65 Years Later, WWII Fighter Ace Living In NorCal

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by syscom3, Jun 24, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The U.S. Navy and its pilots fought one of the most decisive naval battles in World War II exactly 65 years ago, and one of the legendary American fighter pilot aces from that battle still lives in Northern California.

    In June 1944, the war in the Pacific raged. American forces were a long way from home, streaming through the Southern Pacific to the Philippine Sea.

    Destination: The Mariana Islands, then held by the Empire of Japan.

    Sixty-five years ago, Alex Vraciu was a pilot assigned to the U.S.S. Lexington aircraft carrier, which was en route to protect their fleet for an invasion of Saipan.

    Alex and his squadron of twelve F6F "Hellcat" fighters were on standby, awaiting word that Japanese planes had been spotted.

    "We were expecting a good 400 planes of theirs coming in," Vraciu said from his home in Danville, where he's lived for more than 30 years. On June 19, he and his fellow pilots got the word.

    "They said, 'Man your planes.'".

    By the time Lt. Vraciu caught up to his squadron, the first wave of Japanese had been wiped out, but, "all of a sudden, a second strike was located," he said.

    A mass of enemy planes was about 75 miles out and closing fast.

    "All of a sudden, I spotted a big group of, a random group of about 50 of them coming in," Alex said.

    His first thought was what any well-trained fighter pilot would think: "Mmm, meat," he laughed.

    His next thought was what his former skipper, the famous ace Butch O'Hare taught him: Get close and conserve ammo.

    "I wanted to have enough ammunition to get 12 of 'em if I could," Alex said. "The first one I got [a hit] on, then pulled up again, and then there were two staggered. I went after the back one and barely opened fire, and he caught on fire and was heading down."

    Lt. Vraciu wasn't able to get full power out of his Hellcat, and it began spewing oil all over his windshield, wrecking his visibility, but he refused to drop out of the fight.

    "I'd have stayed up there if I'd have to flap my wings," Alex laughed.

    Japanese divebombers nicknamed Judys and Zeros were everywhere. He shot down another plane and saw more nearby.

    "I dipped a wing and slide over onto the tail of the next one," Vraciu said. "Caught him on fire and he was heading down, and I could see the tail gunner still firing at me as he was heading down, burning."

    "For a split second, just that sight, I felt sorry for the bastard," he added, "but that wasn't for long."

    Other pilots were trying to kill him as his fourth dogfight ended in victory, but his fifth proved memorable.

    "I've never seen a plane blow up like that," he said. "I must have hit the bomb."

    Lieutenant JG Vraciu got one more Japanese plane that day, six victories in a mere eight minutes. He scanned the skies through his oil-stained canopy and saw only friendly planes in the sky.

    "Pieces where we had come from floating down and burning slicks on the water," Alex remembered. "There were nothing but Hellcats left down there."

    After the sixth kill, a sense of patriotism washed over him.

    "I put my hand over my heart, and I said, 'This is my payback for Pearl Harbor,'" he recalled.

    The enemy air strike had been wiped out, and his pilots returned to the Lexington mostly intact.

    Vraciu's log book was filled with red after the fight, proving his six kills. A photographer snapped a picture of Lt. Vraciu holding his hands up, becoming one of the most famous pictures from the war in the Pacific and one that is now synonymous with the "Marianas Turkey Shoot."

    "We controlled the air from that point on," Alex said.

    Alex Vraci remained the top ace of World War II for four months.
     

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  2. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    #2 wheelsup_cavu, Jun 24, 2009
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
    It's always great to know the story behind the picture.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Wheelsup
     
  3. lesofprimus

    lesofprimus Active Member

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    Gotta love this guy....
     
  4. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Excellent Sys...thanks..:D
     
  5. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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  6. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Pretty cool.
     
  7. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Excellent sys, thanks for posting. :salute: :salute:
     
  8. Pong

    Pong Active Member

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    Great story Sys. 6 kills in eight minutes, that's amazing.
     
  9. Vraciu

    Vraciu Member

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    You understand now why I have such nick.
     
  10. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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  11. Doughboy

    Doughboy Member

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    What an amazing story.:salute:
     
  12. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    And an oil stained canopy.
     
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