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First Name: Hubert

Last Name: Zemke

Birthplace: Missoula, MT, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: Missoula, MT
Middle Name: A.

Date of Birth: 14 March 1914

Date of Death: 30 August 1994

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1936 - 1966
Hubert A. Zemke

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Hubert A. Zemke
Colonel, U.S. Air Force

From 3 April through 31 May 1943, Colonel Hubert A. Zemke was serving as Pilot of a P-47 Thunderbolt Fighter Plane in the 56th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces. While leading the 56th Fighter Group on 25 combat missions over German-occupied Europe, during that time, COL Zemke's brilliant leadership, skill, and the aggressiveness of his attacks was an inspiring example for all members of his command. By seeking out the enemy on all occasions, COL Zemke destroyed 2 German planes in aerial combat and inflicted severe damage on 2 others. COL Zemke’s courageous actions and extraordinary heroism during that period earned him the U.S. Army's third highest award for valor, the Silver Star Medal.

In February and March 1944, COL Zemke’s unit was in aerial combat against German forces in the European Theater of Operations. On 11 February, COL Zemke attacked a German airdrome while flying into heavy, accurate German fire. COL Zemke destroyed one enemy aircraft and damaged 2 others, while damaging 2 airplane hangers and other buildings in the airdrome. On 6 March, COL Zemke attacked a large formation of German fighter planes and delivered his attack so skillfully that he shot down 2 planes and probably destroyed one more of the fighters. COL Zemke’s courageous actions and extraordinary heroism that day earned him the U.S. Army's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 30 October 1944, COL Zemke was flying over Germany in foul weather. Caught in turbulence, his P-51 Mustang fighter twisted into a spin and lost a wing. COL Zemke parachuted from the plane but sustained injuries. After eluding capture for several days, he was captured by the Germans. COL Zemke was interrogated and shuffled between German camps for 6 weeks before arriving at Stalag Luft I on 16 December 1944. As the senior Allied officer at Stalag Luft I, COL Zemke ended the war responsible for nearly 9,000 men. When Germany's defeat was imminent in May 1945, Zemke convinced the Nazis to turn the camp over to the prisoners before the Soviets arrived. He then prodded the Russians to turn over American and British prisoners to nearby American forces, rather than take them to the Soviet Union. As his fellow prisoners returned to the United States, COL Zemke remained in Europe, searching for missing American prisoners-of-war and returning them home.

COL Hubert Zemke became a 'Triple Ace' in World War II, credited with shooting down 17.75 enemy aircraft in 154 combat missions.

Zemke spent the remainder of his outstanding Air Force career in various leadership roles, including as president of the Air Force's Air War College, Secretary of NORAD and Commander of the Reno Air Defense Sector. In 1966, Zemke retired to a ranch in Oroville, CA, where he lived until his death in 1994.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with Silver and 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Purple Heart
Air Medal with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Commendation Medal
Presidential Unit Citation
Prisoner of War Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 4 Bronze Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star
Air Force Longevity Service Award with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)
Croix de Guerre with Palm (Belgium)
Command Pilot Badge

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel (Air Corps) Hubert Zemke (ASN: 0-22353), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-47 Fighter Airplane in the 56th Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 11 February 1944, in the European Theater of Operations. On that date, Colonel Zemke attacked a German airdrome, flying into the face of persistent, heavy and accurate defensive fire. He destroyed one enemy aircraft, damaged two others, damaged two airplane hangers and other buildings in the airdrome. Displaying this same cool, calculated courage on 6 March 1944, he attacked a large formation of airborne German fighter aircraft, delivering his attack so skillfully, and with such tenacity of purpose, without thought of personal safety, as to destroy two and probably destroy one other of the enemy's airplanes. Colonel Zemke's courage, coolness and determination greatly contributed to the successes of aerial operations against the enemy and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.

Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Forces in Europe, General Orders No. 18 (March 20, 1944)

Congressional Gold Medal

The Congressional Gold Medal, created by the U.S. Mint, is the highest civilian honor Congress can give on behalf of the American people. On 20 May 2015, leaders from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate presented the Congressional Gold Medal [see photo] to the American Fighter Aces Association at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Emancipation Hall.

More than 60,000 American fighter pilots engaged in aerial combat during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Of those pilots, only 1,447 earned the title of fighter “Ace” by downing at least five enemy aircraft. Colonel Hubert A. Zemke was one of them, having been credited with 17.75 aircraft shot down in aerial combat and earning him the title of 'Triple Ace.' At the time of the presentation of the Medal, only 75 of those Aces remained alive.

Death and Burial

Colonel Hubert A. Zemke died on 30 August 1994 at Oroville, CA. The location of his burial is unknown.


Honoree ID: 2490   Created by: MHOH




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