|Lt Grant M Turley
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War always takes its toll on a nation’s best and brightest. In times of crisis they are always the
first to step up and volunteer for military service, the first to take on the most dangerous
assignments. They go off to fight for their country for the noblest of reasons, and all too often they
give their lives in the service of their country while still in the flower of youth.
Among those was Grant Turley of Aripine. He grew up on a small cow ranch in the Mogollon Rim.
Carefree summer days were spent working cattle and wrangling dudes. He learned about family
values in the close-knit Mormon community where he was raised. In school he was an
outstanding student athlete. He had a high school sweetheart and a bright future ahead. Then
came the war.
War changed forever, the lives and dreams of millions of young people like Grant Turley. A few
weeks after Pearl Harbor, he was in Phoenix taking flying lessons at Sky Harbor. At the age
of 20 he volunteered for the Air Corps and trained to become a fighter pilot. He and his high
school sweetheart Kitty Ballard were married just before he shipped out. He went into action
in the fall of 1943 and in just ten days of action over the skies of Europe became Arizona’s first
World War II Ace.
Ace is the coveted word for a pilot who shoots down at least five enemy planes in aerial combat.
Grant flew nearly 50 missions out of England, including the first raid on Berlin. According to his
fellow fighter pilots, the Arizona cowboy with the family ranch brand painted on the side of his
plane was fearless. On one mission he came upon a flight of ten German ME-109’s. With
dauntless daring he dove his P-47 Thunderbolt into the group of German fighter planes shooting
down two before the air battle ended. For this intrepid bravery he was awarded the Silver Star.
He shot down a total of seven confirmed German planes and destroyed two more on the ground
giving him just one short of being a double ace.
Grant’s poignant letters to his wife and family, along with his personal diary provide a window into
the heart and soul of a young man who was a product of what Tom Brokaw called, “The
Greatest Generation.” They reveal a strong sense of patriotism, courage and devotion to duty
that was so characteristic of those turbulent times. They also reveal the deep love and devotion
of a young man for his family and religion.
Grant was part of that generation of young people who spent their adolescence growing up in the
throes of worst economic depression this nation has ever seen. They reached maturity during a
period when America and the rest of the free world faced its greatest crisis. The Nazi Germany
occupied most of Europe and the Japanese Imperial Army appeared unstoppable as they swept
across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Their personal lives were put on hold, in many instances permanently, when they answered their
country’s call to arms. They said goodby to sweethearts, family, and friends, rolled up their
sleeves and did what they had to do in the hope that their sacrifice would make this world a better
place. “Grant was very patriotic,” his brother Stan Turley recalls. “He truly believed in what he
was fighting for. He was confident, quiet and studious but he was also stubborn, determined and
Grant was the son of Fred and Wilma Turley, and the younger brother of Stan Turley, who later
served the state legislature as Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. They grew up
on the family’s Sundown Ranch at Aripine in Navajo County. Grant was born at the ranch on a
Sunday morning, June 18, 1922. A neighbor Aunt Elsie Flake delivered him. He descended
from a long line of frontier stock. His great-grandfather, William J. Flake donated land from his
ranch to found the town of Snowflake, and along with Erastus Snow, lent his name to the
community. Flake a cattleman of renown, was the first Arizonan enshrined in the National Cowboy
Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK.
His brother Stan was just 16 months older and as youths they were inseparable. Wherever Stan
went his brother was on his boot heels. “Every time I turned around I nearly bumped into him,”
Stan says. The Turley boys attended the small grade school at Aripine and when it came time to
go to high school they moved into Snowflake and lived with relatives. Their summers were spent
on the Sundown Ranch. Besides working cattle, the Turley’s ran a boy’s camp for youngsters
from back east.
Grant was a good student and was valedictorian of the Class of 1940 at Snowflake High School.
His favorite subjects were math and science. He was also an outstanding athlete. It ran in the
family. Two years earlier Stan had been the first athlete from northern Arizona to be named to the
Arizona All-State Football Team. In high school Grant was a strapping 6’2” and weighed 180
pounds. His proudest sports achievement was being named captain of his football team. He was
also on the varsity basketball team was captain of the track team his junior and senior years.
During his senior year Grant was selected to the All-Northern Arizona Football Team.
World War II weighed heavy on the members of Snowflake High School’s 1939 football team.
Twenty of the twenty-three members of the team went into the service and six or 30% were killed
before the war ended. In the fall of 1940, Grant went off to Brigham Young University where he
joined his brother Stan. Both were on football scholarships. Grant didn’t care for the damp climate
at Provo, UT and he missed the ranch and his horse, Comet.
Following a serious knee injury he returned home and enrolled for the spring semester at Eastern
Arizona Jr. College. The following fall he attended Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe, AZ.
