William T. Whisner, Jr.

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William T. Whisner, Jr.
Born October 17, 1923
Shreveport, Louisiana
Died July 21, 1989
Alexandria, Louisiana
Service/branch  United States Army
 United States Air Force
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
"MiG Alley"
Awards Distinguished Service Cross

William T. Whisner, Jr. was a flying ace of the United States Army Air Corps in World War II, and later the United States Air Force in the Korean War.

Biography[edit]

William T. Whisner, Jr. was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 17 1923 to William Whisner, Sr. and Eloise Whisner. In his youth, Whisner was an active member of the local Boy Scouts of America, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout in that program. Growing up in Shreveport, Whisner attended C. E. Byrd High School, becoming active in the school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps. It was during this involvement that Whisner developed an interest in becoming a military aviator.[1]

Military career[edit]

Immediately upon graduating from high school, Whisner applied for the United States Army Air Forces cadet program, being accepted and began his training on 8 April 1942. Whisner first began Primary Flight Training training at the Lafayette Municipal Airport in Lafayette, Louisiana, getting his first flight time aboard PT-17 and PT-19 trainer aircraft. Following the successful completion of this training, he underwent Basic Combat Training at Greenville Army Airfield in Greenville, Mississippi. After this training, Whisner attended Advanced Flight Training at Napier Field, Alabama flying the AT-6 Texan. Whisner completed his training on 16 February 1943 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.[1]

Whisner's first assignment in the Air Corps was sent to Westover Field in Springfield, Massachusetts for operational training, where he learned to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft. With this training complete, he was assighed to the 34th Fighter Squadron at LaGuardia Field in New York City, New York. The squadron was in the process of training for deployment in support of World War II. The unit was later redesignated the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group.[1]

World War II[edit]

With the unit's training completed, the 352nd Fighter Group boarded the troopship RMS Queen Elizabeth in June 1943. The group landed in the United Kingdom, and was assigned to RAF Bodney in Watton, Norfolk, under the operational control of the 67th Fighter Wing, VIII Fighter Command. Throughout the summer, Whisner and his fellow aviators were occupied in training flights over England, where they acclimated to flying in unfamiliar weather. This training was completed on 9 September 1943 and the group flew its first combat mission on that date.[1]

From September 1943 through January 1944, Whisner and the group saw limited success, as the P-47s were limited in range and few Luftwaffe patrols of Nazi German pilots appeared over Norfolk. In its first four months of short-range patrols, the 352nd Fighter Group had 23 confirmed victories, two probable victories, and two German aircraft damaged.[1]

First tour[edit]

Whisner's P-51

In late January 1944, the US Army Air Corps adapted a new strategy for P-47s to escort bombing runs as they returned from their missions. The first attempted mission, on 24 January, was disrupted by bad weather.[1] On 29 January, 13 P-47 and P-51 Mustang fighter groups escorted a bombing mission of B-17 Flying Fortresses to Frankfurt, Germany, and Whisner was among the pilots in the group. German aircraft launched heavy resistance against the bombing, and it would be the first time he could engage enemy aircraft.[2] Whisner and the 352nd Fighter Group joined the mission over Namur, Belgium, as the bomber group was already under attack. Whisner, who was the wingman of Captain George Preddy, joined the chaotic battle, and within 10 minutes Whisner spotted two Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters which had just shot down a B-17. Whisner pursued one of the Fw 190s down to 1,000 feet (300 m), pursuing it closely as it attempted evasive maneuvers. As the Fw 190 attempted to dive behind a bank of clouds, Whisner struck it with three bursts from his machine gun, and it descended to 800 feet (240 m) before its pilot bailed out. By the end of the day, The American pilots claimed 47 German aircraft destroyed and 5 probables, losing 14 of their own.[2]

By March 1944, the 352nd Fighter Group had 63 victories to its pilots, but senior leaders felt it was under-performing, so the group was equipped with P-51 Mustangs. It was customary for pilots to nickname and decorate their own aircraft, but a command decision compelled Whisner to name his aircraft "Princess Elizabeth" in honor of an anticipated visit by Elizabeth II. Over the next month, the squadron saw much greater success, and Whisner was among the pilots to benefit.[2] On 9 April, Whisner and Preddy were on an escort mission over Belgium when they spotted an airfield which the flight attacked. In five passes, Whisner destroyed two Junkers Ju 88 dive bombers and damaged a nearby barracks. The group eventually claimed 12 aircraft destroyed and one probable in the attack. On 30 April, during an attack on an airfield in Clermont-Ferrand, France, Whisner shot down an Fw 190 which was attempting to attack the bombers. The 352nd ended the month with 107 victories and 4 probables, and 62 aircraft damaged Whisner was certified a flying ace.[3]

