Profiles in Courage: Manuel J. Aldecoa
By: Warhawk Air Museum
Posted On: May 19, 2023
Manuel J. Aldecoa was born on November 26, 1917 in Boise, Idaho. His father, Domingo, and his mother, Maria, were Basque immigrants. Manuel had a brother named Basil and three sisters: Benedicta, Delphine, and Maurina. The Aldecoas worked as sheep farmers, but Manuel had a knack for mechanics and worked summers at Cranston Chevrolet in Boise when in high school. In 1936, Manuel graduated from Boise High School and attended the University of Idaho to study mechanical engineering and become a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity.
In November of 1940, Manuel enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received radio operator training at Scott Field in Illinois and was then stationed at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington. Manuel was accepted to aviation cadet training two years later. Basic training took place in Santa Maria, California. While stationed at Williams Field in Chandler, Arizona, Manuel was promoted to second lieutenant in April of 1943. He then went to Olympia Air Base in Olympia, Washington.
In September of 1943, Manuel was sent to England, and while on his way Manuel wrote to his parents via V-mail dated August 10, 1943:
Here I am out in the middle of this big ocean. It is quite an experience for me being my first boat ride. We have had comparatively smooth sailing so far and I pray it continues thus.
Manuel was assigned to the 55th Fighter Group 343 Fighter Squadron and flew a Lockheed P-38 Lightning – he was in the first group to fly them from England. He would fly in escort protections for bombers in the Wilhelmshaven, Munster and Bremen raids as well as others.
On November 25, 1943 (Thanksgiving Day), Manuel was following the lead of Lieutenant Colonel Jack Jenkins for a raid over Lille, France—at the same time that German Major Johannes Siefert was patrolling and leading the Sixth and Eighth Staffels from JG 26. Siefert had participated in 439 missions for the Luftwaffe and had 57 confirmed Allied kills. “Siefert’s FW 190s were northwest of incoming P-38s, but below them by several thousand feet” (Gray, 1998). Siefert came up behind the P-38 piloted by Manuel—who was last in formation. Seeing Siefert’s FW 190, Manuel turned to face him, initiating a dog fight. With adrenaline, gunfire, and the desire to take each other down, the two pilots fought. Manuel did not return to base.
A telegram dated December 1, 1943 was sent to the Aldecoas notifying them of the heartbreaking news that their son and brother was missing in action.
Major General of the U.S. Army, W. E. Kepner, wrote in a letter dated December 14, 1943 to Manuel’s father:
My dear Mr. Aldecoa:
It is my sad portion to write that your splendid son is now missing…We shall miss him and the strong help he always gave in full, more and more as our battles become increasingly difficult…Our country is being preserved for all of us by such men as Manuel. May it be of solace for me to say that he went as a red blooded man, his colors flying and in honor; with his eyes fixed forward on a great ideal. We pilots know that his blood, and indeed the blood of each of us when it happens, will not be spilled in vain. The memories held by those we leave behind make it worth while, for they—our loved ones—will keep us alive until we meet again.
It was a mid-air collision. The wings of the two planes collided and both lost control. Siefert went down with his plane. Manuel was seen parachuting from his P-38 but he did not return to his base that Thanksgiving Day.
Manuel’s friend, Vincent Aguirre, wrote in a letter to his sister Flora dated December 18, 1943:
Our squadron commander saw the fight as both planes were coming together almost head-on with guns blazing. One of Manuel’s engines caught fire but he stuck to his guns until the other plane was seen to spin down through the clouds. Manuel was then seen to have parachuted safely out at about 6,000 ft.
In a telegram dated January 26, 1944, Manuel’s parents learned of his fate. Manuel was killed in action. He did not survive the parachute fall. He had died the day before his 26th birthday.
In a letter dated February 8, 1946 from the Headquarters of the Army Air Forces written by Leon W. Johnson, the USA Brigadier General and Chief of the Personnel Services Division:
In an effort to furnish the next of kin with all available details concerning casualties among our personnel, the Army Air Forces recently completed the translation of several volumes of captured German records…His body was interred 27 November 1943 in the English part of the local cemetery of Meriville, grave 91.
Manuel comes from a family of fighters and courageous heroes. Manuel’s sister, Delphine was the second female air traffic chief controller in the United States and the first female air traffic chief controller in the western part of the United States. Sisters Benedicta and Delphine, were both stationed at Great Falls, Montana, working in air traffic control during World War II. His oldest sister, Maurina, was stationed in London, England at the Office of Strategic Services during the war working for counterintelligence, including processing plans for D-Day. Manuel’s great nephew, Andrew, flew in an EA-6B Prowler in two tours in Iraq. Manuel’s father, Domingo, and his brother, Basil, started the family sheep ranch: Aldecoa and Sons.
Manuel Aldecoa is now buried in Boise, Idaho at the Morris Hill Cemetery. A memorial containing his name stands in Nuthampstead, Herts, England. Manuel earned the Air Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, the Honorable Service Lapel Button for World War II, and the Purple Heart.
- Brown , Ruth. “WWII Veterans Receive Multiple Awards for Service.” Idaho Press Tribune , 9 Apr. 2015, https://www.idahopress.com/members/wwii-veterans-receive-multiple-awards-for-service/article_9d7b5474-de72-11e4-baeb-73c4c028123e.html. Accessed 5 May 2023.
- “BMCC Oral Histories - The Basque Museum & Cultural Center: Boise, ID.” The Basque Museum & Cultural Center | Boise, ID, 28 Feb. 2019, https://basquemuseum.eus/listen/bmcc-oral-histories/?person_id=20131&oral_history_id=20132.
- Gray, John M. “Chapter 4 Escorts and Fighter Sweeps .” The 55th Fighter Group vs. the Luftwaffe, Specialty Press, North Branch, MN, 1998.
- “2LT Manuel J. Aldecoa (1917-1943) - Find a Grave...” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/130170684/manuel-j-aldecoa.