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P-51B (serial unknown) KITTEN of 2Lt. Leon ‘Woodie’ Spears, 302nd FS, Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945

Taken on as a replacement for his first P-51B 42-103968 Donna, ‘Woodie’ Spears’ KITTEN had already carried Charles McGee through a 136-mission tour. “KITTEN” was my wife’s nickname, McGee explained, but also my crew chief Nathaniel Wilson, kept that engine purring like a contented kitten. McGee would fly Mustangs in Korea, and then flew RF-4 Phantom IIs as commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam, amassing 408 combat missions over the course of his 31-year career. Spears’ tenure in the military was shorter – he was hit by heavy flak over Berlin during the 332nd’s Distinguished Unit Citation-winning mission on 23 March 1945. With part of its wing sheared off, Spears coaxed KITTEN to a wheels up landing in Poland, where he was briefly held as a POW before his captors were overrun by the Soviets. The first KITTEN ended its proud career in a Polish scrap yard.

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