World War II ace pilot Alden Rigby dies

World War II ace pilot Alden Rigby dies

BOUNTIFUL — Local World War II ace fighter pilot Alden Rigby has died. He was 92.

Rigby, a member of the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame and well-known for his flying exploits during the war, died May 3 at his home in Bountiful.

He was born in Fairview, Utah, on Jan. 4, 1923, and later went on to attend Brigham Young University. According to a fact sheet provided by Hill Air Force Base, he joined the Army Air Forces in January 1943 and graduated from Cadets at Spence Field, Georgia, near the end of that year.

Rigby’s son Kevin said his father was almost 19 when he heard the news of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and “he knew then Uncle Sam would play a major part in his life.”

Kevin said Rigby was essentially given two career path choices when he first joined the Armed Forces: the Air Corps or Army Paratroopers. He quickly chose the Air Corps. 

“Dad used to always say he could never understand why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” Kevin said.

Rigby graduated from P-51 transition training at Bartow, Florida, in April 1944, then served briefly as an instructor pilot before being assigned as a P-51 Mustang pilot with the 487th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group based in Bodney, England. The famous group of pilots were known as the “Blue-Nosed Bastards of Bodney.”

During World War II, Rigby flew 76 combat missions over Europe, totaling 272 hours. He shot down five German aircraft in aerial combat. Four of those kills came in less than a half-hour on Jan. 1, 1945, as part of the famous Battle of the Bulge, when Rigby and his crew were attacked by surprise on a runway in Asch, Belgium. 

Although heavily outnumbered, Rigby and crew managed to stave off German attackers and avoid any casualties.

Rigby himself recalled the incident in a memoir posted on the Crazy Horse Aviation Photography website.

“We saw what looked like at least 50 German fighter aircraft about to make their first pass on our field,” Rigby said in the memoir. “We could not have been in a worse position, unless loaded with external fuel or bombs. We were sitting ducks and our chances were slim and none.”

Rigby is also credited with destroying several enemy trains and barges, and at least one other aircraft, which was on the ground and destroyed during one of Rigby’s strafing missions.

For his service, Rigby received the Silver Star, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Unit Citation.

After World War II, he served three years active duty stateside during the Korean War with the 33rd Air Division of Air Defense Command. He then went on to serve another 25 years with the Utah Air National Guard before retiring in the late 1970s as a major.

“He put me to bed with war stories,” said Kevin, who now teaches history at Woods Cross High School. “When I started teaching, I’d have him come to class as a guest speaker and the kids loved it.”

He also worked as an air traffic control supervisor for the Federal Aviation Administration.

After retiring from the FAA, Rigby served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife of more than 70 years, Eleen. The couple served missions in India, Sri Lanka and Israel.

“He’s been all over the place,” Kevin said. “Who would have thought this farm boy from Fairview, Utah, would have lived the kind of life he did. I couldn’t have hoped for a better father. He was a great man.”

Rigby is survived by his wife, four children, 25 grandchildren and 67 great-grandchildren.

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