1st Lt. John E. Bakalar

Born: August 29, 1920; Hammond, IN
Died: September 1, 1944; Gael, France (ALG #31)

On the eve of "D-Day", Lt. Bakalar was assigned to the 9th Air Force's 353rd Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group. The 354th FG became known as the "Pioneer Mustang Group", the first such group to receive the powerful P-51D. Lt. Bakalar participated in dive bombing and strafing missions in support of Allied ground troops in France. He was awarded the Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters for successfully completing 45 combat missions, and his Fighter Squadron received the Presidential Unit Citation. Lt. Bakalar was credited with three aerial victories on his first ever combat sortie on August 16, 1944.

On September 1, 1944, Lt. Bakalar prepared for take-off on an operational mission from Gael, France. Shortly after the aircraft cleared the end of the runway the engine failed and the aircraft crashed into a grove of trees. Lt. Bakalar did not survive. The cause of the crash was determined to be a faulty casting on the first stage supercharger housing that allowed engine coolant to enter the induction system.

BUILDING AN AIRFIELD: Atterbury Army Air Field by Lou Thole

1st Lt. John Bakalar

Shutdown: 434th Transfers to Grisson AFB 1970