WW2 Hero: Indiana's Very Own Ace Pilot Deliberately Shot a U.S. Plane To Save His Comrades

Jhemmylrut Teng

Louis Edward Curdes in his "Bad Angel" plane(Source: Wikimedia)

It seemed like yesterday when Lieutenant Colonel Louis Edward Curdes reckoned his life growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It's the place where he built his dreams to become a pilot and served the Army.

Possibly the new generation may have forgotten his name. However, this Indiana local served the United States of America with literally flying colors. Curdes was considered one of the best pilots in the U.S. Air Force during the Second World War.

He both served in the European and the Pacific Theatre; he became a prisoner of war but escaped the enemy. And the most controversial decision he made was to shot down an American aircraft to save his comrades intentionally.

Early Life in Indiana

Based on the Indiana Historical Society record in Indianapolis, Curdes was born and raised in Fort Wayne. His mother was a school teacher and became a homemaker when she married his father, who worked in real estate. Curdes studied in Forest Park School in elementary and in North Side High School.

During his teen years, he was helping his father in manual labor such as cutting weeds and construction.

Interest in aviation

Curdes's father was a die-hard fan of aviation. Therefore, it was no wonder he developed an intense interest in aircraft.

"My father was an aviation buff. And he helped Art Smith at—out our local Memorial Park here - with his aircraft and getting it airborne. And he took me out to Smith Field. And I got a ride, I was around eight, nine years old, in World War I. And my father also took me to the Cleveland Air Races."

As a young boy, he claimed that he had tons of exposure to aviation. Because of such passion, when the United States enter the Second World War, Curdes believed he needs to serve his country.

Enlisted in the Air Force

Curdes described himself as patriotic, but he was honest in saying that he had no idea why he wanted to be enlisted. All he knew, he was meant to fly.

"I really don't know why. I wanted to fly. But I don't think anybody knows really why they want to join the service. They can all reflect and say, "Well, I was very patriotic. I didn't like Hitler and Mussolini." But I had no idea that Pearl Harbor was coming. Honestly, I don't think I could say why."

Surprisingly, for a young Curdes who was then clueless about his reasons, he wanted to join the forces. He signed up in the U.S. Air Force before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. His fate was already designed.

When Curdes passed the exam, he became a Flying Cadet, then later an Aviation Cadet. He was sent to Santa Ana, California, by 1942 for training.

In December 1942, Curdes graduated from the flying school and had his commission.

First Assignment

Curdes initially joined the 329th Fighter Group, a unit of the United States Army Air Forces. However, they were transferred to the 82d Fighter Group, 95th Fighter Squadron, where he saw action in North Africa, Sardinia, and Italy, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

On April 29, 1943, he shot down three German Messerschmitt Bf 109 (Bf 109) aircraft and damaged a fourth in Tunisia. He destroyed two more Bf 109s near Villacidro, Sardinia, on May 19. Due to his incredible combat skills, Curdes was recognized as one of the U.S. forces ace pilots.

In the European Theatre, he continued destroying Axis' aircraft. Another one was recorded on June 24, when he shot down an Italian Macchi C.202 over Sardinia. He also damaged a German Bf 109 and two Bf 109s over Benevento.

Unfortunately, on August 27, 1943, Curdes was shot down by the Nazis and was captured by the Italians.

POW in Italy

Curdes said that a German soldier wanted to take him, but the Italians didn't give him. Instead, he was placed in a little seaside house. He tried to escape together with the other four Americans. But they were immediately recaptured.

They were bundled up and transferred to the mountainside of San Valentino. After a month in prison, 19 of them successfully escaped.

Unfortunately, on August 27, 1943, Curdes was shot down by the Nazis and was captured by the Italians.

"We disappeared into the mountains and had a lot of help from the Partisans, who were mostly communists but and took me eight months to walk out. But we walked out through the mountains with a lot of help from the local populous with food, cornmeal, bread, olive oil, salt. We’d go down into the valleys and steal chickens. We’d steal sheep once in a while. But for him—it wasn’t too bad now, as I look back on it. That—we developed some very close friendships with the other prisoners of war that were with us."

A few days later, the Italians surrendered to the Allies. In response to the Italian armistice, Germany invaded its former ally. Curdes and some other pilots escaped before the Germans took control of the POW camp. They reached the Allied territory on May 24, 1944.

Curdes was repatriated to the US and returned to his hometown in Fort Wayne, Illinois. However, he requested a return to active duty and joined the 4th Fighter Squadron and the 3rd Air Commando in the Pacific in August 1944, flying the P-51 Mustang.

Pacific Assignment

Curdes was sent to the Philippines, where he was going up against talented Japanese pilots. He was quickly able to shoot down a Japanese recon plane near the island of Formosa. He was also tasked with the bombing of the Japanese bases and providing support to ground troops.

They also raided Japanese facilities along the coast of China and the island of Taiwan, providing escort duties to Allied ships, dropping supplies from the air, delivering mail, and evacuating the wounded.

During the war, Curdes completed his list, destroying German, Italian, and Japanese aircraft. But it didn't end there as he shot down another plane that doesn't belong to the enemy.

Shooting down the U.S. plane

When Curdes and his plane, nicknamed "Bad Angel," were fighting over Japanese-held Bataan, his wingman was shot down over the Pacific.

Lt. Col. Curdes' Bad Angel(Source: G.I. Jobs)

Soon after, he spotted a United States' C-47 transport plane, wheels-down and preparing to land. But what perplexed him was that it was heading to the Japanese airfield. At first, he thought it was the Japanese copy of the DC-2 because the Japanese had bought tons of DC-2 planes before the Second World War. But when he looked closely, he was horrified that indeed it was a U.S. aircraft.

He thought that the Japanese captured it because no one in their right mind would land straight into the enemy's territory. He tried to make radio contact, but it didn't get through. He physically waves the transport off but came up empty.

But what Curdes didn't know was that the C-47 was suffering from faulty radio, wholly lost, and virtually out of fuel. Since the pilot lost the connection, he believed that he was about to land in an Allied airfield.

After giving the situation too much thought, Curdes did the drastic action: he shot the U.S. plane down by disabling both of its engines. The aircraft went down straight to the ocean, and all of its 12 crew and passengers were alive.

Before the plane sank, the passengers already managed to transfer themselves on a life raft. And Curdes was circling them above, protecting the group for as long as he could. When his plane was gradually running out of fuel, Curdes returned to the nearest base.

Unfortunately, the occupants of the life raft had to endure floating in a shark-infested Philippine sea. But the next day, Curdes returned, escorting consolidated PBY Catalina (flying boat) to rescue the crew and passengers. One of the passengers was a familiar face to Curdes. She was the Russian nurse he had dated before, and it seems that destiny brought them together again as he married her in 1946.

Due to his heroic acts and significant contribution in the Second World War, Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.


"The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Louis Edward Curdes (ASN: 0-733836), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as pilot of a P-38 type aircraft of the 95th Fighter Squadron, 82d Fighter Group, FIFTEENTH Air Force in the North African Theater of Operations. On 29 April 1943, on a skip-bombing mission in the Sicilian Straits, Lieutenant Curdes' formation was attacked by twelve enemy fighters. Despite the fact that he had been unable to release his bomb, Lieutenant Curdes turned to attack, destroying one ME-109 and damaging another. Sighting two ME-109's attacking a crippled P-38, he unhesitatingly attacked and destroyed both of them, and escorted the damaged aircraft to friendly territory. His consistent gallantry and devotion to duty have reflected great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States."

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.


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