WWII dogfight ends in unlikely bond for pilots

ZEBULON, N.C. — Barrie Davis has long wanted to look into the eyes of the pilot who nearly blasted his P-51 Mustang out of the sky over a field in Romania during World War II.

After 65 years, he'll finally get his chance.

In a rendezvous arranged by a magazine writer and his filmmaker son, Davis and his wartime nemesis, Ion Dobran, will meet face to face for the first time later this month.

It will be different now, of course. Davis, who flew for the U.S. Army Air Corps, and Dobran, a Romanian Air Force pilot, both went on to become aces during the war. Just months after their dogfight, Romania changed sides, fighting with Allied forces to defeat Hitler.

After the war, both men went home and resumed their civilian lives. Davis went into newspapers and printing, running Gold Leaf Publishers. Dobran worked a series of trades before becoming a pilot in civil aviation. A world apart, they worked until they could retire. But each held on to the memories of military service and wondered, at times, about the fellow in that other plane.

"I'm just eager to see him," Davis said of Dobran. "I never saw him or his airplane the day he shot me up."

Davis had been an eager recruit.

A 1940 graduate of the former Wakelon High School in Zebulon, Davis enrolled in early 1941 at Wake Forest University. That fall, he dropped out to enlist in service just as America was about to enter the war.

The way he remembers it, the Air Corps sorted men this way:

"If you were smart, they made you a navigator. If you were steady, they made you a bombardier. All the rest of us, they made pilots."

Davis was trained as a fighter pilot and assigned to the 15th Air Force in the U.S. Mediterranean operations, based in southern Italy. He was 20 years old.

His primary job was to escort bombers on raids. The one-man fighter planes protected the slow-moving bombers and their crews.

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