Remembering a World War II pilot

Article published in Stars & Stripes Magazine — Thursday, October 12, 2006



Sharon Estill Taylor, daughter of World War II pilot 1st Lt. Shannon Estill, smiles following a ceremony where her father’s remains were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary. His remains were recently discovered in Germany.

 

World War II was winding down when 22-year old 1st Lt. Shannon Estill took off in his P-38 Lightning to patrol the skies over Germany. The

P-38 was one of the most effective and distinctive fighter planes of the war.

The married father of a three-week old daughter would never get to see to his child due to the fortunes of war and politics. Tuesday, the grown-up daughter and her progeny gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to finally lay the pilot to rest on his native soil after 61 years.

Almost 10,000 twin-boomed P-38’s rolled off the assembly lines. The dual engine single seat fighter was used as a ground attack craft and with an extra-tank slapped to its belly it provided long-range escorts for bombers.

The P-38 was an excellent airplane able to take punishment and limp home on one engine if necessary, but it could not stand up to a direct hit by the fabled German 88 anti-aircraft gun. It was the best gun of the war.

The 88s were also used as an anti-tank weapon and as an assault gun. They could knock out allied tanks at 2,000 yards.

Estill was flying in formation over Elsnig, Germany, a farming community about 15 kilometers from Torgau, Germany. Exactly two weeks later Torgau would become famous as the spot where the East met the West.

The pilot’s daughter, Sharon Estill Taylor, described what happened to the P-38 in the March 2006 issue of Lost Magazine.

“At 2:40 p.m. on Friday, April 13, 1945, a well-sighted and precisely-placed round from a German 88-millimeter anti-aircraft gun toppled my three-week old world, plunging my mother into a lifetime of chronic sorrow as it shattered my father and his fighter plane onto

the field below. The plane and the pilot burned for three days and

what remained was carted away or covered over by 60 years of farming and weather.”

Taylor would always wonder about her father and eventually she would meet two men, who were 9-year-old boys working in the fields when the P-38 full of fuel and ordnance crashed into the field and exploded.

A victim of war, Estill’s body next became a victim to the vagaries of the peace process. The field was on the eastern side of the Elbe, in

Russian territory. It would become part of East Germany and the Iron Curtain would descend upon the crash site for decades.

Two days after the crash, his wife received a telegram with the heading, “missing in action” on it. A second telegram arrived from the War Department nine months later telling her 1st Lt. Shannon Estill was “Killed in Action.”

Young Sharon would never get to play with father or climb upon his knee, but she would get to know him through 450 letters written over six years between her parents. These letters inspired the daughter to track some of her father’s mates from the 428th Fighter Squadron and the associated 427th and 429th.

One of these former fighter pilots put her in touch in 2001 with a German researcher, Hans Guenther Ploes, who locates World War II planes shot down there. Taylor spent three weeks looking for her father’s crash site. The following year her father’s plane was found.

It took three years for the scientists and mortuary officers of the Joint POW⁄MIA Accounting Command and the Central Identification

Laboratory in Hawaii to officially reclaim 1st Lt. Shannon Estill and his P-38.

Monday two A-10 Warthogs flew over the gravesite in Arlington’s Section 66 and an Old Guard Casket party could conduct their careful choreography of caring with the flag of honor for the World War II pilot and a daughter and offspring and their children could know peace.

Sharon Estill Taylor showed sadness and perhaps a slight smile of satisfaction after the burial.

“I feel like it’s time he came home,” she said. “Part of him will always be in Germany. But now he’s in excellent company.”

(Editor’s Note: Dennis Ryan is a staff writer for the Pentagram)