Knee surgery had ended his football career so he took up boxing and did pretty well. He had a
match in Phoenix one night, won on a decision and was paid $3.00 prize money.
Meanwhile his high school romance with Kathleen “Kitty” Ballard, the younger sister of one of his
teammates at Snowflake High, was turning into a serious love affair. In February 1941 he started
ground school at Phoenix Sky Harbor in preparation to becoming a pilot. He took to the sky
naturally and soon was as comfortable in an airplane as he was riding Comet. A letter home
mentioned how crowded the skies over Sky Harbor were. Sometimes there were, “as many as ten
or twelve planes circling at the same time.”
By late March he was flying solo and when he took his flight test in May he finished at the top of
his class. Orders came in early August to report to the Air Corps Classification Center in
Nashville,TN. the next week. He and Kitty decided to get married before he left so on August 4th
1942 they were joined in wedlock at Holbrook, AZ. The next day he boarded the train for
The next weeks were lonely. His letters professed a deep love for his new wife, his family and his
faith. Over the next few months he went through basic and advanced flight training. Because of
his size Grant was assigned to twin-engine planes at first but he wanted to be a fighter pilot and
he eventually was re-assigned to fighters.
On March 25, 1943, Grant was awarded his wings and the gold bar of a second lieutenant. He
also received an expert rating on aerial gunnery. Following graduation he was given a ten-day
leave to return to Kitty and Arizona for a brief honeymoon. Most of his leave was spent on a
passenger train. While he was home, the two traveled to Mesa, AZ. where they had their
marriage vows sealed in the Mormon Temple. A couple of days later he boarded the train for
Florida where he would await assignment as a pilot. His diary for April 6, 1943: “I have never had
a more empty, lost feeling than I have right now. It is really tough leaving Kitty.”
In Tallahassee, FL, he was assigned to fly the P-47. His first time up in the plane was April 20. In
his diary he wrote: “Gee, it was a thrill to open up 2,000 horses on a 13,000 crate. The day
I have been dreaming about.”
On May 19, 1943 Kitty arrived to stay with him until he shipped out for Europe. She remained until
July 23 when orders came for him to pack his gear. He took her to the train station where they
shed tears and said good-by. He wrote in his diary: “A good-by and Kitty was gone, taking most
of me with her. It gave me the most empty feeling I have ever had.” Kitty later wrote of the
poignant parting: “Just as we were pulling out of the station I looked up and there he was walking
down the aisle of the train. The conductor had asked him if he would like to ride as far as the
base. Who would have ever thought they were to be the last few minutes of our lives together.”
A week later Grant was in New Haven, Connecticut. With a few hours to kill before reporting he
headed to New York City where Stan was serving his Mormon mission. “The last time I saw
Grant,” Stan says, “was in New York City. He looked real sharp in his Air Corps uniform. I was
still on my mission, wearing a pair of old trousers with the seat badly worn. He said, ‘No brother of
mine has to wear a pair of pants like that,’ and he bought me a new suit. We said ‘good bye’ and
I never saw him again.”
On August 4, 1943 he arrived in Scotland. It was also his and Kitty’s first anniversary. On August
5 he wrote from “Somewhere in England.” He was at Duxford Air Force Base, north of London. It
was a former Royal Air Force base that had been turned over to the Americans. Because of
wartime restrictions every letter was censored. Servicemen couldn’t give details of where he was
or his activities. At home the headline above an article in the Holbrook newspaper said: “Grant M.
Turley Now In England As U.S. Fighter Pilot.” The article went on to say, “Second Lt. Grant M.
Turley, 21, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turley of Snowflake, has arrived at an Eighth Air Force
fighter station “somewhere in England” according to information received in Holbrook this week.
In May, 1942, Grant decided to give up broncho bustin’ and cattle raising (and dude wrangling)
for another active career.”
Bad weather and a shortage of fighter planes kept him grounded the first few weeks. Most of the
time was spent attending lectures, ground school and aircraft recognition classes. In a letter
dated August 16, 1942 he wrote: “You can’t realize how “shut off” from home I feel. We are kept
fairly busy and so one just doesn’t get homesick. …I certainly miss the ranch. Would give
anything to drop in for a couple of weeks. Ride Comet for me. Tell all the folks hello.”
On the 27th he wrote again, “I miss the ranch a lot—the horses meant more to me than anything, I
guess.” To help overcome the loneliness he put photos of Kitty, Comet and the ranch near his
bunk. He was also getting restless. He wrote in his diary on September 1: War entering its 5th
year. Prospects rather bright. This waiting around is bad. I have gone to school all my life.
