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PRENDERGAST, ALBERT CONOLY, JR.

PRENDERGAST, ALBERT CONOLY, JR. (1918–1951). Albert Conoly Prendergast, Jr., was born on July 2, 1918, in Waco, Texas, to Albert Conoly and Eva K. Prendergast. He came from a distinguished Texas family. His great-grandfather, Davis M’Gee Prendergast, was a well-known lawyer, politician, and Civil War veteran, while his grandfather, Albert Collins Prendergast, served as chief justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Albert Prendergast, Jr., joined the Army Air Forces prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, where he served as an instructor pilot and as a B-29 bomber training group commander.

At the conclusion of the war, Major Prendergast left active duty with the Army Air Forces and returned to Dallas, where he became involved in the insurance business, A. C. Prendergast & Company, started by his father. He married and fathered four sons. He also maintained his ties with the military, serving as the executive officer of the fledgling Texas Air National Guard. Due in part to his efforts, the 181st Fighter Squadron of the Texas National Guard was granted federal recognition in February 1947. The unit, which he organized and commanded, was then assigned to the 136th Fighter Group of the Texas Air National Guard and flew F-51 fighters out of Hensley Field in Dallas (see NAVAL AIR STATION, DALLAS). Major Prendergast served as squadron commander of the 181st Fighter Squadron, then received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and assumed command of the 136th Fighter Group in 1948.

In October 1950 the 136th Fighter Group was mobilized, along with other Air National Guard units, for service in the Korean conflict. Lieutenant Colonel Prendergast was promoted to colonel and designated as the commander of the renamed 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing. He led the wing to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where it underwent further training. At Langley, the 136th completed its conversion from the propeller-driven F-51 fighters to F-84 jet fighters. In July 1951 Colonel Prendergast led the 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing overseas to Itazuke Air Base, Japan. Under his leadership, the wing conducted combat operations in support of United Nations forces on the Korean Peninsula beginning May 24, 1951. By November of 1951 Colonel Prendergast’s command was scheduled to move to the Korean Peninsula, where it would remain until the summer of 1952, when it returned to Texas. However, Colonel Prendergast would not return to Texas with his airmen. Instead, he was killed on his twenty-fourth combat mission. His last combat sortie occurred on November 5, 1951, in which he led a flight of F-84s to Sinan-Ju to bomb railroad lines. After the mission, Colonel Prendergast led his flight back to Taegu Air Base, South Korea. Unfortunately, the base was obscured by low clouds, forcing Colonel Prendergast and his airmen to another field, where he ordered them to land first although he was critically low on fuel. When he was finally able to approach to land, however, his aircraft exhausted its fuel supply and he was forced to bail out of the stricken aircraft. Although his parachute opened, he was too close to the ground for his parachute to break his fall and was fatally injured. Not realizing that he had been killed, an Air Force rescue helicopter launched from the base to pick him up. The rescue crew recovered his body, which was returned to Texas for burial.

After his death, Colonel Prendergast was posthumously honored by the Texas Senate, which published a memorial resolution in his honor. The resolution praised his military service and his efforts in helping to establish the Texas Air National Guard. The resolution described Colonel Prendergast as “unswerving in his interpretation of a citizen’s duty to his country” and lauded his skill at building the 136th into “a hard-hitting combat force whose esprit de corps and effectiveness were second to none.” Finally, the resolution noted that his portrait would be placed in the Senate chamber in “appreciation of the honor that he has bestowed on the citizen soldiery of Texas.” The 136th Fighter Bomber Wing flew approximately 15,515 combat sorties, destroying four enemy aircraft and damaging an estimated seventy-two others while participating in three Korean War campaigns. Under Colonel Prendergast’s leadership, the 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing of the Texas Air National Guard became the first Air National Guard wing to go into combat, and the wing’s 182nd Fighter Squadron became the first Air National Guard unit to destroy an enemy aircraft. It was recognized as the most outstanding fighter-bomber wing to see action in Korea during June 1, 1951, to December 31, 1951. Prendergast was buried in Hillcrest Mausoleum in Dallas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, April 15, 1941; June 21, 1944; January 31, 1947; August 1, 1947; August 21, 1948; September 8, 1950; March, 17, 1951; July 22, 1951; December 9, 1951; April 15, 1954. 50th Anniversary, 1947–1997: 136th Wing, Hensley Field, Dallas, Texas. RenĂ© J. Francillon, The United States Air National Guard (London: Aerospace Publishing and Westport, Connecticut: Airtime Publishing, 1993). Charles J. Gross, Turning Point: The Air National Guard and the Korean War (Arlington, Virginia: National Guard Bureau, August 2000). Time Magazine, November 19, 1951.

Gregory W. Ball

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Gregory W. Ball, "PRENDERGAST, ALBERT CONOLY, JR.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpr41), accessed October 30, 2014. Uploaded on November 22, 2010. Modified on January 10, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.