On 19 June 1944, during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” VF-16 Hellcat flyer Lt. Alexander Vraciu splashed not one or two or three but six (6) Japanese Yokosuka D4Y Judys in eight minutes, firing just 360 rounds of .50 cal to get the job done– 60 rounds per bogey.
The event led to this iconic image:
An Indiana native, Vraciu was a first generation American of Romanian parents and cut his teeth as “Butch” O’Hare’s wingman. He finished the war with 19 confirmed aerial victories (plus 21 on the ground) and, although nominated for the MOH, he walked away with the Navy Cross instead and 3 DFCs, among other decorations. Overall, he is the 4th highest U.S. Naval ace in history when ranked in terms of victories.
Retiring from the Navy in 1964 after 23-years in uniform, he was still one hell of a good shot late in his career. In 1957, he won the individual gunnery championship at the U.S. Navy’s Air Weapons Meet at NAS El Centro, California, while pushing 40 as while skipper of VF-51, then flying the FJ-3 Fury.
To commemorate Vraciu, who died in 2015, the Navy has dedicated the field at El Centro in his honor.