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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
1922-2012David Wakefield was born in Poland, Ohio on April 28, 1922 and graduated from Western High School in Detroit in 1941. After hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor and as the United State's involvement in World War II increased, Wakefield's life drastically changed.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on July 15, 1942, and received his private pilot certificate at Pontiac Airport in October 1942. Wakefield then trained as a glider and fighter pilot, earning certifications in each. He served in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps on active duty and was trained under the Thomason Act, which authorized the government to select 1,000 of the best ROTC graduates who wished to apply for a year's Army training. Wakefield was deployed to China in February 1944 as a member of the 25th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Group, 14th Air Force. Upon his arrival, he was personally interviewed by Gen. Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers. After discontinuance of the American Volunteer Group, the press and the airmen continued to refer to pilots in the area as Flying Tigers.
On his seventh mission, Wakefield was shot down while strafing behind enemy lines on Thanksgiving Day in 1944, but made it back to his home base with the help of Chinese soldiers. He was the only pilot who ever returned after being shot down in the 25th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Group. In 1945, Wakefield became a fixed-wing pilot instructor and instructed Chinese pilot candidates in India.
Wakefield flew 47 combat missions overall, both in China and Burma, while flying P-40, P-51 and P-47 aircraft. He then served as a flight instructor to Chinese pilot candidates in Karachi, India. Wakefield was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross along with the Army Air Corp Air Medal, Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and the Chinese Air Medal.
In 1962, Wakefield received his helicopter rating at the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter School in Mineral Wells, Texas. In the years following the war, he joined the Michigan Air National Guard and flew with it for more than 25 years. He logged more than 4,200 hours of flight time as pilot-in-command and retired from the military in 1975 as a senior pilot with the rank of Major.
Following his military retirement, Wakefield owned an electronics business in the Detroit area for many years and was an avid sports enthusiast. After retiring from his business, he and his wife Rita moved to Fairfield Glade, Tennessee to enjoy his love of golf and mountain living. Following his return to Michigan to be near his sons and family, Wakefield volunteered at the Air Zoo for 12 years. He was much respected for his dedication and special ability to relate to visitors of all ages, especially children. In 2011, Wakefield received the Volunteer of the Year Award for his outstanding service to the Air Zoo. He passed away on June 23, 2012 at the age of 90.