Lt. Royce “Deacon” Priest was a pilot with the 354th. He was assigned to the squadron in June, right before D-Day. He was originally trained to fly gliders but shifted to flight school when the Airborne divisions were no longer being created. Priest was accepted into West Point, but he turned it down to be a fighter pilot.
Maj. Bert Marshall was the fearless leader of the 354th. He also was new to the squadron, and D-Day was his second mission. Marshall had his first aerial victory at D-Day and would become an ace by August.
However, Marshall was a very aggressive flier. As Priest described it, he had a habit “for not matching wheels down with take-offs.” But the style worked out in his favor. Marshall earned respect and promotions because of it.
Marshall was promoted to Operations Officer and soon after to Squadron Commander. Maj. Marshall led a flight on August 18th with four P-51 Mustangs to bomb German marshaling locations.
The planes came up to their target but saw the railway cars had red crosses on them and moved on. Twenty miles away, they found a more suitable target. But it was a setup. Inside the railcar was an anti-aircraft battery, firing 20mm and 40mm rounds.
Marshall’s plane took the brunt of the attack. Priest informed him of the heavy damage, and Marshall looked for somewhere to land. Priest said he would pick him up.
Marshall was Priest’s idol. He knew him from high school and college football and wasn’t about to let him get captured by the Germans. Priest told the other pilots his plan, but Marshall ordered him to go back to base. Lt. Priest disobeyed Marshall’s orders and landed in a field near where Marshall was.
Priest soon saw German infantrymen heading his way. He radioed the other two pilots for help, and they took out the truck with their .50 caliber machine guns. They let Priest know more Germans were coming.
Finally, he saw a very angry Marshall, who told him to leave. Priest got out of his plane and refused to leave without Marshall. Eventually, both men got into the plane just in time.
Marshall put him in for the Medal of Honor. However, Gen. James Doolittle gave him the Distinguished Service Cross because he did not want to encourage others to do the same.