Grafton Samuel Stidger
Grafton Samuel Stidger was born January 12, 1920, in New Mexico, the eldest of four sons born to Howe and Hazel Dudley Stidger.
|“Sam” as he was called attended Farmington High School, where he served on the staff of the yearbook Lincolneer as art editor before graduating with the class of 1937. He worked for two years in the mines in Farmington but his dream was to become a pilot. When he enrolled as a freshman at Fairmont State College in the fall of 1939, he also enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Program which was being offered at the college. He received his primary and secondary flight training at the Bridgeport Airport.|
|Sam enlisted in the Naval Air Corps in August 1941, and during his military career he rose to the rank of captain and served as a Marine fighter pilot. On September 1, 1943, an incident occurred which won him a Purple Heart. According an article written by Captain Charles Mathieu, then Lt. Sam Stidger was flying as “fighter cover” over Rendova Island in the Solomons, and during the “dog fight” which ensued an enemy plane came in behind him and, as stated in the article, “poured a long burst into his plane.” This caused a hole in his gas tank, and a section of wing also was shot away. As he struggled to maintain altitude, the cockpit filled with smoke, and as the engine began to choke, Lt. Stidger bailed out of the bullet-ridden plane. His body hit the aerial wires and rudder, and when he pulled on the parachute he was knocked unconscious. He managed to free himself after regaining consciousness and shortly after landing in the water was rescued. After this encounter he spent three weeks in a Sydney, Australia, hospital.|
|In the aftermath of this incident, Stidger wrote to the man who had packed his parachute, Pfc. Richard L. Cook of Lansing, Michigan, to thank him. On his return to base after recovering from his injuries, Stidger received two gifts, according to Mathieu's article: the parachute that had saved his life and a new watch to replace the one lost on the mission.|
In January of 1944, operating from the Island of Bougainville in the British Solomon Islands, Captain Stidger and his group were attacking the enemy base of Rabaul. Sam had been having engine trouble with his plane and for the previous three days had worked to fix it. On the 14th, he took off in the same plane on a mission but again had engine trouble and headed back to the field. In a letter to his mother, Mrs. Hazel Stidger, Major Robert Owen wrote that he believed Captain Stidger, as he went to land, must have swerved to miss planes which were taking off. Crashing short of the runway, he was killed. At first buried on Bougainville, he was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded an Air Medal which was presented to his mother.
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