Eagle Profile

Colonel (Retired) Melvin ‘Mel’ Bryant was a fighter pilot who served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was born in Hiawatha, Kansas in 1924 and spent his childhood working on family farms and in his father’s grocery store. Despite his farming roots, Mel developed an early interest in chemical engineering and enrolled in Kansas State University’s engineering school in 1942. During the first few months at college, he also participated in the Army Air Corps flight orientation program and developed a strong passion for aviation. Inspired by the World War II draft, Mel dropped his classes and enlisted at the age of 18 with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot. Following basic training, Private Bryant enrolled as an aviation cadet and underwent roughly a year’s worth of flight and gunnery training before being deployed on 27 July 1944 to the African, European, and Middle-Eastern theater as part of the 2nd Fighter Pursuit Squadron. During World War II, 1st Lieutenant Bryant flew 37 combat missions and accumulated 180 combat hours in the P-51 Mustang over France, Italy, Germany, Central Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. While attacking a German armored train on 22 February 1945, he was shot down and interned as a prisoner of war for two months before being liberated and returned to the United States. Following World War II, Col Bryant continued his career as an Army Air Corps and eventually a United States Air Force pilot. Prior to the Korean War, he served as a P-51 Instructor for Chinese pilots at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona, an Assistant Base Adjutant at Albrook AFB in Panama, and a Director of Operations at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. During the Korean War, Major Bryant was officially assigned as a staff officer in Japan, but received authorization to qualify in the F-86 and flew strafing runs in Korea whenever he could get air transportation from Japan. As a brand-new Lieutenant Colonel, he attended the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama before becoming an air tactics instructor for the Marine Corps Schools in Quantico, Virginia. Next, Bryant qualified in the F-100 and returned to England as part of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. After this assignment and due to his expertise, he was assigned to the Pentagon to write policy before the outbreak of the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, Bryant oversaw the Air Force Advisory Group while flying missions in the F-100, A-1, and A-37. He was decorated for eliminating multiple North Vietnamese tanks and troops while protecting South Vietnamese and allied forces. After the war, Colonel Bryant helped establish an inspector general program for the Vietnamese Air Force before serving as the base commander of Hurlburt Field, Florida prior to his retirement. He currently resides in Shalimar, Florida with his wife, Glenda and his daughter, Beth.

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2020 Lithograph

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