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  • Dominic Salvatore Gentile: Ace of Aces

    by Leonardo Solimine

    Variously called "a one-man Air Force," "Captain Courageous," and "the Ace of Aces," Captain Dominic Gentile had few peers when it came to air combat. Along with his close friend and dedicated wingman, John T. Godfrey, their lethal partnership so plagued Hermann Göring's Luftwaffe during World War II that they earned the epithet, "Debden Gangsters." In early 1944, Gentile shot down his 27th enemy fighter, surpassing World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 combat victories. He would earn three more victories before war's end, along with a host of military decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross (both American and British) and the Silver Star.

    Born in tiny Piqua, Ohio in 1920, Dominic became fascinated with flying as a child. His obsession grew from playing with model planes and kites that during his high school years, his father provided Dominic with his own plane: an Aerosport Biplane. By the outbreak of war in 1941, he deeply believed his flying skills would be of service to the United States Air Force. While the U.S. military required two years of college for its pilots, the Royal Air Force did not and Gentile joined the legendary Eagle Squadrons based in England.

    Flying a Spitfire, in a ten-minute span, he downed two German planes over France on August 1, 1942, earning the British Distinguished Flying Cross for his astonishing accomplishment. A month later, he transferred into the U.S. Air Force and in 1944, he took part in one of the great aerial combat missions of the war. After downing two German planes, Gentile was attacked by two more Luftwaffe planes intent on avenging their comrades. Turning and diving to avoid them, Gentile managed to squeeze off his remaining rounds of ammunition but to no avail. They followed him relentlessly, leaving him with the rather forlorn hope that they, too, would exhaust their ammunition if could manage to evade them long enough. Eventually, their ammo also spent, the German planes turned away and Gentile returned to his air base physically and mentally drained, but alive and intact.

    By mid-April of 1944, and after three more air victories, Gentile's tour in Europe was completed, but not before he suffered a minor flying mishap caused by a bout of showmanship. While demonstrating the maneuverability of his plane - a Mustang named "Shangri La" - he crashed but emerged unscathed. Captain Gentile returned to the U.S. where he and other war heroes participated in War Bond drives.

    When the war ended, and in the era before commercial airlines, pilots had few options that allowed them to continue flying. Remaining with the Air Force as a test pilot among other duties, he was stationed at Wright Field in Ohio until 1946 when he received an honorable discharge. Later that same year, however, he was recalled to active duty and served in both the Fighter Gunnery Program and Air Tactical School. In June of 1949, Gentile enrolled as an undergraduate – studying military science – at the University of Maryland.

    While piloting a T-33 jet trainer in late January of 1951, Captain Gentile's plane crashed in Forestville, Maryland. Both he and a passenger perished. Perhaps in consideration of his courage and dedication, the U.S. Air Force honored him with a posthumous promotion to the rank of Major. Only 30 years old at the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, Isabella, and their three sons: Don Jr., Joseph and Pasquale (Pat).

    Dominic Salvatore Gentile died but he left behind an extraordinary legacy. The then-unconventional air combat tactics employed by Gentile and his wingman, Godfrey, were later used In Vietnam by U.S. fighter pilots. For his war record of 30 kills and combat advancements, he was posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He is remembered today as one of America's great combat aviators: The Ace of Aces.

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