Lt. Starling B. Penn
April 22, 1921 -November 8, 1999
Unit: 301st Fighter Squadron
Lt. Starling B. Penn spent 10 months in a German prisoner of war camp after his plane was shot down.
Penn of New York graduated from flight training on Aug. 30, 1943, at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He deployed to Italy with the 301st Fighter Squadron in December 1943; the squadron began flying combat missions on Feb. 5, 1944.
On July 25, Capt. William Faulkner led an escort mission to a tank factory in Linz, Austria. Penn was part of that unit sent to protect B-24 bombers from the 55th Bombardment Wing. On the way to the target, the bombers were intercepted by enemy planes.
“The flight was about 15 minutes from the rendezvous point when an estimated 12 enemy aircraft were sighted making vapor tracks about 11 o’clock high from the headline squadron,” Capt. Joseph Elsberry later said in an interview that was published in “The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation” by Charles E. Francis and Adolph Caso.
“Capt. Jackson called in that a group of bogies had been sighted. At the time, we were weaving above our bombers. Faulkner, who was leading an element of the 301st, immediately began spreading out and as a result was drifting away from the bombers.”
Elsberry radioed Faulkner that his group was getting too far from the bombers. By then, the enemy planes were close enough to be seen — but instead of 12, there were about 40 of them. Faulkner’s group was too far out.
“The enemy began lobbing 20 mm shells into Faulkner’s flight of eight planes,” Elsberry said. “Faulkner began calling for me to join in the battle. There was so much confusion over the radio at the time that I couldn’t hear Faulkner, and instead of helping the distressed pilots I began to order them back into formation over the bombers. In the meantime, Lt. Starling Penn was shot down.”
Penn parachuted from his plane, was captured and sent to Stalag Luft I prisoner of war camp near Barth, Germany.
A B-24 bomber on the same mission also was shot down.
“The wings were a solid sheet of fire with flames streaming back past the tail,” Sgt. Warren H. Moss of the 765th Bombardment Squadron wrote in a military report. Four of the 10 bomber crew members survived, including one of the pilots, 2nd Lt. Warren Ludlum. Ludlum
bailed from the plane, but was captured and sent to the same POW camp as Penn. The two pilots were there for 10 months and, according to notes in Penn’s journal, were friends, said Penn’s son, Kenn Penn.
In 2006, the Air Force issued a report that at least 25 bombers escorted by the 332nd Fighter Group had been shot down during World War II. Previous reports, traced to a 1945 newspaper article, said the group had never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft. In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, Ludlum said his plane was one of the bombers that had been shot down.
“I had no idea who was escorting me most of the time, but that day we were shot down I knew it was the Tuskegee Airmen because the black fellow and I ended up at the same camp,” Ludlum told AP.
While Penn and Ludlum were prisoners at the same POW camp, Penn’s unit was escorting bombers from the 55th Bombardment Wing. Ludlum and the 765th Bombardment Squadron were part of the 49th Bombardment Wing. Bombers from both bombardment wing were sent to destroy the tank factory on July 25, 1944.
After the war, Penn returned to New York and launched a series of entrepreneurial ventures.
In 1947, he started Penn’s Wines and Liquors. In the ’60s, he established a chain of New York steakhouses, Flaming Embers Steak Restaurant. He also was a movie producer and boxing promoter, and started a travel agency and wholesale liquor distribution business.
Learn more about the 32 captured Tuskegee Airmen POWs.
Saint Louis Dispatch