McFatter, Joe Harry (1920–1988)

By: Joe McFatter, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: April 29, 2020

Joe Harry McFatter, pilot, decorated World War II veteran, and rancher, was born to John Jefferson and Eloise (Luce) McFatter on April 27, 1920, in Uvalde County near Montell, Texas. His father was a rancher in Southwest Texas in the Nueces Canyon area, and his mother was a homemaker. Census information from 1920 to 1940 lists the family in Uvalde, Edwards, and Real counties—all in the vicinity of each other. Joe was raised on ranches and was in the saddle at an early age, becoming a good cowhand and sheep and goat raiser. The family ranch bordered the Nueces River just west of Camp Wood, Texas. Joe McFatter graduated from high school in Rocksprings, Texas, then attended Texas Technological College (present-day Texas Tech University) until his older brother’s health failed. After leaving school, McFatter was employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and worked on construction of Garner State Park on the Frio River in Uvalde County. He then moved to San Antonio, where he sold soap products door-to-door.

In July 1941 McFatter enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps at Fort Sam Houston during the unlimited national emergency period enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt. He spent the first few months in San Antonio in basic training, which included training at Kelly Field (see KELLY AIR FORCE BASE). In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, on December 25 a news release announced McFatter had entered the newly-created Flying Cadet program. During the next three years he went to seventeen military training posts across the country. Initially he was destined to become a troop glider pilot, but when the opportunity arose he chose to become a B-25 Mitchell bomber pilot. At his last base, in Greenville, South Carolina, he met Doris Lucille Jackson, the base commander’s secretary. They married on March 17, 1944.

In September 1944 McFatter finally deployed to the war and co-piloted a B-25 via the south Atlantic route to Monrovia, Liberia, thence to El Aouina, Tunisia, and soon west of Italy to the island of Corsica, which was dubbed “Aircraft Carrier Corsica” because of the plethora of bombers and fighter aircraft based there. His new unit—the 445th Squadron, 321st Bombardment Group, 57th Bombardment Wing, Twelfth Air Force—was based at Solenzara.

Among the Twelfth’s past illustrious commanders was Gen. Jimmie Doolittle (from September 1942 through February 1943), who had led the attack by his B-25s off the deck of the USS Hornet to the Japanese mainland in what became known as the Doolittle Raid. Gen. Robert Knapp was McFatter’s 57th Bombardment Wing commander. By the time Joe joined the 321st, the group had racked up a formidable record in North Africa, Sicily, and France. The B-25 Mitchells were the first to sink a submarine and the first medium bombers to launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier, among many other notable achievements.

On January 21, 1945, McFatter was promoted to first lieutenant and moved from the position of co-pilot to pilot. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross from General Knapp on May 8, 1945, for actions taken on April 11, 1945, when his unit attacked a significant German troop concentration at Argenta, Italy. On that mission in the Po Valley, McFatter followed his leader’s plane as they dropped their bomb loads then raced away, “red-lining” their engines to avoid the wall of “flak” (anti-aircraft artillery). He steadfastly held his plane on the final bomb run while facing heavy anti-aircraft fire. Joe also received the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters for his valor on six high-value, heavily-defended Nazi positions in northern Italy, in the Po Valley and against the rail lines of the Brenner Pass; the missions took place from October 1944 through the winter of 1945. The Nazis had lost most of the support of the Luftwaffe by then and relied heavily on their sophisticated anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) that used highly effective radar control systems. McFatter also wore the American Defense Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal, with two stars.

As the war dragged on and the standard limit of fifty combat missions crept higher (described with the term “mission creep”), McFatter’s mission total increased as well. On his last ten missions he flew the aircraft named, Heaven Can Wait—an appropriate sentiment for the pilot whose mission total ultimately crept to seventy. After the war this aircraft became part of the Brazilian Air Force.

After being released from active duty, McFatter returned home to Camp Wood with his bride Doris and settled into a life of ranching. In 1946 Doris gave birth to Joe Jr., and four years later their second child, Betty Ann, was born. McFatter supplemented his income during the drought years of the 1950s by working as an aircraft electrician at three U. S. Air Force bases near their home. In 1959 the McFatter family moved to Southern California, where Joe found employment as a quality control technician with General Dynamics building the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles, and Doris returned to her wartime skills as an executive secretary. They made their home in San Diego, but three years later returned to Texas as Joe had inherited part of his father’s ranch, and the Atlas missiles were being rapidly deployed at bases around the nation, including Abilene, Texas, where Joe worked for a year before deciding to take the family back to the Camp Wood area to resume ranching.

McFatter continued to ranch and also worked for the Texas Highway Department (see Texas Department of Transportation) for several years, while Doris was the legal secretary with the Kessler law firm in Uvalde. Around 1970 they moved permanently to their Maverick Creek ranch, situated west of Camp Wood, where they lived the remainder of their lives. Following a long bout with cancer, Joe McFatter died at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio on February 5, 1988. His remains were interred at the Montell, Texas, cemetery, where wife Doris was also interred in June 1996. The epitaph on his headstone reads: “A Man of Simple Means, A Hero to His Family.”

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, The Bridgebusters: The True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing (Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2016). 57th Bomb Wing Association (, accessed April 20, 2020. Joe H. McFatter, Jr., The House Daddy Built (Amazon Books, 2019).

  • Military
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

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

Joe McFatter, Jr., “McFatter, Joe Harry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022,

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April 29, 2020