WWII fighter pilot reunited with plane at Georgia airport

ROME, Ga. (AP) — The last time James McCubbin saw his old P51 Mustang was in the German countryside almost 80 years ago, when an enemy plane shot his wing and he had to eject.

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Fast forward to Wednesday, and the 101-year-old World War II veteran smiling happily as he watched a P51 Mustang fly once again at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport in Rome.

As a member of the Eighth Air Force, McCubbin’s main duty was to escort bombers, and on the way back to base, he was also allowed to find ground targets for strafing runs.

During a deep penetration strafing mission towards the end of the war, McCubbin and another pilot ran into trouble when the weather worsened. He would soon watch as his friend was shot down from the sky.

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Despite the loss, McCubbin continued the mission and was on his way back to base when someone shot the wing of his plane and left a hole 2 feet in diameter. He ended up ejecting from the plane and landed in the countryside.

That was the last time he saw his plane, the Mary Al, named after his girlfriend at the time. When he returned from the war, he ended up marrying a lady named Bettye, who spent the rest of her life with him.

After weeks trekking through the German countryside and living off sauerkraut from generous strangers, McCubbin was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war for three months, until the war ended.

During his imprisonment, he was given soup with worms and beans in it. At first he didn’t eat the worms in the soup, but towards the very end, he ate them for protein.

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He’s credited for shooting down nine German planes and was awarded both a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross. With his wife, Bettye McCubbin, he had four children, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Bettye passed away at the Renaissance Marquis three years ago. McCubbin lives there still.

But on Wednesday he sat beneath a tent at Floyd County’s airport as U.S. Air Force Col. Craig Hutain landed a P51 Mustang, to give him a last look at the aircraft he flew while serving his country so many years ago.

McCubbin was joined by his granddaughter Breanna Jones, granddaughter-in-law Holly Jones, 6-year-old great-grandson Cody Jones and daughter Cherie.

He said he felt good that day, especially since he didn’t have to go to work. His short-term memory isn’t what it used to be, but he was happy to be around so many people.

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When asked if he wanted to get in the cockpit with a mic on, McCubbin joked that he was worried he’d drop a few swear words.

Three other WWII veterans were also in attendance: James Holloway, John Karlovich and James Griggs.

Although McCubbin did get an up-close look at the old, familiar plane, the heat of the day prevented him from climbing all the steps to get into the cockpit. But he posed for a photo with the plane and held up an older photograph, bringing the moment full circle.