World War II Ace Tom McGuire: The Iron Major

Lieutenant Tom McGuire was at 12,000 feet above Oro Bay, New Guinea in his P-38 fighter scanning the sky for Japanese planes. The 431st Fighter Squadron had scrambled from their Dubodura airbase to intercept a flight of Japanese bombers and their fighter escort on that October 17, 1943. McGuire had been flying in combat for just two months. He had already shot down 13 Japanese planes and had already splashed one Zeke (Zero) fighter to increase it to 14, but his P-38 had taken some damage doing it.

Suddenly McGuire saw a smoking P-38 with seven Zekes closing for the kill. His plane was already damaged and his comrade as going to be no help. The prudent move would have been to turn for home alive, but McGuire was never known for being prudent. As the lead Zeke moved to finish off the P-38, McGuire attacked him with a difficult deflection shot, having to lead him. It was a low percentage shot, but he hit him and flamed the Zeke. It was his 15th, so he was now triple-ace, but he had little time to dwell on it. He banked right and quickly flamed another Zeke.

McGuire had saved his 431st comrade, who flew off to safety, but now, could he save himself? The five remaining Zekes now buzzed around him like hornets from a nest he had just slapped with a stick. The P-38 could never win a turning dogfight with the super maneuverable Zeke at any time, and he had five on him now. But the P-38 could out dive them and was his hope of survival now. Before he could pull away, however, the Zekes inflicted heavy damage with their 7.7-millimeter machine guns and 20-millimeter cannons.

(Below: Mitsubishi A6M Zero "Zeke")

As his dive speed increased the Zekes gave up and pulled away. But when McGuire tried to pull out of his dive, he discovered the control cables had been shot away. He had no control of the plane and the left engine was now burning. He also had bullet and shrapnel wounds in his wrist, legs, and arms. He was going to have to bail out, which was very difficult to do as he dove at extremely high speed. He managed to exit the cockpit but came to a sudden halt as part of his harness hung up on something. His body slammed into the side of the plane several times before he broke loose now just a few thousand feet above the ocean.

Tumbling through the air, the wounded pilot pulled the ring to release his parachute, but nothing happened. The Japanese bullets or shrapnel had severed the parachute release cable. He looked down at the frayed, useless end of it protruding from the ring. As the blue waves and angry white caps below him came closer and closer he reached back for the end of the severed cable. Finding it he yanked it as hard as he could, praying that it would open. He was less than 100 ft from the water; he would have no time to pull it again.

Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey on August 1, 1920. His dad, also Thomas, was an Irish Catholic car salesman. His mother, Pauline "Polly" Watson, was from a rich Presbyterian family. It was not a match made in heaven. They had to elope to get married and Tom McGuire Sr. was never fully accepted by Polly’s mother, Dora.

Tommy’s uncle, Charles Watson, had been a pilot during WWI. When Charles Lindbergh came back to the US by ship and then took off from the east coast to return to St. Louis, Charles took young Tommy to see him and his famous “Spirit of St. Louis” fly over the Curtiss-Wright factory in Paterson, New Jersey. Uncle Charles told him, "I'll always remember this day, Tommy. All over the world people have read about Mr. Lindbergh's airplane and seen pictures of it in the newspaper, but only a few thousand people in the whole world have seen it in the air.” Tommy would recall the day as well, and would one day have a close personal relationship with Lindbergh.

(Left: Young Tommy McGuire)

“Tommy always had a special interest in aviation. His Uncle Charles had been a World War I fighter pilot and they talked about flying at every chance,” according to his boyhood friend, Paul Gustat. Uncle Charles also had a collection of model airplanes that he reluctantly, at first, allowed Tommy to play with. Later, Tommy would construct his own balsa wood models.

(Right: Eddie Rickenbacker and his Spad fighter in WWI.)

When Tommy got a little older, he was an avid reader of the stories of famous aviators, reading Lindbergh’s biography along with stories about WWI aces Frank Luke, Raoul Lufbery, and Eddie Rickenbacker. His uncle could also add his own stories of Rickenbacker, as he had flown out of the same aerodrome in France. By the time Tommy was a teenager the stories of ace pilots in the war filled his young imagination and a future fighter pilot was born.

