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.
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.
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.
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.
His shipmates have been waiting.