The Last Amer­i­can Aces

Mem­bers of an exclusive club tell what it takes to make ace.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ROBERT SEALE

A Con­gres­sional gold medal and a few ter­ri­fy­ing mem­o­ries.

Lt. Cmdr. Fred L. “Buck” Dun­gan, USN

The F6F Hell­cat was an em­bod­i­ment of Leroy Grum­man’s motto: “Build it strong. Keep it sim­ple. Make it work.” There may not have been another Navy fighter that could have brought Buck Dun­gan back the day he fought, alone, against 10 Ja­panese Rufe float­planes. He shot down four, took a bul­let in the shoul­der, and made a forced land­ing on the USS It was his last day of

York­town. aerial com­bat.

HE WAS A WEST POINT GRAD­U­ATE fly­ing F-86 Sabres in Korea 63 years ago. Last May, as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fighter Aces As­so­ci­a­tion, re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Charles Cleve­land re­ceived a Con­gres­sional Gold Medal from U.S. House and Se­nate lead­ers on be­half of the 1,447 U.S. pi­lots who de­stroyed at least five en­emy air­craft dur­ing air-to-air com­bat.

With aerial war­fare shift­ing away from dog­fights and to­ward the use of un­manned air­craft, it’s pos­si­ble the Amer­i­can Fighter Aces will never get another mem­ber. At the group’s an­nual con­ven­tion, held last June in Texas, 10 aces, rang­ing in age from 73 to 95, re­newed friend­ships at the Lone Star Flight Mu­seum in Galve­ston, where all but one of the fol­low­ing por­traits were made. —

The ed­i­tors

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