(Below: Pauline "Polly" McGuire)

In 1927 Tommy became the child of a broken home, as his parents divorced. Polly and Tommy relocated to Sebring, Florida where her parents had moved. With the elder Tom out of the way, Polly’s mother, Dora, attempted to make Tommy ashamed of his Irish Catholic roots, telling him being called ‘Mick” was insulting because the Irish in America were often lazy, unemployed drunks. The defiant Tommy, however, then a teenager, told her he was proud of his Irish roots.

In Sebring, Tommy was the new “rich kid” in town and suffered a lot of teasing and even bullying locals, but it only made Tommy grow up stronger. He became fiercely competitive in everything he did. When he took up the clarinet, he became 1st seat on the high school band. He was soon accepted by most of the local boys.

Tommy started driving when he was just 14 and became well known for his reckless driving around town as time passed. When a barnstorming tri-motor plane came to the local airfield Tommy was there every day paying to take flights on it. The crew of the plane got to know him so well that he soon got his first taste of actually being at the controls of a plane in flight. It only made his passion for it burn brighter.

Tommy’s Uncle Charles gave him an unusual “sailing canoe” that was the talk of the town when he started to sail it around Lake Jackson. He sailed around just as recklessly as he drove his car around town. Many teenagers in town had instructions from their parents to never ride with Tommy, in his car or his boat. By the time he graduated high school, long before he was a famous fighter pilot, Tommy was already famous, or infamous, in Sebring depending on whom one talked to.

(Below: Tom McGuire in his Georgia Tech band uniform.)

After graduation, Tommy was enrolled at Georgia Tech. It was 1938 and the war clouds were beginning to gather in Europe. Tommy joined the ROTC. In the fall of 1940, during his junior year, he began taking flying lesion in Atlanta. Europe was at war and the Japanese had been fighting in China for some time. It was becoming clear to many people that we would be at war in the near future and when it came, Tommy was going to be ready to become a fighter pilot in that war. He was enjoying life to the fullest while at college, as he had during his high school years, but he was ready to give that up to realize his dream of flying a fighter plane.

Tommy was so anxious to get into the war as a pilot that when he heard in February 1941 that the RAF was signing up American pilots, he got their enlistment forms and sent them in. He was sorely disappointed to get back a letter rejecting him due to his lack of flying experience.

In July 1941, when he was home from college, Tommy and a high school classmate, Chubby Fulton, went to Hendricks Field and took the air cadet exam. Tommy did this without telling his mother. Both of them passed the exam and enlisted. Polly was distraught and suggested that Uncle Charles might be able to pull some strings to get Tommy a desk job in Washington. Tommy would have none of it, "Mother, don't you dare." said Tommy. "I want to fly, and I can't do that sitting behind a desk.” Polly surrendered to the inevitable. In the days before he was to leave, she spent much of her rapidly dwindling wealth to make sure his last days at home would be memorable ones. On July 12th, Tommy entered the Air Corps and was off to train in Texas.

In late July McGuire began his pilot training in Corsicana, Texas. Their initial training was in the Fairchild PT-19A (pictured, left). When the other cadets discovered he had already had some lessons, he became an unofficial coach for many of them. It quickly became clear to his instructor that the 5’9”, 140 lb, dark-haired McGuire was a natural-born pilot. On August 5th, less than a month into their training, the instructor let him solo for the first time.

McGuire easily passed through this first phase of training, though nearly half the cadets “washed out.” He moved on to Randolph Field near San Antonio for his advanced pilot training. On Sunday, December 7th, he was in town at a club with some of the other cadets when someone came in and told them all military personnel had to report to the base. Before they left town, they heard of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. McGuire now knew he was that he was training to fight, not just to fly. By mid-December, they were flying one of the most famous training planes in US history, the AT-6 Texan.

On December 11th, McGuire went on a double date with a classmate. His date was Marilynn Giesler, a college student. Wartime often makes things move faster, and their relationship quickly blossomed. Somehow, in spite of the intense rigors of pilot training, by early 1942, the couple fell in love.

