George Mobbs still regrets violating a rule he set for himself while flying for the U.S. Air Force during World War II, even though everything turned out OK in the end.
"There's an old saying that the airplane that shoots you down is the one you don't see," says Mobbs, who had vowed to keep watch on the tail of his plane.
Mobbs was escorting South African Air Force bombers over the Libyan Desert on Dec. 8, 1942.
"I had been in a fight with some German airplanes and I had hit one and it was going down," says Mobbs, now 101. "I was watching it and I took my eyes off my tail and all of a sudden these holes started appearing in the wing of my airplane."
He tried to return fire at the four German Messerschmitts in pursuit but his guns malfunctioned.
"I spent about 20 minutes or more, with them shooting at me -- they shot 74 holes in my plane, and I got some shrapnel in my left thigh," he says.
He turned to face the fighters, flew through them and crash-landed at his home airfield.
"I have never been more exhausted in my life," he says of the moment he climbed out of his plane and sat on a part of the aircraft.
A few years ago, Mobbs got a call from a man who saw a picture of his plane in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
"He came up with a picture of the German pilots that got me on the Russian front," Mobbs says. "They had about 140 victories each."
Mobbs hadn't dreamed of being a pilot.
He grew up in Wooster, the youngest of four. Growing up, he worked in his father's cotton gin.
"It was during the Depression," Mobbs says. "He owned the cotton gin and he started a gristmill. On Saturday afternoons I would jack up the back wheels of the truck and hook it to the gristmill and saw corn for the farmers bringing it in."
For a little extra money, he gave the postmaster, who was disabled, rides to and from the post office in his family's Durant.
He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps after 11th grade and drove a dump truck in a camp near Oark. He finished high school while working in the camp. In 1939, his father died and Mobbs returned home to be with his mother.
Mobbs enrolled at the Arkansas State Teachers College (now University of Central Arkansas) in Conway. He jumped at the opportunity to be one of five students taking flight lessons.
In February 1941, he joined the U.S. Air Force. He graduated from flight school the following September and was assigned to the 35th Pursuit Squadron at Mitchel Field, Long Island, N.Y.
"Pearl Harbor happened Dec. 7 and we were supposed to be flying protection for New York City," he says. "We formed the 57th Fighter Group at Mitchel Field."
In July 1941, the group flew to Quonset Point, R.I.
"They put a sling under the plane and put it on an aircraft carrier," he says. "We left Mitchel at dawn and we sailed out of the harbor at 1 o'clock. They had loaded 72 airplanes aboard the carrier. The Navy did a real great job."
They were escorted from the Gold Coast of Africa across the continent by South African and British planes. After stopping in Luxor, Egypt, to refuel, Mobbs' landing gear wouldn't retract. He went to see the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamun's tomb while waiting for a mechanic to arrive from Cairo to fix the problem.
"I got to tour that before it was ever open to the public," he says.
He was chosen to go from Palestine to a landing ground between Cairo and Alexandria for training with experienced RAF pilots.
"It was supposed to be a 'milk run.' Nothing to it," he says. "It wasn't a milk run."
They came under attack and one American pilot bailed out over the Mediterranean.
"I got shot at, but I didn't get hit," he says.
In September 1945, Mobbs received a commendation for leading the evacuation of 131 planes from Army Air Field in Venice, Fla., to Mississippi as a hurricane bore down.
"My guardian angel was looking out for me," he says.
He had married the late Juanita Patton from Little Rock three months earlier. She drove their 1940 Chevrolet through the storm to central Florida to get out of the hurricane's direct path.
"She never did forgive me," he says. "She said, 'We don't have hurricanes in Little Rock.'"
The couple had three sons, George Jr. ("Dee"), Ken and Mark. George died last year. Mobbs met his second wife, Gwen, in the retirement village where they both lived.
Mobbs graduated from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1948 with a degree in accounting. He also served in Vietnam and in Okinawa, Japan, and he was the director of value engineering at The Pentagon.
Mobbs retired as an Air Force colonel in 1966 and opened an accounting firm in Little Rock, serving small businesses in the area.
He doesn't regret trading adventure for stability.
"I was very fortunate to have a good family," he says. "That's very important now."
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