When 82-year-old Marion Carl was killed in his home trying to protect his wife from a shotgun-wielding intruder, his son called the incident a fitting end to an extraordinary life. This statement rings true in all of its tragedy. Marion Carl departed life in the same way he had lived it: heroically.
- By the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II, he had scored 15.5 aerial victories becoming the Marine Corps’ first ace. He ended his World War II combat in 1944 with 18.5 victories.
- Flew as a test pilot after World War II and became the first Marine Corps aviator to operate a jet aircraft from a carrier.
- Commanded the first Marine jet squadron, led the first Marine jet acrobatic team, was the first Marine helicopter pilot, and was the first military pilot wearing a full pressure suit to set an altitude record at 83,235 feet in a Douglas Skyrocket in 1953.
- Flew U-2 spy planes over China and combat missions in Vietnam.
Marion E. Carl was born on November 1st, 1915 in Oregon. As a young man, he was an avid tinkerer and mechanic. He was already on the path that would lead him to aviation. While at college, he took flying lessons and soloed after two hours and thirty-five minutes of dual instruction. Upon graduating from college, Carl joined the U.S. Marine Fighting 1-fighter squadron in Virginia. In late May of 1940, he returned to Pensacola and became an instructor. In 1941, he received orders to VMF-221 at North Island Naval Air Station in California. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Carl shipped out on the USS Saratoga, headed for Midway. He gained his first two victories over Midway on 4 June 1942. After the Navy disbanded his squadron, Carl received an assignment to VMF-223 and went to Guadalcanal.
After seven days on the island, Carl had flown six missions and claimed six victories in three combats. He became the Marines’ first ace on 24 August 1942, when he shot down three bombers and a Zero. By early October his score had risen to 16.5; he had claimed three kills in one day on August 30th, and had been shot down during September, but survived. On October 1st, Admiral Nimitz presented Carl with the Navy Cross. The squad left Guadalcanal in late October and Carl flew to Hamilton Army Air Field, near San Francisco. Along with other members of 223, Carl made publicity appearances throughout the U.S. He returned to the Solomons late in 1943 as squadron commander of 223 and after the unit had been re-equipped with F4U Corsairs. He added two further victories to his total by the end of the year. In February, Carl learned that he would receive a transfer to Marine Aircraft Group 12 staff – putting an end to his combat service. By the time World War II ended, Carl had 18.5 victories to his name. He also made some of the first carrier takeoffs and landings in the F-80 Shooting Star Jet. He was also the first Marine helicopter pilot.
In January of 1945, Carl became a Navy test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, Maryland. He set a world speed record of 651 mph on August 25th, 1947, flying a Douglas Skystreak at Muroc Field, now Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1948 he became the Commanding Officer of VMF-122 in North Carolina, the first Marine Corps squadron to receive the FH-1 Phantom. On August 21st, 1953 he set the world altitude records in a Douglas Skyrocket (D-558-II), again at Edwards AFB. He later flew U-2 spy plane missions over Red China. In January of 1964 he assumed command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Vietnam and pinned on his first star. General Carl retired in 1973 with 13,000 flying hours, a Navy Cross with two Gold Stars, the Legion of Merit with three Gold Stars, the Distinguished flying cross with four Gold Stars and the Air Medal with 13 Gold Stars. He was the first Marine aviator to receive the Octave Chanute Award for notable contributions to aeronautical sciences. He also formed the first jet acrobatic team.
Major General Carl was tragically shot to death while protecting his wife during a robbery at his home on June 30th, 1998. He was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
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