Captain David McCampbell
U. S. Navy (USN) Fighter Pilot and Ace
David McCampbell was born January 16, 1910 in Bessemer, Alabama to parents Andrew J. McCampbell and Elizabeth L. (née Perry) McCampbell. His family owned several businesses in Bessemer. At age 10, the family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida where his father opened a furniture store. As a youth, he enjoyed swimming. In 1919 his grandfather purchased a World War I surplus Curtiss Jenny was a passenger on several flights.
In 1923 he enrolled in Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Virginia where he excelled and took up swimming and diving. He then enrolled at the Georgia School of Technology (Georgia Tech) class of 1932 and studied engineering. Meanwhile, his father lost his furniture business due to the Great Depression and McCampbell sought an appointment in the Naval academy to get a free education so as not to burden his parents.
Appointed to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in 1929, he graduated with a degree in engineering with the class of 1933 as a midshipmen with a degree in marine engineering and continued to dive. He graduated during the Great Depression and there was a lack of government funding for new officers and only half the graduating class was commissioned and the other half were given an honorable discharge. As a result, he received an honorable discharge.
He tried to join the U. S. Army as a pilot but was rejected because his eyesight was slightly deficient and instead began working in a construction company in Alabama and then as a factory worker for Douglas Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, CA and lived in Hollywood, California.
On June 1, 1934 recalled to service and commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve (USNR) with the rank of Ensign with serial number O-72487. Two weeks later, assigned to USS Portland (CA-33). During June 1937 when the vessel was present at San Francisco Bay for the opening ceremony of the Golden Gate Bridge and he was the officer of the deck (OOD) and took the vessel under the newly created bridge.
On June 26, 1936 he married Susan Rankin of Glendale, CA. The couple had one child, Frances Stewart McCampbell and divorced in 1944. In 1937, he was accepted for flight training at NAS Pensacola and earned his wings on April 21, 1938. His first assignment was to Fighting Squadron Four (VF-4) aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) until May 1940.
At the start of the Pacific War, McCampbell assigned to USS Wasp (CV-7) as a Landing Signal Officer (LSO). On September 15, 1942 while bound for Guadalcanal, McCampbell was walking across the flight deck when the carrier was hit by torpedoes fired by Japanese submarine I-19 and sank southeast of San Cristobal Island in the Solomon Islands. Afterwards, he was rescued and returned to the United States for his next assignment.
Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was assigned to NAS Melbourne as a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) instructor for a until August 1943. On September 1, 1943
McCampbell became the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of Fighting Squadron 15 (VF-15) “Fabled Fifteen".
During February 1944 became the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of Carrier Air Group 15 (CAG-15) aboard USS Essex CV-9. In April 1944 he entered the combat zone and began flying combat missions. During May 1944 promoted to the rank of Commander.
On June 19, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) McCampbell claimed five D4Y Judy dive-bombers and became an "ace in a day". Later that afternoon, during a second sortie, McCampbell claimed two A6M Zekes over Guam. In total, he claimed seven aircraft in one day.
On October 24, 194 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf McCampbell became the only American aviator to ever achieve "ace in a day" status twice when he and his wingman attacked a Japanese force of sixty aircraft. During one mission, McCampbell claimed nine aerial victories, setting a U. S. single mission aerial combat record. During the same action, his wingman Roy Rushing claimed six aircraft. Returning low on fuel and nearly out of ammunition, McCampbell saw the flight deck on USS Essex CV-9 was not clear so he instead landed on USS Langley (CVL-27). When ground crews checked his plane, he was completely out of fuel and had only two rounds left in his six machine guns.
After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, McCampbell was photographed wearing his flight gear in the cockpit of his aircraft F6F "Minsi III" 70143 with his scoreboard of thirty Japanese rising sun flags on the flight deck of USS Essex CV-9.
On December 1, 1944 the ace pilots from VF-15
were photographed with their scoreboard inside the hanger with F6F "Minsi III" 70143 parked behind them with a scoreboard indicating his 34 victory claims.
Between April 1944 until November 1944, McCampbell participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) , Battle of Leyte Gulf and attacks against the Mariana Islands, Iwo Jima, Taiwan and Okinawa. In total, AG-15 flew 20,000 hours of air combat operations and claimed more enemy planes (315 airborne and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy shipping than any other U. S. Navy Air Group in World War II.
