A World War II Unsung Hero:
By Geraldine Cook October 01, 2012
Lieutenant General Rui Moreira Lima
At the age of 93, Lieutenant General Rui Barbosa Moreira Lima is one of only three
living Brazilian fighter pilots from World War II. A career military officer, he has been
highly decorated and served as commander of Santa Cruz Air Base in Rio de Janeiro from
August 1962 to April 1964, when he was dismissed by the military government that took
control of the country. He has been trying to get a full amnesty since then, but has had no
luck. He also authored several works about aviation and the members of his fighter group,
the best-known of which is titled, Hit ’Em Hard!, a combat memoir from his days in the
Italian theater of operations. In May 2012, Lt. Gen. Rui Moreira Lima sat down with Diálogo
to share some of his stories.
In military circles, it is often said that fighter pilots are “different.” This
statement appears to fit Lieutenant General Rui Moreira Lima like a glove, starting with his
nom de guerre. Even though he was the son of an appellate judge from a well-known family in
Brazil, he chose to be known simply as Rui.
This was the name he wore on his uniform as an aviation second lieutenant when he
commanded 94 missions aboard a P-47 Thunderbolt, most of the time under intense fire from
German anti-aircraft artillery. From October 1944 to May 1945, Brazil’s 1st Fighter Group,
which was formed specifically for combat in Italy during World War II, executed 445
Brazil was the only South American country to send troops to Europe to support the
Allies. “The main concern we had was, basically, to fulfill the mission. It was a pain,
however, to say the least! You had to remain amid crossfire for almost three hours; there
was no place to go where you wouldn’t get shot,” said Lt. Gen. Rui, one of the few remaining
survivors of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB).
The FEB was composed of volunteers, mostly cadets who had recently graduated from
the Brazilian Army Officer Training School, because the Brazilian Air Force did not yet
exist. “Brazil entered World War II after some of its ships were bombed along the Brazilian
coast. In December 1943, the Fighter Group was created. We entered the war with 22 pilots,
and obviously, we had no experience in this.
The important point to emphasize is that the Americans sold us [Brazil] the planes,
and we chose the P-47,” the lieutenant general said. In total, 47 Brazilian pilots
participated in at least one mission during the war. By war’s end, five Brazilians pilots
had been taken prisoners and another five were killed in combat.
The Brazilian pilots’ inexperience was offset by their dedication and desire to win
and honor their country’s name abroad.
“I never consulted a map; I had the whole map of Italy in my head. I and all the
others. There were colleagues who were called homing pigeons, because they knew more than
the map did,” Lt. Gen. Rui said with teary eyes as he remembered those days.
“My first mission was on November 6, 1944. I was already married, my wife was
pregnant, and some days I would write her three letters. However, our main concern was to
fulfill the mission. I went on 94 missions, and my plane was hit nine times, with multiple
shots each time. On one occasion, there were 57 holes in my airplane. I’d taken shots in the
wing, which caused significant damage to its aerodynamics. That was on April 29, 1945. I
almost died,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, Rui cannot pinpoint a specific mission as his main one. To him, they
were all important, especially those in which the pilots were at greater risk. “People were
risking their own lives, and a lieutenant knew that each bomb he dropped and each shot he
fired was a step closer to ending the war. This made us very aware,” he said.
The lieutenant general remembers being on the field the moment the war ended. The
announcement was made three consecutive times over the loudspeakers.
“At first, there was a sort of silence, but then you heard a lot of shouting,” he
recalled. “There was a lot of crying; many tears were shed that day. The end was fantastic,
but then shortly afterward, you knew for sure that war is an act of cowardice. I went out to
the road to see the prisoners passing by, and it was endless. There were young boys, there
were old men, there were all kinds there, and I said, ‘Gosh, we were killing these guys a
moment ago … and now we’re giving them cigarettes.’ ”
Currently, Brazil has approximately 1,400 fighter pilots, no longer shaped in the
same mold as the Fighter Group, but by the doctrine that was established after the war.
“Fighter pilots nowadays are surprisingly well prepared professionally, capable of
piloting any fighter plane. I sense in them an enormous desire to defend Brazil, and the FEB
had enormous influence on this. Our victorious return from Italy, I think, was the last
straw that brought down President Getúlio Vargas’ dictatorship and sowed democracy in
Brazil,” he concluded.
Those heroes that were willing to die so that we could live, will not be forgotten. Coincidentally, just yesterday night, in our circle of friends, we remembered the FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) and the moving visit I paid to the “Museo del Expedicionario” in Curitiba, Brasil. Thank you from my heart to Lt. Gral. Rui. There will always be people who remember the Heroes of America, as American I lower the Paraguayan flag and as a soldier I express my gratitude to Lieutenant Riu who gave everything for his love of freedom. I would like to visit Museo de Los Expedicionarios in Curitiba in the near future.