Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr.
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)
Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr.
Major, U.S. Army Air Forces
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II
Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was a U.S. Army Air Forces officer and fighter pilot who was the second highest scoring American ace during World War II. The heroic actions that he took in achieving that status earned him the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for valor. McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, NJ, is named in his honor.
Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was born in Ridgewood, NJ, on 1 August 1920. He and his mother moved to Sebring, FL, in the late 1920s and McGuire graduated from Sebring High School in 1938. He enrolled at Georgia Tech and joined Beta Theta Pi fraternity, but left after his third year to join the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941. He reported to a contract flying school in Corsicana, TX, as an aviation cadet. He later earned his wings after finishing his flight training at Randolph Field, TX.
During World War II, his first combat assignment was flying patrols over the Aleutian Islands and Alaska flying the P-39 Airacobra while assigned to the 54th Fighter Group. While scoring no aerial victories in the Aleutians, McGuire was able to hone his skills as a pilot. Returning to the U.S. in December 1942, he married Marilynn Giesler, a student at Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, TX. In February 1943 he reported to Orange County Airport, CA, for transition training in the P-38 Lightning. In March 1943, he was sent to the South Pacific as a P-38 Lightning pilot with the 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force.
Five months later, the 5th Air Force decided to create an entire group, the 475th Fighter Group, of P-38 fighters, at the behest of its commander, the legendary Lt Gen George Kenney. Because he was a natural leader and experienced pilot, McGuire was among those chosen to form the new group. He was assigned to the 431st Fighter Squadron. On 18 August 1943, McGuire was part of a group flying top cover for bombers striking at Wewak, New Guinea. Nearing their target, the fighters were attacked by Japanese aircraft. During the battle, McGuire shot down two Ki-43 "Oscars" and one Ki-61 "Tony." On the following day, near the same location, he downed two more Oscars. This established him as an air ace in two days, after undergoing a frustrating year of apprenticeship with no opportunities to engage the enemy.
McGuire's career nearly came to an end on 17 October 1943 when he scrambled from Dubodura, New Guinea to intercept approaching Japanese bombers being escorted by Zero fighters over Oro Bay, New Guinea. During the ensuing dogfight, McGuire observed at least seven Japanese Zero fighters attacking a lone P-38 that was trailing smoke. Without hesitation McGuire dove into the seven enemy fighters and quickly shot down three. Unfortunately the remaining four Zeros were able to attack McGuire and severely damage his aircraft. With his controls shot out, McGuire decided to bail out but, as he exited the aircraft, he found his parachute harness had snagged on something in the cockpit. From 12,000 feet to 5,000 feet McGuire struggled to free himself from the stricken fighter. Finally he was able to free himself and deploy his parachute only 1,000 feet from certain death. Fortunately, he landed safely in the water and was rescued by a PT boat. He suffered a 7.7mm bullet wound to his wrist and numerous other injuries, including some broken ribs. He spent six weeks in the hospital before he returned to his unit. For his actions on that day he was awarded a Silver Star Medal and a Purple Heart.
McGuire's skill at maneuvering the large twin-engine P-38 was legendary, and he would become one of the top scoring pilots in US Air Force history. Had it not been for periodic illnesses and heavy administrative duties as Commander of 431st Fighter Squadron, he might have become America's leading ace. Civilian contractor Charles Lindbergh bunked with him for a time and flew as his wingman on several unauthorized missions, and was credited with one aerial kill. Visitors recalled McGuire ordering Lindbergh around, telling him to run errands as though he were a servant.
McGuire wrote a book on combat tactics for the 5th Air Force. On 25-26 December 1944, McGuire downed at least seven Japanese fighter aircraft in just two days over Luzon, Philippines. With 38 credited victories, he was only two victories behind Major Richard I. Bong, the U.S. Army Air Forces' all-time top ace.
On 7 January 1945, McGuire was leading a group of four P-38s consisting of himself; Major Jack Rittmayer (four victories); Captain Edwin Weaver (two victories); and Lieutenant Douglas Thropp (one victory), on a fighter sweep over northern Negros Island in the central Philippines. Their aim was to gain victories. McGuire desperately wanted to pass Major Richard Bong's score of 40 kills. Descending through cloud cover, McGuire's flight circled a Japanese airfield at Fabrica and then proceeded to a second airstrip at Manapla (also referred to as Carolina). As they approached Manapla, they were confronted by a lone Ki-43 Hayabusa ("Oscar"), which immediately engaged McGuire's flight.