On February 6, 1942, Thomas McGuire had his Air Corps wings pinned to his chest. He was no longer a cadet; he was a pilot and a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 50th Pursuit Group at Key Field, in Meridian, Mississippi. He was no longer flying trainers, now he would be flying the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk; the famed aircraft of the “Flying Tigers” in China.

(Right: Tom McGuire's graduation photo.)

The squadron spent some time after that flying out of Orlando, Florida, giving McGuire some final time at home with his mother and friends in Sebring. It also allowed him to have some fun buzzing the town in his low flying P-40 during training flights. After all the trouble he’d given the local police with his driving, it was not surprising that someone joked about telling the sheriff that, “Tommy McGuire is back in town."

In May the 54th Fighter Group was transferred to California as what they all expected was a prelude to a combat assignment. Like many men heading to combat, McGuire thought about the woman he loved and the possibility that he might never return. On June 2nd he got on the phone to Marilynn and asked her to marry him. Though it took her by surprise, she said yes. But his 56th Pursuit Squadron was shortly on its way to Alaska.

(Below: P-39 Airacobra)

In Alaska, the squadron was switched to the widely disliked P-39 Airacobra. The 56th was stationed in Nome, and thus never got into action against the Japanese that had invaded Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Island during the Midway Campaign. But McGuire and the other pilots in the squadron did get valuable flying experience that would shortly prove valuable in the South Pacific.

In November the squadron was headed south, back to the lower 48. McGuire and four others very nearly didn’t make it when they were lost in a storm and were forced to land on a frozen swamp before running out of fuel.

McGuire had one more chance to see his father in New Jersey and his mother in Florida before heading to Texas to marry Marilynn. On December 4, 1942, he and Marilynn, like so many couples in the U.S and the rest of the world at that time, got married shortly before he shipped overseas to a very uncertain future. The newlyweds headed to Harding Field in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The couple had 2 months of wedded bliss before McGuire had to head to California for training in the P-38 that would now be one of the main Army fighter planes in the Pacific. Standing at the door of a C-54 Skymaster, with its 4 engines droning, he and Marilynn shared a parting kiss.

(Below: Tom & Marilynn on their wedding day.)

McGuire and his comrades learned to fly the new, twin-engine, P-38 in the Mojave Desert at Muroc (now Edwards) Air Base. In March McGuire was on the way to Australia to join the war. He was first assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group. On April 16, 1943, he flew to Dobodura on the eastern coast of New Guinea, where the 9th was stationed.

His first few months of flying in the combat zone were extremely frustrating for him. He bristled under the restraints of being one of the “new guys” who were first subjected to training in formation flying and then relegated to missions where they were not likely to, and did not, confront any Japanese fighters. He was very confident that he would be a great fighter pilot if he just got a chance, and in his frustration, he got a reputation as a wise guy among the pilots with combat experience. One of those pilots was Richard Bong, who had already downed a 16 Japanese before McGuire’s first aerial combat.

In July, McGuire was transferred to the 431st Fighter Squadron of the newly formed 475th Fighter Group. The 475th was to be the first all P-38 fighter group. Before he left Dobodura for Australia to join the newly forming group, he had a magical reunion. Amazingly, three of his friends from Sebring, Howard McDonald, Bill Dutton, and John C Bates, were all on the base. Thousands of miles from home, the four friends got together over a few beers in the middle of the jungle and laughed over stories of “the old days.” It was the kind of highly unlikely and magical event that a soldier would remember the rest of his life … if he made it through the war.

In mid-July McGuire, recently promoted to 1st Lieutenant, returned to Australia to join his new squadron and group. By August McGuire had been made one of the flight leaders and was assigned his own P-38. He named it “Pudgy,” which was his wife’s nickname in San Antonio, though she was not pudgy at all. On August 8th he and his squadron headed to Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was time for the eager-beaver fighter pilot to really get into the war.

(Below: P-38 fighter showing its distinctive double tail. The Germans called it the "Fork-Tailed Devil," but it was far more successful in the Pacific.)