Even though the classes here are relatively important. I can’t help but be impatient. I WANT TO
FLY.” On the 23rd he wrote: Am all set to go into enemy territory now. All they have to do is
ASK ME. (tell me really)”
Grant’s wish came true on October 9 when he flew his first combat mission over Belgium. It was
routine and he didn’t see any action. He didn’t have his own plane and crew yet so the missions
were infrequent. On November 3rd he made his first flight over Germany.
Bad weather kept the fighters grounded much of the time. Still he was able to complete ten
combat missions by November 9 to qualify for the Air Medal. A few days later he had his own
P-47 Thunderbolt. The Republic P-47 was a great fighter plane. It was powered by a 2,000 hp
Pratt-Whitney Double Wasp engine and its maximum speed was 433 mph. It’s effective operating
radius with extra gas tanks was 475 miles. It was equipped with eight-.50 caliber Browning
machine guns and bombs could be carried under the fuselage or wings.
He inscribed “Kitty” in bold letters just below the cockpit. Next to her name was a painting of the
family ranch crest, a cow’s head over a pattern of Turley family brands. Next to the brands were
small swastikas signifying the number if German fighters he’d shot down in combat. Rows of small
bombs were painted next to the swastikas, one for each combat mission, most as cover for the
American B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and B-24 Liberators flying missions over France and
The range of the P-47’s didn’t allow them to fly cover for the bombers all the way into the heart of
Germany. One group escorted them out so far then returned to England while another went out to
escort them home. It between they were on their own against the preying German ME 109’s.
Grant wrote in his diary on November 13th: “The Jerry had 200-300 planes over the target
(Bremen). Pretty tough I guess. Don’t know how many Forts (B-17 Flying Fortresses) made out—
probably suffered quite a bit. Lost 15 fighters—destroyed 9. Not a very good ratio. I wish that we
would get larger belly tanks and get in on some of the fun. Our Group didn’t even see any fighters.
Haven’t fired my guns in combat, but haven’t been fired at either.”
On November 30th he made his 21st sortie (combat mission) qualifying him for an Oak Leaf
Cluster for his Air Medal. Another article in the Holbrook newspaper called the former Navajo
County cowboy, “A member of the oldest operational Thunderbolt fighter group in England—
excepting a unit composed of a few former Eagle Squadron fliers—Lt. Turley 21, has been flying
regularly this fall and winter over here in the so-called “Big Leagues” of fighters.”
He had the fighter pilot’s admiration for a good plane, no matter who was flying it. When he first
saw the German ME109 (Messerschmitt) and 190 Focke-Wulf up close, as near as 200 yards he
had this to say, “They are beautiful planes and really fly.
Grants letters to his parents frequently mentioned how he was holding the line against alcohol.
Each time a flyer went out on a mission there was always the possibly he wouldn’t make it back.
Pilots lived as if there was no tomorrow and for many there wasn’t. They lived fast and drank a lot
in between. Grant’s religion opposed drinking and despite the temptation, he resisted. In his
diary he wrote: “No Flying. Big party last night, but I didn’t go. They really got drunk.” In a letter
to Kitty he wrote: “All the parties here are drunken brawls. I can’t go to them and not drink, and so
I just don’t go. I have your picture before me and that helps.”
His fighter group flew in a “four ship flight” where each plane is able to cover the other. “They
say,” he wrote, “that no one has ever been shot out of a ‘four ship flight’ (in this group), and our
losses are very low compared to other groups.” He went on to write: “The old timers still maintain
that a fellow can never be shot down if he sees his opponent. As long as four ships stay together
and give each other cross cover, there is no reason to be surprised. It is the stragglers who ‘get
For good luck he carried a picture of Kitty in the cockpit and a lock from Comet’s mane. He would
need all the luck he could get because when Grant finally got in the dogfights with German
fighters, it came fast and furious. On January 31, 1943 he wrote in his diary: “First time to drop
live bombs. Bombed Glispy Field in Holland. We plastered the field pretty good. Dived from
15,000 to 5,000 feet before releasing bombs. The flak was thick, really was a thrill.”
Although he’d flown many missions, Grant still hadn’t fired his guns at an enemy plane. Then on
February 10 he shot down his first enemy plane. He came upon a flight of ten German fighters
and plunged into battle “We were bounded at 26,000 feet by these jokers. Well, yours truly and
his wingman got on their tails finally and followed them down. I shot three bursts on the way
down, then when their leader leveled off on the deck got a second burst from dead astern. He
blew up and went into the deck from 300 feet. Looked like one big splash of flames when he hit
the ground. I then got on the tail of the second and he crash-landed in flames.” On the way home
he encountered another German fighter. Once again Lady Luck smiled on Grant. “Saw one 109
coming out, but he didn’t see us. I was out of ammo by this time. Boy was I glad to see England.”
