Cuthbert A. Pattillo, Maj. Gen. USAF (ret), known to all as “Bill,” passed from this world on February 20, 2014, at his home in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was 89. He was well-known in the aviation community as a pioneer in jet aerobatic demonstration teams and was highly decorated as a fighter pilot.
He and his identical twin brother, Charles C. (Buck), were born on June 3, 1924, the youngest of six siblings, to Joseph W. and Pearl (Stubbs) Pattillo in East Atlanta, Georgia. In 1942 the twins enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served together in the 352nd Fighter Group in the European Theater, flying fighter escort for B-17 bombing raids in Germany. They were separated for a six-week period near the end of the war when Bill was shot down while strafing a German airfield and taken prisoner of war. Bill and Buck led parallel careers in the Air Force for over 35 years and were often stationed together at the same base or in the same region.
The twins were founding members of the impromptu “Skyblazers” aerobatic team from 1949 to 1952, which gained official recognition and toured post-war Europe to demonstrate the capabilities of newly developed fighter jets. In 1953 and 1954, they flew left and right wing positions in the first USAF “Thunderbird” precision flying team. They helped develop many of the maneuvers still performed today, including the famous “Bomb Burst” that remains the finale at Thunderbird air shows. In the course of his career, he had the privilege of flying many aircraft, including the P-40, P-47, F-80, F-84, F-86, T-33, F-100 and F-4 Phantom. But his favorite was the plane he flew in World War II: the iconic P-51 Mustang that he named and was inscribed “Sweet and Lovely.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1962, attended the Army War College in 1965 and received a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University.
A command pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours, his military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit (thrice), and Distinguished Flying Cross (twice). He was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000. In addition, he had the privilege of appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, gracing the cover of “Collier’s” magazine (with, of course, his “skyblazing” twin) and touring South America with Chuck Yeager for the first international goodwill tour of the Thunderbirds.
His military posts included Commander of the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam, Director of Operations of the Air Force at the Pentagon and Senior U.S. Representative for Allied Forces Central Europe. He retired from the Air Force with a rank of Major General in 1980. His brother retired shortly thereafter from the same base, with a rank of Lieutenant General. They lived as next-door neighbors for the next 25 years.
Bill married his high-school sweetheart, Joyce Mathews in 1950. Married for 62 years, they raised four children in the larger family of the Air Force. His vivacious Queen preceded him in death in 2012. He is survived by his twin brother, his children Robert (Marci) of Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Joseph (Suzy) of Oak Creek, Colorado; Patricia (Jeff) Landis of Harrisonburg, Virginia; Peggy (Andy) Royer of Hendersonville, Tennessee, 12 grandchildren; and 6 great-grandchildren.
His unassuming, good-natured temperament will be dearly missed. His life stands as an inspiration to those who knew him and to those who learn of his legacy.
A memorial service will be held on March 9, 2014 at 1:00 PM at the Sunnyside Meredith Chapel in Harrisonburg, VA. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to a favorite charity.
Inurnment will be at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.