After a flying a couple of uneventful missions, on August 18th McGuire finally got his chance to engage in aerial combat while escorting B-25s to bomb Wewak. When they were jumped by a couple of Zeros McGuire snapped his P-38 around in a sharp turn and the very first time he opened fire on an enemy plane, it burst into flames. He had little time to enjoy his first victory, as his wingman warned him, he had another Zeke nearly on his tail. Yanking his plane around again he got several bursts into that Zeke and send him down in flames as well. McGuire had only been engaged for a few minutes and he already had two victories.

That would have been an amazing first air combat by any measure, but he wasn’t done yet. On the way back with the B-25’s they were escorting, McGuire jumped a Tony fighter that was attempting to engage the bombers. Three bursts and it was headed to the ground smoking. His wingtip had also clipped one Japanese fighter during a head-on attack that ended in a near collision.

Sergeant Frank Kish, crew chief for McGuire, showed other pilots and ground crew personnel the paint from the Japanese plane on his wing-tip. Along with his three victories in his first aerial action, this evidence of “playing chicken” with an enemy fighter began McGuire’s ascent to legendary status. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

(Right: An unidentified ground crew member with "Pudgy II".)

Three days later the 431st escorted the bombers to Wewak again. McGuire destroyed two of the Zeke fighters that attempted to attack the bombers. In just two days of combat, McGuire was now an “ace,” the designation given to pilots with 5 victories. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for that day's actions.

In his first two opportunities, McGuire had succeeded beyond the dreams of anyone other than himself. No doubt he had thoughts of how proud his mother would be when she heard of his success. But on August 26th he was devastated to learn that she would never know when a letter from Marilynn's arrived telling him of his mother’s death. There was nothing he could do from 9,000 miles away, but judging from his future performance, he may have taken it out on the Japanese.

Three days later escorting bombers to Wewak again he downed a Zeke and a Tony, but as that Tony was going down, he was jumped by three Zekes. A 20-millimeter cannon round set his left-hand engine on fire. Using the P-38’s superior diving speed he both got the fire out and escaped from the Zekes.

(Left: Kawasaki Ki-61 "Tony" fighter)

He’d never make it back to Port Moresby, but he was about 250 miles from the nearest US base at Marylin. Utilizing several technics to save fuel, got there and landed on one engine, which was tricky in a P-38. His reputation for escaping close calls continued to grow and he got another Distinguished Flying Cross for that action.

For the next month, the Japanese didn’t oppose any 431st missions. Finally, on September 28th they opposed another attack on Wewak. McGuire, now flying “Pudgy II,” dropped two more Zekes before once again having his left engine knocked out. Once again diving out of the fight he flew on one engine to a base at Tsili-Tsili. Once there he took off in another P-38 that had previously landed there damaged and had been repaired. Flying out in one plane and returning in another added to his growing legend. He added another Distinguished Flying Cross for this action. That gave him three, in addition to his Silver Star, with 9 aerial victories in just over five weeks of combat. His star was ascending rapidly.

(Below: Rabaul under attack.)

The 475th Fighter Group was moved to Dobodura in October, to use their long-range fighters in the assault on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, on the island of New Britain. After one raid on Rabaul, the Japanese went on the offensive, attacking Dbodura on October 15th, when McGuire shot down one Val dive-bomber, and again on the 17th. With his plane down for repairs, McGuire went up to meet that attack in the P-38 of squadron CO Major Franklin Nichols in spite of Nichols having told all his pilots not to fly his plane.

This was the fight described at the beginning of the article in which he was shot down flying the CO’s plane. As he tumbled through the air, yanking at the remnant of the parachute release cable his body suddenly snapped back as the parachute opened just a few hundred feet about the water. After hitting the water, he tried inflating his one-man raft, but it was full of holes. He tried to inflate his Mae West life vest and only half of it inflated. He was several miles from shore. He suspected he had broken ribs and so was in no shape to swim and he was bleeding from his arm into shark-infested waters. Suddenly he heard a soft droning noise and saw a US PT boat approaching. The men on PT 152 had seen his chute. He was saved but had broken ribs and two black eyes from slamming into his plane while bailing out.

