First Lt. Walter J.A. Palmer became a US Army Air Force pilot in 1943, graduating in class SE-43-F. He flew 158 combat missions over Italy and Germany during World War II. He was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group.
In February 1944, the 100th, 301st, and 302nd fighter squadrons arrived in Italy. Together, with the 99th, these squadrons of black pilots and ground crew made up the new 332nd Fighter Group. The 99th fighter squadron had gone into combat earlier in North Africa, being assigned to other fighter groups while flying the P-40F Warhawk.
Now, with all four squadrons together in Italy, they were given P-39 Airacobras. After a few months, the rather slow Airacobras were replaced with P-47 Thunderbolts. With the P-47, the 332nd started to have great results. Because of the robust nature of the P-47, most of their missions were in the dangerous role of ground attack. A P-47 could take a lot of punishment and still make it back home.
After two months with the P-47, they were given P-51 Mustangs. With these, they were now in the bomber escort business, escorting the bombers deep into Germany. This is the role in which they excelled. They tenaciously guarded the bombers, which was greatly appreciated by the bomber crews. By late 1944, the pilots of the 332nd had compiled such a superior record that they started to receive factory new P-51D Mustangs!