Urban “Ben” Drew
P-51D “Detroit Miss”
Artwork and research are by Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Print size 12×18″
There are 750 limited edition prints in this series.
Limited Edition, Signed by the Ace. $65.00
All signatures by both the Aviator and the Artist is done in soft graphic pencil.
Poster Print $14.95
Poster prints are autographed by the artist only.
Urban Leonard “Ben” Drew
By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Urban Leonard “Ben” Drew
Ben was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 21, 1924. He was a typical American youth brought up in a good home and loving parents. He was fascinated as a boy about airplanes but never thought that he would one day be a fighter pilot.
One night at the age of seventeen, Ben with his mother and brother were returning form a movie when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed on the radio. This news was most literally a shock to all three. Ben and his brother did not know where Pearl Harbor was but his mother who was a school teacher did. Very bravely the boy’s mother knew what was in store for dear young men. Ben was the oldest and it would affect him right away. She braced herself and told him that he would be drawn into this war and she continued to say to Ben that she hoped that the war would not last long to effect her youngest son. Ben told me that the drive home was very somber. Ben had planned on doing many things with his life and going to war was not one of the options.
He had read all the comic books that told the stories of the battles of the First World War and as you can imagine Eddie Rickenbacker who was the highest scoring American Ace of the Great War was his hero. He loved his comic and was fascinated with looking at the color filled pictures of bi-wings airplanes firing their guns with the picture showing fire coming out of its machine guns and then the next picture of the other airplane on fire and spiraling down to earth. Well, now he thought these are not just cartoons; they were in fact real stories of real men. Some became heroes and others really had died. It was a quite ride back to their comfortable middleclass Michigan home.
As you know at the time war in Europe had been at full pitch since September 1, 1939. Ben had sat by the radio and listened to the exploits of the RAF against the Luftwaffe. He had heard the speeches of Winston Churchill and his most famous speech after the Battle of Britton of the few that fought so bravely against insurmountable odds. It was inspiring to a young man like Ben.
However his mother knew exactly what the news would lead to. Once they arrived back home took Mrs. Drew took Ben into the kitchen and asked him to sit down. Here she quietly, patiently and in real terms told Ben that this conflict would require his involvement. She did her best to impart to son that he should be strong and brave but above all to be smart and safe so that he could return home to the family once the conflict was over. He told me that he could have never asked for a more wonderful mother. He then added that he did miss her.
Ben was telling me these stories at my home. We were alone and I was both video taping him and taking notes as well. He was now seventy-two years old yet when he told his stories it was as if they happened just yesterday. He became young again as he would look off into space elaborating this part of the battle and then he would look at me, seriously telling me the next part. I fell in love with the guy. He was my hero when I was fifteen when I built a model airplane of his now famous Mustang and he meant even more to me now.
Ben decided that if he was going to war, then he wanted to be a great fighter pilot. This is not exactly what his mother wanted but it was her son’s decision and she would honor his choice. In September 1942 Ben was indeed called to serve his country. The morning that he was instructed to report he was the first one there. His first Army camp was in Nashville, Tennesseewhere he went through boot camp that introduced him into the rigors of military life. The next camp Ben was sent to was Maxwell located in Alabama where the recruits received further military training.
Ben had already applied for and was granted to attend pilot training but he had to be trained in the military and its life style first. Ben did quite well at Maxwell were he was given the position of Wing Commander of the Cadets. Not as important a position as it sounds but the military has a system of rewards that were worthy of gaining. Ben was given a “Sam Brown Belt” (nothing at all related to the martial arts) and his saber in which he was allowed to wear at all dress parade functions. He stood proud as he stood at attention at functions in his pressed uniform with his belt and saber. No doubt about it but Ben was a handsome young man and the military was his best move. He said he liked it.
His next training took place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in October 1942. It was here that Ben first stepped into the cockpit of an airplane. At this point in time there was a desperate shortage of aviation trainers. Most all now were civilians. Ben’s first instructor was a Cuban who had been living in America when he signed up to be an instructor. The only problem was that he could barely speak English. Ben did his best but the instructor became impatient with him and wrote a very bad report that would wash him out of military aviation.
Frustrated Ben went to a Lieutenant he knew on the base and pleaded with him that he could fly the airplane but his problem was that he could not understand his instructor. The Lieutenant gave Ben the benefit of taking him up for a flight himself. He let Ben do most of the flying and after landing he told him to report back to him the next day for another flight.
