Francis “Gabby” Gabreski

Preferred Name: Gabby

Nickname/Call Sign:

Date of Birth: January 28, 1919 (January 31, 2002)

Highest Military Grade Held: Colonel

Hometown: Oil City, PA

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“A Fighter Pilot’s, Fighter Pilot” Wait till you get ‘em right in the sights, then short bursts. There’s no use melting your guns.” In his book Gabby: A Fighter Pilot’s Life, Francis “Gabby” Gabreski spoke about going to war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941,  “This was it. War was on, and I was going up to do my part. I took it for granted that we probably would be getting into combat. Maybe I would shoot down an enemy plane. Maybe I would get shot down myself. I didn’t expect to be killed, but I’ll have to admit the thought crossed my mind. It didn’t matter. The main thing was to attack the enemy.” Due to the confusion on the ground, the Japanese were gone by the time he got in the air in his P-36. In 1942, inspired by the Polish pilots who were helping the British fight the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, he had an idea. If he could get himself stationed in Britain he could help, after all, he was a Polish/English speaking pilot. With some effective persuasion, he was promoted to Captain and assigned to the Eighth Air Force in England. After arriving he met some of the Polish pilots and was given temporary duty with their No. 315 Squadron, flying Supermarine Spitfires. He was awarded the Polish Cross of Valor for his exceptional work. On July 5th, 1944, Gabreski became America’s top “Ace” in the European Theatre with 28 victories(1). Captain Gabreski left the service after his British tour and went to work for Douglas Aircraft. When the independent United States Air Force formed in 1947, he reentered the military and returned to the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Field. With war erupting in Korea in 1951, Gabreski reported for combat duty as Commander of the Fourth Fighter-Interceptor Wing, Korea. In July 1951 he scored his first victory in and in the next few months added two more. The growing MiG threat against Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber attacks near the Yalu River caused the Fifth Air Force under Gabreski’s command to create the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing and move from F-80s to F-86s in a 10-day period. Gabreski introduced the ideas of a “flight of four” and “hot takeoffs” to increase combat effectiveness over targets. These innovations were highly successful and his Wing attained a 14 to 1 kill ratio (2). It wasn’t just about the war for Gabby. He was a deeply religious and compassionate. When he heard about a Suwon, South Korea orphanage operating in deplorable conditions, he appealed to the citizens in his hometown in Oil City, PA for help. His plea was answered with medicine, school supplies, clothing, and building materials. On April 7th, 1951, Gabreski became an Ace in Korea with 5 1/2 victories. After one more victory his combat days ended and he arrived home to a ticker tape parade. In 1954, after serving as an “ace” pilot in both WWII (28 kills) and the Korean War with a total of (6.5) kills, Gabby attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL for a year, transferring to command a tactical fighter wing at Myrtle Beach, S.C., that was being equipped with supersonic North American F-100 Super Sabres. The aerial refueling capability of the F-100 and fighters like it enabled the Air Force to quickly send reinforcements to trouble spots around the globe. Gabby found that in-flight refueling required special training, and after flying a number of such missions, described them as “a dramatic experience.” He said later, “I would rather attack a squadron of Fw-190s alone in a P-47 than face one of those drogues again in an F-100. That was nightmare fodder.” He retired from the Air Force on October 31, with 27 years’ service. Although best known for his credited destruction of 34½ aircraft in aerial combat and being one of only seven U.S. combat pilots to become an ace in two wars, Gabreski was also one of the Air Force’s most accomplished leaders. In addition to commanding two fighter squadrons, he had six command tours at group or wing level, including one in combat in Korea, totaling over 11 years of command and 15 overall in operational fighter assignments. In 1967 Grumman Aerospace Co. offered Gabby a job as a marketing vice president. He left Grumman to become the president of the Long Island Railroad in 1980-1982, a commuter railroad owned by the State of New York, and struggled in his attempts to improve its service and financial condition. He then went back to Grumman and remained employed there until his retirement in 1987(3).  
  1. Excerpted from Gabby Gabreski: America’s Two-War Ace, by C.V. Glines, May 12, 2016, History.Net
  2. The National Aviation Hall of Fame,
  3. Source: Wikipedia
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Units Assigned

