WWII pilot gets thanks from son of the man he saved

The Rev. Thomas Papazoglakis, of Clifton Parks, NY., shows WWII veteran 1st Lt. Philip S. (Pots) Wilmot a certificate from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, that honors Pots, 1st Lt. W.E. Brown and Lt. Ray Plant for their heroism during the war. (Kyle Mills/Glenwood Springs Post Independent via AP) GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — Miles apart from one another, two men celebrated a single day in history as their defining moment.

One of the men, 1st Lt. Philip S. (Pots) Wilmot, of Glenwood Springs, remembers it as the most important thing he did during World War II.

The other man, the Rev. Thomas Papazoglakis of Clifton Park, New York, was not alive that day in 1945, but he knows that without the help of two marine pilots his dad would never have made it back from the war, never married his mother and therefore he never would have been born.

It all started when Pots, a Marine pilot and World War II veteran, shared the story of when he helped escort a damaged Navy torpedo bomber to safety to author and friend Martin Irons.

"I think that’s why I was put here, to save Rev. Tom’s dad; that’s my ultimate achievement." — Philip S. (Pots) Wilmot, WWII pilot from Glenwood Springs

Pots had always wondered what had happened to the crew of that aircraft. Irons, who met Pots while researching for a book project, decided to look into it for his story.

“This whole thing unfolded in about 44 hours,” Irons said. And on the 73th anniversary of the attack last March, he made contact with Papazoglakis, rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Clifton Park.

Neither Pots nor Papazoglakis had ever shared their stories, or even been able to meet each other, until a recent Friday in Glenwood Springs.

"It was my best day and my worst day," Pots told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent during his meeting with Papazoglakis at Pots’ daughter’s house.

Flying in a Vought F4U Corsair, Pots and his squadron were tasked with a mission to attack Kure Naval Base, one of four principal naval shipyards operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy, located on the island of Honshu.

"One went off right next to my wing, I closed my eyes thinking I was dead, but all it did was knock me around," said Pots, remembering the attack with amazing detail right down to checking his oil pressure after the hit.

After dive bombing and hitting a carrier with three rockets, Pots was separated from his commander as he pulled up from his dive. In the chaos of the attack, Pots was able to locate fellow pilot 1st Lt. W.E. Brown, and slid up into formation with him for the return to their carrier.

As they flew under the clouds on their way back to the Bunker Hill, an Essex class aircraft carrier, Wilmot and Brown spotted a damaged Grumman Avenger TBM-3. The aircraft came out of the clouds smoking and losing altitude. Knowing the plane was not going make it back to its carrier […]

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