Gabby Gabreski
American flying ace
Gabby Gabreski
Francis Stanley "Gabby" Gabreski was the top American fighter ace in Europe during World War II, a jet fighter ace in Korea, and a career officer in the United States Air Force with more than 26 years service. Although best known for his credited destruction of 34½ aircraft in aerial combat and being one of only seven U.S. pilots to become an ace in two wars, Gabreski was also one of the Air Force's most accomplished leaders.
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  • 2002
    Age 83
    Gabreski died of an apparent heart attack in Huntington Hospital, Long Island, New York on January 31, 2002, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetery.
    More Details Hide Details Gabreski's funeral on February 6 was with full military honors and included a missing man formation flyover by F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, which became Suffolk County Airport in 1969, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in 1991. The collocated New York Air National Guard installation at the airport was also renamed Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base. In 1978, he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Gabreski Road at Shaw AFB, SC, is named in his honor.
  • 1981
    Age 62
    After what he described as an 18-month struggle with the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gabreski resigned on February 26, 1981. He charged that the creation of an executive director's position, and its appointee, obstructed his efforts to improve service, replace equipment, and change its executive staff. However, a severe heat wave in the summer of 1980 that overwhelmed the commuter line's air conditioning systems was apparently the final straw that forced his resignation.
    More Details Hide Details Francis and Kay Gabreski had nine children in 48 years of marriage. Two of their three sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and became career Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law Terry L. Gabreski was promoted to lieutenant general in August 2005, the highest-ranking woman in the USAF until her retirement in 2010. His wife died as the result of an automobile accident as they both were returning from the Oshkosh Air Show on August 6, 1993. She was interred in Calverton National Cemetery, 25 miles from their home in Dix Hills.
  • 1978
    Age 59
    Following his retirement from the Air Force, Gabreski worked for Grumman Aerospace until August 1978.
    More Details Hide Details He was asked by New York Governor Hugh Carey to serve as president of the financially stressed and state-owned Long Island Rail Road in an attempt to improve the commuter line. Carey was opposed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary election by his own lieutenant governor, Maryanne Krupsak, and in part appointed Gabreski to enhance his election campaign based on Gabreski's Polish extraction and Long Island affiliations.
  • 1967
    Age 48
    Gabreski retired on November 1, 1967.
    More Details Hide Details Per his USAF official biography, he retired with more than 5,000 flying hours, 4,000 of them in jets. Gabreski's military decorations and awards include: British Distinguished Flying Cross French Légion d'honneur French Croix de Guerre with Palm Belgium Croix de Guerre with Palm Cross of Valour (Poland) (Krzyż Walecznych) Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Korea Medal Korean War Service Medal Citation:
  • 1952
    Age 33
    Before the mission of February 20, 1952, Gabreski and Whisner each had four MiGs credited as destroyed.
    More Details Hide Details During the mission, Gabreski attacked and severely damaged a MiG 15 that fled across the Yalu River into China. He broke off the engagement and returned to base after his own airplane was damaged, where he claimed the MiG as a "probable kill". Whisner trailed the MiG deep into Manchuria trying to confirm Gabreski's kill, but his Sabre ran low on fuel. He completed the shootdown and returned to K-14 where he confirmed the kill for Gabreski but did not claim it himself. Gabreski confronted him and angrily ordered him to change his mission report, confirming Whisner's own role in the kill. Whisner refused. Soon after, Gabreski recanted his anger and the two shared the claim, as a consequence of which three days later Whisner and not Gabreski became the first pilot of the 51st FW to reach jet ace status.
  • 1951
    Age 32
    A noted pilot also rebuts some of the criticism. Major William T. Whisner had been a P-51 double-ace in World War II and was one of the pilots Gabreski brought with him from the 56th FIW in June 1951.
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    Gabreski was transferred to K-13 (Suwon) Air Base, accompanied by most of the former 56th FIW pilots who had come with him to Korea, and took command November 6, 1951.
    More Details Hide Details During its first seven months as an F-86 wing, the 51st, with only two operational squadrons, scored 96 MiG kills, comparing favorably to the 125 of the veteran 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, which operated three. Gabreski himself scored 3½ more kills to become a jet ace. He was an aggressive commander and fostered a fierce rivalry between the two F-86 wings, fueled in part by the fact that the 4th had also been the keenest rival of the 56th FG during World War II. While this aggressiveness paid off in the destruction of MiGs and air superiority over all of Korea, it also led Gabreski to make the first intentional violation of rules of engagement that prohibited combat with MiGs over China. (The MiG force was based in this ostensible sanctuary during the entire war.) Gabreski and a fellow former 56th pilot, Colonel Walker M. Mahurin, planned and executed a mission in early 1952 in which the F-86s turned off their IFF equipment and overflew two Chinese bases.
    On July 8, 1951, flying his fifth mission in an F-86, Gabreski shot down a MiG 15, followed by MiG kills on September 2 and October 2.
    More Details Hide Details The growing MiG threat against Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber attacks along the Yalu River caused the Fifth Air Force to create a second Sabre wing by converting the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing from F-80s to F-86s in a 10-day period.
