Freddie Hutchins of Donaldsonville, GA, graduated from flight training on April 29, 1943, at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. In December, he deployed to Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, part of the 332nd Fighter Group. The 302nd Fighter Squadron flew its first combat mission on February 5, 1944.
Hutchins scored his first aerial victory on July 26, 1944, when 61 P-51 Mustangs left Ramitelli Air Field in Italy for bomber escort missions to Vienna, Austria. Several enemy planes were spotted on the trip, but they remained out of range until the B-24 bombers attacked their target. “Just then, we sighted three ME-109s above us making vapor trails. We were at 28,000 feet. We climbed as the ME-109s started a gradual climbing turn. I knew Capt. Toppins was not going to let them get away, so I prepared for a good fight.” Toppins, Jackson, 1st Lt. Hutchins and 2nd Lt. Roger Romine were each credited with one aerial victory. It was Toppins’ fourth kill.
Hutchins collected his next kills on August 30 when pilots discovered enemy aircraft under hay stacks at Grosswardein airfield in Romania. After 15 passes, 46 pilots were credited with 83 kills: Hutchins was credited with four.
The 332nd Fighter Group was sent on strafing missions to three Greek airfields on October 6. The 302nd Fighter Squadron was sent to Megara but found the base mostly abandoned. Hutchins’s plane was raked by anti-aircraft flak as the pilots fired on the base. One burst came up through the floor of his Mustang, wounding him in the leg. Barely controlling the badly damaged aircraft, he crash-landed.
“I was pulled out of my ship by some Greeks who arrived at my plane shortly after it crashed. I walked a few steps, then passed out. Some men raised me up and began to walk me around. Then they put me on a donkey and walked that donkey around in a circle. They did this to restore my respiration. However, my back hurt me so badly that I begged them to stop. I was then carried to a doctor who rubbed my back with some homemade olive oil, strapped me up and put me to bed.”
Within a few days, he had returned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron and after a full recovery, returned to flight status and to the air war.
By the end of the year, Hutchins was promoted to captain. He later served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Hutchins was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart for his military service.