Gordon M. Graham fought in three wars, logging 9,000 hours in 78 types of aircraft, including 73 combat missions in Europe and 149 in Southeast Asia, and was decorated 55 times in a US Air Force career that took him from cadet to lieutenant general, from biplanes to Mach 2 aircraft, and from combat ace to diplomat and executive. After a series of instructor assignments following his 1941 commissioning, including instructor pilot duties for the Tuskegee Airmen, he joined the VIII Fighter Command in August 1944. He commanded the 354th Fighter Squadron from October 1944 until June 1945.
By the end of World War II, Graham, in his P-51D "Down for Double" had accumulated 16 1/2 kills, one probable, and ten damaged, and the designation of triple ace. After four months as a civilian with the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (Mobil) of Venezuela, he returned to active duty. In 1947, the Air Force sent Graham to the University of Pittsburgh where he earned a master of science degree. He then became the industrial mobilization training consultant to Union and Shell Oil Companies. His expertise resulted in assignment to the Pentagon, culminating as chief of targeting with an emphasis on the vulnerability of strategic petroleum producing sites.
Graham returned to flying as deputy commander and then commander of the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner AFB, Georgia. He led a series of F-84F jet aircraft missions demonstrating nonstop, air refueled, day/night long-range fighter deployment capabilities. In 1958, he led the first nonstop Trans-Atlantic F-100 fighter deployment. Following another Pentagon tour, he moved to Seymour Johnson AFB, to command the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing. As commander, Graham was the "tip of the spear," deploying his F-105 wi-f from August 1965 to July 1966.
In late 1966, Graham again found himself in familiar territory as a combat leader and pilot as vice commander of Seventh Air Force in Southeast Asia, flying combat missions in the F-4 and RF-4. After Graham's return from Vietnam he held several command positions including commander of Ninth Air Force; vice commander of Tactical Air Command; commander of US Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force; and commander of Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force, Izmir, Turkey. In 1962, as a general officer, he earned his jump qualification from the US Army Airborne Parachutist Course. After the service, he joined McDonnell-Douglas leading its aircraft sales operation in Japan and Washington, DC. General Graham is a command pilot who has flown all of the Air Force's Century Series jet fighters.
On 25 December 1944, "Ace" Graham led a flight of seven North American P-51 Mustangs on a close escort mission for B-24 Liberators. Five minutes prior to bomber egress, Graham observed 75-plus Fw 190s and Me 109s approaching from five o'clock. He "went balls out for the gaggle." Graham broke up the enemy formation and at 250 yards opened fire on an Fw 190. He then opened fire at 350 yards on another Fw 190. As Graham egressed, he passed the first pilot in his parachute and the second aircraft apparently out of control.