UNITED STATES PILOTS
Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient Gregory “Pappy” Boyington also had 26 confirmed enemy craft shot down during duty with the U.S. Marines in World War II. However, interestingly enough and perhaps why Foss is credited as the top Marine fighter pilot of the War, Boyington also served with the 1st American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, fighting Japan for the Republic of China before the U.S. entered the war. As a Flying Tiger, he shot down two confirmed enemy aircraft. Boyington was a pilot for the Marines, then went to fight in China, and then joined the Marines again to fight for the U.S. in the Pacific. The Navy and Marines were in need of experienced pilots and Boyington earned his nickname “Pappy” as he was around a decade older than most of his fellow fighter pilots.
Robert S. Johnson
Johnson was the first U.S. fighter pilot operating in Europe to beat the U.S. Word War I ace record set by Eddie Rickenbacker of 26 kills. It was his final mission on May 8th, 1944 that he broke this record and achieved his final total of 27. Johnson was an Oklahoma Boy Scout who had wanted to become a fighter pilot since the age of eight. He developed a reputation as a lone wolf who would break away from his squadron to engage German fighters
With 28 confirmed kills in World War II, Gabreski was the top U.S. ace in the European Theatre. More than that, he became one of seven U.S. fighter pilots to achieve ace status in two wars after combat missions in jet fighters in Korea. The son of Polish immigrants, Gabreski suggested to the U.S. Army Air Force that he spend time with the British Royal Air Force’s Polish Fighter Squadrons, who had gained much experience and had a lot to offer the relatively inexperienced U.S. fighter pilots. He flew 20 missions with the Poles and even helped bring a couple of their pilots into the USAAF when they were still short on experienced pilots.
Thomas B. McGuire
McGuire, just shy of the top spot on the U.S. fighter ace list with 38 kills flew in the 475th Fighter Group, commanded by fellow ace Charles M. MacDonald for 20 months beginning in late 1943. The Group was famous for their squadrons of P-38 Lightings, the pilots of which were among the most successful U.S. fighter aces of the war. As stated in his Medal of Honor citation, McGuire became well known for gallantly assisting his comrades. In one incident, McGuire saw seven Japanese Zero fighters chasing a damaged P-38 and swooped in to help. He shot down three of the Zeros but was shot down himself. He survived the incident but was killed when his plane stalled and flipped during a very tricky, low altitude evasive maneuver on January 7th, 1945.
With 40 confirmed enemy aircraft shot down, Major Bong is the U.S. fighter ace of aces. By mid-1944, Bong had been promoted to V Fighter Command staff and wasn’t required to fly combat missions, but did so anyways and soon earned the Medal of Honor. His assigned fighter design was the P-38 Lightning, which he scored all his kills in. Bong, who admitted to bad gunnery, compensated with daring and pulling in as close as he could to a target before firing. And it was only pilots with the most daring selected by the U.S. to test the turbojet airplanes set to redefine flight for the rest of the century. On August 6th, 1945, while testing the first operational jet plane for the U.S., the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the fuel pump malfunctioned and Bong was killed. His death was front page news, right under the lead story of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.