In May, Whisner and the group continued aggressive bombing missions, and while he was unable to get any aerial victories, he was credited with destroying several ground targets. On 10 May, Whisner was a part of an attack on an airfield in Frankenhausen, Germany when he destroyed a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka on the ground. During another mission 24 May, Whisner was credited with destroying seven locomotives and damaging three others during an attack on a German railyard, as well as destroying a railroad station, a tugboat and a gun emplacement.[3] On 29 May the group escorted a flight of B-24 Liberators over Glastrow, Germany when they were met by 40 German fighters. Whisner engaged an Fw 190 at 26,000 feet (7,900 m). The pilot was extremely skilled, but Whisner managed to strike the Fw 190 with six bursts of machine gun fire, destroying the aircraft. The next day, on a mission against a fuel depot and aircraft production complex in Magdeburg, Germany, and during the subsequent heavy engagement, Whisner and Preddy shared a victory, making Whisner's total victory count 6.5.[4]

In June, Whisner flew missions in support of the allied invasion of Normandy. For the first week of the month the group supported attacks to soften German defenses in France and Belgium. Following Operation Overlord, Whisner conducted bombing and strafing missions in close air support of ground forces. Flying multiple missions a day, Whisner assisted in the destruction of a convoy on 7 June, with 15 vehicles credited to him. On 13 June, Whisner was given three months shore leave in the United States, having completed his first tour of duty.[4]

Second tour[edit]

Whisner returned to England in late September. By this time, however, the Luftwaffe had taken heavy losses and was opposing allied pilots far less often. Whisner flew his first combat mission on 28 September, shortly after being promoted to Captain. The 352nd Group was not credited with destroying any aircraft until 1 November.[4] Whisner, now a captain, rejoined the 487th Squadron in the fall of 1944 . On Nov. 2, he downed a Bf-109 using the new K-14 gunsight. On Nov. 21 he led a flight of P-51s on an escort mission to Merseburg, Germany. As the bombers left their target, a large formation of enemy fighters struck. Meyer (now a lieutenant colonel) told Whisner to take a straggler in one of the enemy's three six-ship cover flights. In a linked series of attacks, Whisner shot down four FW-190s in the cover flight and probably got another.

With no more than two -190s left in the cover flight he had attacked, Whisner turned his attention to the main enemy formation, exploding a FW-190 that had not dropped its belly tank. Evading three FW-190s on his tail, he shot down another that was closing on one of his pilots. Then, low on ammunition, he joined up with Meyer and returned to Bodney.

Whisner was credited with five FW-190s and two probables that day. His score later was revised by the Air Force Historical Research Agency to six destroyed, making that day one of the best for any USAAF pilot in the skies over Europe. For that achievement, Whisner was awarded his first Distinguished Service Cross—second only to the Medal of Honor.[5]

The Battle of Y-29[edit]

During the Battle of the Bulge, which started on Dec. 16, the 487th Squadron was moved forward to airfield Y-29 near Asche, Belgium. On New Year's Day 1945, Whisner was one of 12 Mustang pilots led by Meyer that had started their takeoff roll when a large formation of FW-190s and Bf-109s hit the field. In the ensuing battle, fought at low altitude and before the 487th had time to form up, Whisner shot down a -190, then was hit by 20-mm fire. With his windshield and canopy covered by oil and one aileron damaged, Whisner stayed in the fight, shooting down two more -190s and an Bf-109. He was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross for that day's work—one of only 14 USAAF men to be so honored in World War II. (Meyer received his third Distinguished Service Cross , the only Air Force pilot to receive three DSCs in World War II.) At the end of the war, Whisner had 15.5 victories, which put him in the top 20 USAAF aces of the European Theater.[5]

Post-War[edit]

After World War II,Whisner left active duty and served in the reserves from August 24, 1945, to August 31, 1946. He then went back on active duty and served with the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Field from September 1946 to April 1947, and then with the 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group at Andrews Field from April to September 1947. He then served for a short time at Bolling AFB and then with the 61st Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the 56th Fighter Interceptor Group at Selfridge AFB.