    He participated in aerial combat again during the Korean War. In June 1951, he and a group of selected pilots of the 56th FIW accompanied the delivery of F-86Es of the 62d FIS to Korea aboard the escort carrier.
    More Details Hide Details The planes and pilots joined the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group at K-14 (Kimpo) Air Base, where most engaged in combat.
  • 1950
    Age 31
    While in command of the 56th, Gabreski oversaw conversion of the unit to North American F-86 Sabres and was promoted to colonel on March 11, 1950.
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  • 1949
    Age 30
    In June 1949, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.
    More Details Hide Details He returned immediately to flying, becoming commander of his former unit, the 56th Fighter Group, now flying F-80 Shooting Stars at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan.
  • 1947
    Age 28
    The Air Force sent him to Columbia University in September 1947 to complete his degree and study Russian.
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  • 1946
    Age 27
    In April 1946, he left the service, worked for Douglas Aircraft for a year, then was recalled to active duty in April 1947 to command the 55th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
    More Details Hide Details His command of the 55th FS was brief.
  • 1945
    Age 26
    Following his repatriation, Gabreski returned to the United States and married Kay Cochran on June 11, 1945.
    More Details Hide Details After a 90-day recuperative leave, he became Chief of Fighter Test Section at Wright Field, Ohio, and at the same time completed test pilot training at its Engineering Flight Test School.
    He was liberated when Soviet forces seized the camp in April 1945.
    More Details Hide Details Gabreski flew 166 combat sorties and was officially credited by the USAAF with 28 aircraft destroyed in air combat and 3 on the ground. He was assigned five P-47s during his time with the 56th FG, none of which he named, but all of which bore the fuselage identification codes HV: A.
  • 1944
    Age 25
    On July 20, 1944, Gabreski had reached the 300-hour combat time limit for Eighth Air Force fighter pilots and was awaiting an aircraft to return him to the United States on leave and reassignment.
    More Details Hide Details He had already advised Kay Cochran to proceed with wedding plans, and his hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania, had raised $2,000 for a wedding present in anticipation of his return. Gabreski found, however, that a bomber escort mission to Russelheim, Germany, was scheduled for that morning, and, instead of boarding the transport, he requested to "fly just one more." Returning from the mission, Gabreski observed Heinkel He 111s parked on the airfield at Bassenheim, Germany, and took his airplane down to attack. He was dissatisfied with his first strafing run on an He 111, and he reversed for a second pass. When his tracers went over the parked bomber, he dropped the nose of his Thunderbolt to adjust, and its propeller clipped the runway, bending the tips. The damage caused his engine to vibrate violently and he was forced to crash land. Gabreski ran into nearby woods and eluded capture for five days. After being captured and interrogated by Obergefreiter Hanns Scharff, he was sent to Stalag Luft I.
    He tied Johnson as the leading ace in the European Theater of Operations on June 27 (passing Eddie Rickenbacker's record from World War I in the process), and on July 5, 1944, became America's leading ace in the ETO, with his score of 28 destroyed matching the total at the time of confirmed victories of the Pacific Theatre's top American ace, Richard Bong.
    More Details Hide Details This total was never surpassed by any U.S. pilot fighting the Luftwaffe.
    In April 1944, the 56th FG moved to RAF Boxted and Gabreski was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
    More Details Hide Details He resumed command of the 61st FS when its commander was transferred to VIII FC headquarters. On May 22, Gabreski shot down three Fw 190s over a Luftwaffe airfield in northwest Germany.
    In February 1944, Gabreski brought into the 56th two Polish pilots who had flown with him in 1943 while serving with the RAF, including future USAAF ace Squadron Leader Boleslaw "Mike" Gladych.
    More Details Hide Details With Gabreski's support and to ease a shortage of experienced pilots caused by many veterans reaching the completion of their tours, the 61st FS in April accepted five other Polish Air Force pilots into the squadron as the "Polish Flight". Gabreski's victory total steadily climbed through the winter of 1943-44. By March 27, he had 18 victory credits and had six multiple-kill missions to rank third in the "ace race" that had developed within VIII Fighter Command. He downed only one more aircraft in the next two months, during which time the two pilots ahead of him (Majors Robert S. Johnson and Walker M. Mahurin, also of the 56th FG) were sent home.
    When Zemke resumed command on January 19, 1944, Gabreski relinquished command of the 61st FS.
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  • 1943
    Age 24
    The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major (Air Corps), Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-47 Fighter Airplane in the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 26 November 1943, in the European Theater of Operations.
    More Details Hide Details On this date, Colonel Gabreski led a flight of 47 fighters on a bomber escort mission to targets near Oldenburg, Germany. With complete disregard for the danger involved, Colonel Gabreski led his flight into protected covering fighters. He personally attacked and destroyed the leading enemy aircraft and, despite damage sustained by his airplane from contact with falling pieces of the disintegrating enemy plane, sought out and destroyed another enemy fighter before returning to join his flight for further escort of the bombers. Colonel Gabreski's outstanding and spirited aggressiveness and his heroic disregard for his personal safety in the face of superior enemy forces were an inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
    In November 1943, the group commander of the 56th, Colonel Hubert Zemke, was replaced in command for two months by Colonel Robert Landry, a staff officer at VIII FC.
