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.
By early 1944, America and its Allies focused their attention on plans for an invasion (code named OVERLORD) of northern Europe. Heavy resistance encountered during Eighth Air Force missions over Germany in the fall of 1943 made it clear that the key to the success of OVERLORD was the destruction of the Luftwaffe. The 56th Fighter Group was one of the premier units in getting the job done! The 56th had the most aces of any USAAF Fighter Group--47 who claimed 481 aircraft destroyed, and after 8 March 1944 could claim the highest scoring ace, "Bud" Mahurin, in the European Theater. On 5 June, Francis S. Gabreski scored his 28th aerial victory to become the leading Eighth Air Force ace--a position that he held for the rest of the war.