24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager LuftIII (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”
The prison, located just south of Sagan (Żagań) in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.
Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.
1 March 1972: Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force, and 1st Lieutenant Leigh A. Hodgdon, were flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II serial number 66-7463, call sign Falcon 54. Along with a second F-4, they were assigned to a combat air patrol (MiGCAP) mission over northern Laos.
At approximately 2000 hours, Disco, a Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft, alerted Kittinger to the presence of several Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptors and gave him radar vectors toward the enemy aircraft.
Colonel Kittinger reported:
At approximately 18 miles the system broke lock but it was quickly reacquired. A slow left turn ensued to keep the dot centered. Altitudes were slowly increased from 8,200 feet to 11,500 feet. The Vc on the scope was extremely difficult to interpret; however, it appeared that we were not really overtaking the target, so the outboard tanks were dropped. Heading of the aircraft changed to approximately 360° at time of firing. At approximately 6 miles the “in-range” light illuminated, followed by an increase in the ASE circle. Trigger was squeezed and crew felt a thump as the missile was ejected; however, missile motor did not ignite. The trigger was squeezed again and held for approximately 3 seconds; however missile did not fire. Trigger was squeezed again and missile #3 fired. The missile made a small correction to the left then back to the right and guided straight away. Pilot maintained the dot centered.
Approximately 5 to 6 seconds after launch, detonation was observed. Almost simultaneously, two enemy missiles were observed coming from the vicinity of the detonation. Evasive action prevented more thorough observations of detonation. The flight turned to a heading of 210°, maintained 9,000 feet, airspeed 500 knots, and egressed the area.
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Page 87.
Joe Kittinger is officially credited with the destruction of the MiG 21.
Joseph W. Kittinger II is best known for his participation in experimental high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, he ascended to 97,760 feet (29,490 meters) aboard the Project MAN-HIGH 1. On 16 August 1960, he reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) and then stepped off for the longest free-fall parachute jump—a record that would stand for 52 years.
Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. He was shot down 11 May 1972, when his F-4D, 66-0230, was struck by a missile fired by a MiG 21. (Kittinger’s wingman shot down the MiG.) He and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich were captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for the next 11 months.
21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.
Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”
Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.
Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.
On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.
In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.
The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.
Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.
On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.
On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,
“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”
Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”
In March 1941, Acting Squadron Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.
Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been and inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”
On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.
Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.
On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”
He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.
Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).
On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.
During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.
Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.
In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,
“Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”
In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.
He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).
Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.
Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.
4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.
Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force, was born at Myra, Lincoln County, West Virginia, 13 February 1923. He was the second of five children of Albert Hal Yeager, a gas field driller, and Susan Florence Sizemore Yeager. He attended Hamlin High School, at Hamlin, West Virginia, graduating in 1940.
Chuck Yeager enlisted as a private, Air Corps, United States Army, 12 September 1941, at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky. He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall (1.73 meters) and weighed 133 pounds (60 kilograms), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was assigned service number 15067845. Initially an aircraft mechanic, he soon applied for flight training. Private Yeager was accepted into the “flying sergeant” program.
Sergeant Yeager completed flight training at Yuma, Arizona, and on 10 March 1943, he was given a warrant as a Flight Officer, Air Corps, Army of the United States.
Assigned to the 363rd Fighter Squadron at Tonopah, Nevada, Flight Officer Yeager completed advanced training as a fighter pilot in the Bell P-39 Airacobra.
On 23 October 1943, while practicing tactics against a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers, the engine of Yeager’s P-39 exploded. He wrote,
I was indicating about 400 mph when there was a roaring explosion in he back. Fire came out from under my seat and the airplane flew apart in different directions. I jettisoned the door and stuck my head out, and the prop wash seemed to stretch my neck three feet. I jumped for it. When the chute opened, I was knocked unconscious. . . I was moaning and groaning in a damned hospital bed. My back was fractured and it hurt like hell.
—Yeager: An Autobiography, Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, Inc., New York, 1985, Chapter 3 at Page 21
When the 363rd deployed to England in November 1943, he transitioned to the North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. He named his P-51B-5-NA, 43-6762, Glamourus Glen, after his girlfriend. The airplane carried the squadron identification markings B6 Y on its fuselage. On 4 March 1945, he shot down an enemy Messerschmitt Bf-109G.
On his eighth combat mission, the following day, Yeager was himself shot down east of Bourdeaux, France, by Focke-Wulf Fw 190A 4 flown by Unteroffizier Irmfried Klotz.
. . . The world exploded and I ducked to protect my face with my hands, and when I looked a second later, my engine was on fire, and there was a gaping hole in my wingtip. The airplane began to spin. It happened so fast, there was no time to panic. I knew I was going down; I was barely able to unfasten my safety belt and crawl over the seat before my burning P-51 began to snap and roll, heading for the ground. I just fell out of the cockpit when the plane turned upside down—my canopy was shot away.
—Yeager: an Autobiography, by Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, Chapter 4 at Page 26.
