Billy G. Edens was born 21 January 1923 in Cassville, Missouri and grew up in Tyronza, Arkansas. He joined the Army Air Corps on 27 June 1942 upon graduation from high school. He was accepted as an aviation cadet in May, 1943 and attended flight training in Alabama. He earned his wings and was commissioned on 3 November 1943. Lieutenant Edens was assigned to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt in World War II with the 62nd Fighter Squadron of the famous 56th Figther Group at Royal Air Force Station Boxted, England. Edens made an immediate impression on the famed group as a result of his aggressiveness and natural ability, despite his relative inexperience. He became one of the few Second Lieutenants to become an “ace”, achieving the feet in only one month. Between 8 June and 7 July 1944, he achieved seven aerial victories. These included three victories in one day as he valiantly defended his flight lead from a German Fw-190 and Bf-109 assault. When asked about this feat, he explained, “I was just shooting them off his tail.” Edens achieved his final victory without firing a shot. As he describes it, “I was on top of him, so I just pulled back on my stick real hard and my ‘Jug’ just smashed him and he crashed and burst into flames.” In addition to Edens’ aerial victories, he demonstrated an amazing determination to survive. In total, four of Edens aircraft were destroyed during World War II. The first occurrence was on his fourth combat mission. He took ground fire while strafing a German airfield on the Dutch Islands and had to bail out over the North Sea. He was rescued after six hours in the cold water. When the rescue aircraft pulled Edens’ body out of the water, they initially reported to base that he was killed in action. Amazingly, he survived and returned to fly days later. On 10 September 1944, he was downed for the fourth time. For the next nine months, Edens was held as a POW in Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. He was joined at the camp by other members of the 56th Fighter Group, including Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gabreski and Colonel Hubert “Hub” Zemke, the Group’s commander. When the Soviets liberated the prison camp, Edens left the compound but was later captured by Russian soldiers, who forced him to march east and ride a boxcar to Moscow. Edens was held in international camp #1 east of Moscow for three months. Eventually, Edens escaped along with two other Americans. The three traveled by foot from the camp to Berlin. The journey took over five weeks. When they arrived in Berlin, Edens and the three men turned themselves in to a group of American soldiers. He and his travel mates spent three days in prison while the Army confirmed their identification. Colonel Edens’ combat experience spanned three wars. In addition to his amazing experiences during World War II, he flew F-84s with the 522nd Fighter Squadron in Korea. On 23 January 1951, he was involved in the largest jet aircraft battle in history. Edens engaged several Mig-15s over the Yalu River, famously known as “MiG Alley”. At one point during the air battle, Edens was the only American in the battle. Years later, Edens received a letter from an Australian communications unit with a translation of the Russian commander that day yelling at his squadron to “get out of there and leave that crazy American (Edens) alone!” Edens made another amazing escape after his aircraft was shot down on his 153rd and final mission in Korea. Edens also flew F-100s during the Vietnam War. He retired in 1974 as a Colonel with 32 years of distinguished service to America. Colonel Edens currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Years Honored: 2010
Aircraft/Specialty: P-47 Thunderbolt
Colonel Billy Edens combat service spans three wars and 32 years. He became an ace during WWII with 7 confirmed victories in the P-47. On his 89th mission, he was shot down and held as a POW for the duration of the war. He was also an F-84 jet pilot during the Korean War with 153 missions including the largest jet fighter battle in history.