Walker Melville “Bud” Mahurin was the first American double ace in Europe during World War II. Born in 1918 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Mahurin developed an interest in flying at the age of 12 when his father took him for a ride in a Stinson. Some years later, after studying engineering at Purdue University, he entered a civilian pilot training program and received his license in 1939. He then applied for the US Army Air Corps and received orders for flight training in 1941. Initially designated for bombers, he was finally assigned in 1942 to the 56th Fighter Group in England flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
On 26 November 1943, having already scored seven victories that year, Mahurin downed three more enemy aircraft to become the first European theater double ace. In 1944, while engaging an enemy bomber, his aircraft was set aflame over France. He bailed out, evaded capture, and, with the aid of the French Resistance, made his way back to the 56th. However, due to his knowledge of the underground, this now triple ace was restricted from further combat in Europe and returned to the United States. Yearning for more, Mahurin received orders to command the 3d Air Commando Squadron in the Pacific flying the North American P-51D Mustang.
He proceeded to become his unit’s first pilot to down an enemy and ended the war with 20¾ aerial victories. When Korea erupted, Mahurin worked his way out of the Pentagon and into a 90-day temporary duty assignment overseas. Initially assigned to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group flying the North American F-86A Sabre, Mahurin scored 3½ more victories bringing his total to 24¼. Those victories also made him the only US Air Force pilot with aerial victories in World War II’s European and Pacific theaters and in Korea. He then took command of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group.
However, his luck would run out in 1952 as he was forced to crash land while on a strafing mission. He was later released after being kept in solitary confinement for 16 months. After serving as the 27th Air Division’s vice commander, Mahurin left active duty in 1956 and joined the Air Force Reserves, later retiring as a colonel with a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. However, his many contributions did not stop there. As a member of the aerospace industry, Mahurin eventually became a vice president with Rockwell International and assisted with the Apollo program. His willingness to discuss brainwashing techniques and the psychological pressures applied to prisoners of war has also greatly aided in the establishment of current Air Force survival courses. In 1998, America’s leading living ace was inducted into the American Combat Airmen Hall of Fame. Col Mahurin was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1985 and subsequently honored in 2003.