David Lee “Tex” Hill was born on 13 July 1915, in Kwangju, Korea, the son of American missionaries. He grew up in Texas, but returned to the Far East years later as one of the first pilots in General Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group (AVG), the original Flying Tigers He entered the Navy as an aviation cadet in 1938 and earned his wings and commission upon graduation from Pensacola NAS in 1939. He was first assigned to Torpedo Squadron 3, flying the TBD Devastator from the USS Saratoga. His next assignment was to Bombing Squadron 4, flying the SB2U Vindicator from the USS Ranger. In 1941, he was recruited to serve in China with the Flying Tigers.
After a 6-week boat trip via Australia, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies, he arrived in Burma in the fall of 1941. Serving first as a flight leader and then as Commander of the AVG 2d Squadron, Hill flew 250 combat hours in the P-40 Tomahawk over Burma, China, and Thailand and was credited with l2 1/4 Japanese aircraft destroyed. The AVG disbanded in July 1942, and Hill accepted a battlefield commission to major in the Army Air Forces. He remained in China until late 1942 as the first commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron. After serving a short tour at Eglin Field, Florida, Chennault recalled him to China to take command of the 23d Fighter Group.
He returned to the US in November 1944, credited with 18 1/4 aerial kills and more than 20 probable victories. Hill spent the rest of the war as commander of the 412th Fighter Group, operationally testing the first American-built jets, the Bell YP-59 and the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. He left the Army Air Forces in 1945 and joined the Texas Air National Guard to command the 58th Fighter Wing, becoming the youngest brigadier general ever to serve in the National Guard. He later resigned his commission and went to central Africa to trap gorillas for the movie, Mighty Joe Young. Returning to the States, he joined the Air Force Reserve’s 433d Tactical Airlift Wing at Kelly AFB, Texas.
He retired in 1968 as a colonel, after serving his country in the Navy, American Volunteer Group, Army Air Force, Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. In addition to the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, and two Air Medals earned in the Army Air Force, he earned a British Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous awards and decorations from the Chinese government. Most notably, in 2002, Hill was presented the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism against the enemy in the China Theater. Hill was an active member of the Flying Tigers Association, the Order of Daedalians, and the American Fighter Aces Association. Brigadier General Hill was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1983 and subsequently honored in 1988, 1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2006, respectively.
Years Honored: 1983, 1988, 1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006
Aircraft/Specialty: Curtis P-40B Tomahawk, Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk, Curtiss P-40E Warhawk, North American P-51B Mustang, P-59, T-28 Trojan, TBD Devastator, Vought SB2U
The Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk, which displayed "tiger teeth," was the backbone of the American Volunteer Group. This band of brave men under General Claire Chennault fought along side the Chinese against the Japanese before the US entry into World War II. Although they were chased from one location to another; obtained fuel, ammunition, and supplies under haphazard arrangements; and lived in small enclaves under constant attack; the Flying Tigers took to the air again and again to devastate Japanese air armadas. During an 8-month period, a handful of heavily armed P-40s piloted by courageous and skilled aviators, such as "Tex" Hill, destroyed 297 Japanese aircraft.
In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, a unique group of American pilots, eager for combat, joined Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group. Flying obsolete P-40B Tomahawks for the Chinese government, they repeatedly rose to meet superior Japanese armadas despite acute shortages of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition. The "Flying Tigers" never had more than 70 trained pilots or 49 aircraft in commission at any one time, but they valiantly defended China from December 1941 until disbanded in July 1942. These outstanding airmen faced an enemy that outnumbered them 10 to 1, but they compiled an incredible record of 299 enemy planes destroyed and another 153 probably destroyed--only 4 " Flying Tigers" and 12 P-40s were lost in aerial combat!
With World War II looming, the US Navy fought to fortify key locations in the Pacific. A large exercise, called "Fleet Problem 2l," demonstrated integration of the new air arm. The scenario depicted a foreign power invading key locations such as Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. The TBD Devastator was part of the Navy's integrated air task force. Dive-bombers created a diversion for the Devastators, who flew in below 5O feet to deliver their torpedoes, while fighters fended off enemy attackers. Successful execution of "Fleet Problem 2l" demonstrated the increasingly important role the aircraft carrier was to play in the coming war with Japan.
After World War II, there were thousands of skilled pilots in the United States. Many were deactivated, never to fly again and some went on to careers in civil aviation. Many of those with a truly great love of flying, like Tex Hill joined the Air Force Reserves. He passed on that love of aviation and his skills as a pilot to many others while flying the North American T-28 Trojan from Brooks AFB. Many of today's generation of reservists have also seen combat and are a vital part of our defense as they routinely fly in Air Force operations around the world.
Tex came to China in 1941 as an obscure former Navy dive-bomber pilot. He returned to the United States in October 1944 as a highly decorated veteran of 150 combat missions. He immediately took command of the 412th Fighter Group equipped with the Bell P-59 Airacomet and the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the first American-built jets.
On 25 November 1943, Tex Hill led a force of North American P-51B Mustangs and North American B-25 Mitchells on a surprise raid against Formosa's Shinchiku Airdrome. The Japanese had 100 bombers and 100 fighters located at this field. The bomber force was just returning home as Hill's force arrived. The enemy managed to get seven fighters airborne, but t hey were promptly shot down. Forty-two aircraft were destroyed in all and 12 more were probably destroyed in the attack, while the American force returned home with no casualties.
On May 7, 1942, "Tex" Hill led a flight of Curtiss P-40E Warhawks on an attack against Japan's 56th Division at the Salween River Gorge. Tex and his flight spotted a huge column of enemy trucks, armored vehicles, and thousands of troops. China's fate depended on stopping this drive up the Burma road to Kunming. The Americans bombed the enemy with deadly precision and suffered no casualties. The strike was a success unequaled by any mission the American Volunteer Group had yet flown. The gorge became a graveyard for military vehicles and equipment. The enemy retreated to Burma, and the Japanese never tried to cross the river again.
On 7 May 1942, "Tex" Hill led a flight of Curtis P-40E Warhawks on an attack against Japan's 56th Division at the Salween River Gorge. Tex and his flight came upon a huge column of enemy vehicles and thousands of troops, which trailed from the river's edge to the top of the gorge and well out onto the plateau beyond. China's fate depended on stopping the Japanese drive up the Burma Road to Kunming. The Americans bombed the enemy with precision and suffered no casualties. Tex's strike was the most successful flown to date by the AVG and effectively forced the Japanese retreat back to Burma--playing a key role in the outcome of the war.