To be a flying “ace,” you have to be credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during combat. It didn’t happen often in the 20th century, and it rarely happens now. Air Force Maj. George A. Davis Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient, is one of only a handful of U.S. military pilots to hold the distinction of being an ace in two wars.
Davis was born Dec. 1, 1920, in the central Texas town of Dublin, but he grew up with his parents and eight siblings in Morton in the northwestern part of the state. Davis went to Harding College in Arkansas and then returned home. He worked there briefly before joining the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet on March 21, 1942. About a year later, he finished his flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Davis was shipped off to the Pacific during World War II where he became an ace in a P-47 Thunderbolt, shooting down seven enemy aircraft during 266 combat missions in 19 months.
After the war, Davis stayed in the service as it transitioned to the Air Force. He continued to fly fighter jets and served as a flight commander and air inspector at various military bases. He was also a member of the Sabre Dancers demonstration team in California — the forerunner to the famed Thunderbirds.
Davis was promoted to major in February 1951, a few months before he was sent to Korea. There, Davis was named the commander of the 334th Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Group. Within a few months, he became the leading ace of the Korean War.
On Feb. 10, 1952, Davis was leading four F-86 Sabre jets on a patrol mission near the Manchurian border. One of the jets was forced to back off because it ran out of oxygen. The remaining Sabres continued, and Davis and wingman 1st Lt. William Littlefield noticed 12 MiG-15s — Soviet fighter jets — speeding toward some allied fighter-bombers doing low-level operations.
Even though his team was outnumbered, Davis quickly dove toward the enemy jets. He flew into the back of their formation and shot down one of them. Despite taking enemy fire, he kept attacking, shooting down a second enemy fighter.
From there, Davis could have sped up to get away from the enemy that was firing on him. But, instead, he chose to reduce his speed so he could try to shoot down a third MiG. While pursuing that fighter, his aircraft suffered a direct hit.
Davis’ plane spiraled out of control and crashed into a mountain about 30 miles south of the Yalu River, Littlefield reported. The 31-year-old’s body was never recovered.
Thanks to his bravery, the friendly fighter-bombers were able to succeed in their operation. Davis’ final combat mission was his 60th in Korea, and it marked his 14th enemy downing of the war.
In 1953, Davis was posthumously promoted to lieutenant colonel. His wife, Doris, received the Medal of Honor on his behalf at a ceremony at Reese Air Force Base, Texas, on May 14, 1954. His parents and three children — one of whom he had never met — also attended.
During both wars, Davis racked up an impressive number of decorations, including four Distinguished Flying Crosses, 10 Air Medals, three Silver Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Davis’ contributions to air attacks in both wars will always be remembered. A veterans’ memorial was dedicated to him in Lubbock, Texas, in 1990. His name is also inscribed on the Wall of the Missing at the National Memorial of the Pacific in Honolulu