Aircraft Assigned to McCampbell
During his Pacific tour of duty, McCampbell flew at least four F6F Hellcats aboard USS Essex CV-9. The first F6F-3 "Monsoon Maiden" damaged by anti-aircraft fire and removed from service on May 20, 1944. Next F6F-3 "The Minsi" that he flew and claimed 10½ victories. Afterwards, F6F-5 "Minsi II" and finally F6F-5 "Minsi III" 70143 in which he claimed the remainder of his 23½ victories. In total, McCampbell is credited with 34 kills and became the U. S. Navy's highest scoring fighter ace.
Sadly, McCampbell lost his World War II logbooks postwar and thus the bureau numbers of his other three Hellcats are unknown.
Aerial victory claims
McCampbell was officially credited with 34 aerial victory claims between June 11, 1944 to November 14, 1944. In total, McCampbell is credited with 34 kills and became the U. S. Navy's highest scoring fighter ace.
For his World War II service, McCampbell earned the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross and Silver Star, Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with two gold stars.
Medal of Honor
McCampbell earned the Medal of Honor during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) for his two combats on June 19 1944 and was the only Fast Carrier Task Force pilot to earn this highest military honor. On January 10, 1945 he visited the White House to meet U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt who presented him with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony attended by his mother, Elizabeth McCampbell and sister. During the ceremony, Roosevelt handed the award to his mother who pinned it onto her son. Wearing the medal, Roosevelt was photographed shaking hands with McCampbell who was wearing the medal and holding the citation and medal case in the other hand.
Medal of Honor Citation 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 Fifteen, 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, Commander McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of eighty Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our Fleet on June 19, 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed seven 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 October 24, Commander McCampbell, assisted by but one plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of sixty hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down nine 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 Commander McCampbell and the United States Naval Service."
For the rest of World War II, McCampbell had postings in the United States. On February 18, 1945 he married his second wife Sara Jane (née) Heliker in Washington, DC. The couple had two children: David P. McCampbell and John C. McCampbell. His wife passed away January 10, 1988. In March 1945 until the end of the Pacific War, McCampbell was assigned as Chief of Staff to the Commander Fleet Air at NAS Norfolk.
McCampbell continued to serve as Chief of Staff until January 1947 when he attended Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk and remained as an instructor. During 1948 he served as the Senior Naval Aviation Advisor to the Argentine Navy and was stationed at Buenos Aires, Argentina
until January 1951.
Between February 1951 until March 1952, McCampbell was the Executive Officer aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) but did not engage in combat during the Korean War. In July 1952 promoted to the rank of Captain. In March 1952 assigned as the Planning Officer on the Staff of Commander Aircraft Atlantic until July 1953.
He became the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of Naval Air Technical Training Center Jacksonville (NATTC Jacksonville) at NAS Jacksonville from July 1953 until July 1954. Next, he commanded fleet oiler USS Severn (AO-61). Afterwards, commanded aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31).
Between 1960 to September 1962 McCampbell was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and his final assignment was as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to the Commander in Chief, Continental Air Defense Command. On July 1, 1964 he retired from the Navy with 31 years of military service.
On July 10, 1965 married
his third wife Jean H. Eckler in Bessemer, AL. The couple divorced in 1975.
In retirement, McCampbell continued to live in the Palm Beach area in Lake Worth, near where he grew up. He was active in the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and American Fighter Aces Association and attended the "Gathering of Eagles" in 1985.
McCampbell passed away June 30, 1996 at age 86 in the Veterans Affairs Nursing Home Care Unit in Riviera Beach, Florida. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 60, grave 3150. His grave has a gold inlay indicating he earned the Medal of Honor.
During October 1988 the passenger terminal at Palm Beach Airport (PBI) was named the "David McCampbell Terminal" in his honor with a naming ceremony attended by McCampbell and his son. The memorial includes photographs and his bust.
On May 1, 1999 he was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.
F6F-5 Hellcat 94203 displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum is painted in the markings of his aircraft F6F "Minsi III" 70143.
USS McCampbell (DDG-85) launched and christened July 2, 2000 is named in honor of Captain David McCampbell.
Georgia Tech has a memorial plaque honoring McCampbell that reads in part: "Captain McCampbell Class of 1932 United States Navy... Captain McCampbell attended Georgia Tech before being appointed to the United States Naval Academy. Called, 'the ace of aces', he became the most decorated Navy fighter pilot of WWII."
The Florida Aviation Museum (FAM) has a plaque for McCampbell inside the museum.
The Valiant Air Command Museum (Tico) has a plaque for McCampbell inside a glass case.
The United States Naval Academy Museum (USNA Museum) has a a bust of
McCampbell an items in glass case.
