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Jack Catton; Pilot Led 1st B-29 Bombers to Mariana Islands

December 07, 1990

Jack J. Catton, the Air Force pilot who led the first B-29 bombers to the Mariana Islands, where they carried out bombing missions over Japan, has died of heart failure. He was 70.

Catton died Tuesday at his residence in Air Force Village West near March Air Force Base in Riverside, an Air Force spokesman said. He is to be buried today at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Born in Berkeley, Catton was raised in the Los Angeles area, where he attended Fairfax High School, Santa Monica Junior College and Loyola University.

He entered the Army Air Corps as a cadet in 1940 and, four years later, led the first B-29s to the Mariana Islands. From there, U.S. forces were able to bomb Japan.

In March, 1945, Catton's plane was blown upward from 7,000 to 10,000 feet by the force of ground explosions from an attack by 300 B-29s on Japan's arsenal at Osaka.

In 1946 and 1947, Catton took part in the first two atomic weapons tests in the Pacific. He also flew combat missions against North Korea after battling back from polio in 1950.

Catton flew throughout his 34-year military career, logging 15,000 flying hours in such aircraft as the C-141 and C-5 cargo planes, every operational bomber from the B-17 through the B-52 and several fighter aircraft including the F-15. He was a charter member of the Aviation Hall of Fame.

He moved to the Pentagon in 1964, rose to lieutenant general and then took command of the 15th Air Force at March AFB, where he subsequently became a full four-star general. He retired from the Air Force in 1974. He then went to work for Lockheed Aerospace Corp. in Burbank, retiring as a senior vice president in 1984.

Catton leaves a son, two daughters and six grandchildren.

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