Veteran Feature: Perry J. DahlMay 18, 2021
“PJ” Dahl’s harrowing story is straight out of the movies.
The legendary ace pilot survived emergency landings, a runway crash, a midair bailout, and two days in a life raft during World War II.
Joining the 475th Fighter Group
After winning a “fly-off” during P-38 flight training in California, Perry J. Dahl, or “PJ,” drew a replacement assignment to the now famed 475th Fighter Group – the first ever all P-38 group. He landed in New Guinea on October 27, 1943 and began running air strikes against Japanese-held Rabaul.
The 475th neutralized Rabaul and started making its way up the coast, eventually landing in the Philippines to fly escort missions and aid with ground operations in the region.
A 5’4” Giant
PJ needed extra seat cushions to reach the pedals of his plane. “At 5'4'' I was passed over by the basketball team,” PJ laughs. He would soon become a giant in the air, scoring nine victories.
He entered combat just shy of his 20th birthday, but looking closer to 15 years old. His wingman, Joe Forester, was slightly older and sported gray hair. On their arrival to the 475th, General George Kenney – a seasoned military strategist and leader in the Southwest Pacific – remarked, “My God, they’re sending us old men and kids!”
Becoming a WWII Ace
PJ achieved Ace status while serving in the 475th Fighter Group with nine victories and one probable. He survived 158 combat missions, but lost four P-38s to Japanese action and midair collisions. “One more destroyed P-38 and you’ll be a Japanese ace!” 475th Commander, Charles MacDonald, once said to PJ.
Despite a handful of crashes, PJ and his P-38 always returned to the fight, proving victorious in the end.
When asked about his thoughts looking back at his experience during WWII, PJ said:
“I remember how close we were as a unit. When you play sports in school, you become a team. If you mess up a play, you may lose the game. In war, if you make a mistake, you lose a friend or you die. The stakes were high but our focus on victory never wavered.”
PJ Dahl Tells His Story
Hear the rest of Dahl’s incredible story in his own words during our upcoming virtual Hangar Talk with PJ Dahl. Special guest Brad Ball, President of the 475th Foundation, will also join to discuss Dahl’s command of the storied P-38 Lightning, which he flew throughout the war.
Join us for our live webinar, “A Conversation with PJ Dahl” on Friday, May 21 at 9:00 a.m. (HST).