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Captain David McCampbell (January 16, 1910 – June 30, 1996) was an American naval aviator, who became the US Navy’s all-time leading ace with 34 aerial victories during World War II. The third-highest scoring US flying ace of World War II, he was the highest-scoring to survive the war.
McCampbell was born in Bessemer, Alabama, and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. He attended the Staunton Military Academy and one year at the Georgia School of Technology before his appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated with the class of 1933.
Following service aboard a cruiser, 1935-37, McCampbell applied for flight training and was accepted. He received his “wings of gold” in 1938 and was assigned to Fighting Squadron Four on the East Coast. Subsequently he became a landing signal officerand survived the sinking of USS Wasp (CV-7) off Guadalcanal in September 1942.
McCampbell formed VF-15 on September 1, 1943 and led the squadron before being assigned as Commander of Air Group Fifteen in February 1944 to September 1944. As Commander Air Group (CAG) 15, he was in charge of fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. From April to November 1944, his group saw six months of continuous combat and participated in two major air-sea battles, the First and Second Battles of the Philippine Sea. During the more than 20,000 hours of air combat operations before it returned to the United States for a rest period, Air Group 15 destroyed more enemy planes (315 airborne and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy shipping than any other Air Group in the Pacific War. Air Group 15’s attacks on the Japanese in the Marianas and at Iwo JimaTaiwan, and Okinawa were key to the success of the “island hopping” campaign.
In addition to his duties as commander of the “Fabled Fifteen,” then Commander McCampbell became the Navy’s “ace of aces” during the missions he flew in 1944. McCampbell flew at least four F6F Hellcats while aboard the Essex: an F6F-3 namedMonsoon Maiden (damaged by AAA & struck 20 May 1944), another F6F-3 named The Minsi (10½ kills), an F6F-5 named Minsi II, and an F6F-5 named Minsi III (Bureau Number 70143), in which he scored the last 23½ of his 34 kills.
On June 19, 1944, during the “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” Commander McCampbell shot down five Japanese ‘Judy’ dive-bombers, to become an “ace in a day”. Later that afternoon, during a second sortie, McCampbell flamed another two Zekes over Guam. On October 24, 1944, he became the only American airman to achieve “ace in a day” status twice. McCampbell and his wingman attacked a Japanese force of 60 aircraft. McCampbell shot down nine, setting a U.S. single mission aerial combat record. During this same action, his wingman downed another six Japanese warplanes. When he landed his Grumman F6F Hellcat aboard USS Langley (Essex’s flight deck wasn’t clear), his six machine guns had two rounds remaining and his airplane had to be manually released from the arrestor wire due to complete fuel exhaustion. Commander McCampbell received the Medal of Honor for both actions, becoming the only fast carrier task force pilot to be so honored.

[edit]Aerial victories

Date Total Aircraft Types Claimed
11 Jun 1944 1 A6M Zeke destr. (Saipan, Marianas Is.)
13 Jun 1944 1 Ki-49 Helen destr. (Saipan, M.I.)
19 Jun 1944 5 D4Y Judys destr. (1st sortie, Marianas Turkey Shoot, Philippine Sea)
19 Jun 1944 2 A6M Zekes destr. (2nd sortie, Guam, M.I.)
23 Jun 1944 A6M Zekes destr. (1 shared-credit w Ens C.Plant) (Orote Af, Guam)
12 Sep 1944 4 J2M Jacks destr. (Cebu Af, Philippine Is.)
13 Sep 1944 3 1 K5Y Willow, 1 Ki-43 Oscar & 1 B5N Kate destr. (Negros Is., P.I.)
22 Sep 1944 1 G3M Nell destr. (Manilla Bay, P.I.)
23 Sep 1944 ½ F1M2 Pete destr. (credit shared w Ens R.Nall) (Cebu Is., P.I.)
21 Oct 1944 2 1 Ki-46 Dinah, 1 K5Y Willow destr. (Tablas Is., P.I.)
24 Oct 1944 9 5 A6M Zekes, 2 A6M3 Hamps & 2 Ki-43 Oscars destr. (Leyte Gulf, P.I.)
05 Nov 1944 2 1 D3A Val & 1 A6M Zeke destr. (Nichols Af, P.I.)
11 Nov 1944 1 Ki-43 Oscar destr. (Ormac Bay, P.I.)
14 Nov 1944 1 Ki-43 Oscar destr. (Manilla Bay, P.I.)
For his brilliant record in command of Air Group 15, McCampbell received the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Silver StarLegion of Merit with Combat “V”, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Gold Stars in lieu of the second and third awards, and the Air Medal.
Following World War II, McCampbell had several postings, including command of the carrier USS Bon Homme Richard from 1959 to 1960. He also served as the plans division chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Captain McCampbell retired from active duty in 1964. He died in 1996 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
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The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor


Rank and Organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, Air Group 15. Place and Date First and second battles of the Philippine Sea, 19 June 1944. Entered Service at:Florida. Born: 16 January 1 910, Bessemer, Ala. Other Navy Awards: Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars, Air Medal.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commander, Air Group 15, during combat against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. An inspiring leader, fighting boldly in the face of terrific odds, Comdr. McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our fleet on 19 June 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed 7 hostile planes during this single engagement in which the outnumbering attack force was utterly routed and virtually annihilated. During a major fleet engagement with the enemy on 24 October, Comdr. McCampbell, assisted by but l plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of 60 hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down 9 Japanese planes and, completely disorganizing the enemy group, forced the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the fleet. His great personal valor and indomitable spirit of aggression under extremely perilous combat conditions reflect the highest credit upon Comdr. McCampbell and the U.S. Naval Service.