This Week in Texas History: A column
by BARTEE HAILE
Maj. George Andrew Davis Jr. climbed into the cockpit of his jet fighter on Feb. 10, 1952 for his sixtieth and last mission in the skies over Korea.
Two small Texas towns can rightfully claim the combat ace of two wars as their own. Dublin, southwest of Fort Worth, is where the sixth son of a farmer was born in 1920, and Morton, between Lubbock and the New Mexico line, is where he did most of his growing up and graduated high school.
On that infamous Sunday the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Davis was an undergraduate at a college in Arkansas. Like nearly all Texans his age, he put his life on hold and returned home to do his patriotic duty.
Davis had always wanted to fly, so it was no surprise he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in March 1942. After a year of intense training, he was given his wings and a second lieutenant commission and shipped off to the Pacific.
Flying the new P-47, Lt. Davis averaged more than five sorties a week from December 1943 to the following December for a total of 266. And he put the powerful Thunderbolt’s eight 50-caliber machineguns to good use downing seven enemy aircraft in single combat, a feat that qualified him as an “ace.”
Two of those confirmed kills came on Christmas Eve 1944. As part of a three-fighter escort for a bombing run in the Philippines, he permanently grounded one Japanese Zero and moments later another making it possible for the B-24’s to hit their target.
For that extraordinary exploit, Davis, who had moved up in rank to captain during his yearlong tour, was awarded the Silver Star. The Texan added the coveted decoration to a collection that already included the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak cluster and the Air Medal with seven clusters.
While the typical WWII vet could not wait to get out of uniform, Davis chose to make the Air Force his career. Peace suited him just fine, as he made the rounds of stateside bases and performed with the Sabre Dancers, forerunners of the Thunderbirds.
When war unexpectedly broke out in Korea, experienced fighter pilots like Davis suddenly found themselves in demand for something far more serious that air shows. By the fall of 1951, the 30 year old aviator was in South Korea with a promotion to major and an appointment as commanding officer of the 334th Fighter Squadron.
The battle in the sky had evolved into high-speed acrobatics with the F-86 Sabre, the same craft Davis had put through its paces for civilian crowds, replacing the propeller-driven P-47 and the Russian-made MiG-15 instead of the antiquated Zero.
At first glance, Major Davis looked more like a mild-mannered schoolteacher than an airborne warrior with a killer instinct second to none. “When he straps on a fighter, he’s all tiger,” an admiring junior officer wrote in a letter home. “A sharp pilot and gunner, and he must have the eyes of an eagle.”
The same subordinate added that his wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing superior “has gone hog wild and is shooting down MiGs like mad.”
That was no exaggeration. By February 1952, Davis had a dozen verified victories making him not only the leading ace of the Korean “police action,” as President Truman initially called the conflict, but the first two-war ace in U.S. history.
The pace was breath-taking. In two different actions separated by only 13 days, Davis added a pair of Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters to his Silver Star.
In a massive melee with a large formation of enemy bombers and their fighter guardians on Nov. 30, 1951, Davis got separated from his squadron. Rather than retreat, he pressed the attack and by himself knocked three bombers out of the sky.
Running dangerously low on fuel and ammunition, Anderson turned for home only to hear a distress call from a crippled F-86. He arrived just in time to destroy one MiG-15, causing the rest to scatter, and accompanied his brother pilot to safety.
Two weeks later, Davis led a squadron of eight F-86s in an epic dogfight with ten MiG-15’s. In what the Air Force officially described as “the greatest defeat inflicted upon the enemy in a single jet-to-jet engagement,” the Americans destroyed five MiG’s and a probable sixth without suffering a loss.
Davis’ last mission in February 1952 took him and three other F-86 pilots to within spitting distance of the Manchurian border. After an oxygen problem forced two F-86s to drop out, the remaining two encountered an enemy formation 12 MiG-15’s strong.
The prudent thing to do was to withdraw, but Davis noticed the MiG’s had their eye on a group of low-flying bombers. Feeling he had no choice but to go to their defense, he tore into the MiG formation sending two to earth in the familiar death spiral.
But on this fateful day, George Andrew Davis, Jr. could not beat the odds. Quoting from the citation on his Medal of Honor, presented posthumously in a ceremony at Lubbock, “his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, and then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River.”
San Marcos Mercury columnist BARTEE HAILE welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.Email | Print