Korean War[edit]

Whisner in Korea.
In this undated photo, Whisner shakes hands with fellow aviator Van Chandler.

In September 1951, Maj Whisner deployed with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron to Korea, where he destroyed 2 MiG-15s in aerial combat and damaged 4 others, before joining the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing in November 1951. He then destroyed another 3.5 MiG-15s with 2 more damaged,with total 6 enemy aircraft destroyed in Korea.During his time in Korea,he served under the command of ETO's leading ace,Gabby Gabreski.Gabreski was an aggressive commander and fostered a fierce rivalry between the two F-86 wings fueled in part by the fact that the 4th had also been the keenest rival of the 56th FG during World War II. While this aggressiveness paid off in the destruction of MiGs and air superiority over all of Korea, it also led Gabreski to make the first intentional violation of rules of engagement that prohibited combat with MiGs over China. (The MiG force was based in this ostensible sanctuary during the entire war.) Gabreski an a fellow former 56th pilot, Colonel Walker M. Mahurin and Whisner planned and executed a mission in early 1952 in which the F-86s turned off their IFF equipment and overflew two Chinese bases.These missions were known as clandestine 'Maple Special' missions.[6] Gabreski brought with him from the 56th FIW in June 1951. Before the mission of February 20, 1952, Gabreski and Whisner each had four MiGs credited as destroyed. During the mission, Gabreski attacked and severely damaged a MiG 15 that fled across the Yalu River into China. He broke off the engagement and returned to base after his own airplane was damaged, where he claimed the MiG as a "probable kill".[6]

Whisner (center) is congratulated by Gabby Gabreski (left) and Lt. Col. George Jones (right)

Whisner trailed the MiG deep into Manchuria trying to confirm Gabreski's kill, but his Sabre ran low on fuel. He completed the shootdown and returned to K-14 where he confirmed the kill for Gabreski but did not claim it himself. Gabreski confronted him and angrily ordered him to change his mission report, confirming Whisner's own role in the kill. Whisner refused. Soon after, Gabreski recanted his anger and the two shared the claim, as a consequence of which three days later Whisner and not Gabreski became the first pilot of the 51st FW to reach jet ace status.As a result,Whisner was awarded his third Distinguished Service Cross for being the first ace of the 51st Fighter Wing. He is also one of the two airmen to receive Distinguished Service Cross three times. (Other being his former World War II fighter group commander,John C. Meyer)[5] For a two-war total of 21 destroyed in the air, 2 probables, 6 damaged, and 3 destroyed on the ground, making him one of only 7 people to have been an ace in both World War II and the Korean War.[7] Whisner's 6½ MiG-15 kill credits make him one of seven U.S. pilots to become an ace in more than one war (the others being Gabreski, Colonel Harrison Thyng, Colonel James P. Hagerstrom, Colonel Vermont Garrison, Major George A. Davis, Jr., and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel John F. Bolt).

Post-Korean War[edit]

Whisner returned to the U.S. in March 1952.Whisner continued his career as a fighter pilot, winning the Bendix Trophy Race in 1953.He served with the 3596th Flying Training Squadron at Nellis AFB until December 1954, when he went to Randolph AFB to serve on the staff of Headquarters Crew Training Air Force. Col Whisner then served as a Royal Air Force exchange officer in London, England, from February 1956 to April 1957, followed by service as commander of the 494th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Chaumont AB from April 1957 to April 1959. He then served on the staff of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base from April 1959 to June 1962, and then as a special assistant to the commander for the Combat Crew Training Group at Luke AFB until September 1962, when he became commander of the 4517th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Luke AFB.

Vietnam[edit]

After completing Vietnamese Language School, he served as an Operations Staff Officer with Headquarters 2nd Air Division at Tan Son Nhut AB in the Republic of Vietnam from October 1963 to October 1964, followed by service on the staff of Pacific Air Forces at Hickam AFB from October 1964 to October 1967, during which time he made several deployments to Southeast Asia,but did not fly any missions during the war. Col Whisner then served as Chief of the Fighter Division with Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB from October 1967 to June 1969. He was commander of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, from February 1970 to March 1971. Col Whisner retired from the Air Force at Kirtland AFB on July 31, 1972.[7]

Death[edit]

After retiring as a colonel, he finally settled down in his home state of Louisiana.He died at his home in Alexandria, Louisiana on July 21, 1989 from complications following being stung by a yellow jacket. His remains were cremated and scattered into the Red River near Shreveport, his birth place.[8]

Citations[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.