Lt. Grant Turley had bagged his first two kills. A United Press communiqué out of London had
this to say about the February 10 sortie: “Smashing through savage attacks by German planes,
American airmen yesterday left the German aircraft manufacturing city of Brunswick in flames and
won a heroic victory against overwhelming odds in a blazing air battle in which at least 84 Nazi
planes were shot out of the sky. In probably the hardest fought sky encounter of the war, United
States pilots chalked up a new record by shooting down 55 Nazi planes while bomber gunners
Grant had mixed feelings about his two aerial victories: “Right now it worries me that I have
caused the death of one man and probably another. War is Hell. I guess I’ll get callused.
However, it is nicer to say ‘ships destroyed’ and not think of the pilots.”
In a letter home February 10, he described the battle and like a bronc-riding rodeo cowboy
praising the horse he rode rather than boast about his own abilities he wrote, “We are flying a
wonderful plane.” Then he wrote prophetically, “With spring on the way, the air war should
The next day over France he bagged another. “I bounced a 109 and got a good burst, saw strikes
all over the cockpit and wing roots and a lot of smoke. He went straight down and out of control. I
am sure the pilot had had it.” He pulled back through some clouds and got into a dogfight with a
German squadron commander, but neither pilot could get the advantage and they broke it off. “He
was plenty good,” he wrote, “I only got a couple of 90 degree deflection shots at him.” On the
way home, and low on gas he shot down a FW190 on take off. Tracer and flak were all around
but he managed to escape unscathed, arriving home with only 17 gallons of gas left in his tanks.
The next day they escorting some B-17’s over France. The mission was uneventful and on the
way home Turley and seven other pilots strafed a German airfield. He opened fire from about
250 yards out destroying a plane as it was taking off. They also destroyed two other fighter
planes on the ground.
By this time the media was getting interested in the tall, rugged Arizonan. A correspondent from
NBC interviewed him. He modestly shrugged off the publicity saying “it was all in a day’s
work.” On Sunday, March 26, 1944 the headline in an article in the Arizona Republic referred to
him as the, “Snowflake Storm.” The story read: “A tall, raw-boned ex-cowboy who used to punch
cows on a ranch near Snowflake, but who now is “punching” Hitler Airmen shot down four
German planes on two successive days during missions to Brunswick and Frankfort.”
Tragically, a few days before the article appeared, Grant Turley had been reported missing in
action. Grant Turley flew his last mission on March 6, 1944. He was in a flight with three other P-
47’s escorting some bombers when German fighter planes attacked. Turley and some other
fighters peeled off to intercept them. A furious dogfight ensued and everyone became separated.
Grant and his wingman chased three German 190’s down to the deck. Grant got on the tail of
one and shot it down. He’d turned his attention to another but a third German had positioned
himself behind Grant’s plane and opened up with his guns. Grant’s wingman last saw him as
he dove into some clouds in pursuit of a German fighter plane with another enemy plane on his
Lt. Grant Turley became an ace in just ten days. He shot down his first two German planes on
February 10. He got two more the next day. His fifth kill, making him an Ace came on February 20.
Four days later he got another. He got his last one on March 6 although it wasn’t credited to his
record because there was no film confirmation. A small camera was mounted on the P-47 that
kicked on when the guns fired. This was to confirm kills and was also used to enable pilots to
know which part of the enemy plane was most vulnerable. Since Grant’s plane was shot down
that same day, it was impossible to check the camera for the confirmation. His wingman did,
however, confirm the kill.
A few days later, on March 17 Kitty received a telegram informing her that her husband was
missing in action. She received another telegram several months later, on September 23rd,
confirming her husband’s death on March 6, 1944. After Grant was shot down, the Germans
pulled his body from the wreckage and gave him a burial. After the war he was re-buried in a
military grave in Liege, Belgium.
Grant’s brother Stan was on a mission for the Mormon Church when the war broke out. As soon
as his mission was completed he rushed home and enlisted. Stan was in basic training at Amarillo,
Texas when word came his brother had been killed in action. Up to then he’d kept his faith that
Grant was only missing in action and would come home safely.
Kitty, only twenty when she lost her husband would eventually re-marry. She remained in
Holbrook where she later served as mayor of the town.
In addition to his Air Medal, Grant was awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
In November 1945 Grant was awarded the Silver Star posthumously “For gallantry in action
against the enemy….”
In 1983 Stan visited his brother’s grave at the Ardennes Cemetery in Belgium. “We searched over
thousands of white crosses,” he said, “before finding Grant’s. At the very moment we found his
grave a flight of NATO aircraft flew over. The timing couldn’t have been more symbolic.”
From Arizona Military Museum Courier, Arizona National Guard Historical Society, Inc. Fall 2009
Issue 36 Marshall Trimble