When the history of huge wars is written, credence is given to many things. There’s tactics, training, equipment, and strategy, but along with all of those things there are always singular acts highlighted and given plenty of weight. Whether it was Alvin York capturing 100+ German soldiers by himself in WWI or Jimmy Doolittle and his raiders flying over Tokyo and dropping a relatively insignificant amount of ordinance on that city in WWII, these moments often serve as rallying points for entire armies and Bill Overstreet was a guy who managed to motivate an entire resistance movement with his own singular moment of courage, skill, and dogged determination in Paris during WWII.
Bill Overstreet was a P-51 Mustang pilot and a damned good one. He was in the air during 1944 and at the controls of his P-51 named (awesomely) Berlin Express. During a mission that Spring he got caught up in a dog fight with a German pilot in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Paris and soon he found himself chasing this guy all over creation trying to put him down. After he managed to shoot up the German plane’s engine, the pilot of said plane decided that the only way to escape Overstreet’s pursuit was to do something insane. The guy dove down to treetop level and flew his plane through the support arches for the Eiffel tower. Overstreet didn’t miss a beat, flew right through behind him and then managed to blast the German plane out of the sky a couple of minutes later. Understanding that spending a whole lot of time over the German held city of Paris would be hazardous to his health, he went hammer down and flew out of town at a very low altitude to avoid anti-aircraft guns. Obviously a BUNCH of people saw this scene take place and the story quickly spread. It became a serious source of inspiration to the French resistance which was doing whatever it could to make life suck for the occupying Germans. The bravery and skill that Overstreet and others of his ilk had is almost unfathomable. While we certainly don’t revel in anyone’s death, imagine what that poor German guy was thinking when he came up with the plan, figured he had Overstreet ditched for sure and then heard the P-51 roaring right up his backside again. Unreal.
Here’s a direct quote from Overstreet which comes from the website Banrstormers.com – “I had followed this 109 from the bombers when most of the German fighters left. We had a running dogfight and I got some hits about 1500 feet. He then led me over Paris where many guns were aimed at me. As soon as he was disabled, I ducked down just over the river and followed the river until I was away from Paris.”
Overstreet continued to fly, was in the air at D-Day and then was involved in other missions as well. He eventually left the service, hung up his fighter pilot spurs and became an accountant. In 2009 the French government had him back to France and presented him with their Legion of Honor, the highest medal that they award and rightfully so. His singular act kept a very weak flame alive and may have even caused it to flare up and make life more intolerable for the Germany occupiers of France. Bill Overstreet was 92-years old.