Combat Fighter Ace
The origin of fighter “ace” goes back to WWI (1914-1918) when the French were the first to recognize their most successful pilots with the designation “ace”. Other countries followed suit including the US, Britannia, French, Germany, Italy aviation groups. Traditionally, a pilot is recognized as an “ace” upon destroying 5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat.
From WWI to Vietnam, 1439 US pilots were recognized as flying “aces”. America’s “Ace of Aces” in WWI (1917-1918) was Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, USAS with 26 victories; in WWII (1941-1945), it was Maj. Richard Bong, USAAF with 40; in Korea (1950-1953), it was Capt. Joseph McConnell, Jr., USAF with 16; and in Vietnam (1964-1873) it was shared by Capt. Richard Ritchie, USAF and Lt. Randy Cunningham, USN with 5 each.
Other US “aces” with highest scores for the other branches for the various wars include Lt.(jg) David Ingalls, USNAS with 5 victories in WWI; Lt. Cmdr. David Campbell, USN with 34 and Maj. Joe Foss, USMC with 28 in WWII; and Lt. Guy Bordelon, USN with 5 and Maj. John Bolt, USMC with 6 in Korea.
Tulsan E. Alex Phillips, USN, achieved flying “ace” status during WWII the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign. He was one of five Phillips sons who served during WWII. Originally from Blacksville, West Virginia, Mr. Phillips received his wings as a naval aviator at age 18. He subsequently trained as a F6F “Hellcat” pilot and was assigned to VF-20 fighter squadron as a photo-reconnaissance specialist aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
During a mission over Formosa on October 12, 1944, his squadron engaged a large number of Japanese aircraft. During the battle, Ensign Phillips shot down 4 enemy aircraft. For “his skillful maneuvering of his airplane under fire and his display of courage”, he was presented the Silver Star.
Six days later, on October 18, 1944, Ensign Phillips became as “ace” when he blasted another Japanese aircraft from the sky. For “his skill as an airman, initiative and courage”, he was presented an Air Medal.
On October 24, 1944, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Pilot of a Fighter Plane”, Ensign Phillips received a second Silver Star in recognition of his “devastating rocket attack on major units of the Japanese fleet, scoring several damaging hits on a hostile destroyer and assisting in its destruction”.
Mr. Phillips ended his WWII Naval aviation career with the rank of Lt(jg). He was the recipient of several medals including 2 Silver Stars, 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 8 Air Medals.