1st Lt Curdes led four P-51s from Mangaldan in Central Luzon to perform reconnaissance of the southern tip of Formosa. Their mission was to locate a small temporary airfield being used by the Japanese. Finding nothing there, they continued on to the northernmost of the Bataan Islands. Curdes and his wingman, Lt. Schmidtke flew over the northern half and the two other P-51s flown by Lieutenants. Scalley and La Croix took the southern half.
Suddenly La Croix’s aircraft was attacked and he had to bail out. Curdes saw La Croix’s parachute open as his Mustang went into the water. La Croix climbed into the liferaft rubber dingy that was part of the parachute pack. Curdes ordered Sculley back to base in order to get another flight out to provide cover for La Croix and see if a rescue PBY amphibian aircraft was available. He told Schmidtke to climb to 15,000 feet and broadcast a “Mayday” and to provide cover for Curdes. Curdes would stay low to make sure that the Japanese didn’t try anything. Curdes made another strafing run on the airfield.
When he pulled up, he saw a twin engine aircraft heading for Japanese held territory. Although it looked like a C-47, he wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a Japanese copy of a DC-2. He closed in and saw the American insignia on the aircraft. He attempted to contact the pilot of the aircraft using various VHF frequencies, but received no reply. The aircraft now went into its final approach glide to land on the strip below. Curdes dove in front of the aircraft three times to try and spoil the C-47s landing, but the pilot continued to try and land. Curdes fired a burst of machine gun fire across the nose of the aircraft, but the transport pilot ignored it. Finally Curdes decided that he would force the transport to ditch into the ocean.
Closing to within approximately twenty yards, he shot out the right engine, then the left. The plane hit the water and came to a stop with 50 yards from La Croix’s raft. Two large rubber dingies inflated and twelve personnel including 4 women climbed in. 2 Army nurses, 2 Red Cross girls. Curdes flew above the rafts and dropped a note that said “For God’s sake, keep away from shore. Japs there.” After seeing that they were safe, Curdes returned to flying protective cover. La Croix paddled over to the two dingies and tied them together.
The pilot of the transport became lost in bad weather, his radio had gone out and his fuel gauge read empty when he had sighted the landing field on Bataan. La Croix explained the situation to them.
Curdes continued to fly cover until four more Mustangs arrived to replace him and Schmidtke. A PBY came out at dawn the next morning to rescue La Croix and the others. After Curdes returned to base, he was in for a shock when he saw the names of the survivors of the transport. One of the nurses aboard that plane was the very same nurse that he had a date with the night before!
They later married, and this true story is in the book “US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife,” by retired Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson.
Louis Curdes joined the Army Reserves on March 12, 1942. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt, and rated a pilot on December 3, 1942 at Luke Field, Arizona. He joined the 329th FG, but transferred to the 82nd FG, 95th FS, where he saw action over North Africa, Sardinia and Italy flying P-38Gs.
On April 29, 1943 he shot down three German Me-109s and damaged a fourth near Cap Bon, Tunisia. Two more Me-109s fell to his guns near Villacidro, Sardinia on May 19. On June 24 he brought down an Italian Mc.202 over Golfo Aranci, Sardinia. Another Me-109 was damaged on July 30 at Pratice di Mare, Italy. His last two victories in the Mediterranean Theater were two Me-109s over Benevento, Italy.
During that action he was forced down and taken prisoner. He escaped from the POW camp on September 8, 1943 and managed to survive behind German lines until crossing into Allied territory on May 24, 1944. He requested combat duty in the Pacific, and joined the 4th FS (Commando), 3rd FG (Commando) in August 1944. On February 7, 1945 he shot down a Dinah while flying a P-51D thirty miles SW of Formosa. This feat made him one of three aces to have shot down enemy aircraft of all three Axis Powers.