Quentin C. Aanenson

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Quentin C. Aanenson
Quentin Aanenson Training Photo.JPG
Quentin C. Aanenson at Thunderbird Field, Phoenix, Arizona during Primary flight training.
Born (1921-04-21)April 21, 1921
Luverne, Minnesota,
United States
Died December 28, 2008(2008-12-28) (aged 87)
Bethesda, Maryland,
United States
Allegiance U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service 1942–1945
Rank Captain
Unit 391st Fighter Squadron
366th Fighter Group
9th Air Force
Battles/wars World War II

Quentin C. Aanenson (April 21, 1921 – December 28, 2008) was a World War II veteran fighter pilot and former Captain of the 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew the P-47 Thunderbolt in the Normandy D-Day invasion and subsequent European campaign.[1]

Aanenson enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1942 but was not called up to active duty until February 1943. He left for Santa Ana Air Force Base for pre-flight training and then to Primary Flight School at Thunderbird Field near Phoenix, Arizona. In September 1943, he left for Basic Flight School at Gardner Field near Bakersfield, California. Aanenson then left for Advanced Flight Training at Luke Field, Phoenix, Arizona where he was commissioned a second lieutenant on January 7, 1944. From January to May 1944, he trained at Harding Field in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he met his wife Jackie.[1][2]

Aanenson demonstrated exceptional courage and ability as a fighter pilot, amassing tens of kills and beating all odds to survive the early months of his tour of duty.[3] Later in the war, Aanenson was taken out of the cockpit, embedded with advance troops, and his skills put to good use as a quick-response aircraft attack co-ordinator. He eventually documented his experiences for his family.[1] This was later turned into a documentary video which he wrote, produced and narrated. A Fighter Pilot's Story was first televised on 11 December or 12 November 1993, then broadcast on over 300 public television stations in June 1994. Up until August 2007, it was available for purchase on DVD. The three-hour documentary, made all the more effective by being narrated throughout in his flat, affectless voice, tells of a young, enthusiastic, cheery boy very rapidly aged by too much death. It also tells of a remarkably wide range of combat duties, and details many harrowing individual missions, like the one where he and his wing man came upon a German convoy, destroyed the vehicles, and when his wing man's guns jammed, how Aanenson worked-over the roadside ditches where the convoy soldiers had hidden, making multiple passes, "walking" his rudder to spread his fire more effectively, so that there would be as few survivors as possible.[4]

The documentary also tells of a remarkable coincidence, where his P-47 was called down to assist some American troops under attack by a tank. He surveyed the scene, then reported to the troops that the tank was just too near, there was too much chance that he would hit them instead of the tank. The officer in command told him to come on in anyway, since they were going to be dead if the tank wasn't stopped. He managed to destroy the tank cleanly, then recounts how he was telling this story to his new neighbor after the war. The man finished the story for him, and then thanked him for saving his life.[4]

Aanenson is a Commander of the French Legion of Honor, representing all Americans who served in France. He was also featured in the documentary The War by Ken Burns, recounting his experiences during World War II as a fighter pilot. At the conclusion of Episode 5 of the series, he narrated a poignant and ominous letter written by him to his future wife, considered by some critics to be of similar style to the Sullivan Ballou letter in Burns' The Civil War. Written December 5, 1944, but never sent, the letter reads:[1][2]

Dear Jackie,

For the past two hours, I've been sitting here alone in my tent, trying to figure out just what I should do and what I should say in this letter in response to your letters and some questions you have asked. I have purposely not told you much about my world over here, because I thought it might upset you. Perhaps that has been a mistake, so let me correct that right now. I still doubt if you will be able to comprehend it. I don’t think anyone can who has not been through it.

I live in a world of death. I have watched my friends die in a variety of violent ways...

Sometimes it's just an engine failure on takeoff resulting in a violent explosion. There's not enough left to bury. Other times, it's the deadly flak that tears into a plane. If the pilot is lucky, the flak kills him. But usually he isn't, and he burns to death as his plane spins in. Fire is the worst. In early September one of my good friends crashed on the edge of our field. As he was pulled from the burning plane, the skin came off his arms. His face was almost burned away. He was still conscious and trying to talk. You can't imagine the horror.

So far, I have done my duty in this war. I have never aborted a mission or failed to dive on a target no matter how intense the flak. I have lived for my dreams for the future. But like everything else around me, my dreams are dying, too. In spite of everything, I may live through this war and return to Baton Rouge. But I am not the same person you said goodbye to on May 3. No one can go through this and not change. We are all casualties. In the meantime, we just go on. Some way, somehow, this will all have an ending. Whatever it is, I am ready for it.


According to the PBS website, Quentin and Jackie married after the war and had three children and eight grandchildren.

The painting Thunderbolt Patriot by William R. Farrell, now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution of the National Air and Space Museum, depicts Aanenson having just returned from a combat mission over Germany during World War II. An airfield in Luverne, Minnesota was named in his honor after him Quentin Aanenson Field Airport (KLYV).[5]

Aanenson died from the effects of cancer at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, December 28, 2008.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Patricia (2008-12-30). "WWII Fighter Pilot Shared Haunting Story With the World". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  2. ^ a b "Ken Burns' new World War II miniseries is a masterpiece". The Times-Picaynne. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ Burns, Ken: "The War". Documentary, 2007
  4. ^ a b Aanenson, Quentin C.: "A Fighter Pilot's Story". Documentary, 1993
  5. ^ "Current Weather Conditions: Luverne, Quentin Aanenson Field Airport, MN, United States". National Weather Service - Telecommunication Operations Center. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 

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