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 (members.aol.com/geobat66/galland/galland.htm), 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.