WWII airman flew 68 missions over European Theater
From the time he turned 8 years old, Lloyd Joseph Geist always knew he wanted to fly.
Lloyd was born to Karl and Lucille Eleonore Geist on July 2, 1921, in New Orleans, where Karl worked as an accountant for Lucille’s family, which owned 14 plantations up and down the Mississippi. When he was four, the family moved to Houma.
In 1926, his father bought a 22-acre farm on Bayou Black just before a hurricane struck and damaged every sugar mill and outhouse in Terrebonne Parish. All of the roads in the parish were gravel and the Intracoastal Canal had not yet been dug.
Lloyd rode to school in an old Model T bus with cushionless wooden seats and open windows running the length of the bus. Occasionally, he and his brother, Oswald, would have to jump out to give the vehicle a push when it got stuck in the rocks.
When he was 8, two barnstorming pilots landed in a field near his parents’ farmhouse. During the 1920s, airplane pilots would fly from town to town, offering rides in the plane for a price and entertaining crowds by performing stunts.
Lloyd ran out to meet the men as they climbed out of the plane cockpits.
“They asked him how they could get to town,” recalled Marilyn Geist, Lloyd’s wife of 55 years. “And he said, ‘My daddy can take you.’”
The pilots asked Lloyd to watch the plane and the eager youth agreed. In return, the pilots took Lloyd on his first airplane flight.
He knew from that point on that he would be a pilot.
When Lloyd graduated from Terrebonne High School, which at the time stood where the courthouse in downtown Houma stands today, Lloyd spent a few years working for Texaco.
But he wanted to fly, so he left that to join the Army Air Corps in January 1940. But a college degree was required in order to train as a pilot and Lloyd couldn’t afford to go to college. He settled for the next best thing, which was becoming an aircraft mechanic.
He specialized in propeller overhaul at MacDill Field, which later evolved into MacDill Air Force Base, seven miles south of Tampa, Florida. He took private lessons, paying nearly two-thirds of his salary for a half-hour of flight time each week for five months and finally flew solo on June 1, 1941.
Six months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States was thrust into WWII. The Air Corps reduced the requirements for pilot training to two years of college or an equivalent.
Lloyd studied and passed the test by January 1942. He was assigned to the 404th Fighter Group, a division of the now-called Army Air Force that would prove to be instrumental in driving the Germans back to Berlin in the European Theater.
Lloyd flew a P-47 Thunderbolt, a workhorse of a plane, capable of taking a beating.
In his 2003 oral history, Lloyd told a crowd of WWII enthusiasts stories from his 68 missions. It was not uncommon for his aircraft to return safely with exposed pistons and bullet holes in the wings large enough for aircraft mechanics to stand inside.
“It could be shot up pretty bad and still make it home, whereas a lot of airplanes that doesn’t happen,” said Charlie Hammond, owner of Hammond Air Service, who first learned from Lloyd how to fly when he was just a teenager. “They get shot up a little bit and they start leaking here and there and everywhere, but the ol’ P-47 wasn’t that.”
Lloyd said, “I’ve seen them come back riddled with bullet holes, entire cylinders blown off, half a rudder gone, and on one occasion, with a part of the wing gone.”
On the morning of June 6th, Lloyd and the rest of the 404th Fighter Group provided air cover for the invasion of Normandy Beach in France.
He had flown over those same beaches before on missions and said he remembered they were “the color similar to the beaches at Grand Isle, a light gray.”
“From 8,000 feet, you could not tell it was men and bodies that were lying there with their equipment that had already been stopped from deadly fire from higher ground,” Lloyd said during his oral history.
After the Normandy Landing, Lloyd flew a multitude of missions pushing the Germans back to their homeland. He confessed he escaped death more times than he probably should have. He bombed German tank battalions, supply trains, machine gun emplacements and anti-aircraft batteries.
Less than six months before the Germans surrendered, in November 1944, Lloyd was offered the chance to come home a 1st Lieutenant or stay a few more weeks and go home a Captain in the U.S. Army Air Force. Out of the 16 buddies he left the U.S. with, only four were still alive and one was being held as a POW in Germany.
He’d managed to survive through the entire European air campaign that far and decided not to push his luck. So he came home.
A hero. •