Col. Jesse D. Mitchell Jr., a World War II P-51 Mustang combat fighter pilot who later commanded the Maryland National Guard's 175th Tactical Fighter Group, died Friday of cancer at the Charlestown Retirement Community. He was 90.
The son of Jesse D. Mitchell Sr., a Koppers Co. machinist, and Mildred M. Davis Mitchell, a homemaker, Jesse Duvall Mitchell Jr. was born and raised in Severn.
Colonel Mitchell's interest in flying began early in his childhood when he built model airplanes out of balsa wood.
He was a 1940 graduate of Glen Burnie High School and attended Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. He was working at the old Montgomery Ward catalog store on Monroe Street when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942.
Commissioned a fighter pilot in 1944, Colonel Mitchell was deployed to the China-Burma-India theater, where he joined the 528th Fighter Squadron.
"That July I turned 22 and was promoted to first lieutenant. On 22 October, my entire squadron and our Mustangs transferred east to Shanghai, centrally located on China's east coast," Mr. Mitchell wrote in an article that was published last year in Mustangs International.
"According to Form 5 records and a personal diary (which I called 'Missions By Mitchell'), I flew seven combat missions in various models of the P-51, as well as two missions where I was a spare pilot," he wrote.
Most of Colonel Mitchell's missions were strikes against railroad facilities, trains and bridges.
On a July 9, 1945, mission, Colonel Mitchell wrote: "P51K 4-hrs 35 mins. Railroad strike, hit a train near Peking, caught the locomotive moving out in the open and strafed it. (Tsinan — 9 loco[motive]s — no losses — one loco steamed up heavily — one passenger train strafed.)"
On his last raid in China, which was Aug. 13, 1945, Colonel Mitchell was again on a railroad reconnaissance mission. "No gun fired. Just recon," he wrote. "The war ended at this point."
One of Colonel Mitchell's peace missions in China occurred in October 1945, when he took a P-51 up to 35,000 feet to make sure that it could safely cross the Himalayas.
Before taking off, he noticed that his parachute was frayed and sticking out of his pack, which he shoved back in with a pencil.
"You'd better get that thing inspected and repacked. You might need to use it someday," a fellow pilot told Colonel Mitchell, who recounted the flight in another article he wrote for Mustang International.
The Mustang seemed somewhat sluggish and underpowered as Colonel Mitchell took off and began climbing to 29,000 feet. Suddenly there was a loud bang from the engine, and oil and coolant sprayed onto the canopy and into his eyes.
Colonel Mitchell began to make plans to bail out of the doomed Mustang.
Once out of the plane that was plummeting, Colonel Mitchell recalled "tumbling wildly through space" before he was able to straighten out. New worries swept over him as he had no emergency oxygen bottle and could have passed out from oxygen deprivation.
"Or I could pull the parachute D ring right now and worry about passing out later. I pulled the ring and got a good parachute. It looked beautiful with its white, green and orange panels all intact," he recalled.
As he glided toward the ground, Colonel Mitchell could hear the sounds of vehicles racing to intercept him. His journey took him about 21 minutes and left him with only a badly sprained ankle.
Until he returned to the United States in December 1945, he flew what were called "combat patrol missions" over China.
In 1946, he married Doris Catherine Patricia Mahoney, who had been a Navy WAVE during the war.