The next morning Ben was waiting for the Lieutenant and they both strapped themselves in and took off in a bi-wing Stearman. Ben followed the instructions given by the Lieutenant which included having him bring the plane in for a landing. Once on the ground the Lieutenant got out of the Stearman and told Ben to take off and fly the normal circuit and land three times. At this moment Ben only had six hours and twelve minutes in the air total but that meant nothing as he jumped into the cockpit, took off and preformed perfectly.
The Lieutenant told Ben to fly to auxiliary airfield number three the next day where other instructions would be instructing other cadets. Bright and early as requested Ben took off. No compass, no map, Ben had been to the airfield once with the Cuban instructor but he had not quite paid attention as to what direction the field was because when he flew with the Cuban the instructor was doing the flying. Ben thought he knew where he was going. The flight should have taken only five to ten minutes but after a half hour Ben realized that he was lost. Locating a rail road track Ben followed the track until he saw a train station. He rationalized that he would fly low read the name of the town which was always on a sign and that would give him a general location as to where he was. Ben read the name but instantly knew that the name of the town would not help him because he was completely unfamiliar with the names of the surrounding towns.
He was lost and his gas was getting critical. Ben scanned the area for a place to land. Spotting a farmers field he circled and came in for an approach. The track of land was barely large enough to land safely but he had no gas to find another so he lined up for an approach only to find a power line at the edge of the field that he had not noticed. He could not go over the line and did not have the gas to come around again so at the last minute he pulled up sharply with the Stearman clearing the line which caused his airplane to stall. The airplane touched down making a perfect landing after only rolling fifty feet in the soft soil. Ben climbed out and noticed a farmer on his tractor and approached him. Ben asked the farmer where he was. The farmer replied Mississippi!
Using the farmer’s phone he called his airfield and they sent out a truck with two mechanics and an officer. After reviewing the Stearman they found the aircraft in perfect condition so they gassed it up and the officer was going to fly the plane from the field and back to base with Ben in the truck with the two mechanics. The three men watched the officer take of which went poorly causing a crash that ruined the bi-plane. They all drove back to the base with Ben thinking that this would be the end of his flying career. Fortunately that did not happen and Ben continued his training.
Ben had proven his abilities and he graduated in the class of 43-I at Mariana, Florida on October 1, 1943. Ben learned to fly in the Stearman P-17 bi-plane which he said was a joy to fly. After his graduation his talents were recognized and he received additional training to become a flight instructor in the new P-51 Mustang.
This is where he would meet a good friend, Billy Kemp. Being held back as a trainer in the States while combat in Europe was raging was stressful and ate at Ben daily. It is hard to be eighteen year’s old, qualified to fly America’s finest aircraft and to be left back as a trainer. But his talent as a pilot needed to be transferred to new pilots and Ben was level headed and was excellent at his job. His friend Billy was having the same anxiety and they both begged to be transferred to a fighting unit every month.
Their boredom materialized itself into acts that got both of them into very serious trouble. One day when Ben was flying he looked down and saw the commanding officer on the base that was in the middle of an awards ceremony with a hundred officers and men in dress uniform. Mischievously Ben came in low and fast and buzzed the ceremony causing everyone to “hit the deck”. Strike one for Ben. Then his friend Billy got mad during an argument with a superior officer and hit him so hard that he broke his jaw. Both Ben and Billy faced court martial for their acts. In a strange twist however their commanding officer knew their talents as airmen but as the butt-hole he was he actually sent them straight to England into combat in a hatful attempt to see them die. I kid you not but this stuff did take place.
Both pilots were sent to war with the 104th Article of War over their heads. Before Ben left for England his mother told him to be safe and “not to fly to high and not very fast.” She ended by saying, “Good hunting son”. God bless her. Ben and Billy now had to prove themselves because the 104 Article meant that if they messed up again they would not be able to get out of what ever the Air Corp did to them.
Below the image on Ben’s “Detroit Miss” print you can read a short story of his war exploits. Plus in the near future you will be able to read his entire story in our book that covers the bombing campaign over Europe where Ben shot down not one but the first two Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighters of the war! Thank you and please tell your friends about my endeavors.