A Pilot, a Store Owner, and an F4U Corsair

Pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung called it synchronicity – a meaningful coincidence. Such seems the case that brought Lt. Col. Ferrill and Purdy Michele Spry together two years ago.

He needed a lamp fixed; she needed to interview a World War II pilot for a children’s book she was preparing.  Taking the lamp to Midway Electric which she co-owns was serendipitous.

He sauntered into her store that August day, wearing his “Corsair F4U” hat, and Spry, naturally, questioned whether he was a veteran. When he told her that during World War II in the Pacific he was a Marine fighter pilot, the lives of each took a happy twist.

She hasn’t left me alone since then, Purdy, 94, said with a chuckle.

Purdy piloted a Corsair F4U fighter over two tours of duty during the war. Spry has a deep respect for veterans from that time.

Since their first meeting, she has reunited Purdy with his wingman, assisted him in applying for two Purple Hearts, and published her book. Only a few months ago, she learned that Purdy had flown the Corsair F4U displayed at a museum in California, and is now labouring to reunite the aircraft and the former pilot.

What started as a children’s book about a World War II pilot has progressed to a friendship based on her interest in Purdy’s decorated but almost forgotten war experience.

Those guys were told never to discuss what they accomplished, she said. It’s not front and centre, so you have to scratch, she explained.

Remembering the war

Purdy was on a hunting trip in Iowa on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.

He didn’t hear the news until later that evening.  The next day, he took a train to Kansas City to enlist as a Navy pilot at 19 years of age.

Approximately two years later, he had become a Marine fighter pilot and was ordered to the Pacific theatre for combat.

During his two tours, Purdy saw some of the most devastating effects of the conflict.

He was present, fighting, and a witness to the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943, often considered one of the most ferocious battles for both the Japanese and the U.S. A total of 4,690 Japanese soldiers were killed and 1,696 Americans, columbiamissourian.com reported.

Last June, Spry and Purdy made an astonishing discovery. Using a serial number from one of Purdy’s logbooks, Spry located the Corsair F4U he flew during the war on display at the Planes of Fame air museum in Chino, California.

The plane not only survived the war but was on television featured in Baa Baa Blacksheep, a TV series broadcast in the late 1970s about a band of Marine fighter pilots during the Second World War.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE