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Atienza started out as a Philippine Air Force cadet at Fernando Air Base in Lipa City, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1974. After assignments with the 5th Fighter Wing at Cesar Basa Air Base, Pampanga, Atienza became Squadron Commander of the 6th Tactical Squadron.
On December 1, 1989, Air Force officers had joined an anti-government revolt. Atienza turned his F-5 fighter against the rebels who established a stronghold at Sangley Field. In bombing and strafing runs, amid heavy rebel ground fire, he and two other combat pilots destroyed one Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, seven T-28's and a fuel depot, depriving the rebel soldiers of air power. This action turned the tide of battle to the government's favor.
However, Atienza lost his life that day. President Corazon C. Aquino awarded him the Medal of Valor. On May 5, 1992, by an act of Congress, the airfield at Sangley Point Naval and Air Training Station was renamed Danilo Atienza Air Base.
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