Nichols put McGuire in for another Silver Star along with the Purple Heart. Unable to write to Marilyn for a week or so, when he did, not wanting to scare her, he wrote, "I sprained my wrist a week ago and haven't been able to hold a pen.” He was now six victories behind Richard Bong for leading ace in the Pacific. The other pilots were starting to talk about it as a competition, though Bong was temporarily in the US selling War Bonds.

In mid-December McGuire was promoted to captain and returned to combat. People wondered if being wounded and shot down would make him less aggressive in the air, but on the 26th he splashed 3 Val dive-bombers. The beginning of 1944 was slow for combat, as most of the Japanese opposition was gone. In late April, the 23-year-old McGuire was put in command of the squadron, which was moved to Hollandia, up the New Guinea coast.

(Left: Charles Lindbergh & Tom McGuire)

In mid-May, they got back into action and McGuire dropped two more Japanese planes and was also promoted to major. In June McGuire became acquainted with a celebrity, his boyhood hero Charles A. Lindbergh. “The Lone Eagle” was supposedly touring as a “civilian technical assistant” for the Navy. Not only did McGuire get to meet him; Lindbergh flew a mission with McGuire as his wingman. "I can't believe it!” McGuire told his ground crew, “I'm going to be flying with a man I've admired all my life." They would become good friends and fly several missions together over the next few months, with Lindbergh even living with McGuire in his tent for a time. He later shot down a Zeke while flying with another squadron, something that had to be kept secret until after the war.

(Below: Ricard Bong with McGuire in the Philippines in November 1944.)

Shortly, the squadron made yet another move, this time to Biak Island, north of New Guinea. Through the summer the action was sparse, with McGuire downing just 4 Japanese that entire summer. For most pilots that would have been excellent, but not for him. He had so much downtime that he wrote a training manual, “Combat Tactics In The Southwest Pacific Area.” Some of the pilots he served with characterized McGuire as a selfish flyer, who cared only about being the #1 ace. Taking the time to help other pilots would not seem to be the act of a selfish pilot. Bong, meanwhile, was back from the US and had been given the freedom to fly wherever he pleased, with any group he pleased. McGuire bristled at being locked into his job as squadron leader while Bong free-wheeled around the theater.

On October 14th McGuire attached himself to a mission by the 9th Fighter Squadron without permission and downed 3 more Japanese, giving him 24, just 6 behind Bong. When the group CO found out, he was ordered to never “try a stunt like that again.” Soon they would be on their way to the Philippines.

(Below: LST's unloading at Tacloban airbase, Leyte, Philippines.)

On November 1st the squadron flew into their new base at Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. When a Nakajima Tojo showed up as the squadron was landing, McGuire shot it down. The ground crew was excited to witness it. "This is my kind of place!” McGuire joked, “You have to shoot down Japs to land on your own field!” That afternoon he joined a 4-man patrol that included Bong, but neither downed anything. Two days later, while strafing Japanese troops, ground fire hit him, with a bullet giving him a small crease in one butt cheek. It proved minor and he told Frank Kish not report it.

Nine days later McGuire got his second victory in the Philippines but nearly took himself out with it. When the Oscar blew up close in front of him, a piece of it smashed in his canopy and cut open the top of his head. When he emerged from his plane with blood streaming down his face, he once again told Frank Kish it was nothing. Shortly he was out flying missions again with some members of the squadron giving him a new nickname, the “Iron Major.” When he got two more victories, 27 and 28, two days later, it gave him more than his boyhood hero, Eddie Rickenbacker. Though Bong had done it first, it was still special for McGuire.

(Below: Bong after he became the first pilot to surpass Rickenbacker's total of 26.)

In late November the squadron moved to Dulag airbase. Bong came along, and though some members of the squadron resented his presence, McGuire made sure he was treated fairly and even invited him to fly on his own missions. The government didn’t want to chance Bong dying in combat and sent him home for good after his 40th victory. Bong got his last 4 victories flying with the 431st. It’s rather remarkable that the confirming pilot for Bong’s last 4 victories, including his last on December 16th, was McGuire.

