Capt. James R. Shotwell Jr.

Capt. James R. Shotwell Jr. 33, went down near Delaware City on March 19, 1955 flying an F-86A
"Fyne Type" (Ser, No. 49-1169). His craft suffered a flame-out knocking out his power. It is believed
he attempted an "air start", but in so doing he lost too much altitude to safely bail out. He was
likely concerned about his jet hitting a populated area around Delaware City.  His wingman saw
the plane burning. He was able to eject from his burning F-86 jet, but his parachute failed to open
in time. The mission was a routine training flight. Shotwell was unmarried, a combat veteran of
World War II in the South Pacific. He was employed by All-American Engineering Co. as an
instrument engineer. He joined the
Delaware Air Guard in 1948. He had been good friends with
Frank Stern who was lost only eight months earlier.

A true story

Now, I promised you a personal slant from me on this project.

On the afternoon of the 19th of March 1955, at exactly 1505, a lone Delaware ANG F86 took off
from New Castle AFB Delaware to rendezvous just North of Salem N.J. with an incoming ANG
T33 towing a target that had been used on an aerial gunnery training mission that day. The
purpose of the 86 accompanying the T33 on in to the field was to insure that nothing interfered
traffic wise while the target was being dropped. The 86 was in effect flying shotgun for the T33 as
a safety procedure.

The two aircraft approached New Castle and the T-Bird dropped the target on the right side of
runway 32 then started a climbing turn into the pattern. The 86 was wide and outside in trail
formation. Suddenly the 86 suffered a compressor failure. The J47 engine started spewing
compressor buckets like machine gun bullets and the 86 started down fast as it was coming apart.
Captain Walt Hannum flying the T33 later said that he screamed for the pilot to eject as the pilot of
the 86 tried to aim the airplane for an open field as it was headed directly toward the town of New
Castle which was right next to the Air Base.

The 86 pilot never had a chance. He rode the stricken fighter down as pieces came flying away
from the airplane. Finally, at very low altitude, the pilot managed to eject. He was too low and
way out the seat envelope for sink rate. The 86 went into a farmer’s field just outside the town and
exploded. The pilot, still strapped in the seat, impacted the ground without the chute having time
to open. He was killed instantly.

You’ve all heard the classic story of the pilot who tried to miss the populated area. Well here was
one pilot who did try to do just that.

The ANG that day lost a fine officer, and I lost the best friend I had ever known. The pilot of that
F86 was Captain James R. Shotwell Jr. I had known Jim since I was a boy. He was like a big
brother to me.

Climb High; Fly Fast
Dudley Henriques

"You remind me of a blind sparrow, he knows how to fly, but he can't. You have all the tools. For god's sake,
use them!"

by Dudley A. Henriques


By Dudley Henriques

Re-Printed from the Reader's Digest April 1985

The weather was beautiful on that November morning. The city of Fredericksburg Va.,passed
beneath the left wing of the rebuilt P-51 Mustang fighter I was flying as I rolled out on a heading
of 330 degrees. Ahead was the place I was looking for, the town of Culpeper Virginia. My altitude
was 15,000 feet. Pushing the stick forward and to the side , I started the mustang down in a
hurry. I found the spot I was looking for, then rolled the fighter hard into a dive. The airspeed
indicator showed over 400 m.p.h. when I eased out of the dive, I was at treetop level and headed
up the correct country road. I counted three seconds and performed the finest climbing roll of my

I realized that I had violated a number of federal flying regulations, including unauthorized low
buzzing, flying in illicit proximity to buildings and performing aerobatics under 1500 feet. And
this by an official of the Combat Pilots Association and a play-it-by-the-book flying instructor!
But I had no regrets about my single outburst of lawlessness. Right or wrong, that moment was
forever mine.

I was six when my father divorced my mother and left us in New York City to fend for ourselves.
It was 1943 and times were tough. Mother was working in a defense plant when she married a
man who became known to me as Jack. He was a man prone to fits of rage. Life with Jack was a
series of loud arguments in the night, sometime followed by the sounds of hitting. I remember my
mother crying a lot.

One night jack told me that he and my mother were going out and that I was to go to bed and
stay there. Then he turned off the light and left. I had a habit of sneaking out of bed and watching
from the window as they drove away.
As I was walking across the room in the dark, the light snapped on Jack was standing at the door,
holding a belt and a piece of clothesline. He cursed at me, shouting that I had disobeyed him. He
threw me on the bed and tied by hands and feet to the frame. Then he beat me until I was
bleeding. At some point the belt buckle hit my mouth, knocking out a front tooth. He then untied
me and left. My mother must have heard what was going on, but I did not see her until the next

I lived under these conditions for the next two years. Then one night my father's mother came up
from Wilmington, Delaware. After a violent argument with my mother, Grandmother whisked me
out to a waiting car and we drove away. That was the last time I saw my mother.

For the next eight years I lived in Wilmington. My Grandmother was a good woman but very
strict; she almost never used the word "love" in conversation. Meanwhile, my father had remarried
and was living in Texas with his second wife. He came to visit from time to time, but I hardly
knew him. I remember him as a man who brought me presents.

Grandmother was a business manager for a large company and had little time for me. I would see
her before I left for school and not again until after 6P.M. when she came home. At school I
constantly got into fights with the other kids, and my attitude was surly and aggressive.

