Scroll of Honor – Thomas Archie Scott

Leader Among Leaders

Written by: Kelly Durham

Thomas Archie Scott was a flyer even before he entered the military.  At Clemson, Scott was a member of the Flying Cadets, learning to fly  a biplane in the peaceful skies over the campus.  Before long, Scott would be piloting larger, more deadly aircraft in decidedly unfriendly skies.

Tom Scott graduated from Honea Path’s Ellen Woodside High School and enrolled at Clemson in 1938.  A vocational agricultural education major, he was a member of the Future Farmers of America and the Newman Club, the association of Catholic cadets.  He also participated in ROTC Camp, held on the Clemson campus in the summer of 1941.

Following his 1942 graduation, Tom took his piloting skills to the Army Air Force.  He earned his pilot’s wings at Valdosta, Georgia in March 1943.   Tom joined the 721st Bomb Squadron at Alamogordo, New Mexico where he was assigned to a combat crew.  In December, Tom, now the pilot of a B-24 heavy bomber, headed overseas.

Tom Scott, standing far right, with the crew of Paper Doll.

The 721st was a squadron of the 15th Air Force flying combat missions from Manduria Airfield on the heel of the Italian boot.  The 721st  bombed strategic targets in northern Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Balkans.  The squadron began combat operations in January 1944 and Tom quickly emerged as a reliable combat leader.  Squadron commander Major Howard Davis recalled that  “On numerous occasions, I had assigned [Tom] to lead combat units of 21 bombers over the most difficult targets that were assigned by the Fifteenth Air Force for us to bomb.  Never once did he falter.  His congeniality was an inspiration to every man that served with him.”

By mid-April 1944, Tom, the pilot of a B-24 nicknamed Paper Doll, had completed thirty combat missions and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf clusters.  On April 12, Paper Doll was part of a nine ship formation sent to bomb the aircraft assembly plant at Wiener Neustadt, Austria.  Mechanical issues forced the aircraft to abort the mission and Tom landed for repairs at Foggia, about one hundred sixty miles northwest of Manduria.  Paper Doll underwent repairs while Tom and his crew returned to Manduria.  After several days, Tom’s squadron was notified that the repairs had been completed.  On April 18, a crew from Manduria flew Tom, his copilot, navigator, and flight engineer to Foggia to pick up Paper Doll.  According to this crew, Tom made a normal takeoff in Paper Doll and headed out on course for Manduria.  The ferry crew took off and returned to the airfield, but when they arrived, they noted that Paper Doll had not returned.  Late that evening, the squadron learned that Paper Doll had crashed. All four aboard were killed.

Major Davis, the squadron commander, personally investigated the cause of the crash.  He viewed the wreckage of Paper Doll and interviewed an Italian who witnessed the crash.  One of the B-24’s four propellers had stopped turning and the “other three were windmilling as if they were getting no gas. I have checked back on every detail and I have been unable to find the slightest clue which might have caused the four engines to quit,” Davis wrote to Tom’s parents.  “I am sure that something happened which was beyond the control of  Tom.”  Davis added, “ I valued Tom’s flying experience above any man in the Squadron.  He had come back from several missions that I am sure that it was only through his skill and judgment that he was able to return.”

“He was not only a man among men, but a leader among leaders,” Major Davis continued.  “His loss is not only a personal loss to you and to me and this Squadron, but it is a serious loss to Democracy and all it stands for…”

First Lieutenant Thomas Archie Scott was buried in an American Military Cemetery in Italy.  He was survived by his parents, two brothers, and three sisters.  After the war, his remains were returned to the United States and laid to rest in the Columbia Baptist Church Cemetery.

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