old retired military man shared during an interview at the Novi offices of Visionalist and in his own WWII memorabilia museum located on the third floor of his home.  “Some of the other units were perpetually late, which doesn’t help much if you had a German fighter on your tail.”

Bodycombe flew nineteen missions over Austria in the final months of the war, based in 782nd Bombardment Squadron, 465th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force, in Italy.  His memory of this harrowing experience is still intact and in the forefront of his mind and his stories are legion.

All, oddly enough, are viewed through a pragmatic sense of humor that animates the General’s conversation.  Even the time when he was forced to crash-land his plane on a Yugoslavian island after having lost an engine, flaps and brakes to enemy fire is peppered with laughs as he recalls the Yugoslav peasant who tried to haul him to safety.  “All I can remember to this day is his breath.  Worst breath on the planet.”
This from a fellow who spent the following months recuperating in a hospital without morphine.  “There was a freedom fighter, a big Yugoslavian woman, that came around with wine.  When it came to my turn, I wouldn’t let go of her arm… let’s just say I took a bit more than my share!”

Civilian life for the General is equally riveting.  He tells of the four years in which he flew for the Ford Motor Company, and speaks with respect and great fondness for Ford luminaries like Lee Iacocca and Ed Lundy.

General Bodycombe has more than 16,500 flying hours; nearly six thousand of which were flown in jet and propjet aircraft.  He also holds a Federal Aviation Administration Pilot Proficiency Examiner rating in the Boeing 727, Lockheed Jet Star and Convair 580.
His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Purple Heart.

Truly a pilot’s pilot and a General’s General.  When you consider that his stellar war record, dozens of life and death decisions and world-altering victories were all won before he was twenty-three, it’s a quick trip to understanding why this generation is called ‘The Greatest’.



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