U.S. Navy / U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archives
Captain David McCampbell, U.S. Navy, ACE
With 34 kills, Captain David McCampbell was the U.S. Navy’s all-time top fighter ace. He was one of the few pilots to receive the nation’s top award for actions during aerial combat, earning the Medal of Honor for his exploits during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
On 24 October 1944, McCampbell and wingman Ensign Roy Rushing launched in a flight of seven F6F-5 Hellcats from the USS Essex (CV-9) to take on Japanese fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes menacing U.S. carriers in Leyte Gulf. McCampbell would shoot down nine planes and Rushing would down six. In his 1988 Naval Institute oral history, McCampbell describes flying above some 40 of the enemy planes and then going in for the kill when they broke their orbiting formation.