Another door to the past closes

I didn’t know about it, but in 1945, a celebrated dogfight occurred over Germany, with an American pilot, James Finnegan, shooting down Germany’s top ace, Gen. Adolf Galland.  Here’s what happened in the air 63 years ago:

In an interview Mr. Finnegan gave 12 years ago for a Web site devoted to Galland’s career (, Mr. Finnegan said that on the day he shot down Galland, he was escorting some Allied bombers when he “saw two objects come zipping through the formation, and two bombers blew up immediately. I watched the two objects go through the bomber formation, and thought, ‘That can’t be a prop job … it’s got to be one of the (new Messerschmitt Me) 262 jets.”

He fired off a 3-second burst, then hit the throttle on his P-47 and found “I was going so fast, I went right through everything, and guessed my speed at about 450+ mph.” Mr. Finnegan figured he had hit one of the German jets, but wasn’t sure, so he “recorded it as a probable.” The “probable” turned out to be Galland and he was indeed shot down.

It was only much later that Finnegan learned that he had shot down Germany’s top flyer.  And it was even later, in the 1970s, that the two met and became friends, reminiscing about their war time experiences.

This is news today because Mr. Finnegan died on Tuesday, aged 85.  The war may have been the reason he made the newspaper upon his death, but I find equally newsworthy the fact that he went on after the war to live a good life and raise a family that extends far into the next generation:

During the war, Mr. Finnegan met an Army nurse named Frances in France. They married after the war and began a family.

He worked as an engineer for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph and during his off-hours he kept flying planes until, at his wife’s urging, he grounded himself until the 1970s, when their children were all grown and he could take to the skies again.

“She was fine with it,” Dennis Finnegan said. “She used to fly with him all the time.” Frances Finnegan died three years ago.

By 1977, Mr. Finnegan was working as the San Francisco liaison between Pacific Telephone & Telegraph and law enforcement agencies. When he retired from that position, he got a job as an investigator for the Marin County district attorney and later became chief investigator. He retired from that job in 1987 and opened up a private investigator business, which lasted until he had a debilitating stroke in early 1998.

Mr. Finnegan is survived by two daughters, Michelle Sabourin of Santa Rosa and Kathleen Willmers of Kenwood; three sons, James Finnegan of Fresno, Dennis Finnegan of Novato and John Finnegan of Long Beach; 12 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

R.I.P., Mr. Finnegan.

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  • Ymarsakar

    It’s always healthy to celebrate the accomplishments of your people over the enemy, since it is a distinct mark of skill or luck.

    What isn’t healthy is making glorified heroic sagas up or re-directing people’s fiery emotions towards fake causes and even faker enemies.

    Real enemies can find much in common after the war is over or even during the war as POWs or what not. Fake enemies, wherein Israel doesn’t want to be Palestine’s enemy yet Palestine needs Israel as an enemy so they act like israel needs to be destroyed for the Pally’s own safety, never really get along even after hostilities end.

    This is always an interesting facet of warfare. The human drama is distinct since honorable enemies never mistreat each other. You will always have dishonorable, cowardly, or plain sadistic foes and allies; that never changes. What does change is the war. It won’t always be a war because both sides have honorable men and women who fight to end the war, instead of fighting to prolong it or fighting it to benefit themselves or fighting it to grind some ideological or theological axe.

    You tend to know for certain that one side doesn’t have anyone of true honor when the war keeps going on and on and on with no end in sight. Some people see that and say America is the one that lacks honor and that is why we are stuck in a quagmire. Other people see this and say that it is the terrorists and criminal insurgents that are without honor, regardless of how much honor killing they may be promoting.

  • Ymarsakar

    Btw, prop planes vs jets like the excellent Messerschmitt ? That is so far above in the skill level that others might as well just call it luck, since certainly nobody else could have done it by using their skills.

    Technologically speaking, skill and training and a good bit of luck can offset numerical or technological advantages. Because at the base, war is fought by humans with a human heart, Book. No amount of technology or numbers will change that basic fundamental fact of warfare.

    What the Left abuses about this is when they say that just because you are qualitatively inferior to the United States, that this suddenly means you have some kind of “virtue” superior to the Americans.That isn’t true.

    Just cause you have a superior jet doesn’t mean you are a superior pilot and just because your jet is inferior doesn’t make your pilot superior either. The technology is totally independent from the quality of the person doing the fighting. What the tech advantage does for you is to give you a favorable odds at surviving and killing off the other guy. Just as many people have had great odds and failed, so have many people experienced unfavorable odds yet succeeded nonetheless.

    Terrorists can be outnumbered by us and outmatched on all technological and tactical levels, yet that doesn’t make them better individual fighters than us nor does it make them more ‘virtuous’ than us.

    It is extremely difficult to create soldierly or human virtues amongst an army that is qualitatively outmatched by the enemy. It is even more difficult than training a small group of soldiers to defeat a much larger group of enemies. Usually forces that are qualitatively outmatched by the enemy will prefer the “quantity over quality” thing the Soviets freshened up. This makes it very hard to highlight individual skill, training, discipline, or any other warrior virtues. You’re just another piece of cannon fodder, you see, so it is not like they’ll work all that hard to ensure that you survive and retain your fighting experience.

    You can do it, meaning you can create a very good cadre of soldiers even if their technology sucks compared to everybody else and even if their numbers suck compared to everybody else as well. But you have to use something like what the Special Forces use. Which is probably cheating.

    Skilled and qualified guerrilla fighters are almost impossible to train and maintain, if they lack technological advantage or anything to offset it.

    The Warsaw Ghetto uprising may be said to be an example of the above.

    In conclusion, a warrior with solid warrior virtues and a core of integrity and honor wil lfight well regardless of whether he has the qualitative advantage or not. Just cause the terrorists are in caves and enslaving children doesn’t mean that they get a pass for evil behavior.