Aces Symposium in Oakland: Vraciu, Crosby, Caswell and Maltbie

It’s neat when two things I’m a member of – in this case, the Northern California Friends of the Aces and the Oakland Air Museum – get together on something. This time, it’s a Fighter Aces’ Symposium at the Museum featuring four extremely notable aviators: Alex Vraciu (19 victories, and America’s highest-scoring living ace), Ted Crosby (5.25 kills in Hellcats), Archie Maltbie (two kills in P-47s) and Dean Caswell (seven victories in the Corsair).

I’ve met three of the four. I met Ted Crosby at numerous Friends of the Aces events; he’s a regular. Archie lives the Villages in San Jose, where I was invited to be a speaker; he then helped out Don Barnes, John Crump and Roy Sutherland with their book on the 365th Fighter Group, Thunderbolts of the Hellhawks (which is absolutely stellar and sets the bar for group histories, as far as I’m concerned). I gave a talk to the aviation club, with Archie among the remarkable members of the audience and thought, “I should be sitting out there listening to them!” Now I’ll get a chance!

Alex Vraciu and I spent an entire day together about 10 years ago. I built a model of one of his many Hellcats for an article in Internet Modeler, and I interviewed him for a companion piece to the article. The plane I built was the aircraft he flew during his famous six-victory mission during the Battle of the Philippine Sea; he covered that in the interview, and his time at sea, how he had a piece of Plexiglas pulled from his eye by a destroyer’s corpsman after a ditching and then convinced him not to report it, for fear of losing his flight status. He told me about he time at Pax River and an impromptu friendly dogfight between he and Marion Carl with an F8F Bearcat and an F7F Tigercat; he told me about staying in the service and helping to organize the naval air reserve, and finally getting command of a jet squadron, and about his retirement. He was remarkably kind to me and generous with his time, and left me impressed by this most gracious of aces.

This event is on July 7 at the Oakland Air Museum; for details, check out http://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/fundraising.

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