When McGuire shot down his first enemy plane in New Guinea, Bong already had 16 victories. Now as he left, McGuire trailed him by 9. McGuire had been assuring Marilynn he would come home on leave for months, but still he stayed, now with a chance become the “aces of aces.” He’d had dengue fever and a touch of malaria, along with various injuries and tropical skin problems. His naturally thin body was now skin and bone and with Japanese opposition waning, McGuire wondered if he would ever have a chance to catch Bong.

(Below: "Pudgy V" McGuire's last fighter.)

Suddenly on Christmas day, however, the air war heated up. When McGuire and his squadron escorted B-24s to bomb Clark Field near Manilla on the 25th and 26th, the Japanese rose up in force to attack them. He downed an astounding 7 Zekes in those two days. On Christmas day, after downing 3 of the enemy, his guns had jammed. Most pilots would have immediately flown home. McGuire remained, helping to protect his fellow pilots by making fake attack runs on Japanese fighters.

He was now just 2 behind Bong, but that was also now a problem. Bong was headed back to the US shortly for a bond tour as the “Ace of Aces.” General Kenny, commander of 5th Air Force, ground McGuire, telling him, “If I let you go out today you are liable to knock off another three Japs and spoil Dick's whole party.”

Bong left sure that McGuire would pass him shortly. McGuire was back in the air as soon as Bong was home. One news service sent a photo of McGuire home with instructions to hold it until McGuire passed Bong. On January 7th McGuire took off on a fighter sweep with 3 other pilots: Major Jack B. Rittmayer, Captain Edwin R. Weaver. and 2nd Lt. Douglas S. Thropp, Jr.

Over Negros Island, his wingman, Weaver, was attacked by a lone Oscar fighter. McGuire intentionally turned inside him to lure the enemy pilot away onto himself. He had not dropped his auxiliary gas tanks, thinking the lone Japanese plane would not attack them. He snapped his P-38 into a tight turn that he might have executed successfully without the tanks. But now he stalled just 300 ft above the ground, did a snap-roll to the left and slammed into the ground, probably killing him instantly. As the ground rushed rapidly upward he would have know he was dead. He had a few seconds to perhaps recall the face of his beloved Marilynn.

(Right: A monument to McGuire on the spot where his P-38, which was a borrowed one, not Pudgy V, went down.)

Though some who knew him would later say he had selfishly pursued the “crown” as the leading US ace, his first near-death crash had happened when he attacked 7 Zekes to save another pilot in a disabled plane and now he had died saving Weaver, who safely returned to base later. His last act had been selfless, not selfish. The Iron-Major, whom everyone around him thought was indestructible, had finally been broken. Frank Kish had been on a 3-day pass and returned to the base that day. He was given McGuire cap. “I've been out here for over three years,” the tearful Kish said, “I was just staying to take care of him. I'll see that his dad gets it." It was McGuire's send crash and both times he was flying someone else's aircraft. Kish must have thought, "If only I had been here, I'd have had Pudgy ready for him and he'd still be alive," though there is no way to know if that were true.

In his letter to Marilynn, General Kenny said, “He has done as much as any other single fighter pilot in this theater of war to seek out and destroy the power of the Japanese.” She also received letters from Marge Vattendall, Richard Bong’s fiancée, and one that shocked her from Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh called him, “one of the finest pilots I have ever flown with.” McGuire would have considered that the highest of compliments.

(Left: McGuire's gravestone at Arlington Cemetery.)

But the most shocking letter she got was one dated December 31, 1944, New Year’s Eve, from Tommy himself. One can only imagine how her hand shook as she read it with tear blurred eyes. “I had been expecting to send you a cable telling you to expect me home but my plans fell through, “ he wrote. “I went up and saw the General and got his promise that if my going home got balled up again, he promised to get me home the last of February.” The letter itself, rather than her husband, had arrived just barely past that last day of February.

That was not her last shock. Sometime after that, she received a package from Columbia Broadcasting System. There was a record inside, but she had no idea what it was. When she played it suddenly the room was filled with the sound of her husband’s voice in a radio interview he had given just days before his death.