Yeager was slightly wounded. His Mustang was destroyed. Over the next few months he evaded enemy soldiers and escaped through France and Spain, returning to England in May 1944. He returned to combat with a new P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, which he named Glamorous Glenn II.¹ He later flew Glamorous Glen III, P-51D-15-NA Mustang, 44-14888.²
Flight Officer Yeager was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States, 6 July 1944. A few months later, 24 October 1944, he was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. Between 4 March and 27 November 1944, Captain Yeager was officially credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed during 67 combat missions.
During World War II, Captain Yeager had been awarded the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star Medal with “V” (for valor); Air Medal with 6 oak leaf clusters (7 awards); and the Purple Heart.
With the end of the War in Europe approaching, Yeager was rotated back to the United States.
Captain Yeager married Miss Glennis Faye Dickhouse of Oroville, California, 26 February 1945, at at the Yeager family home in Hamlin, West Virginia. The double-ring ceremony was presided over by Rev. Mr. W. A. DeBar of the Trinity Methodist Church. “The pretty brunette was attired in a light aqua crepe dress of street length. Her accessories were black and her corsage was fashioned of yellow rosebuds.”
On 10 February 1947, Captain Yeager received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank retroactive to 6 July 1944 (the date of his A.U.S. commission). He was promoted to first lieutenant on 6 July 1947. (These were permanent Regular Army ranks. Yeager continued to serve in the temporary rank of captain.) When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service, 18 September 1947, Yeager became an Air Force officer.
Captain Yeager was assigned to the six-month test pilot school at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He took part in several test projects, including the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star and Republic P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. Captain Yeager was then selected by Colonel Albert Boyd to fly the experimental Bell XS-1 rocket plane at Muroc Field in the high desert of southern California.
After a series of gliding and powered flights, on 14 October 1957, Captain Yeager and the XS-1 were dropped from a modified B-29 Superfortress at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). (Yeager had named his new rocket plane Glamorous Glennis.) Starting the 4-chambered Reaction Motors rocket engine, Yeager accelerated to Mach 1.06 at 42,000 feet. He had “broken” the Sound Barrier.
Yeager made more than 40 flights in the X-1 over the next two years, exceeding 1,000 miles per hour (1,610 kilometers per hour) and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). He was awarded the Mackay and Collier Trophies in 1948. In 1949, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded its Gold Medal to Captain Yeager. General Yeager’s gold medal is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, along with the Bell X-1 rocket plane, Glamorous Glennis.
The X-1 was followed by the Bell X-1A. On 12 December 1953, Major Yeager flew the new rocket plane to 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour), Mach 2.44, at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters).
After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocket plane’s canopy with his flight helmet.
Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.
Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.
Bell Aircraft Corporation engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.
During the Korean War, Major Yeager test flew a captured North Korean Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter. Its pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, had flown it to Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea, on 21 September 1953.
On 17 November 1954, in a ceremony at The White House, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented the Harmon International Trophy to Major Yeager, for his Mach 2.44 flight. His friend, Jackie Cochran was awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy at the same time.
In 1954, Major Yeager was assigned to command the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany. The 417th flew the North American Aviation F-86H Sabre.
In 1958, Lieutenant Colonel Yeager assumed command of the 1st Fighter Day Squadron at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, which was equipped with the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre.
Yeager attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama, graduating in June 1961.
On 23 July 1962, Colonel Yeager returned to Edwards Air Force Base to become commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School.
The Aerospace Research Pilots School trained all of the U.S. military’s astronaut candidates. One of the training aircraft was the Aerospace Trainer (AST), a highly-modifies Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter. The AST was equipped with a rocket engine and a reaction control system to provide pitch, roll and yaw control when at very high altitudes where the normal aircraft flight controls could not function.
On 10 December 1963, Colonel Yeager was flying an AST, 56-762, on a zoom climb profile, aimingg for an altitude record at approximately 120,000 feet ( meters). He reached only 108,000 feet (32,918 meters) however. On reentry, the AST’s pitch angle was incorrect and its engine would not restart. The airplane went into a spin.
Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.
The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor. I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.
Colonel Yeager commanded the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AFB, Philippine Islands, in July 1966. He flew 127 combat missions over Vietnam with the Martin B-57 Canberra light bomber.
Returning to the United States, in February 1968. Colonel Yeager took command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymore Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The 4th deployed to the Republic of Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.
Colonel Yeager was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 1 August 1969 (date of rank 22 June 1969). He was appointed vice commander, Seventeenth Air Force, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Brigadier General Yeager served as a U.S. defense representative to Pakistan from 1971 to 1973. He was then assigned to the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, near Riverside, California. He took command of the center June 1973.
Brigadier General Yeager made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot in a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edward Air Force Base, 28 February 1975. During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours. He retired the following day, 1 March 1975, after 12,222 days of service.
Chuck Yeager’s popularity skyrocketed following the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff in 1979, and the release of The Ladd Company’s movie which was based on it. (Yeager had a “cameo” appearance in the film.) He became a spokesperson for AC Delco and the Northrop Corporation’s F-20 Tigershark lightweight fighter prototype. In 1986 and 1988, he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Yeager co-wrote an autobiography, Yeager, with Leo Janos, published in 1985, and followed in 1988 with Press On!, co-authored by Charlres Leerhsen.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed General Yeager to the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger Disaster.
