The son of Romanian immigrants, Alexander Vraciu became the Navy's fourth-ranking ace during World War II by shooting down 19 enemy aircraft and destroying 21 more on the ground. After graduation from DePauw University in 1941, he entered the Naval Reserve and earned his wings the following August. His first assignment was to fly F6F Hellcats in VF-6 "Fighting Six" under the command of Medal of Honor recipient "Butch" O'Hare. Initially flying as O'Hares wingman, he gained valuable knowledge and honed his combat skills. He shot down his first enemy aircraft, a Zero fighter, over Wake Island. His second, a Betty bomber, fell over Tarawa.
On 29 January 1944, Vraciu became an ace after downing three more Betty bombers over Kwajalein. He got four more victories with Fighting Six at Truk Atoll before being assigned to VF-16. Over the next 5 months Vraciu accounted for 10 aerial victories over Truk, Saipan, and the Marianas. When his squadron returned to the States, he put in for continued combat and was transferred to VF-19. In December 1944, he was shot down over the Philippines and picked up by friendly guerillas. A month later, he marched into an American camp sporting a Japanese sabre while leading a band of over 100 Filipino guerillas.
After the war, Vraciu was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, until he was asked to help build the Navy Reserve Program. He then served as a jet flight training officer for the F2H Banshee before attending the General Line School. Subsequently assigned to the USS Hornet as the communications officer, he won the "E" for battle efficiency for communications for the Pacific Fleet. Selected to command VF-51, Vraciu won both the "E" for fighter squadrons and top-gun honors for high individual score while flying the FJ3 Fury in the 1957 Naval Air Weapons Meet. He continued to serve in various staff capacities until his retirement in 1964, and remains an active member of the American Fighter Aces Association.
Provoked into action by Operation Forager, code-name for the American landing in the Marianas Islands, the Japanese fleet committed six carriers with over 400 fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes to the First Battle of the Philippine Sea. The air battle on 19 June 1944, now called the Marianas "Turkey Shoot," became one of the US Navy's greatest victories of World War II when the fighter pilots of Task Force 58 shot down 369 enemy aircraft. Alerted to a possible enemy air strike, Vraciu led the second division of VF-16 from the USS Lexington and soon sighted over 50 enemy aircraft approaching the task force. He immediately led his outnumbered division into the Japanese formation and, within 8 minutes, single-handedly shot down six aircraft. Amazingly, he used only 360 of the 2,400 rounds of ammunition aboard his F6F Hellcat during the melee. For his gallantry and superior effort during this battle, Alexander Vraciu was awarded the Navy Cross.