In March 1946, McGuire was awarded the United States' highest award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, to go with his Distinguished Service Cross with three devices, two Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Purple Hearts, and 15 Air Medals. His remains were found on Negros Island in 1949 and he was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery on May 17, 1950. In 1948, Fort Dix Army Air Force Base in Wrightstown, New Jersey was renamed McGuire Air Force Base.

Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr grew up reading and hearing about the great air aces of WWI and dreamed of one day taking his place among them. Displaying courage and determination that few could ever match, he became the 2nd leading ace in US history, fully achieving that goal. In the course of achieving that goal, McGuire served his nation far above and beyond what is asked of any soldier.

Above: medals won by Major Thomas McGuire, listed below.

Medal of Honor

Distinguished Service Cross

Silver Star w/ two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters

Distinguished Flying Cross w/ one Silver Oak Leaf Cluster

Purple Heart w/ two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters

Air Medal w/ two Silver Oak Leaf Clusters and two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters

Air Medal w/ one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster

American Defense Service Medal

American Campaign Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ one ​3⁄16" silver star and two ​3⁄16" bronze stars

World War II Victory Medal

Philippine Liberation Medal w/ two ​3⁄16" bronze stars


“The Last Great Ace: The Life of Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr” by Charles A. Martin

“Aces High: The Heroic Saga of the Two Top-Scoring American Aces of World War II” by Bill Yenne

“Race of Aces: WWII's Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Master of the Sky,” by John R. Bruning

“Dick Bong: America's Ace of Aces,” by George C. Kenney

(Right: Plaque commemorating McGuire at Georgia Tech)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning "fork-tailed devil" (video)

Planes of Fame 2018 "Pacific Theater flight" (video)

The Search For The Crash Site of Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.

History of the New Guinea Campaign

Views: 1964

Comment by Joe Gannon on January 18, 2020 at 7:09pm


The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Major (Air Corps) Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr. (ASN: 0-437031), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with the 475th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force, in action over Luzon, Philippine Islands, 25 and 26 December 1944. Voluntarily, Major McGuire led a squadron of 15 P-38's as top cover for heavy bombers striking Mabalacat Airdrome, where his formation was attacked by 20 aggressive Japanese fighters. In the ensuing action he repeatedly flew to the aid of embattled comrades, driving off enemy assaults while himself under attack and at times outnumbered three to 1, and even after his guns jammed, continuing the fight by forcing a hostile plane into his wingman's line of fire. Before he started back to his base he had shot down three Zeros. The next day he again volunteered to lead escort fighters on a mission to strongly defended Clark Field. During the resultant engagement he again exposed himself to attacks so that he might rescue a crippled bomber. In rapid succession he shot down one aircraft, parried the attack of four enemy fighters, one of which he shot down, single-handedly engaged three more Japanese, destroying one, and then shot down still another, his 38th victory in aerial combat. On 7 January 1945, while leading a voluntary fighter sweep over Los Negros Island, he risked an extremely hazardous maneuver at low altitude in an attempt to save a fellow flyer from attack, crashed, and was reported missing in action. With gallant initiative, deep and unselfish concern for the safety of others, and heroic determination to destroy the enemy at all costs, Major McGuire set an inspiring example in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

Comment by Joe Gannon on January 18, 2020 at 7:22pm

Below-left: The shoulder patch of the 5th Air Force. Below-right: The shoulder patch of the 431st Fighter Squadron. Their Fighter Group, the 475th, was nicknamed "Satan's Angels."

Comment by Joe Gannon on January 18, 2020 at 7:38pm

Major Thomas McGuire's combat record.

Comment by Joe Gannon on January 18, 2020 at 8:02pm

A faded old picture of the friends from Sebring, Howard McDonald, McGuire, Bill Dutton, and John C Bates on New Guinea during their reunion in July 1943.

Comment by Joe Gannon on January 18, 2020 at 8:20pm

Major Franklin Nichols, C/O of the 431st Squadron, sitting on his P-38 on New Guinea. This is the plane McGuire "borrowed" when he was shot down on October 17, 1943.


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