Color pencil and pencil on 100lb. Smooth Bristol acid free paper; original is 14×17 and is sprayed with a clear lacquer to help blend and preserve color.
Picture depicts Alden Rigby waving to his ground crew as he taxi’s his P-51 Eleen and Jerry (named after his wife and daughter) on the morning of January 1st 1945.
Alden Rigby was a member of the 352nd FS or as they were known “The Blue Nose Bastards of Bodney”. The group commander was J.C. Myer (his P-51 was named Petie 2nd)
You would never know that the quiet, unassuming Alden Rigby was once a 22-year-old P-51 Mustang fighter pilot who took part in one of the most legendary air battles of World War II — a battle that lasted only some 30 minutes but in that short, frenetic time made him an ace.
You wouldn’t know this unless you were shown the small room in the basement where his silver star hangs in a wall shadow box with his leather fighter gloves and a black-faced silver watch stopped at 10:35. On one wall hangs a black-and-white photo of a confident, young lieutenant sitting in the cockpit of his Mustang and grainy battle photos taken from a camera mounted in the wing of his fighter. On the side of his Mustang are painted the names “Eleen and Jerry,” his wife and then-baby daughter he left back home when he was shipped overseas to England to join the 352nd Fighter Group of the 487th Squadron. His wife was the “wind beneath my wings” during the dark days of World War II and, especially, during the bitter winter days of 1944-1945 when his group was ordered to Asch, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
Alden and Eleen Rigby have held together — at times through well-worn letters — since their marriage in 1942 in the Manti Utah Temple. Today, after 4 children, 25 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren, one is not far away from the other. They have served missions twice — one in the International Mission to India/Sri Lanka from 1980-1981; their other, a service mission in 1991-1992 to the Jerusalem Center. But sitting on a couch in their study during a Church News interview, they looked back to the day in May 1944 in Salt Lake City when he embraced his wife and their 11-week-old daughter, Jerralyn, and climbed aboard a DC-3 for the first leg of the journey to Europe. “I cried all day. It was really hard,” Eleen Rigby recalled. “We relied a lot on prayer.” Prayers and letters saw the couple through the ensuing months. “The gospel is everything. We have an eternal marriage,” Alden Rigby added; speaking of the strength that his temple covenants meant to him in those days.
In England, he quickly saw action — and the tragic results. His closest military friend and the only other Latter-day Saint in his fighter group, Cliff Wilcox from Salt Lake City, went missing on Aug. 6. “(Losing) Cliff was a real shock. I had the responsibility of gathering his personal belongings and shipping them to his folks and writing to his fiancée.”
On Nov. 27, the new Mustang pilot, a lieutenant who would be promoted to captain and later major, was pulling up from a strafing pass on a train believed to be carrying ammunition. Right below him a ME-109, a German fighter, flew by. "All I had to do was make a hard left.” After firing a few rounds, Alden Rigby saw the canopy pop off the enemy aircraft and the pilot leap from the stricken plane. Alden Rigby circled, watching the pilot safely land. “We had an unwritten rule that we would never shoot a defenseless pilot.” Then, on Dec. 16, the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium opened with heavy Allied losses. On Dec. 23, Alden Rigby’s fighter unit was sent to a small airstrip in Asch, Belgium, named Y-29. It was only some five minutes from the front lines. Within a few days after they had arrived, the battle that is now known as “the legend of Y-29” occurred.
At 9:20 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1945, Alden Rigby and other P-51 pilots were on the runway preparing for a fighter sweep of the front lines when they were attacked. The Nazis “had amassed some 800 fighter bombers to strike 16 bases in the Netherlands, France and Belgium, to hit each base at 9:20…. The next thing we see is our own gun emplacements shooting.” The young father from Utah gunned his engine despite the “prop wash” from the preceding Mustangs and lifted off. Even as his wheels snapped up, he saw a Folke-Wolfe 190 fighter on the tail of a Mustang just ahead of him. “Break left!” he yelled into his radio. The other pilot led the 190 right into Alden Rigby’s gun sights. The 190 went down. During his next battle, also with a 190, his gun site light bulb went out. He continued to fight, however, and shot down a total of four planes that day. With five total victories, he was an ace. Of the 16 airfields attacked that day, only Y-29 repelled the attack, with only one lost aircraft on the ground. The 352nd Fighter Group received the Presidential Unit Citation, and Alden Rigby was awarded the Silver Star.
Now, 60 years later, that day is alive in his memory — especially since Utah Gov. John Huntsman inducted Alden Rigby on May 28, 2007, into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame at Hill Air Force Base north of Salt Lake City.
In reflecting on his life, however, Alden Rigby returned to the same principles that saw him through those earlier days. He referenced his love for temple worship and said, in that sacred edifice, you receive your “Ph.D. — peace, hope and direction.”
Values a fighter ace would hold dear.
(From the LDS Church News article written by Julie Dockstader Heaps)
Signed 11×17 prints by the pilot and artist are available from the artist for $100.00 USD (includes matting and history data block.)