Captain Donald R. Emerson

Captain Donald R. Emerson Restored MustangIn 1942 Donald Emerson was a 19-year-old North Dakota boy who chose military service over farming. One year after graduating from high school in Karlstad, Minnesota, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Just as he was finishing up training as an armorer, the age and education requirements for aviation cadets were lowered; he immediately filed his application and was soon classified cadet/pilot. By the end of 1943 he was ready for combat flying as a fighter pilot in a P-51 Mustang. In January, 1944, he sailed on the Ile de France to England where he was assigned to the Eighth Air Force’s elite Fourth Fighter Group on March 9. This premier fighting unit had been formed around the earlier “Eagle Squadrons” of American pilots who voluntarily fought with the British before the U.S. entered the war. When Donald joined the group it was under the skilled leadership of 26-year-old Col. Donald J.M. Blakeslee–one of the finest air commanders in WWII.

Captain Donald R. Emerson Restored MustangDuring his eight months of active duty with the 4th FG, Donald completed at least 89 combat missions, including D-Day operations and the Russia Shuttle missions. He most often flew into battle in his P-51 Mustang VF-B #413317, emblazoned with the whimsical but fearless image of Donald Duck–dukes up and fighting mad.

On Christmas Day, 1944, while flying another P-51 during the Battle of the Bulge, he was heading back to his base after a mission when he encountered six enemy planes, all FW 190s. He managed to shoot down two of them, but as he crossed enemy lines flying close to the ground, he was struck by flak from anti- aircraft guns. His plane crashed in British-occupied territory in Belgium (see note below); it is believed that he died before his plane landed. See photo of his crash. He was buried the next day in a temporary military cemetery near Margraten, Holland, where his body is now permanently interred in the American Military Cemetery.

Crash Wreckage of Captain Donald R. EmersonFor many years his crash was confused with that of Major George Preddy’s. Both were shot down by flak on Christmas Day 1944. Sam Sox of the Preddy Memorial Foundation finally got the true story from a few eye witnesses. From the steeple of the church in Langerwehe, Germany was Sgt. Harold M. Kennedy and  Cpl. Elmer L. Dye, both with the 104th Infantry Division. They witnessed the shoot down. Also, Sgt. Charles Brown, PFC John Starzynbski and Lt Murray Grobman saw Preddy fall from the Mustang at about 200 feet, his parachute not deployed and Cripes A’Mighty now inverted disappearing behind a tree line where they heard her hit the ground. You may read more about this in George’s biography in this web site.

In 1992, Bob Tullius held a hangar party in Winchester, VA. Joe Noah, George’s cousin, and Ray Mitchell were invited. Ray was flying in George Preddy’s flight that fateful Christmas Day, and witnessed the flak that was thrown up by an Allied battery.

Captain Donald R. Emerson Restored MustangBob Tullius had his Mustang restored in the markings of Emerson’s P-51. Bob took Ray Mitchell up in his Donald Duck. Years later, Bob donated his Mustang to the RAF Hendon Museum in London (See photo). In the photo on the right is Mustang owner Jim Beasley, aviation author Jeff Ethell, Bob Tullius and Ray Mitchell.

Capt. Donald R. Emerson earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, with additional clusters awarded to both, and posthumously, the Purple Heart. He was credited with 4.5 aerial victories and 2.5 destroyed on the ground by strafing. Sandra D. Merrill, Donald Emerson’s niece and biographer, wrote a book about Donald and entitled it Donald’s Story. Her husband, Ted Merrill, designed and maintained the original PMF web site until he died in 2010.

Sandra said,

“A Dutchman who lives here in my county discovered me about 10 years ago, via the family who adopted Donald’s grave, and the pieces snapped into place rather quickly. Small world, indeed!

All my best,


UPDATE: Rob Houben has informed the PMF,

“The crashsite is actually in the town of Sittard, on the main hill there, called Kollenberg, From this hill you have a perfect view of the border into Germany and its nearest town is 5 km away, while the nearest town in Belgium is 15 km from Sittard.”

map of crash-site Duustergats, Kollenberg, Sittard

Map of Crash Site Duustergats, Kollenberg, Sittard (click for larger image)

map Sittard - Langerwehe

Map of Sittard - Langerwehe (click for larger image)

map Sittard - border of Germany

Map of Sittard - border of Germany (click for larger image)

Captain Donald Emerson Service

The dedication of Captain Donald Emerson's memorial on the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Holland

Captain Donald Emerson Memorial Site

Memorial to Captain Donald Emerson at the site where he crashed on Christmas Day 1944