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Thomas McGuire, Jr.

McGuire Jr., Thomas

Military Combat
Enshrined 2000 1920-1945

After seeing little action in the veteran-dominated 49th Fighter Group, Thomas McGuire eagerly accepted when military officials propositioned him to join the 475th Fighter Group’s newly formed 431st Fighter Squadron. Starved for combat and itching to prove himself, McGuire needed only four days with the 431st to make his presence felt. On August 18th, 1943, McGuire downed three Japanese planes. Three days later, he destroyed two more enemy aircraft, earning official ace status and launching himself into the annals of military history.

    Scored 38 aerial victories during World War II, becoming the second highest scoring U.S. ace of the war.
    Posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

Biography

Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr. was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, on August 1st, 1920. He was the only child of Pauline and Thomas B. McGuire, Sr. After graduation from high school, he entered the Georgia Institute of Technology to study aeronautical engineering. Six months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he left Georgia Tech to enlist in the United States Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program.

McGuire earned his wings in 1942 in Texas. His wish for a combat tour came true when his group transferred to Alaska during the early Aleutian campaign. When the 54th Fighter Group’s tour ended in December 1942, McGuire returned to Texas and asked to undergo transition training in the P-38 Lightning. During this period, he wed Marilynn “Pudgy” Geisler whom he had met on a blind date.

After he completed his transition to P-38s, the Army Air Corps directed McGuire to report to Australia. There he initially joined the 49th Fighter Group. Seeing little actual combat in this veteran-dominated group, he jumped at the chance to fly with the first all P-38 equipped 431st Fighter Squadron in the 475th Fighter Group. While flying sorties over New Guinea, McGuire began to score aerial victories quickly. On August 18th, 1943, McGuire served as part of a group flying top cover for bombers striking at Wewak. Nearing their target, hordes of enemy aircraft jumped the fighters. During that battle, McGuire shot down three enemy aircraft and the next day he downed two more. After a year of combat flying, he earned ace status in just two days.

By mid-1944, Major McGuire, the 431st Squadron Commander, had twenty victories. During this time, Charles Lindbergh made an “inspection tour” of the Southwest Pacific combat zones for United Aircraft Corporation. Lindbergh sought out the best P-38 group in the Pacific and actually flew several combat missions with McGuire between June and August. By October 1944, McGuire had 25 victories to his name.

In late 1944 McGuire was nine aerial victories away from Major Richard Bong, the U.S. Army Air Forces’ top Ace who had forty victories. At that point Lt. Gen. George Kenney ordered Bong home. McGuire soon closed the gap between his score and Bong’s record. On Christmas and the following day in 1944, Major McGuire downed seven Japanese fighters. These victories left him but two aerial victories behind Bong. Fearing that McGuire would surpass the homebound hero before he even arrived stateside, General Kenney summarily grounded McGuire until Bong had received his welcome home.

In addition to McGuire, the famous P-38L Pudgy V that he flew was also grounded after the Christmas flights. McGuire never flew it in combat again. On January 7th, 1945, McGuire borrowed Fred Champlin’s and Hal Grey’s aircraft #112 in order to lead a fighter sweep of four P-38s over the Japanese airstrip of Fabrica on Negros Island in the Philippines. Flying in difficult weather, the P-38s finally broke through a cloud barrier at about 1,700 feet over the enemy airstrip and discovered a Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar returning to the field at an extremely low altitude. McGuire dove to meet the foe, and the enemy immediately turned toward the P-38s. The fight was on. The Lightnings were still burdened with fuel tanks that McGuire was reluctant to drop since he had hoped to continue on patrol after this engagement. Unknown to McGuire, a Nakajima KI-84 “Frank” from a nearby airstrip had entered the fight. The situation turned bad quickly. Trying to clear Capt. Edwin R. Weaver’s tail, McGuire entered a tight turn at the limits of the P-38’s capabilities, and crashed. McGuire’s extraordinary career as a fighter pilot ended while in aerial combat over Negros Island in the Philippines. He was only twenty-five years old.

Because of his inspiring leadership and peerless achievements, in 1945 Major McGuire received a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for his final mission and for the missions of December 25-26th, 1944. His final victory total of 38 makes him the second leading Ace in Air Force history.

Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr., for his extraordinary heroism and his aviation skill used in the defense of his country, is reverently enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

For more information on Thomas McGuire, you may want to visit the following websites:

475th Fighter Organization
Ace Pilots
United States Air Force Museum