The legend of Roy Glenmore Wingfield Jr.
There aren’t many men who served in WWII, the Korean War as well as the Vietnam War and lived to tell the tale. However, when Betty Shelton, longtime Burleson resident and member of the Athena Society was looking for an ‘un-sung American hero’ to honor at this year’s Veterans Day celebration, she found him.
“Roy hasn’t been honored anywhere, and I thought that was a real shame,” Shelton said. “We try to honor one decorated soldier each year on Veterans Day and I thought he was the perfect person to select.”
According to his biography, Roy Glenmore Wingfield Jr. was born in 1921 in Blacksburg, Virginia, the only child to Roy and Helen Winfield. While attending college at the University of Mississippi, Winfield received his pilot’s license with the Civilian Pilot Training Program. He was recruited by the Royal Canadian Air Force and entered active duty in 1941. The Canadian Air Force sent Wingfield to fly over England until December, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
“He came back to the United States after that and entered the U.S. Air Force (known then at the U.S. Army Air Force) as a fighter pilot,” said Shelton. “He wanted to serve his country.”
For the next 18 months, Wingfield flew 35 combat missions in China, Japan, India and Burma (now Myanmar). It was during these missions that Wingfield was a lead crew and target marker on low-level night raids by specially modified B-29 bombers against Japan. These missions became known as the “Doolittle Raids.”
During one of these missions, Wingfield’s aircraft ran out of gas and came crashing down in a peach orchard in China. A kindly farmer found Wingfield, put him in the back of a truck and covered him with hay and quickly got him to a safe place. This is just one of the close-calls that Wingfield had.
“Eventually, he got back to base safely and he was awarded the Silver Star medal,” Shelton said.
Wingfield was selected for the top secret 509th composite bomb group in Rosewell, New Mexico, which, at the time, was the world’s only unit capable of delivering nuclear weapons. While stationed there, he was promoted to captain.
Following WWII, Wingfield continued to fly and participated in the Berlin air lift in 1948.
When Uncle Sam came knocking during the Korean War, Wingfield again answered. He spent a year in Korea where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, serving as director of operations for the 17th light bomb wing where he completed a second combat tour of 50 missions.
It was during the Korean War that Wingfield had his closest call with death. During a mission, his plane was shot over the Korean Peninsula and was badly damaged.
“When he ejected from his jet, he was hit in the mouth and knocked unconscious,” Shelton said. “He was adrift at sea for three days in a raft, with almost no food and water. He said he did a lot of praying and on the third day he was rescued.”
During the Cold War, Wingfield was the aircraft commander and operations officer with the Strategic Air Command.
Wingfield has received numerous medals for his bravery, including a Silver Star (WWII), two Purple Hearts, two Air Medals, four Oak Leaf clusters, five Battle Stars, the Presidential Distinguished Flying Cross, a National Defense Service Medal, two Overseas Service Bars, a Victory Medal, Bronze Campaign Stars for combat missions in China, Burma, India and Japan, and American Theater Ribbon, a Korean Service Medal, an Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, and Asian Pacific Campaign Medal and was decorated as an Ace Pilot for shooting down five or more enemy planes.
The story would not have come to light without the help of Shelton’s long-time friend, Dora Evans.
“Betty and I have been friends for probably 60 years,” Evans said. “She has a special place in her heart for veterans, and when she said she was looking for someone to honor this year, I said, ‘oh, I know the perfect person.’”
Evan’s cousin dated Wingfield during WWII. During the war, the cousin married another man while Wingfield was away fighting.
“I think she may have regretted it,” Evans said. “After my cousin’s husband passed away in 2004, they found each other and got back together again.”
Wingfield eventually moved to Fort Worth to be closer to his special friend.
“At age 97, he has absolutely no living relatives left,” Evans said. “So I am glad they found each other again.”
During the Veteran’s Day celebration, Wingfield was confused why Shelton had decided to pick him to be honored.
“It was really special because he said no one had picked him before,” Shelton said. “He got a standing ovation at the ceremony, and he deserved it.”