John Elder was born on April 8, 1919, in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on November 2, 1941, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings at Victoria, Texas, on May 20, 1942. After completing P-47 Thunderbolt training, he joined the 50th Fighter Group, which later re-formed as the 355th Fighter Group, and went with the unit to England in June 1943. Elder became Commander of the 357th Fighter Squadron in July 1944, and Commander of the 355th Fighter Group in October 1945, serving in the Occupation of Germany until March 1946. While in Europe, Col Elder was credited with destroying 8 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus 1 damaged, and 13 enemy aircraft on the ground while strafing enemy airfields. He left active duty on December 24, 1946, and served with the Air Force Reserve until being recalled to active duty on May 14, 1951. Col Elder served with the 52nd Fighter Interceptor Wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, from May to June 1951, and then served as commander of the 105th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Berry Field, Tennessee, from June 1951 to March 1952. His next assignment was as commander of the 469th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at McGhee Tyson Airport, Tennessee, from April 1952 to February 1954, followed by service as commander of the 82nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Iceland from March to November 1954. Col Elder served as Director of Material with the 4711th Air Defense Wing at Presque Isle AFB, Maine, from November 1954 to June 1955, and then as commander of the 528th and the 23rd Material Squadron at Presque Isle AFB from June 1955 to May 1956. After completing F-86D Sabre Combat Crew Training, he served as current operations officer with the 4620th Air Defense Wing at Lexington, Massachusetts, from November 1956 to July 1958, followed by service as director of operations and then as missile operations officer for the Montgomery Air Defense Sector at Gunter AFB, Alabama, from July 1958 to August 1961. Col Elder served with the 58th Tactical Missile Group at Osan AB, South Korea, from August 1961 to January 1962, and then as deputy director of support operations with the 6314th Support Wing at Osan AB from January to May 1962. His final assignment was with the 507th Air Base Group at Kincheloe AFB, Michigan, where he served as director of material, squadron commander, and chief of supply services from May 1962 until his retirement from the Air Force on April 1, 1966. John Elder died on July 27, 1996.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
For gallantry in action while furnishing withdrawal support for a formation of heavy bombers over Germany, 2 November 1944. Shortly after his group frustrated an attack by jet propelled fighters, Major Elder observed an airdrome with several planes circling to land. Singling out a ME-109, he destroyed it, and without previous knowledge as to the extent of ground defenses, launched a bold strafing attack. Leading his squadron in five (5) successive sweeps over the field in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, he personally destroyed five (5) enemy planes and neutralized two (2) gun positions before retiring with a damaged engine. On the return journey, he ignored the condition of his aircraft to protect a crash landed pilot against possible attack by low flying fighters until he could reach cover. The damaging blow dealt the enemy on this occasion is largely attributable to Major Elder's gallant leadership and indomitable fighting spirit.