2nd Lt. Samuel Jefferson of Galveston, Texas, was a pilot with the 100th Fighter Squadron attached to the 332nd Fighter Group, the Red Tail Angels. On June 24, 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group was assigned a low-flying mission to strafe an enemy supply line in northwestern Italy. They departed from Ramitelli Air Base, Foggia, Italy and flew west, then north over the Mediterranean Sea, staying low to avoid radar detection. About 30 miles from the coast of Corsica, the engine in 2nd Lt. Charles B. Johnson's plane stalled. Almost immediately, his plane hit the water and bounced. Johnson recovered in time to execute a belly landing, but failed to open the canopy before hitting the water. His plane quickly sank with Johnson trapped inside.
Soon after Johnson crashed, the belly of Lt. Earl Sherrard's plane kissed a wave. He tried to pull up, but a wing hit the water. Sherrard was able to get out of the plane, walk out on the wing and inflate his dinghy before his plane sank.
Jefferson, who was flying to Sherrard's right, made a tight (steep) turn to try to circle the downed pilot, but caused a wing stall and entered a flat spin. Jefferson's Republic P-47 Thunderbolt crashed and exploded in the Mediterranean Sea; the low altitude made it unlikely that he was able to escape.
Due to more unfortunate circumstances, the mission was never completed, but Lt. Sherrard was rescued. Lieutenants Johnson and Jefferson are included on the Tablets of the Missing at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Italy.
Excerpted and edited from www.stltoday.com