Navy ace who tallied six victims in eight minutes dies at 96

lt alexander vraciu

US Navy pilot Alexander Vraciu, who once shot down six enemy aircraft in just eight minutes, died last week at age 96.

Vraciu, nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions during First Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” would go on to shoot down 19 Japanese aircraft, and destroy 21 more on the ground during World War II.

In December 1944 he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a December mission over the Philippines. Vraciu was rescued by Filipino resistance fighters and spent six weeks with guerrillas before making his way back to US forces.

Vraciu, who ended World War II as the fourth-highest ranking Navy ace, spent 24 years in all in the Navy. A graduate of DePauw University, he would go on to raise five children with his wife Kathryn.

Vraciu, commissioned a Naval Reserve ensign in the summer of 1942, joined Fighting Squadron Six under Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the navy’s first ace of World War II. The move proved propitious as O’Hare made Vraciu his wingman and gave him invaluable advice regarding air combat.

The squadron entered combat in October 1943, flying from USS Independence.

Vraciu registered his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on Oct. 10, 1943. He followed a Japanese Zero to Wake Island, where it landed. Vraciu strafed the fighter plane on the ground, then spotted a G4M Betty bomber and shot it down.

When the squadron moved to USS Intrepid, Vraciu saw his totals began to grow: he shot down three Betties on Jan. 29, 1944, and four fighters over Truk Atoll on Feb. 17.

Vraciu’s most successful day as an aviator occurred on June 19, 1944, during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. He intercepted a formation of Japanese dive bombers, destroying half a dozen in just eight minutes.

After Vraciu landed, ordnancemen discovered that he had used only 360 bullets. That meant that, on average, each of the six kills had followed a burst less than five seconds long.

The next day, escorting bombers in an attack on the Japanese Mobile Fleet, Vraciu downed his 19th and final enemy plane.

For his actions at the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, Vraciu was nominated for the Medal of Honor. He would instead receive the Navy Cross.

Vraciu, a native of Chicago, retired from the Navy in 1964 and entered the banking profession. He spent his last 50-plus years in California.

(Top: Photo of US Navy ace Alexander Vraciu following his 19th and final air victory, in the late stages of World War II.)


Gettysburg hero’s Medal of Honor discovered


The original Medal of Honor awarded to one of Maine’s most famous sons, Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry regiment, for his heroics at the Battle of Gettysburg has been discovered and given to a historical organization in the state.

Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor, awarded in 1893 for his actions in the famous 1863 battle, was given Monday to the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, Maine.

The individual who donated the award requested anonymity. He had found it in the back of a book he had purchased “several years ago” at a sale held by First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass., according to the society.

Chamberlain’s last surviving descendant, granddaughter Rosamond Allen, left her estate to that church upon her death 13 years ago, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College when he enlisted in the Union army in 1862 and was appointed Lt. Colonel of the 20th Maine.

He saw action at Fredericksburg, where the Union suffered at a catastrophic defeat and Chamberlain was forced to spend the night of Dec. 13, 1862, on the freezing battlefield, using the bodies of the fallen for shelter while listening to bullets strike nearby corpses.

Chamberlain was promoted to colonel in June 1863, just prior to Gettysburg.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for “daring heroism and great tenacity” in leading the 20th Maine in its crucial defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, a critical stand in the Federal effort to hold back the Confederate onslaught.

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Medal of Honor recipient McGarity dies at 91

vernon mcgarity

Medal of Honor recipient Vernon McGarity, who overcame enemy gunfire to rescue wounded soldiers and destroy German weapons during the Battle of the Bulge, died last week in Memphis at age 91.

McGarity, a technical sergeant, was positioned with the rest of the 99th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest in December 1944 when Hitler mounted a final desperate offensive, seeking to break through the region and make for the North Sea.

Hitler believed if the plan were successful he might be able to negotiate a separate peace with the US and Great Britain, dividing them from the Soviets and allowing the Nazis to then concentrate on fighting the Red Army to the east.

Allied forces, which had been moving toward Germany after the D-Day invasion of France, were caught unaware by the counteroffensive and were initially pushed back.

The battle proved the costliest of the war for the US in terms of casualties with 89,000 killed, wounded, captured of missing. German losses were comparable, but the Nazis could less afford the loss of both men and materiel that the battle ultimately claimed.

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Medal of Honor recipient found after 62 years

don c. faith funeral

More than 60 years after Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr., died at the brutal Battle of Chosin Reservoir in late 1950, the Medal of Honor recipient’s remains have been recovered and interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Faith, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, was only identified last year.

The Washington, Ind., native was buried at Arlington last week.

His only child, Barbara “Bobbie” Broyles, who was just 4 years old at the time of her father’s death, attended the ceremony.

“I’m incredulous,” she told “He’s been missing for 62 years and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that he’s been found.”

With the onset of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, Faith, then 32, was dispatched to help stop the communist invasion of the southern part of the nation.

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Vietnam vets strive to honor past warriors

As someone who believes that a society is judged at least in part by the respect it shows its dead, there’s little I find more depressing than a forgotten, dilapidated cemetery.

Perhaps even harder to stomach coming across the graves of veterans that have fallen into disrepair.

To see the final resting places of men who once put their lives on the line – and sometimes gave those lives, in defense of their country – and who are now effectively consigned to oblivion does a great disservice to our nation.

Apparently, others feel the same, as well.

Witness Joseph Hoesch and Martin Neamon, a pair of Vietnam-era veterans from Pennsylvania.

When the pair visited the Chartiers Cemetery plot in Carnegie, Pa., where 133 Union veterans are interred, on a grey day in November 2010, they found it disheartening, according to KDKA.

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Jewish WWI hero up for Medal of Honor

William Shemin was just 19 years old when, over the space of three days in August 1918 during the pivotal Second Battle of the Marne, he crossed the battlefield three times to rescue fellow American soldiers.

On the third effort during the battle, in which the Allies stopped the last German offensive of World War I, he was wounded in the head.

But with his commanding officers either hurt or dead, Shemin refused medical attention and led the platoon out of danger before finally collapsing unconscious.

“He distinguished himself by excellent control of his platoon at every stage of the action and by the thoroughness at great personal danger at which he evacuated the wounded,” according to the battle report submitted three months later by the division commander.

The Bayonne, N.J., native’s heroics made him the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest combat award, with his award being signed by Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.

Now, nearly a century later, the Army will consider whether Shemin actually deserved the Medal of Honor, but was denied because he was Jewish.

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Medal of Honor recipient, SC resident, dies

Charles P. Murray Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack that turned back a 200-strong German unit during action in Northwestern France in late 1944 and later spent his last 40 years living in Columbia, died Friday at age 89.

Murray, who grew up in Wilmington, NC, had finished his third year at the University of North Carolina when he was drafted into the Army in 1942.

By October 1944, Murray, then 23 years old, was serving as a replacement platoon leader for Company C of the 20th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division.

The division had landed in Saint-Tropez on the southern coast of France following months earlier and was pushing northward towards Germany. On Dec. 8, 1944, Murray became company commander.

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