When retired Lt. Col. Donald S. “Don” Bryan, 90, died on May 15 near his home in Adel, Ga., the nation lost an air ace who fought in the skies of the Third Reich, was credited with shooting down more than 13 German aircraft including a jet, and received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.
Bryan loved the P-51 Mustang, the fighter that proved decisive in the air war in Europe. His mount served him well on March 14, 1945, when he engaged and shot down an Arado Ar 234B-1 Blitz jet bomber high above the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. His adversary, Hauptman Hans Hirshberger, waited too long to jettison his roof hatch to escape from the Arado. Hirschberger went down with the aircraft. It was his first and only combat mission.
Pilots are credited with a portion of an aerial victory when they share in a shootdown: Bryan’s final score was 13.33 kills.
Although his words weren’t used in the story, Bryan conducted his last interview on March 6 with Defense Media Network for our article on the Ar 234. Bryan was a veteran of the 352nd Fighter Group, nicknamed the “Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney.”
“Don was a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot,” said Jay A. Stout, the author of The Men Who Killed the Luftwaffe. “He was wry, fun-loving and intelligent. When he climbed into the cockpit, he did it with no intent other than to win.”
Born in Hollister, Calif., in 1921, Bryan also flew the P-47 Thunderbolt in combat. “He shipped over with the 352nd group and arrived in England in July 1943,” said Stout, “He was on a boat home when Germany surrendered in May 1945. He played all four quarters.”