WWII P-51 Mustang Pilot Captain Robert G. Kurtz

When I first began this project back in April, meeting a veteran pilot from WWII was something that I hoped would eventually happen. I’ve always been fascinated by the aircraft used during the war, especially the P-51 Mustang. By chance, I was telling a new friend at a bachelor party about my veteran project while talking about what type of work we do. His eyes lit up, and he immediately told me about Captain Robert G. Kurtz who flew the P-51 Mustang in the 8th Air Force, 355th Fighter Group, 354th Fighter Squadron. Over the next few weeks, I coordinated with Mr. Kurtz and his family and were able to schedule a meeting.

Mr. Kurtz’s story starts as far back into his childhood as he can remember. With his father serving as an artillery commander in the 5th Army, he grew up in the Army. While in high school, he decided that he wanted to attend West Point. After graduating West Point in 1943, he then attended flight school for seven months and became a pilot. His war almost didn’t happen though because of a daring stunt he completed while stationed in Philadelphia.

While making a flight back to base, he flew his aircraft under series of bridges including the George Washington Bridge where an MP was standing guard. With a yellow nose, his plane was easy to spot and remember when the MP had reported what had happened. Mr. Kurtz’s commanding officer, Colonel Bill Cummings, eventually called him to his office to question him about the stunt. Kurtz knew that the colonel could court martial him for the stunt, but Cummings resisted as he wanted his pilots to fight in the war.

Once overseas, Kurtz flew bomber escort missions over Europe in his P-51 Mustang named “Hat Jane” after his sister. On August 3, 1944, he was flying a typical bomber escort mission. Like other missions, they came in contact with enemy aircraft, in this case German ME-109 pilots. Kurtz’s plane was hit several times without he himself being hit. With all the hits his plane took, Kurtz said it only took the one slug that severed the linkage between the throttle and carburetor. At just below 20,000 feet, he feverishly attempted to restore power while gliding the plane. Looking back on the situation, he thinks it would have been a better idea to bail out instead of trying to restore power. It was an overcast day, and he couldn’t see the ground until around 300 feet making it too low to eject. Ejection seats were just becoming available, but his plane was not equipped with one. He said, “If I had that ejection seat, I could gotten out and bailed out at 300 feet.” Gliding just over the edge of the Black Forest he describes what he last remembers.

“The last thing I remember is the leading edge of the wing hitting the very tops of these trees. Of course, I slowed down immediately. When it hit the ground, what was left of the wreckage was turned upside down. It just so happened that there was a squad of German soldiers nearby that saw the wreck. They came running over, about six of them all together. Somehow, they got me out of that.”

With a sizable gash on his forehead, he was taken by the German soldiers to a local hospital where he was cared for. Once Kurtz was well enough, he was then taken to a German interrogation camp. At the camp, he was finally declared a prisoner of war, which meant that his family would finally receive word that he was alive and not missing in action. He remembers how his interrogator acted like a gentleman and shared cigarettes with him. After 11 months, General Patton and the 3rd Army liberated the camp. Kurtz remembers that the first vehicle to enter the camp was a Sherman tank followed immediately by a jeep driven by Patton himself. “He came in, jumped out of the jeep, and jumped up on the hood of the jeep. He looked at us, put his hands on his hips, and had two pearl-handled revolvers. Patton said, ‘Don’t worry boys! You’ll be back in the war soon!’” Following the camp’s liberation, Kurtz was flown to Paris where his crash injuries were cared for, and he eventually made it back to the states.

It was a real honor and a treat to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mr. Kurtz. A friend of mine asked me a couple months ago if I could photograph anyone in the world, who would it be? It was odd, because I couldn’t really come up with an answer until now. I truly enjoy getting to meet these guys who have done so much for us and doing what I can to make sure that history doesn’t forget them.

Robert Kurtz’s P-51 Mustang ‘Hat Jane’

Using Format