Colonel Lucion Nelson Powell, USAF (1913-1970)
437th Troop Carrier Group
438th Troop Carrier Group
Lucion Nelson Powell was born 7 January 1913 in Cardiff, Alabama, and grew up in Carbon Hill, Alabama, the son of a coal mine superintendent. He went to work in the mines at the age of seven and was driving truck by the time he was ten.
When he was seventeen, his father consented to his enlistment in the Army where he served as an airplane mechanic. After he separated from the Army, he was an amateur prize fighter in Chicago.
He enlisted in Army Air Corp in 1933, entered Aviation Cadet training in 1934 and graduated from Kelly Field, Texas, in 1935 as a pursuit pilot. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1936. He left service in 1936 to fly for United Airlines while he also flew for the Army Reserve.
On 31 August 1937, he was piloting a PT-3A, a two seat biplane, on a training flight over the Great Salt Lake in a rain storm when the plane’s engine quit. A local yacht club observed the plane crash. His mechanic, Private Henry W. Pearson, elected to stay with the aircraft while then-Lieutenant Powell swam to shore. Lt. Powell stripped off his clothing and swam toward the one light he could see in the dark.
United Air Lines and the US Army immediately commenced air searches while the local sheriff’s department and the yacht club searched by boat. During the swim, Lt. Powell saw the planes and boats but they were unable to locate him because of the darkness and high waves. During the search, two boatmen were stranded on an island overnight unwilling to risk the dangerous conditions any longer. A sheriff deputy was injured when a wave washed over his boat and broke the mast.
Later Lt. Powell said he thought he had died but he kept swimming just in case. After nine hours, he reached shore where he was picked up by a driver on a nearby highway. Pvt. Pearson did not survive.
In 1942, he was recalled to active duty with the 437th Troop Carrier Group. Major Powell was with 437th Troop Carrier Group HQ.
They were sent to England in January of 1944. He became Group S-3 and Group Executive Officer.
On the invasion of Normandy, Lt.-Col. Powell flew on 7 June 1944 the Galvaston glider mission. He flew as Deputy Flight Commander, Right Column Leader in position number 3. His aircraft was # 42-100637.
On July 20 he flew to Italy to participate in the invasion of Southern France on August 15. He flew the Albatros mission.
During the first day of the Holland operation, Market Garden, Lt.-Col. Powell was flying as Serial Leader in the first Serial of the 437th Troop Carrier Group. This time he flew in C-47 # 43-15678. According to his flight record he also flew a resupply mission to Holland on 20 September. Unfortunately no details could be found on that.
His last combat mission with the 437th Troop Carrier Group was on December 23, the resupply mission to Bastogne.
On December 27 of 1944, he was assigned as Commander of the 438th Troop Carrier Group. On March 24, 1945, he led this outfit on the Rhine mission. He piloted C-47 # 43-15320 on this flight. He brought the unit home in August 1945.
While serving with the 53rd Wing in Europe, he flew:
Invasion of Normandy (June, 1944)
Mission Dragoon, Southern France (August, 1944)
Mission Market Garden – Holland (September, 1944)
Relief of Bastogne (December, 1944)
Mission Varsity-Rhine Crossing (March, 1945).
From 30 March to 20 June 1945, the unit transported a total of 175,227 passengers, including 135,510 former prisoners of war.
At the end of Japanese hostilities, he returned to United Air Lines. He flew as a captain stationed in Denver, Colorado, until September 1951 when he was recalled to active duty.
During his service in the United States Army Air Corp, he was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1939, Captain in 1942, Major in 1943, Lieutenant Colonel in 1944 and Colonel in 1945. In 1951, he was promoted to Colonel in the United States Air Force.
In March 1952, he was assigned Group Commander of 433rd Carrier Group in Germany. In March 1954, he became the Acting Commander for the 322nd Air Division at Wiesbaden and later Ramstein, Germany. In November 1954, he was reassigned to Strategic Air Command as Director of Operations 6th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico. In March 1956, he was appointed Commander of the 5th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, Travis Air Force Base, California. He worked on the Mobile Minuteman Task Force at Hill Air Force Base beginning in June of 1960. In October of 1960, he was assigned Commander of 4133rd Strategic Wing, Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. From 1962 to 1964, he served as the Director of Operations, 18th Strategic Aerospace Division, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
He retired on 1 December 1964 after 31 years, 9 months, and 22 days of service.
His awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak-leaf clusters, Air Medal with one oak-leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, Presidential Unit Citation, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with bronze hourglass, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with triple bronze star, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award with triple bronze oak leaf clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with bronze star.