When I was 15, I was expelled, Grandmother enrolled me at a military academy in West Chester
Pa. which had a reputation for handling problem children. In a way, this was the first positive
thing that had ever happened to me. The school force fed me my first taste of education, along
with fair and firm discipline. But I couldn't make it there either and was expelled at age 16.

Back again at a Wilmington public school, I had weekends to myself and little to do. One Saturday
I took a bus out to the New Castle Air Base, which was located outside the city. There at the
Delaware Air National Guard hangar I got my first close-up look at an airplane. It was a World
War II P-51 Mustang fighter. I was hypnotized! I walked around the P-51 touching the wings and
propeller, then I jumped up on the wing and slid into the cockpit. In an instant a man wearing
three stripes on his green sleeve appeared and shouted, "Hey, kid, get out of there." I was scared
stiff and started to climb out. Then a hand touched my shoulder and pushed me back into the
cockpit. Turning, I came face to face with an officer in a flight suit. He was standing on the wing,
his hair was red; his eyes were smiling.

The pilot's name was James Shotwell, and he was a Captain. Before I left the field that day he had
become "Jim". Thereafter I visited New Castle each weekend. Jim had been a fighter pilot in the
Pacific during the war. After coming home he graduated from college with a degree in electrical
engineering, and went to work for an engineering firm in Georgetown, Del. The weeks came and
went and I found myself drawn closer and closer to Jim Shotwell, I told him about the rotten time
I had had so far. He responded with warmth and friendship.

I had found my first real friend and as a result my life was to be forever changed.
Jim and I would sit under the wing of his Mustang and talk about airplanes and subjects like
math, history and physics. It was wonderful! Perhaps most important, Jim introduced me to the
other pilots and for the first time in my life I experienced the feeling of belonging to a group.

One day I told Jim I wanted to quit school and find a job. Suddenly he got quite
serious. “Dud," he said, "you remind me of a blind sparrow. He knows how to fly but he can't,
because he can't see. Even if he got off the ground he would bump into things that would stop
him cold. He wanders through life accomplishing nothing. He has no sense of direction. You have
all the tools, Dud. for God's sake, use them! Think about it"

Away from Jim and the air base though, my life was still unchanged I continued to get into
trouble and my grades were bad. Finally my grandmother decided I should go to California and
live with my Aunt. I told Jim about this several nights later, he came and talked with my
Grandmother for hours. But it changed nothing and at the end of August 1953, I was on a plane
bound for Los Angeles.

My Aunt was very kind to me and tried to help in every way she could. I missed New Castle and
Jim, but I did my best to adjust to my new surroundings. Letters from Jim brightened my days.

Then one night in March 1955, the telephone rang my Aunt answered. As she spoke I could tell
that something was very wrong, she replaced the receiver and gently told me that Jim Shotwell
had been killed. He had lost an engine while returning to New Castle from a practice mission. He
could have ejected but chose to stay with the plane, steering it away from the populated area until
it was too late to bail out. He did finally eject, but the chute didn't open. He was too low.
Emotions I had never felt welled up inside me. I tried to hold back the tears but could not.
Everything seemed fragmented and confused. Gradually I stopped crying and started to think of
Jim and the many things he had said to me. His analogy of the blind sparrow kept coming back. I
had always known that what Jim had told me about myself was true, but until that night I hadn't
been able to piece together the puzzle my life had become. Finally, I fell asleep, waking at dawn in
a cold sweat. My mind was strangely clear. Instinctively I was aware that something had changed.

Now I knew where I was going in my life and what I would have to do to get there. That year I
enlisted in the Air Force and became an air traffic controller. The Air Force finished the job Jim had
started. By the time I was discharged in 1959, my negative attitude had been reversed and my faith
in God and man restored. I wanted to go places!

I hurled myself into an intense year of hard work and study, and obtained my FAA pilot ratings.
Employment as a flight instructor soon followed. It turned out I had some talent in aerobatic
flying. Through teaching and flying air shows every weekend, I developed a reputation of sorts.
By 1971, I had accumulated thousands of flying hours, flown more than a hundred air shows and
lectured all over the country to flight instructors learning the trade. During those years I flew just
about everything, including experimental and military aircraft.

In the fall of that year, a New York doctor contracted me to ferry a P-51D Mustang from Newark,
N.J. to Manassas, Va. I carefully plotted a course that would take me some what South of
Manassas. With 180 gallons of fuel in the wings I calculated I could include an extra 30 minutes
flying time before arrival at my final destination.

On November 21 at 7:30 A.M., I climbed into the Mustang on the ramp at Newark and angled
South across Cape May, N.J. there I picked up a heading for Cambridge, Md reaching Cambridge
on time, I swung to starboard and headed toward Culpeper. The place where I violated the federal
flying regulations that morning was the Mount Carmel Baptist Cemetery. There beneath a
tombstone were the remains of my friend Capt. James R. Shotwell Jr. it had taken me 16 years to
find the right opportunity to pay my respects to the man who changed my life and I did it flying
the same type of airplane I had been sitting in the day I met him at New Castle. That climbing roll
was my cry of triumph and gratitude, the salute of the fighter pilot.

Today my wife still kids me about my flight over Jim Shotwell's grave. "The day Baron Von
Leftover led the great Culpeper City Raid," she calls it. But she knows how much that moment
means to me. It keeps alive in my mind two potent lessons: one man CAN make a difference in the
lives of others--as Jim Shotwell proved; and you can accomplish almost anything with hard work,
perseverance........and a little help from a friend."
Delaware Military History