Last Flight Home

by Dick Perue

A remark made by Adjutant General, at the 2023 Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Day celebration at Saratoga’s Angus England Post 54 American Legion, sparked this memory for Dick Perue.

An article in the September 16th, 1943 local newspaper noted that “Lt. Jack Shively of Luke Field, Arizona, flew here for the wedding…..” (that of his sister Jane and Navy Officer John Glode). A few days later, Lt. Shively boarded his P-51 and returned to Luke Field.

End of the news item for most folks. However, as an impressionable six year old kid, here’s how I recall – with a few necessary additions – my hero’s departure from Saratoga Airport on a sunny autumn day in mid-September of 1943:

“Lt. Jack” fired up his P-51 fighter plane, taxied to the dirt runway, and took off west towards the Sierra Madres, to avoid the bright rising sun, supposedly on his way to Arizona. But not so, since he looped around to the east and then west to make a pass over the Bridge Street River Bridge and his family’s Shively Hardware, thus buzzing the center of town; again to disappear in the western sky.

Most folks started to return to their homes and businesses when the hum, and finally the roar, of that Packard V-1650 Merlin engine shook the silence of the still morning. As the Mustang approached from the south, along the Upper North Platte River, barely clearing the tree tops of Veterans Island, dropping down as to skim the riffles and a still pool, Lt Jack darted under the high steel-span river bridge.

Shooting out the other side of the bridge, Lt Shively pushed the power to all 1,270 horses of that Mustang and headed skyward. He performed a full barrel roll and then flattened the plane out and dipped each wing tip in a farewell salute, before heading south at a cruising speed of about 275 miles per hour; finally blending into the majestic mountains of the Snowy Range; never returning home.

Lt. Jack Shively was shot down by an enemy fighter, killing him, on June 3, 1944. His airplane crashed in Chinon, France, near the bridge of that town… but then, that’s another story, for when we next honor our local veterans.

Present day skeptics claim the bridge is too low for an airplane to fly under. However, the old 1884 steel-span bridge was a long way above the water. This incident would not have been possible three months later. The bridge had collapsed under the weight of a logging truck on December 23rd, 1943.


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