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First Name: David

Last Name: McCampbell

Birthplace: Bessemer, AL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Date of Birth: 16 January 1910

Date of Death: 30 June 1996

Rank or Rate: Captain

Years Served: 1933 - 1964
David McCampbell

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1933

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


David McCampbell

Captain, U.S. Navy

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Captain David McCampbell was a U.S. Navy officer and fighter pilot who became the Navy's all-time leading ace with 34 aerial victories during World War II. The third-highest scoring U.S. military flying ace of World War II, he was the highest-scoring to survive the war. For his heroic actions in accumulating those victories, he was awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

David McCampbell was born on16 January 1910 in Bessemer, AL, and was raised in West Palm Beach, FL. He attended the Staunton Military Academy and one year at the Georgia School of Technology before his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated with the class of 1933.

Following his mandatory two years of service at sea (he served on a cruiser from 1935-37), McCampbell applied for flight training and was accepted. He received his "wings of gold" as a Naval Aviator in 1938 and was assigned to Fighting Squadron Four on the East Coast. He later became a landing signal officer and survived the sinking of USS Wasp (CV-7) off Guadalcanal in September 1942.

McCampbell formed VF-15 on 1 September 1943 and led the squadron before being assigned as Commander of Air Group Fifteen from February to September 1944. As Commander Air Group (CAG) 15, he was in charge of fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. From April to November 1944, his group saw six months of continuous combat and participated in two major air-sea battles, the First and Second Battles of the Philippine Sea. During the more than 20,000 hours of air combat operations before it returned to the U.S. for a rest period, Air Group 15 destroyed more enemy planes (315 airborne and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy shipping than any other Air Group in the Pacific War. Air Group 15's attacks on the Japanese in the Marianas and at Iwo Jima, Taiwan, and Okinawa were key to the success of the "island hopping" campaign.

In addition to his duties as commander of the "Fabled Fifteen," then Commander McCampbell became the Navy's "ace of aces" during the missions he flew in 1944. McCampbell flew at least four F6F Hellcats while aboard the Essex: an F6F-3 named Monsoon Maiden (damaged by AAA & struck 20 May 1944), another F6F-3 named The Minsi (10½ kills), an F6F-5 named Minsi II, and an F6F-5 named Minsi III (Bureau Number 70143), in which he scored the last 23½ of his 34 kills.

On 19 June 1944, during the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," Commander McCampbell shot down five Japanese 'Judy' dive-bombers, to become an "ace in a day." Later that afternoon, during a second sortie, McCampbell flamed another two Zekes over Guam. On 24 October 1944, he became the only American airman to twice achieve "ace in a day" status. McCampbell and his wingman attacked a Japanese force of 60 aircraft. McCampbell shot down nine, setting a U.S. single mission aerial combat record. During this same action, his wingman downed another six Japanese warplanes. When he landed his Grumman F6F Hellcat aboard USS Langley (Essex's flight deck wasn't clear), his six machine guns had two rounds remaining and his airplane had to be manually released from the arrestor wire due to complete fuel exhaustion. Commander McCampbell received the Medal of Honor for both actions, becoming the only fast carrier task force pilot to be so honored.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, Air Group 15.

Place and date: First and second Battles of the Philippine Sea, 19 June 1944.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commander, Air Group 15, during combat against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. An inspiring leader, fighting boldly in the face of terrific odds, Comdr. McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our fleet on 19 June 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed 7 hostile planes during this single engagement in which the outnumbering attack force was utterly routed and virtually annihilated. During a major fleet engagement with the enemy on 24 October, Comdr. McCampbell, assisted by but 1 plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of 60 hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down 9 Japanese planes and, completely disorganizing the enemy group, forced the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the fleet. His great personal valor and indomitable spirit of aggression under extremely perilous combat conditions reflect the highest credit upon Comdr. McCampbell and the U.S. Naval Service.

Following World War II, McCampbell had several postings, including Command of the carrier USS Bon Homme Richard from 1959 to 1960. He also served as the Plans Division Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Captain McCampbell retired from active duty in 1964.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Silver Star Medal
Legion of Merit with Combat Valor Device
Distinguished Flying Cross (3 Awards)
Air Medal

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 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. Captain David McCampbell was one of them. At the time of the presentation of the Medal, only 75 of those Aces remained alive.


An Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS guided-missile destroyer, the USS McCampbell (DDG-85), was named in his honor.

The passenger terminal at the Palm Beach International Airport, FL, is named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Captain David McCampbell died on 30 June 1996. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 60, Lot 3150.

Honoree ID: 71   Created by: MHOH




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