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1st Lieutenant John B. Putnam Jr.

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Lieutenant John Putnam Jr.
Lieutenant John Putnam Jr.

John Putnam, Jr., son of John and Mildred Putnam flew fifty-two mission and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Five Oak Leaf Cluster by downing six enemy fighter planes while flying a P-47 Thunderbolt.

His group shot down ten enemy planes on one mission and established an unprecedented seventeen kills on July 3, 1944. His group was credited with destroying 250 planes in the air and on the ground.

They arrived back to Duxford, England a few minutes after 12:00 p.m. As the Duxford Diary reported, “As usual after a big day, nearly everyone on the base was feeling pretty good.” Around 2:00 pm a visiting B-17 landed. Its captain offered to take some of Duxford’s men for a ride in the aircraft. Several jumped at the chance and by around 2:30 pm they were airborne.

The B-17 buzzed the control tower and pulled up over a hanger. The neon blinker light atop the hanger sheared off most of the aircraft's left wing and the left horizontal stabilizer. The crippled bomber rolled over, barely missing the officers’ barracks and crashed into the main barracks of the 83rd Fighter Squadron. All those in the bomber and one in the barracks were killed in the crash and the resulting explosion of fire. It was the largest loss of life in a single incident in Duxford’s forty years as an operational airfield.

Lieutenant Putnam’s loss was ironic. Being a veteran of forty-four combat missions, he earned enough points for military discharge.

John Putnam Jr. was born in 1921. He graduated from University School in 1939 and enrolled at Princeton. He never finished before enlisting in 1942.

John loved duck hunting and nature, often spending hours in the woods to sketch and paint. A talented musician, he played piano by ear. He was very athletic having won the ski championships while attending boarding school in Switzerland. In a tryout at Princeton, he out jumped the ski team. He was offered a commission to teach ski troops but instead became a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.