WWII pilot Lieutenant Edwin Ledbetter, formerly of Conway, shared his memories of military service with U.S. Senator John Boozman’s office shortly before his death in October. Boozman recognizes Ledbetter’s military service in this edition of ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series honoring the military service of Arkansans.
Ledbetter was born and raised in Conway. He was committed to serving his country even before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. One year earlier he joined the Arkansas National Guard.
“I lied about my age,” Ledbetter said.
As a GI, he initially served with the Army infantry but transferred to the Army Air Corps.
“I wanted all along to fly an airplane. It normally requires two years in college but I studied and took some exams and I qualified,” Ledbetter said.
He learned to fly several different aircraft during his ten months of flight training and served as an instructor before being deployed to Europe. In the European Theater, his mission was flying the B-17 heavy bomber known as the “Flying Fortress” and bombing factories in Germany.
“The first mission was the only mission on which I saw a German fighter. They just flew through the formation,” Ledbetter said.
On another mission the heater on the plane failed, causing ice to form on the windshield.
The fourth mission on March 16, 1944 is one that he will always remember. Two of the engines failed, and the ten-member crew got on the deck to protect themselves from weapons on the grounds.
“We ran into some light flak and couldn’t make it so we crash landed,” Ledbetter said. “Fortunately some trees were clipped and that slowed us down otherwise the crash landing would have been more serious” Ledbetter said.
Two crewmembers were killed in the crash. Ledbetter sustained a dislocated shoulder, flesh wound on his head and a broken arm. He and the other surviving crew members were captured by German troops.
He spent nearly six months in recovery at a German-occupied hospital in Reims, France before being liberated by General George Patton’s Third Army.
After he was discharged from the military, Ledbetter used his GI Bill benefits for his education, graduating from the University of California at Berkley and Harvard Law School.
He continued a career in public service as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State.
In 1999, citizens in L’Huitre, France dedicated a monument to Ledbetter and the other crew members of the downed plane. Three years ago Ledbetter received the Legion of Honor medal, the highest decoration awarded by France.
“Edwin Ledbetter is an American hero whose service and sacrifice shaped the future of the world. His dedication to defending the world against tyranny is a testament to the Greatest Generation. I am grateful for his service to our county and honored to share his memories of his wartime experiences,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Ledbetter’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.