Flt Officer Leland Hedges Pennington
April 7, 1922 – April 21, 1945
Graduation Date: August 4, 1944
Graduation Rank: Flight Officer
Unit: 332nd Fighter Group, 301st Fighter Squadron
Service # T–64646
Leland was born in 1922 in Rochester, New York, to Mack Pennington and Ailleen Hunter. His parents married in 1921 in Monroe County, New York, and in 1925, he, his mother, and his newborn sister were living with his mother’s sister and brother-in-law on Alma Place in Rochester, New York. In 1930, Leland continued to live with his Aunt Fanny and Uncle Solomon. Solomon was a butler for George Eastman of Kodak fame, and had been left a sum of money from his employer, which gave him the funds needed to purchase his own home. It must have been a lively household, as the home was filled with Fanny’s nieces and nephews with Leland living among them.
Leland’s mother passed in 1932 in North Carolina, and it appears that Fanny was his guardian. When he was 16 years old, he was riding his bicycle on the street when he was struck by a truck, suffering a broken leg. His aunt had the fortitude to sue for damages and the jury awarded $1000.00 to Leland and $800.00 to Fanny.
Leland’s broken leg obviously healed without issue as he was known as a star athlete while he attended Monroe’s high school. Known by the nickname, Sticky, he was a driving force on the football team, president of the boxing club, and he represented the high school as a Rochester and track field star. He graduated from Monroe High School in June of 1942.
He married Lucy Carter in January of 1944 at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was awarded his wings and commission at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in the summer of 1944.
He was assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group at Ramitelli, Italy. On 21 April, 1945, F/O Leland was on a bomber escort mission, flying in a P-51B Mustang that he had nicknamed “Lucy Gal” after his wife. During an escort mission on April 21, 1945, Pennington broke formation and radioed that he was “sack timing solo,” or returning to base and did not need an escort.
“I saw him turn back and assumed he would land at Zara,” a friendly air field in Yugoslavia, 1st Lt. Jimmy Lanham wrote in a military report. “I did not contact him or sight him after this.”
He went missing about 15 miles west of Zara, Yugoslavia.
Leland was listed as Missing in Action and his name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. His remains have never been recovered.
According to a government database, he was awarded an Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster and a Purple Heart for his military service.
In 2016, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.