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Col. Jesse D. Mitchell Jr., World War II fighter pilot

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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.

After being discharged in 1946, Colonel Mitchell enrolled at Cal Aero-Technical Institute in Glendale, Calif., where he studied engineering for a year, before returning to Maryland.

In 1948, Colonel Mitchell joined the Maryland Air National Guard's 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron, where he continued flying P-47 Thunderbolts and late P-51 Mustangs.

From 1948 to 1958, he worked as a plant engineer for National Plastics Co. in Odenton, which later became Nevamor Plastics. He then joined the Air National Guard full time as an aircraft maintenance officer at Martin State Airport.

Colonel Mitchell was named commander of the 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1961 and continued as commander when it was reorganized a year later as the 175th Tactical Fighter Group.

When he developed high blood pressure in 1975, Colonel Mitchell was no longer able to fly. He relinquished his position and returned to working as an aircraft maintenance officer.

At the time of his retirement in 1978, he had attained the rank of colonel and accumulated nearly 9,000 hours of flight time during his nearly 40-year career.

"He was off three weeks and was tired of sitting around, so he went back to Nevamor and got his old job back. He worked there another 12 years until retiring in 1990," said a son, Richard E. "Rick" Mitchell of Catonsville.

The former Severn and Glen Burnie resident moved to Charlestown in 2011.

He enjoyed building and flying radio-controlled model airplanes.

"Flying was his life," said Mrs. Mitchell.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 715 Maiden Choice Lane.

In addition to his wife and son, Colonel Mitchell is survived by another son, William D. Mitchell of Ellicott City; a sister, Mary Ellen Berry of San Jose; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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