Glennis Yeager passed away 22 December 1990 at Travis Air Force Base, Sacramento, California.
TDiA was present at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 October 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Yeager’s flight breaking the sound barrier. Flying in the forward cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-15D Eagle, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel Troy Fontaine and wingman Bob Hoover in a General Dynamics F-16 chase plane, Yeager again left a sonic boom in his path as he flew over the high desert.
On 22 August 2003, Chuck Yeager married Ms. Victoria Scott D’Angelo in a civil ceremony at Incline Village, Nevada.
Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired) died at a hospital in Los Angeles, California, 7 December 2020, at the age of 97 years.
¹ Glamorous Glenn II had initially been assigned to Captain K. Peters, who had named it Daddy Rabbit. The fighter crashed in bad weather 18 October 1944. 2nd Lieutenant Horace M. Roycroft was killed.
² Glamorous Glen III, renamed Melody’s Answer, was lost in combat 2 March 1945, south of Wittenburg, Germany. Its pilot, Flight Officer Patrick L. Mallione, was killed in action. (MACR 12869)
28 January 1919: Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was born at Oil City, Pennsylvania. He was the second child of Stanislaw Gabryszewski, a railroad car repairer, and Jozefa Kapica Gabryszewsky, both immigrants from Poland. He attended Oil City High School, graduating in 1938.
After two years of study at the University of Notre Dame, on 28 Francis S. Gabreski enlisted as a Flying Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 146 pounds (66.2 kilograms). After completing flight training, on 14 March 1941, Gabreski was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve.
Lieutenant Gabreski was assigned as a fighter pilot with the 45th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, at Wheeler Army Airfield, Territory of Hawaii. He flew Curtiss P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks. While at Wheeler, Gabreski met his future wife, Miss Catherine Mary Cochran. They planned to marry, but this was delayed when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Hawaii on 7 December 1941.
On 1 March 1942, Gabreski was promoted to first lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), and then to captain, 16 October 1942. Captain Gabreski was sent to Britain with the 56th Fighter Group.
Because of his Polish lineage and his fluency in the language, Gabreski requested assignment to a Polish fighter squadron fighting with the Royal Air Force. His request was approved and he was assigned to No. 315 Squadron, based at RAF Northolt, London, England, where he flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX. (One of those Spitfires, Spitfire Mk.IXc BS410, is currently under restoration at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.)
As American involvement in the European Theater increased, “Gabby” returned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 July 1943.
Major Gabreski was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 23 January 1944. He took command of the 61st Fighter Squadron on 13 April 1944.
By July 1944, he had shot down 28 enemy fighters in aerial combat and destroyed another three on the ground, making him the leading American fighter ace up to that time.
Having flown 193 combat missions and awaiting transport to the United States, on 20 July 1944 Gabreski decided to take “just one more.” As he made a low strafing run across an enemy airfield near Bassenheim, Germany, the tips of his propeller blades hit the ground, causing a severe vibration. He put his Thunderbolt down on its belly, climbed out and ran to avoid being captured. He evaded the enemy for five days before he was caught. Gabreski was held as a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I until April 1945.
Gabreski was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 24 October 1945. He was released from active duty in September 1946. He then joined the Air National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 6 December 1946.
Gabreski resumed his college education, enrolling as one of the first students at the School of General Studies of Columbia University in 1947. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) in political science, in 1949.
During the the Korean War, Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski served with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. He is credited with shooting down 6.5 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 fighters netween 8 July 1951 and 13 April 1952, while flying North American Aviation F-86A and F-86E Sabres. (The “.5” represents credit shared with another pilot for one enemy airplane destroyed, 20 February 1952.) Gabreski flew 100 combat missions over Korea.
After an assignment as Chief of Combat Operations, Office of the Deputy Inspector General, at Norton Air Force Base in southern California, Colonel Gabreski attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. He was then assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff, Ninth Air Force.
He went on to command two tactical fighter wings, the 354th and the 18th, flying North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabres.
Colonel Gabreski’s final fighter command was the 52nd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) based at Suffolk County Airport, New York, which was equipped with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor.
Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
Gabby Gabreski married Miss Catherine Mary (“Kay”) Cochran, 11 June 1945, at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, Campion College, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. They would have nine children. Mrs Gabreski died in a car accident in 1993.
Two of their sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and became U.S. Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law, Lieutenant General Terry L. Gabreski, USAF, was the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force at the time of her retirement.
Colonel Gabreski was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in combat on 26 November 1943, when he shot down two enemy Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. His other decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two silver and bronze oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards), Bronze Star, Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (seven awards), and Prisoner of War Medal. He was awarded the Royal Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, France’s Légion d’honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm, Poland’s Krzyż Walecznych and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.
In 1991, Suffolk County Airport, New York, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in his honor.
Colonel Gabreski died 31 January 2002 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, New York.