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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
Francis "Gabby" Gabreski
Francis Stanley Gabreski was born to Polish immigrants in Oil City, Pennsylvania on January 28, 1919. "Gabby" began flying lesions while at the University of Notre Dame, and when World War II erupted with the Nazi invasion of Poland, Gabreski eagerly joined the Army Air Corps, earning his wings in 1941. As a second lieutenant, he joined a fighter unit at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. On the morning of December 7, 1941, he managed to get airborne in a P-36 fighter, but by then the Japanese pilots were nowhere to be found.
Because he spoke Polish and had strong feelings about what the Nazis had done to Poland, Gabreski asked to be assigned to a Polish fighter united attached to the Royal Air Force. He flew missions over Europe with Polish pilots early in 1943 before joining the United States 56th Fighter Group in Britain.
He went on to become known as America's World War II Air Ace in Europe. Flying single-engine P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, Gabreski downed 28 German aircraft between August, 1943 and July, 1944. He also destroyed three more aircraft on the ground.
Gabby was captured in July, 1944 after crash landing near Koblenz, Germany and endured 10 months as a prisoner of war. After the war, Gabreski worked for Grumman Aerospace and was also head of the Long Island Rail Road-the nation's busiest commuter line.
In August, 1949, Gabreski was reassigned to the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan as Commanding Officer. He was later assigned to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea and became Commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. While with the 51st, Gabreski became history's eighth "Jet Ace." Flying an F-86 Sabre jet, he shot down six Soviet built MiG-15 fighters and shared credit for the downing of another.
Gabreski flew 266 combat missions in two wars, twice earning his "Ace" status by destroying 31 enemy aircraft in World War II and 6 ½ enemy aircraft in Korea for a total of 37 ½ aircraft.
After his war-time duties, Gabreski served in several important military positions and completed Command and Staff School to become Deputy Chief of Staff Operations for the Ninth Air Force in 1955. Gabreski then went to Okinawa to become Commander of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1950. Two years later he served as Director of the Secretariat for the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Air Force in Hawaii, and later as its Inspector General.
In 1964, he became commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing and left the Air Force from this assignment in 1967, ending a military career that earned him nearly every military air honor.
Among his many decorations were: The Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with nine Oak Leave Clusters, Air Medal with four clusters, the Bronze Star, the French Legion D'Honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm, Polish Cross of Valor, the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
Later in life, Gabby lived in Dix Hills, New York. He died January 31, 2002. He was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 8, 2005.