Neel E. Kearby
|Neel Ernest Kearby|
June 5, 1911|
Wichita Falls, Texas
|Died||March 5, 1944(aged 32)|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Corps|
|Years of service||1936 - 1944|
|Commands held||348th Fighter Group|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Medal of Honor
Kearby was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, graduated from Arlington High School in 1928, and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1936 (known then as North Texas Agricultural College). He received flight training at Randolph and Kelly Air Force bases.
Colonel Kearby, commanding officer of the 348th Fighter Group, was the only U.S. fighter pilot to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions while flying the P-47.
By March 1944, Kearby had 22 kills to his credit. On March 5, 1944, Kearby and two other pilots attacked a formation of 15 Japanese aircraft near Wewak. After shooting down one of the aircraft, Kearby himself was shot down by a Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa fighter. The P-47 crashed into the jungle below. Kearby escaped by parachute, but died of his wounds. His remains were found in 1947, but they were left unidentified for two more years. He was buried in Dallas, Texas in July 1949. 
Medal of Honor citation
The citation for the Medal of Honor, which was awarded by General Douglas MacArthur, describes his combat heroism:
Place and date: Near Wewak, New Guinea, 11 October 1943. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy, Col. Kearby volunteered to lead a flight of 4 fighters to reconnoiter the strongly defended enemy base at Wewak. Having observed enemy installations and reinforcements at 4 airfields, and secured important tactical information, he saw an enemy fighter below him, made a diving attack and shot it down in flames. The small formation then sighted approximately 12 enemy bombers accompanied by 36 fighters. Although his mission had been completed, his fuel was running low, and the numerical odds were 12 to 1, he gave the signal to attack. Diving into the midst of the enemy airplanes he shot down 3 in quick succession. Observing 1 of his comrades with 2 enemy fighters in pursuit, he destroyed both enemy aircraft. The enemy broke off in large numbers to make a multiple attack on his airplane but despite his peril he made one more pass before seeking cloud protection. Coming into the clear, he called his flight together and led them to a friendly base. Col. Kearby brought down 6 enemy aircraft in this action, undertaken with superb daring after his mission was completed.
- Leatherwood, Art. "Kearby, Neel E.". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
- "Colonel Neel Kearby: Fire and Ice And the Race to Become the First Top Gun". Wings of Valor II. HomeofHeroes.com. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
- Stanaway, John (1997). Kearby's Thunderbolts: The 348th Fighter Group in World War II. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-0248-5.