Salute to Service- Philip ‘Casey’ Colman
This week’s edition of salute to service features Philip Colman, a military airman who served his country in WW2 and Korea, and whose exemplary career with the USAAF and USAF saw him rise through the ranks to become one of the elite pilots of his era. In addition, as a civilian, he also found time to give to his adopted local community here in the CSRA, and the Bob Richards Blog is honored to now tell his story.
Despite later making a home and career in the Augusta area after he retired from service Colman was not originally from this part of the world, having been born in Roanoke, VA. He finished high school in 1940 and a year later joined the Army Air Corps, coming to Augusta for the first time to take basic flight training at Bush Field and graduating as a ‘flying sergeant’ following a move to Spence AFB in Moultrie, GA – the same airfield that would later play host to a military flight school ran by another airman we’ve featured in this blog – Beverly ‘Bevo’ Howard. Colman’s first assignment was to fly the T-6 Texan and tow targets for the gunnery school at Eglin Field in Florida, but one of the perks of this job was that when they weren’t needed for towing duty Colman and his colleagues were permitted to fly anything on the base that they wanted – and that was something he took advantage of to gain experience and flight time in fighter planes, which would prove to be invaluable both heading into his next assignment and beyond.
Colman would remain at Eglin Field for that next assignment, as he transferred from the gunnery school to the Air Corps Proving Ground which was also based there. His duties would involve flying planes to their very limits in order to evaluate and ascertain their various capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. As a result Colman took to the skies in many of America’s WW2 fighter planes, but his experience was not limited to the air arsenal of his home country, as he also flew a British Supermarine Spitfire, a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a Japanese ‘Oscar’ fighter as used by the Imperial Japanese Army, which bore many similarities to its naval counterpart, the Zero encountered many times by American forces in the Pacific. Colman’s first combat posting of the war came in 1943 and sent him to the Mediterranean coast of Africa – as Allied forces fought their way north up the Italian peninsula, records show that Colman was one of around 2,000 men bound for Alexandria aboard the British troopship HMT Rohna. However, the vessel would never reach its destination as convoy KMF 26 – which Rohna was traveling with – was attacked by a force of some 30 German Heinkel He 177 bombers off the Algerian coast. The attack was largely repulsed with the unfortunate Rohna being the only vessel lost, but she sank quickly – slipping beneath the waves in under an hour with the loss of around 1,100 lives, most of whom were U.S. military personnel. Colman was one of the lucky ones however and was rescued the next morning by USS Pioneer, after spending the night in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and staying afloat thanks to his inflatable life preserver.
Later in the war, he would serve in Asia with the Chinese-American Composite Wing, flying 86 missions and tallying six aerial kills in his P-40 Warhawk, as he escorted B-25 bombers and provided air-to-ground support to Chinese forces. When the conflict ended he returned to Roanoke and worked as a baby food salesman, before moving to Savannah, GA to fly jets with 158thFighter Squadron, part of the 116th Fighter Group of the Georgia Air National Guard. Reminiscing about this time in his life Colman joked that he was “the only jet-propelled baby-food salesman in the Southeast,”, but it wouldn’t be long before war again imposed itself, as he and his national guard colleagues were ordered to Korea. Flying with the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron based out of Kimpo, Colman achieved 4 more kills during the Korean War to raise his total to 10 and become a double ace, returning to the United States and his Georgia Air National Guard unit after the armistice was signed in 1953. He would go on to command the 158th Fighter Squadron and act as operations officer for 116th Fighter group, and also oversaw 158th squadron’s switch to flying the F-84F ‘Thunderstreak’ jet fighter.
In 1958 Colman became one of our predecessors in auto sales by opening Augusta’s first Volkswagen dealership, before eventually selling the concern to Gerald Jones in the mid 70’s. He retired from service with the Georgia Air National Guard in 1983 having attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, earning many military honors along the way including the Distinguished Flying Cross, and of course the mark of excellence that is ‘double-ace’ status. In later life, Colman was a member of Chapter 172 of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the VFW and maintained his pilot’s license into the new millennium – being known to have passed his flight physical at no less than 79 years of age in December 2001. Lt. Col. Phillip E. Colman passed away on April 28, 2011, but is remembered fondly by the People of Augusta and the local aviation community, with the Airforce Association’s Augusta chapter being named in his honor as a final tribute to this incredible, selfless man.