Flying in the number-three position, Lt. Thropp saw the Oscar trying to attack him in a head-on pass. Thropp instinctively broke hard left. The Japanese pilot turned with him and fell into position behind him while firing. Major Rittmayer, flying as Thropp's wingman, turned sharply towards, and began firing on, the attacker. McGuire saw that the Oscar was being engaged by Rittmayer and turned to face an imminent threat to the flight from the opposite direction. Unfortunately for McGuire and his flight, the Japanese pilot, Warrant Officer Akira Sugimoto, was an instructor pilot with some 3,000+ hours in that type of aircraft. He broke away from Thropp and Rittmayer and turned to find McGuire and his wingman Ed Weaver directly in front of him. Sugimoto was easily able to catch up and attack them from behind.
As Sugimoto approached Weaver from behind, Weaver radioed he was attacked and cut inside of the turn to present a more difficult shot. McGuire eased up on his turn rate in an effort to draw the attacker off of his wingman and onto himself. Sugimoto took the bait and switched his attack to McGuire. As Sugimoto approached from behind, McGuire rapidly increased his turn rate. This extremely dangerous maneuver, performed at only 300 feet above the ground, caused McGuire's P-38 to stall. It snap-rolled to an inverted position and nosed down into the ground. He was killed on impact. At the start of the dogfight, McGuire had radioed to keep their auxiliary fuel tanks, as they would need them to reach their main objective in the sweep. Many P-38 pilots believe that this order, which was contrary to standard operating procedures, was the cause of McGuire's death. The auxiliary fuel tank added extra weight and encumbered the aircraft, making it less maneuverable and more prone to stall and spin at low speeds.
After McGuire's crash, Thropp caught up to Sugimoto and fired on him causing enough damage that he had to make a forced landing a few miles away from where McGuire crashed.
Less than a minute later, another Japanese aircraft, a Ki-84 Hayate ("Frank") piloted by Technical Sergeant Mizunori Fukuda, appeared from the nearby airstrip at Manapla and attacked Major Jack Rittmayer in a head-on pass. Rittmayer's P-38 disintegrated from cannon shots and pitched down into a river. Rittmayer was killed on impact. Captain Weaver observed Fukuda's attack and fired at Fukuda, severely damaging his aircraft. Fukuda later crash landed at Manapla, where his fighter was destroyed. Thropp's P-38 was slightly damaged in the action and trailed smoke from one engine. Weaver and Thropp returned to Dulag, Leyte.
McGuire's crash was witnessed by Filipinos who immediately rushed to the scene and secured his body so it would not be captured. McGuire was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, especially in the 25 and 26 December missions, and the final mission on 7 January 1945.
Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps, 13th Air Force.
Place and date: Over Luzon, Philippine Islands, 2526 December 1944.
Citation: He fought with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity over Luzon, Philippine Islands. Voluntarily, he led a squadron of 15 P-38's as top cover for heavy bombers striking Mabalacat Airdrome, where his formation was attacked by 20 aggressive Japanese fighters. In the ensuing action he repeatedly flew to the aid of embattled comrades, driving off enemy assaults while himself under attack and at times outnumbered 3 to 1, and even after his guns jammed, continuing the fight by forcing a hostile plane into his wingman's line of fire. Before he started back to his base he had shot down 3 Zeros. The next day he again volunteered to lead escort fighters on a mission to strongly defended Clark Field. During the resultant engagement he again exposed himself to attacks so that he might rescue a crippled bomber. In rapid succession he shot down 1 aircraft, parried the attack of 4 enemy fighters, 1 of which he shot down, single-handedly engaged 3 more Japanese, destroying 1, and then shot down still another, his 38th victory in aerial combat. On 7 January 1945, while leading a voluntary fighter sweep over Los Negros Island, he risked an extremely hazardous maneuver at low altitude in an attempt to save a fellow flyer from attack, crashed, and was reported missing in action. With gallant initiative, deep and unselfish concern for the safety of others, and heroic determination to destroy the enemy at all costs, Maj. McGuire set an inspiring example in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.
Medals, Awards & Badges
Medal of Honor
McGuire earned all his medals and awards before the age of 25.
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. Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr. was one of them. At the time of the presentation of the Medal, only 75 of those Aces remained alive.
McGuire Air Force Base was dedicated in his honor in January 1948. The base has a P-38 Lightning on static display and the C-17 and KC-10 aircraft flown by the 305 AMW and 514 AMW carry the image of a P-38 in the fin flash of each aircraft's vertical stabilizer.
McGuire is enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey on the grounds of Teterboro Airport, The Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, and The National Aviation Hall of Fame, Dayton, OH. He is also honored in the Florida Medal of Honor Grove, the National Medal of Honor Grove, Valley Forge, PA, the US and Canadian Military Service display of the Beta Museum at the Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity headquarters in Oxford, OH, and in the Georgia Tech Alumni Medal of Honor Garden.
Death and Burial
Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was killed in action on 7 January 1945. In 1947, his remains were recovered and returned to the U.S. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 11, Grave 426, Map grid O 14.5.
|Honoree ID: 66||Created by: MHOH|