Donald J. Strait
Donald J. Strait enlisted in 1940 in the 119th Observation Squadron of the New Jersey National Guard. He started as an armorer and moved up to become an aerial gunner in the two-seater O-46 and O-47 observation planes. In early 1942, he qualified as an aviation cadet and started his training at Maxwell Field, Alabama. After completing Primary and Basic Training, he received his wings and his commission in the United States Army Air Force in January 1943, when he was assigned to the 361st Fighter Squadron. To Strait, being a fighter pilot meant shooting down airplanes; he wanted to become a fighter ace. The first combat he saw was on 6 February 1944, when his unit’s P-51 Mustang’s were escorting a B-17 Flying Fortress on a mission in France and ran into a pair of German fighters. The enemy split off and Strait followed one, scoring two hits causing the German pilot to bailout. By November 1944, Strait was squadron commander of the 361st Fighter Squadron. He led an escort mission over the Altenbeken Railroad Viaduct in Germany. The 16 P-51D Mustang’s made their scheduled rendezvous near Zolle, The Netherlands, when they were alerted that there were German aircraft heading their way. As Strait’s group flew into Onasbruck, Strait spotted over 40 German planes and immediately ordered that his squad to attack. On the heels of those 40 planes, however, were 150 more, all preparing to attack the bombers. Strait radioed, “We’ve got the whole damned Luftwaffe.” Opening fire, he hit a German plane in its wing, causing it to plummet to the ground. The enemy lost 23 of its aircraft that day. Strait’s squad scored 11 victories. Every pilot returned safely to Martlesham Heath, in Suffolk, England. It would prove to be the biggest battle of the war for the 356th Fighter Group, which the 361st belonged. In March 1945, Strait’s 120th mission in his “Jersey Jerk” P-51D was his last. He had a total of 13.5 kills. After returning home from the war, Strait married Louise Lyon, a young lady from Long Island. He transferred to the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1947. In 1955, he was the first Air National Guard graduate from the Air War College. Strait served on active duty during the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1961 Berlin Crisis, and Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in 1978 with the rank of Major General. He was inducted into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame in 1989. Currently, Strait keeps busy with woodworking, playing golf and visiting his three children and grandchildren. Widowed for the past few years, he lives in the house he and his wife built 20 years ago.