November 2, 1918|
East Chicago, Indiana, United States
|Died||January 29, 2015
West Sacramento, California, United States
|Buried at||Oakmont Memorial Park, Lafayette, California|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1941—1964|
Alexander Vraciu (November 2, 1918 – January 29, 2015) was a United States Navy fighter ace, Navy Cross recipient and Medal of Honor nominee during World War II. He once shot down six Japanese dive bombers in eight minutes.
Vraciu's parents had immigrated from Transylvania, Romania at the turn of the century, settling in East Chicago, Indiana. His father, Alexandru Sr., was born in Poiana Sibiului, and his mother, Maria (née Tincu) was from Sebeș. After his birth, the family returned to Transylvania (Romania) for a brief residence, as his parents hoped that the experience would rub off on him and that he would be immersed in the culture. Vraciu graduated from DePauw University in 1941 and enlisted as a naval aviator in the United States Navy Reserve. While at university, Vraciu was a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity.
Vraciu was designated as a Naval Aviator and commissioned as a Naval Reserve Ensign in August 1942. He was promoted at the end of March 1943 and joined Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6), under Lieutenant Commander Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the U.S. Navy's first ace of the war. O'Hare made Vraciu his wingman and gave him valuable advice regarding air combat. The squadron entered combat in October 1943, flying from the light aircraft carrier USS Independence.
Vraciu scored his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on October 10, 1943. He and O'Hare came across an enemy formation; O'Hare went below the clouds to get a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero and Vraciu lost him, but followed a second Zero to Wake Island, where it landed. Vraciu strafed the Zero on the ground. He then saw a Mitsubishi G4M ("Betty") bomber and shot it down. Vraciu also learned from O'Hare the "highside pass" used when attacking Betties, to avoid the lethal 20 mm cannon wielded by the tail gunner.
The squadron later transferred to USS Intrepid, which was nicknamed "The Evil I" because of a reputation for bad luck. Vraciu, however, began downing Japanese aircraft in multiples: three Betties on January 29, 1944 and four fighters over Truk Atoll on February 17. With nine victories, he became and remained VF-6's leading ace of the war. Although he had an opportunity to rotate back to the United States, Vraciu requested additional combat duty and joined VF-16 on USS Lexington.
Vraciu's most successful day as an aviator occurred during the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", on June 19. Despite a malfunctioning supercharger, he intercepted a formation of Japanese dive bombers and destroyed six in a period of eight minutes. After Vraciu landed, ordnancemen on Lexington discovered that he had used only 360 bullets; on average, each of these six kills had followed a burst less than five seconds long. The next day, escorting bombers in an attack on the Japanese Mobile Fleet (Kido Butai), Vraciu downed his 19th victim, making him the foremost United States Navy ace by a considerable margin, although he would hold that title for only four months. For his actions at the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, Vraciu was nominated for the Medal of Honor. However, when the nomination reached the desk of Admiral George D. Murray, at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii, it was downgraded to a Navy Cross.
Soon afterwards, Vraciu was assigned to the promotion of war bond sales in the United States. There he married his sweetheart, Kathryn Horn, with whom he would have three daughters and two sons. Later in 1944, Vraciu obtained a return assignment to the Pacific, flying Grumman F6F Hellcats in VF-20. After two missions with VF-20, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a December mission over the Philippines. Vraciu was rescued by Filipino resistance fighters, who appointed him commander of a 180-strong guerrilla unit. Six weeks later he made contact with American forces and was returned to the Navy.
Vraciu ended the war as the United States Navy's fourth highest ranking ace. He subsequently became a test pilot and was instrumental in forming the post-war Naval Air Reserve program. Promoted to Commander, Vraciu led VF-51 from 1956 to 1958, winning the Navy's individual gunnery championship in 1957. He retired in 1964 to begin a career in banking. In his retirement, he continued to be active on the lecture circuit. Vraciu appeared in "The Zero Killer", a January 2007 episode of the History Channel's Dogfights series. Vraciu had declined all invitations to write an autobiography. He did cooperate with the Indiana Historical Society Press, however, which in March 2010 published an account of his life titled Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu. Vraciu died on January 29, 2015 at the age of 96.
- "Alex Vraciu, ‘Indestructible’ Ace of World War II, Dies at 96". nytimes.com.
- Vraciu's actions on 19 June 1944 are documented in Edward H. Sims' book Greatest Fighter Missions, as the seventh chapter of that compilation.
- Tillman, Barrett: "Clash of the Carriers", p. 173. New American Library, 2005
- "Alexander Vraciu Obituary". Contra Costa Times via Legacy.com. Retrieved 2015-01-31.
- Boomhower, Ray E. Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu. Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010. ISBN 9780871952820
- Marcello, Ronald E. Oral History Project - Alex Vraciu. University of North Texas, 1994
- Olynyk, Frank. Stars & Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace 1920–1972. London: Grub Street, 1993.
- Tillman, Barrett. Hellcat Aces of World War 2. London: Osprey Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-85532-596-9
- www.AlexVraciu.net - Medal of Honor