William J. Cullerton
William J. "Bill" Cullerton Sr. (January 1, 1923 – January 12, 2013) was an American World War II flying ace, entrepreneur, radio show host, and outdoorsman. Cullerton destroyed twenty-seven Axis planes during the war, including twenty-one destroyed in low-altitude attacks on the ground, ranking him as the third-highest strafing ace in the 8th Air Force. He was the last surviving member of the 355th Fighter Group ("Dragon Squadron"), which flew missions out of Steeple Morden, England, during World War II.
Cullerton was born in Chicago and raised on Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from Fenwick High School. His grandfather, Bill Jamison, owned a firm which still manufactures collectible fishing lures today. Cullerton worked for his grandfather as a teenager.
He was a relative of several Chicago area political figures, including Edward "Foxy" Cullerton (first elected to the Chicago City Council in 1871); his cousin, the current President of the Illinois Senate John Cullerton; and former Chicago assessor under Mayor Richard J. Daley P.J. “Parky” Cullerton.
World War II
Cullerton enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He flew P-51-D Mustang fighters as part of the Dragon Squadron, headquartered at the RAF Steeple Morden airfield near Steeple Morden, England.
Cullerton, a flying ace, destroyed twenty-seven Luftwaffe planes during the war. He shot down six German fighters during aerial dogfights. Cullerton also destroyed twenty-one planes on the ground in strafing attacks, ranking him as the third-highest strafing ace in the 8th Air Force.
Cullerton was covered extensively by Chicago newspapers during World War II. Headlines featuring Cullerton included "Chicago Pilot Bags Eight Nazi Planes in One Day’s Fights," "Germans Find Chicago Ace Too Hot to Handle" and "Cullerton has 18 ‘Kills'."
On April 1, 1945, Cullerton was shot down over Germany near the end of the war, crashing on a hillside near German forces. Cullerton was found and shot in the stomach by a German stormtrooper using his own gun. Cullerton described the attack in an interview years later, "They had a short meeting, and the guy came back to me, holding my gun in his hand, and he said to me, ‘For you, the ‘war’ is over’ — and he shot me in the belly."
He was discovered wounded in a field by a German farmer, who mistakenly believed he was a German pilot, rather than an American. Cullerton was taken to a German hospital, where he was tortured by German forces." A Jewish doctor helped him escape the hospital, telling him to jump from a window into a heap of sheep manure. Cullerton did as he was instructed and managed to escape. American and Allied troops later discovered Cullerton wounded and hiding under a bridge near Feuchtwangen, Bavaria. The Allied forces were unsure if Cullerton was an American or a German impersonating an American pilot. To test Cullerton on his nationality, the Americans asked him "“Who is Ted Williams?". Cullerton correctly identified Williams as the "Splendid Splinter" of the Boston Red Sox, proving that he was an American before collapsing. Chicago area newspapers reported his rescue as with headlines like "Capt. Cullerton’s Return Hailed as Near Miracle."
Author John J. Kevil Jr. wrote a biography on Cullerton, "The Last Dragon of Steeple Morden."
Cullerton married his wife, Elaine Stephen, after the war. He often called his wife "Steve" or "Miss Steve" in a reference to her original maiden name. A Chicago newspaper covered the wedding under the headline, "Chicago’s Army Ace is Downed by Cupid’s Dart." The couple raised their children in Elmhurst, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. He also rejoined his grandfather's fishing lure business following the war.
Cullerton founded the Cullerton Co., in the 1950s. The company represents manufacturers of outdoor and fishing products Bill Cullerton is considered to be an early pioneer of the fishing travel industry. He also supported the growth of outdoor shows.
Cullerton hosted a popular Chicago Sunday morning show radio show called "Great Outdoors" on WGN Radio for twenty years before his retirement in December 1999. Charlie Potter succeeded Cullerton as host of "Great Outdoors," which still airs on WGN as of 2013.
An outdoor enthusiast and conservationist, Cullerton advocated for environmental preservation in Illinois and surrounding states. Cullerton advocated for the restoration of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, now a United States National Grassland in Wilmington, Illinois. He championed an effort to install an artificial reef off the coast of Chicago in Lake Michigan to improve the habitat available for native fish.
On May 9, 2000, the Illinois Beach State Park and North Point Marina in Zion, Illinois, was dedicated as the William J. Cullerton Complex in recognition of his conservation efforts. The ceremony, which was attended by then-Governor George Ryan and Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan, included a flyover by two P-51 Mustang planes. The William J. Cullerton Complex includes the 4,160-acre Illinois State Park and the North Point Marina on Lake Michigan, which is capable of holding approximately 1,500 boats.
Cullerton died at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois, on January 12, 2013, at the age of 89. He was survived by his wife, Elaine, three daughters and three sons. A longtime resident of Oak Brook, Illinois, Cullerton and his wife also owned a second home in Marco Island, Florida. He lived in Warrenville, Illinois, in 2000.
- O'Donnell, Maureen (2013-01-14). "William J. Cullerton, Chicago’s top flying ace of World War II, dies at 89". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
- Megan, Graydon (2013-01-16). "William Cullerton, 1923-2013 WWII pilot, entrepreneur, radio host and well-known outdoorsman championed conservation". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
- O'Donnell, Maureen. "Military Times Hall of Valor: William J. Cullerton". Military Times. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
- Grano, Laurie (2000-05-10). "Cullerton Complex Christened At State Park". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-01-25.