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Captain Francis J. Lent
U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) P-38 Lightning Pilot and Ace

Background
Francis J. Lent was born October 26, 1917 to parents Earl V. Lent and Mayme (née Waldorf) Lent in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1918, his family including his parents, Lent, his parents and two brothers, Gordon and Mortimer, moved to Melrose in western Stearns County. This move brought them closer to their Lent and Waldorf relatives in the area. Tragically, when he was only eleven months old his father was tragically killed in a train accident on September 8, 1918. Two months later, his 2 1/2 year old brother, Gordon Lent died from pneumonia as a complication from the influenza epidemic on November 8, 1918.

Nicknamed "Fran", he completed high school and was employed as a retail manager of a grocery store at 407 Main Street in Melrose, MN that he purchased in January 1939 and named at the age of 21. As owner, he renamed it Lent Grocery until he sold it in early 1942 to enlist in the military.

Wartime History
On April 9, 1942 Lent enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as a private in the Air Corps with serial number 17063229. He completed his primary flight training at Thunderbird Field, AZ. On March 10, 1943 he graduated as part of class 43-C and earned his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at Luke Field, AZ. Next, assigned to Glendale, CA to transition into fighter aircraft and was assigned to the 329th Fighter Group (329th FG) before being sent overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

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Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron "Satan's Angels" in New Guinea and began flying P-38 Lightnings in New Guinea often as a wingman for Thomas B. McGuire. Lent was officially credited with 12 aerial victories (his wartime record states 11 victories and 1 probable). His first victory was on August 18, 1943 claiming a "Hamp" (sic, Ki-43 Oscar) shot down over Wewak. On August 21, 1943 claimed two aerial victories. On October 15, 1943 he intercepted enemy dive bombers and fighters attacking Oro Bay and claimed three: two Zekes and a Val dive bomber. On October 24, 1943 he claimed a "Tony" over Rabaul his fifth victory claim making him an ace. On November 2, 1943 claimed a Zero and a Zero probable over Rabaul. On December 16, 1943 claimed a Betty. Finally, on March 31, 1944 he claimed two Zekes shot down 30 miles south of Hollandia.

Victory Date Location Aircraft Notes on claim
1 08/18/43 Wewak Hamp First aerial victory claim for a "Hamp" actually a Ki-43 Oscar
2 08/21/43     Second aerial victory claim
3 08/21/43     Third aerial victory claim
4 10/15/43 Oro Bay Zeke Fourth aerial victory claim.
5 10/15/43 Oro Bay Zeke Fifth aerial victory claim making him an "ace".
6 10/15/43 Oro Bay Val Six aerial victory claim.
7 10/24/43 Rabaul Tony Seventh aerial victory claim.
8 11/02/43 Rabaul Zero Eighth aerial victory claim plus a probable.
9 12/16/43   Betty Ninth aerial victory claim.
10 03/31/44 Hollandia Zero Tenth aerial victory claim.
11 03/31/44 Hollandia Zero Eleven aerial victory claim.

On July 17, 1944, promoted to Captain and was scheduled to returning to his hometown of Melrose, Minnesota for leave and to marry his finance', Miss Delores Herges. Afterwards, returned to South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

Missing In Action (MIA)
On December 1, 1944 took off piloting F-6D Mustang 44-14621 on a on a local flight eastward over Lae. Over the Huon Gulf, this aircraft into the sea for unknown reasons. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Memorials
Lent was officially declared dead the day of the mission. On March 30, 1945, his brother was notified by the U.S. Army of his death. On July 7, 1945 the family held a funeral mass at St. Boniface Catholic Church. On May 21, 1946 his brother received a letter of condolence and mentioned an ongoing search for his remains. Lent is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He also has a memorial marker at Saint Marys Cemetery in Melrose, MN at section C, row 5.

Awards
Lent earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters. As a non-battle casualty he did not earn the Purple Heart, posthumously when he went missing.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Francis J. Lent
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: Lent, Francis J. page 114 (PDF page 121)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Francis J. Lent
FindAGrave - Capt Francis J Lent (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Capt Francis Joseph "Fran" Lent (memorial marker)
Melrose Area Historical Society - Air Ace Francis Lent

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