Who was the First US fighter ace of World War II ?

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

This question comes up from from time to time because of a unique distinction in how our early service members got involved in the fight during World War II.

The answer to the question is, it depends, it’s actually a trick question that must be clarified to answer accurately.

One, it needs to be better stated, Who was the first American ace in World War II ? if one only cares about nationality.  If you read the military history and you ask the question, Who was the first US Army Air Corps ace during World War II ? You’ll get a different answer.  Sounds confusing, because it is.

I’ll start with the later to try and explain all this.  If you read military history, specifically the US Army Air Corps documents, they list Lt Col Boyd “Buzz” Wagner as their first ace in WWII.  He was flying P-40s in the Pacific and got his kills against the Japanese in December of 1941.  Most folks who read that are surprised that it wasn’t against the Germans in the European theater.

Other history books make other claims with slightly different assumptions.  If we go back and ask, who was the first “American”, now the answer switches to William R. Dunn.  Dunn got his kills against the Germans in July-Aug of 1941, more than 4 months before Wagner.  So what gives? Why the confusion?

Dunn was an American, but he was not technically in the US Army Air Corps in 1941.  He was actually in the Royal Air Force and was part of the original “Eagle Squadron” (71 sq).  American fighter pilots had come over to the UK prior to the official involvement of the US Army Air Corps and flew in Eagle squadrons until the US officially became involved and then they transferred back into normal US designated fighter squadrons.

Now hopefully that’s clear as to why folks read both names in the history books as being our first ace in the war.

Why do I care?  Well, I’ve had the pleasure in serving in both squadrons that these two aces came from.  Buzz Wagner was in the 17th Pursuit Squadron (now the 17th Weapons Squadron).  William Dunn was in the 71sq (now the 334th Fighter squadron); both which happen to be currently flying the F-15E Strike Eagle.  What are the odds of that?

To top it all off, I just found out that Lt Col Buzz Wagner’s remains have been recovered an a long over due memorial service is being planned for him in Johnstown, PA on 23 Oct of this year.  Just a little over a month from now.  With the pending approval of the USAF, we are hoping to do a missing many flyby to honor Lt Col Buzz Wagner.  Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to officially announce our support for this long overdue ceremony.

Stay tuned for more words.



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