    More Details Hide Details Because of Landry's inexperience, combat missions of the 56th were alternately led by deputy commander Lieutenant Colonel David C. Schilling and Gabreski, who acted as deputy group operations officer.
    This ill will was soon exacerbated when both of these men were lost in combat on June 26 and did not subside until he recorded his first credited kill: an Fw 190 near Dreux, France, on August 24, 1943.
    More Details Hide Details His first kill presaged criticism that followed him throughout his combat career, when his wingmen complained that his attack had been too hastily conducted to allow them to also engage. On November 26, 1943, the 56th FG was assigned to cover the withdrawal of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that had bombed Bremen, Germany. The P-47s arrived to find the bombers under heavy attack near Oldenburg and dived into the fray. Gabreski recorded his fourth and fifth kills to become an ace, but had a close brush with death on December 11, when a 20 mm (.79 in) cannon shell lodged in his engine without exploding, destroying its turbocharger. Low on fuel and ammunition, Gabreski outmaneuvered a Bf 109 until it succeeded in placing a burst of fire into his P-47, disabling the engine. Gabreski stayed in the airplane, however, until it restarted at a lower altitude, where the turbocharger was not needed.
    On February 27, 1943, Gabreski became part of the 56th Fighter Group, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, and quickly became a flight leader.
    More Details Hide Details He was immediately resented by many of his fellow pilots, and the fact that he was opinionated and verbose did little to ease the situation. In May, shortly after the group moved to RAF Halesworth and entered combat, Gabreski was promoted to major. On June 9, he took command of the 61st Fighter Squadron when its commanding officer was moved up to group deputy commander. This also stirred ill feelings toward him since he had been jumped over two more senior pilots.
    Instead, he was posted to No. 315 (Deblin) Squadron at RAF Northolt in January 1943.
    More Details Hide Details Gabreski flew the new Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX, flying patrol sweeps over the Channel. He first encountered Luftwaffe opposition on February 3, when a group of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s jumped his squadron. Too excited to make a "kill", Gabreski learned that he had to keep calm during a mission, a lesson that served him well later in the war. He later spoke with great esteem about the Polish pilots and the lessons they taught him. In all, Gabreski flew 20 missions with the Poles, engaging in combat once.
  • 1942
    Age 23
    The idea was approved, and he left Hawaii for Washington, D.C. in September 1942, where he was promoted to captain.
    More Details Hide Details In October, Gabreski reported to the Eighth Air Force's VIII Fighter Command in England, at that time a rudimentary new headquarters. After a lengthy period of inactivity, he tried to arrange duty with 303 Squadron, but that unit had been taken out of action for a period of rest.
    During the spring and summer of 1942, Gabreski remained with the 45th (renamed as 45th Fighter Squadron in May 1942), training in newer model P-40s and in Bell P-39 Airacobras that the unit began to receive.
    More Details Hide Details He closely followed reports on the Battle of Britain and the role played in it by Polish RAF squadrons, especially by the legendary No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. He became concerned that the US did not have many experienced fighter pilots. This gave him an idea: since Polish squadrons had proved to be capable within the RAF and since he himself was of Polish origin and spoke Polish, he offered to serve as a liaison officer to the Polish squadrons to learn from their experience.
  • 1941
    Age 22
    Gabreski earned his wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps in March 1941, then sailed for Hawaii aboard the to his first assignment.
    More Details Hide Details Assigned as a fighter pilot with the 45th Pursuit Squadron of the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, 2nd Lt. Gabreski trained on both the Curtiss P-36 Hawk and the newer Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. He met his future wife, Catherine "Kay" Cochran, in Hawaii and became engaged shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During that action, Gabreski joined several members of his squadron in flying P-36 fighters in an attempt to intercept the attackers, but the Japanese had withdrawn.
  • 1938
    Age 19
    He did so in 1938, but, unprepared for real academic work, almost failed during his freshman year.
    More Details Hide Details During his first year at Notre Dame, Gabreski developed an interest in flying. He took lessons in a Taylor Cub and accumulated six hours of flight time. However, his autobiography indicates, he struggled to fly smoothly and did not solo, having been advised by his instructor Homer Stockert that he did not "have the touch to be a pilot". At the start of his second year at Notre Dame, Gabreski enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, volunteering as an aviation cadet. After his induction into the U.S. Army at Pittsburgh, he undertook primary flight training at Parks Air College, near East St. Louis, Illinois, flying the Stearman PT-17. Gabreski was a mediocre trainee and was forced to pass an elimination check ride during primary to continue training. He advanced to basic flight training at Gunter Army Air Base, Alabama, in the Vultee BT-13 and completed advanced training at Maxwell Field, Alabama, in the North American AT-6 Texan.
  • 1919
    Age 0
    Born on January 28, 1919.
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