Basin fighter pilot fought in three wars |

Basin fighter pilot fought in three wars

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff
Snyderville resident Bob Erickson, 86, flew fighter planes in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

Snyderville resident Bob Erickson, 86, flew fighter planes in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but said horrors he faced may pale when compared to what soldiers in Iraq endure today.

"They’re undergoing so many horrific injuries now and they’re surviving them," the war hero said while reflecting on his 33-year Air Force career on Thursday. "You can’t understand what they’ve gone through. I feel so bad about this situation that I don’t know what to do."

Born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 1921, and a member of the 55th Fighter Group, Erickson began his military stint flying P-38s and P-51s over England in 1942. When he retired as a full colonel in 1975 he had flown F-86s, F-100s and the F-4 in Vietnam.

"I wasn’t a West Point graduate. I came up through the ranks, through flying school," Erickson said, adding that he attended the first jet training school at Williams Air Force Base in 1949. "[World War II] changed our lives. It was the war to end all wars. I don’t know if I would have ever flown. I wanted to be a football coach."

After he joined the Air Force at age 20, Erickson served his country as a wingman, flight leader, ops officer, squadron commander and wing commander.

His first assignment was helping to escort bombers out of England while flying at 30,000 feet. "Our main objective was to protect them," Erickson said.

"I was picked up by a British PT boat in the North Sea," he said, adding that he bailed out of a P-38 and P-51. "It was interesting. After we were invaded, I was hit by ground fire and I had to bail out of a P-51 and was rescued by American troops."

Erickson remembered his flying comrades who didn’t return home.

"A lot of us were over there but a lot of us didn’t come back and I think an awful lot about young people who didn’t make it through the war," he said. "I went over to Europe not many years ago and I visited some of the cemeteries and saw some of the names of the boys that I flew with."

A few years after returning from Europe, Erickson said he was assigned to fight in Korea and during two tours in Vietnam. On Aug. 24, 1975, he made his last military flight at Luke Air Force Base.

"In Vietnam I was one of the old fellows. I was one of the most experienced guys in F-100s," he said.

Then his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

"I was on my way to Korea in ’75 and I just decided I couldn’t let her be alone any longer," Erickson explained. She died in 1982.

Today he is married to his second wife and enjoys visiting his four children and grandkids.

"We used to ski at Alta right after the war. I loved it," he said, adding that he hit the slopes until 1995. "I’ve had a pretty full life, there is no question about it."

But today fighter-pilot reunions are one of the few places Erickson sees military comrades.

"There are so many of us who were in World War II who are going every day, and it bothers us. I don’t go to as many reunions as I used to," he said.

Age: 86

Born: Jan. 21, 1921,

Military branch: Air Force,

Rank: Colonel,

Birthplace: Salt Lake City Destinations: As a fighter pilot, Erickson fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam

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