The Melbourne Airport Museum has a display related to McCampbell including his photo.
Susan Rankin (first wife married June 26, 1936 couple had one child, divorced 1944)
Sara Jane Heliker McCampbell (second wife married February 18, 1945 couple had two children, passed away January 10, 1988)
Jean H. Eckler (third wife married July 10, 1965 and divorced February 9, 1976, passed away March 25, 1990)
Frieda Bouffleur (fourth wife)
David P. McCampbell (son)
"Dad had no middle initial and mine is ‘P’ for Perry. I have been on a campaign for some time now to rid literature and signage on him of the ‘S’ that some think is a middle initial. He told me he had no middle name and his birth certificate validates that. I think it comes from a ‘S’ shaped flourish before the M in his signature.""
Chris McCampbell (grandson)
Wayne Morris (brother in law)
Morris was considered by the Navy as physically 'too big' to fly fighters. After being turned down several times as a fighter pilot, he went to his uncle-in-law, Cdr. David McCampbell, imploring him for the chance to fly fighters. Cdr. McCampbell said "Give me a letter." He flew with the Fighter Squadron 15 (VF-15) dubbed McCampbell Heroes."
NARA Fighting Squadron Fifteen (VF-15) - - History Part II Narrative pages 14-15
(Page 15) At 1037 twelve other fighters have been scrambled, led by Comd. McCampbell, to intercept raid #2, which, at the time, was 160 miles away. Ten of the twelve planes were able to get to 25,000 feet, the vector given and the interception made about 45 miles from the ship. During this second major engagement of the day, about 50 enemy planes were fought off, 20-1/2 were destroyed, and the remainder were dispersed. Comdr. McCampbell had shot down five and a probable, and Ens. Plant had accounted for four. During this action we lost Ensign G. H. Rader, A-V(N), USNR., who was not seen to crash but did not return."
USN Bureau of Naval Personnel Information David McCampbell Navy Cross Citation Bulletin No. 341 (August 1945)
"The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Combat Plane and Commanding Officer of Air Group FIFTEEN (AG-15), attached to the U.S.S. ESSEX (CV-9), and as Target Coordinator for the combined aircraft of three Task Groups, in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Luzon, Philippine Islands, during the battle of Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944. Commander McCampbell's coolness, quick thinking, superior judgment and outstanding leadership resulted in the sinking of one medium aircraft carrier, one light cruiser, two destroyers, the heavily damaging of one large aircraft carrier, one small aircraft carrier, two destroyers and the damaging of one battleship. By his outstanding performance not only was the maximum damage inflicted on the enemy but our own losses were kept at a minimum. His courage and skill were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
NARA Office of War Information (OWI) Photo Review
Vol 1 No. 12 page 116
(Page 116) "Top U. S. Navy ace is Commander David McCampbell, who has downed one Japanese plane for each of his 34 years. Nine of these [10/24/44] were hit when McCampbell and his wingman intercepted an enemy fighter formation escorting bombers for an attack on U. S. Carriers off Luzon."
The McCampbell family in America (1991) pages 14 (family tree David McCambell), page 15 (Cart A3-7-2-1 David McCambell biography)
FindAGrave - David Perry McCampbell (photos, grave photo)
The New York Times "David McCampbell, 86, Navy Ace in World War II" by Lawrence Van Gelder July 3, 1996 section D, page 18
The Washington Post "David McCampbell Dies" July 4, 1996
Hellcat Aces of World War 2 (1996) by Barrett Tillman pages 41 (profile 30 "Minsi III"), 49 (photo), 56 (photo), 96 (profile 30 description "Minsi III", 90 (ace list)
Congressional Medal of Honor Society - David Perry McCampbell
Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame - McCampbell, Captain David inducted 1999
US Naval Air Station Melbourne, Florida Fighter Pilot Training Base Word War II (2001) by William R. Barnett page 12
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) McCampbell, David, Captain, USN (1910-1996)
Hall of Valor Project - David McCampbell military award citations
Fold3 David McCampbell
Ancestry David Perry McCampbell (1910-1966)
Volume 25, Number 1 "Hellcat Ace in a Day—Twice!" interview by Paul Stillwell Volume 25, Number 1 January 2011
YouTube - U.S. Naval Institute: David McCampbell: Ace of Aces July 20, 2011
YouTube - This U.S. Fighter Pilot Destroyed Nine Enemy Planes in One Mission August 10, 2018 includes interview with grandson Chris McCampbell
David P. McCampbell for additional information
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