Tag Archive | Alexander Vraciu

Vraciu remembered

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:

Battle of The Philippine Sea, June 1944 (Catalog #: 80-G-23684): Lieutenant Junior Grade Alexander Vraciu, USNR; fighting squadron 16 “Ace”, holds up six fingers to signify his “kills” during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, on 19 June 1944. Taken on the flight deck of the USS LEXINGTON (CV-16). Note: Grumman in the background and sailor A.L. Poquet at right.

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.

EL CENTRO, Calif. (March 9, 2019) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, conduct a flyover during the naming ceremony of Vraciu Field at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, March 9, 2019. The Blue Angels are conducting winter training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, in preparation for the 2019 show season. The team is scheduled to conduct 61 flight demonstrations at 32 locations across the country to showcase the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the American public in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Schumaker/Released)

Vraciu has made his final sortie.

U.S. Naval aviators in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII had their hands full. While the RAF earned thier fame in the Battle of Britain and the follow-on V-rocket Blitz, the U.S. Navy had to slug their way across 8,000 miles of water and fight the Japanese for every island.

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One of these hardy flyboys was Alexander Vraciu, born in 1918 to Transylvanian immigrants in East Chicago. Graduating from DePauw University in 1941, he joined the USNR and by March 1943 was flying as Butch O’Hare’s wingman from the USS Independence (CVL-22) as part of the old  Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6), flying F6F Hellcats.

Hard as a coffin nail, Vraciu racked up 21 aircraft destroyed on the ground and 19 confirmed aerial victories including a famous half dozen in a single day during the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

Lt. Alex Vraciu uses his hands to indicate his downing of six aircraft in a single day, June 19, 1944. All were Yokosuka D4Y "Judies" shot down in a period of just 8 minutes.

Lt. Alex Vraciu uses his hands to indicate his downing of six aircraft in a single day, June 19, 1944. All were Yokosuka D4Y “Judies” shot down in a period of just 8 minutes.

Shot down over the Philippines, he led a local guerrilla force for six weeks before linking up with American forces. He retired in 1964 at the rank of full commander. Although twice recommended for the MOH, he was ultimately awarded the Navy Cross. There is a campaign to help see he finally receives his MOH.

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Commander Vraciu rejoined VF-6 last week at the age of 96.

His shipmates have been waiting.

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