He flew 35 bombing missions over the German front. He has two Distinguished Flying Crosses -- both issued after World War II had ended. After Gen. George Patton said to stop awarding them.

But Paul Purvis is a man who was born in Cody, got married in Cody and plans to die in Cody. For him, all the combat, all the planes and men he saved limping battered aircraft back to base, meant less than his pride.

"I kept my tongue," he said. "That was hardest part. Holding my temper while I took all those orders."

His proudest moment was the day he completed pilot training, he said. He remembers one of the first days, when an instructor called his group over.

I have five of you. And I can only finish three; two of you are going to wash out.

The instructor looked at them one by one and said he wasn't worried about choosing -- the washing out would take care itself.

Purvis, he said. I think you might be the first. You got a temper, and the first time to you talk back to me, you're gone.

Growing up, Purvis worked for his father's trucking company and was used to being his own boss. He could always go where he wanted and do what he pleased, as long as he got the job done.

"I didn't say anything," Purvis said. "But I thought, 'You dirty son of a b----. You can't make me talk back to you.'"

When he got overseas, his temper wasn't as much of threat. But his stubbornness and Wyoming-bred independence served him well.

Purvis flew B-17 bombers out of Polebrook, England. Early in the war, he and his crew were sent to bomb Politz, Germany.

It was an oil refinery on the Baltic Sea and an important target. When they arrived, the weather forced them to strike their secondary target instead.

The next day, they put Politz back in their sights, but the Germans were ready for them.

"We got hit bad," Purvis said. "We put up 47 planes, and only four could fly the next day."

Purvis' plane was not one of them.

While he was over the target, two German 88 mm rounds hit his plane. One hit the wing, and the second punched through the cockpit. It destroyed the oxygen tanks and cut the hydraulic lines.

But neither shell exploded.

"We were thankful to someone in a German ammunition factory, who was having a bad day and forgot to fuse those two 88s right."

They completed the bombing run and pulled out into clear skies. Despite damaged engines and no oxygen, Purvis was going home. He pointed his crew toward base, and after some clutch mechanic work and jettisoning all unnecessary cargo, they were able to fly back to England.

They were flying low but holding altitude, and they started to worry about the landing.

The mechanics had repaired the hydraulic lines and syphoned the fluid from the turrets into the control lines, but there still wasn't enough to work the brakes or flaps.

Word came up to the cockpit that it looked they were going to need to make a belly landing, unless someone could find a way to fill the hydraulic lines.

Bombing planes had no heating system, so the cockpits were 40 degrees below zero during most flights. There were exhaust lines for the pilots and crew to relieve themselves, but no one used them, because the first time anyone did, they froze solid.

Instead, they used 5-gallon buckets scattered throughout the plane.

"You just need some fluid?" Purvis called back to the engineers. "We've got plenty of fluid."

They got the hydraulics up and running and landed the plane safely.

It was too badly damaged to fly again, but they were home.

 

If you would like to suggest veterans to be featured, please send their names, contact information and a summary of their service to Kristy Gray at kristy.gray@trib.com or P.O. Box 80, Casper, WY, 82601.

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