Captain David McCampbell is the US Navy's highest scoring ace. Born in 1910, the Alabama native received an appointment to Annapolis. Graduating in the midst of Navy manpower cutbacks during the Depression, his first "assignment" was as a civilian following an honorable discharge in 1933. Called back to active duty after 1 year, he eventually went to naval flight training and served his first carrier tour as a fighter pilot on the USS Ranger. In 1940, he became a landing signal officer (LSO) and served aboard the aircraft carrier Wasp until his tour came to an abrupt halt on 15 September 1942 when the ship was sunk by three Japanese torpedoes.
For the next year, McCampbell served as an instructor in Florida, after which he became a fighter squadron commander with Air Group 15. In February 1944, he assumed command of the entire Air Group, which was then assigned to the USS Essex as part of Task Force 38 under the command of Admiral Marc Mitscher. During the next 6 months, Air Group 15 participated in attacks on Marcus and Wake Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Formosa, and Okinawa, as well as the two major air/sea battles in the Pacific Campaign--the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf.
It was during this period that McCampbell achieved 34 aerial victories and destroyed 21 enemy aircraft on the ground. Under his leadership, Air Group 15 became known as "The Fabled Fifteen" and established records for the most airborne planes shot down (318), the most aircraft destroyed on the ground (348), and the most aircraft destroyed in one day (68)--McCampbell himself accounting for nine of the latter total. For this achievement, and his seven victories during the Marianas "Turkey Shoot" 5 months earlier, McCampbell was awarded the Medal of Honor. Following the war, he served tours as commander of the USS Bonhomme Richard, on the Joint Staff, and finally as a Deputy Chief of Staff at NORAD headquarters. An inductee into the Carrier Aviation Hall of Fame, David McCampbell retired from the Navy in 1964.
During the first day of the Battle for Leyte Gulf (24 October 1944), Commander David McCampbell's Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, named MINSI III, was only partially fueled when a large formation of Japanese aircraft was spotted on radar. Scrambling with six other fighters, he and his wingman took on about 40 enemy fighters while the remaining five aircraft attacked the Japanese bomber element. During the next 90 minutes, McCampbell achieved nine victories while his wingman shot down an additional six. McCampbell was forced to land on another carrier nearby--his engine sputtered out of fuel as soon as he hit the deck. His nine aerial victories during this flight established the American record for the most aircraft shot down by one pilot in a single mission.