By Kevin M. Hymel, Contract Historian
On September 14, 2022, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron flew a unique formation over Arlington National Cemetery to honor the burial of twin brothers Lt. Gen. Charles “Buck” and Maj. Gen. Cuthbert “Bill” Pattillo and their wives. Typically, one F-16 pulls out of the six-aircraft pattern to create the missing-man formation, but in this flyover, two pulled out to honor the two former Thunderbird pilots. “We don’t have a name for it,” said Capt. Kaity Toner, a fellow Thunderbird pilot. “We just call it the ‘Pattillo Pull.’”
The Thunderbirds were honoring their own with the formation, since both Pattillo brothers helped found the Air Force’s first demonstration team, the Sky Blazers, and the subsequent Thunderbirds. The two F-16s that pulled out of the formation were on the left and right wing, both of which positions the Pattillo twins flew.
This funeral was unique for Arlington National Cemetery, two brothers and their spouses were buried simultaneously, as Bobby Francis Brown Pattillo, Charles Pattillo’s wife, and Joyce Matthews, Cuthbert Pattillo’s wife, were buried with their husbands. “Bobby passed away two years ago,” explained Scott Pattillo, Charles’s son and a retired Air Force pilot.
The twins had long military careers. In 1942, both dropped out of high school at age 18 to join the Army Air Forces during World War II, and both flew P-51 Mustangs for the Eighth Air Force, protecting bombers over Europe. “They grew up in east Atlanta, dirt poor,” said Scott Pattillo. From England, they would write their friends about how astonished they were about the food the military provided them. Scott recalled them writing, “My gosh, we get meat and eggs every day,” adding, “They never had that growing up.”
After the war, the twins remained in the military but transferred to the Air Force after its creation in 1947. When jets replaced propeller aircraft, both brothers worked to develop new aerial tactics in Europe, often flying low, or “buzzing,” the airfield at the end of their missions. After a while, the buzzing became expected. According to Scott, they began putting on low acrobatic flying demonstrations: “That morphed into what became the Sky Blazers.” The Air Force, impressed with their talented fliers, eventually created its own demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, which the twins joined. Both later commanded fighter wings during the Vietnam War.
After the flyover the three-rifle volley and the folding of the flag over four sets of urns, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown presented two American flags to different members of the Pattillo families. When the ceremony ended, both Brown and Air Force Chaplain (Colonel) William Spencer shook hands and spoke with family members sitting in the front row of the service. “As the senior Air Force chaplain,” Col. Spencer later explained, “I wanted to offer condolences to the family.”
Both Pattillo brothers wanted to be buried side-by-side at ANC. Their families made sure that this happened, waiting until their wives passed away to bury them all together. “The Pattillo twins served their military career side-by-side, and even when they retired, they were neighbors for the longest time,” explained Scott. “So now to spend eternity together at Arlington, side-by-side, with the rest of their families—it’s just so special to all of us.”
The legacy of the Pattillo twins lives on today in Charles Pattillo’s granddaughter, Air Force Capt. Meghan Pattillo, who grew up listening to her grandfather’s and great-uncle’s stories about their flying exploits. “That’s what I wanted to do since I was six years old, and they did nothing but support me and push that dream,” she said. “And now I fly the F-16.”
Capt. Pattillo thought the Thunderbirds’ “Pattillo Pull” appropriate for the occasion. “Watching [the planes] just fly off into the distance together was perfect because that’s just the way they were,” she explained. “You can’t separate them.”