America's greatest living ace, Francis "Gabby" Gabreski, is a member of " The Inner Seven," an elite group of pilots who achieved the status of "ace " in both World War II and Korea. Born in Pennsylvania in 1919, he attended Notre Dame University where he learned to fly before joining the Army Air Corps. After flight school at Maxwell Field, Alabama, he was stationed at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese attack on his base. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to England as a liaison officer with a Polish squadron of the Royal Air Force and was able to fly several combat missions in the Spitfire.
When American units began to organize for European operations, Gabreski transitioned to the P-47 Thunderbolt with the 56th Fighter Group--the Wolfpack--which would become the highest scoring American fighter group in Europe. His determination and aggressiveness became well known, and he became famous for withholding fire until he was sure of scoring a hit. Under his command, the 61st Fighter Squadron, known as the "Avengers," became the first American unit to achieve 100 victories. On what was supposed to be his last mission before returning home, Gabreski had to crash-land behind enemy lines in July 1944.
He was captured after 5 days of evasion and interned in Stalag Luft I until the end of the war. By the time his winning streak came to an end, his personal tally stood at 31--a record unsurpassed by any American pilot in Europe. Following World War II, Gabreski served as a test pilot before being mustered out of the service. He then worked for Douglas Aircraft while waiting for a regular commission. Back in the service and assigned to Korea in the F-86 Sabre, he downed his first MiG-15 in July 1951 and then destroyed 5 1/2 more before ending his tour as commander of the 51st Fighter Wing. Prior to his retirement in 1967, Colonel Gabreski served in various command and staff positions. Later, he was elected to the Aviation Hall of Fame and became President of the Long Island Railroad.
During World War II, "Gabby" Gabreski and two other 56th Fighter Group aces were respectfully dubbed "The Terrible Three" by their Luftwaffe opponents. Typical of the flying that earned him this reputation was a mission on 22 May 1944. Leading a bomber escort mission, Gabreski and his squadron dispersed a formation of German Fighters and then sighted another group of 20 Focke-Wulf 190s preparing to land at a nearby airfield. The Avengers dove to the attack, but they encountered heavy flak over the field. However, after one of the German pilots signaled his airfield with a green flare, the flak ceased and the air battle began. During the ensuing engagement, Major Gabreski claimed three confirmed kills and a probable while his squadron mates shot down another eight enemy aircraft.