  • 7/1940 Gunter (Maxwell-Gunter) Army Air Base, Montgomery, AL, (Vultee BT-13, AT-6 Texan)
  • 1940-3/1941 Parks Air College, East St. Louis, MO, (Stearman PT-17, PT-19)
  • 3/1941-10/1942 45th Pursuit Squadron/15th Pursuit Group, Wheeler Army Air Field, Oahu, HI, (P-36 Hawk, P-40 Warhawk, P-39 Airacobra)
  • 10/1942-12/1942 45th Fighter Squadron/8th Air Force, VIII Fighter Command, England
  • 12/1942-2/1943 No. 315 (Dublin) Squadron, RAF Northolt, England (Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX)
  • 2/27/1943-6/1943 61st Fighter Squadron/56th Fighter Group/8th Air Force,  England (P-47 Thunderbolt)
  • 6/1943-7/20/1944 61st Fighter Squadron, RAF Halesworth, England (P-47)
  • 7/20/1944 Captured, sent to Stalag Luft I
  • 4/1945 Released
  • 9/1945 Chief of Fighter Test Section/Test Pilot at Wright Field, OH
  • 4/1946 Left service to work for Douglas Aircraft 
  • 4/1947 55th Fighter Squadron/20th Fighter GroupShaw Air Force Base, SC
  • 9/1947-6/1949 Student, Columbia University (sent by Command to complete degree and study Russian)
  • 6/1949-3/1950 56th Fighter Group, Selfridge AFB, MI (F-80, F-86)
  • 3/1950-6/1951 4th Fighter-Interceptor GroupK-14 (Kimpo) Air Base/Korea, (F-86E)
  • 9/1951-6/1952 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, K-13 (Suwon) Air Base, Korea
  • 7/1952-6/1954 Chief of Combat Operations Section/Office of the Inspector General, Norton AFB, CA
  • 1954-1955 Student, Air War CollegeMaxwell Air Force Base, AL
  • 7/1955-8/1956 Ninth Air Force, Shaw Air Force BaseSC
  • 9/1955-11/1956 342d Fighter-Day Wing, Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, SC
  • 9/1956-7/1960 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, Myrtle Beach AFB, SC (F-100)
  • 8/1960-6/1962 18th Tactical Fighter WingKadena ABOkinawa, Japan (F-100)
  • 7/1962-8/1964 Director of the Secretariat/Inspector General, Pacific Air Forces, Headquarters Pacific Air ForcesHickam AFB, HI
  • 8/1964-10/1967 52d Fighter Wing (Air Defense)  Suffolk County Air Force Base, NY (F-101 Voodoo)
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Awards & Decorations

 Command pilot badge  Distinguished Service Cross  Distinguished Service Medal  Silver Star (with Oak Leaf Cluster)  Legion of Merit  Distinguished Flying Cross (with 2 Silver and 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters)  Bronze Star Medal  Air Medal (with Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters)  Air Force Presidential Unit Citation (with Oak Leaf Cluster)  Air Force Outstanding Unit Award  Prisoner of War Medal  American Defense Service Medal (with Service Star)  American Campaign Medal  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star  European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with 2 Bronze Campaign Stars)  World War II Victory Medal  Army of Occupation Medal  National Defense Service Medal (with 1 Service Star)  Korean Service Medal (with 2 Bronze Campaign Stars)  Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster  British Distinguished Flying Cross  French Légion d’honneur  French Croix de Guerre with Palm  Belgium Croix de Guerre with Palm  Cross of Valour (Poland) (Krzyż Walecznych)  Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation  United Nations Korea Medal  Korean War Service Medal  Polish Pilot Badge[/vc_column_text][vc_separator css_animation="fadeIn" type="normal" up="18" down="25"][vc_column_text]Flight Info BT-13 Vultee AT-6 Texan FT-17 PT-19 F-36 Hawk P-40 Warhawk P-39 Airacobra Mark IX Supermarine Spitfire P-47 Thunderbolt F-80 F-86 E F-100 F-101 Voodoo[/vc_column_text][vc_separator css_animation="fadeIn" type="normal" up="18" down="25"][vc_column_text]

Military Education

  • 1940 primary flight training at Parks Air College, East St. Louis, IL
  • 1941 basic flight training at Gunter Army ABAL
  • 4/1946 Engineering Flight Test School
  • 1954-1955 Air War College, Maxwell AFBAL
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Civilian Education

  • 1938-1940 Notre Dame
  • 1947-1949 BS/Political Science, Columbia University
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_empty_space][/single_tab][single_tab title="Photos" tab_id="1484084351969-5-49145-8fd8aaad-d54b"][vc_empty_space height="18px"][vc_row_inner row_type="row" type="full_width" text_align="left" side_padding="5" padding_top="20" padding_bottom="20" css_animation=""][vc_column_inner][vc_gallery type="image_grid" images="26233,26234,26230,26235" img_size="Medium" column_number="4" grayscale="no" images_space="gallery_with_space"][vc_empty_space][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/single_tab][single_tab title="Headed West" tab_id="1547563222640-3-9"][vc_column_text]Francis “Gabby” Gabreski “Headed West” January 31, 2002 Francis and Kay Gabreski had nine children in 48 years of marriage. Two of their three sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and became career Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law Terry L. Gabreski was promoted to lieutenant general in August 2005, the highest-ranking woman in the USAF until her retirement in 2010. His wife died as the result of an automobile accident as they both were returning from the Oshkosh Air Show on August 6, 1993. Gabreski died of an apparent heart attack in Huntington Hospital, Long Island, New York on January 31, 2002, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetery. Gabreski’s funeral on February 6 was with full military honors and included a missing man formation flyover by F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, which became Suffolk County Airport in 1969, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in 1991. The collocated New York Air National Guard installation at the airport was also renamed Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base. In 1978, he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Gabreski Road at Shaw AFB, SC, is named in his honor. The Colonel Francis S. Gabreski squadron of the Civil Air Patrol located in Bellport, New York is named in his honor. (Source: Wikipedia)[/vc_column_text][/single_tab][/ult_tab_element][/vc_column][/vc_row]]]>