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Col. Walter B. Forbes, USAF, Retired

Walter Forbes


Col. Walter B. Forbes served as a USAF pilot in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. He was assigned to the 48th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, Europe during World War II.

Born in Niles, Michigan, Forbes' passion for aviation began when he was just five years old and his grandparents lived next to the community's grass airstrip. One day, Henry Ford's Tri-Motor landed on that airstrip. After taking a ride on the airplane with his aunt, Forbes was hooked on planes.

By the time he was 20, he flown his P-47, the Gal From Kalamazoo, on 72 combat missions over Europe and including a mission over Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 in support of the D-Day Invasion. He also destroyed one confirmed German ME-109 and provided air support for General Patton's march into Paris and Belgium. After World War II, Forbes also ended up flying a Republic F-84, North American F-86 and the North American F-100 Super Sabre.

During the Korean War, he flew 2,600 Transpac hours over the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East. He was assigned as commanding officer to the F-100 Training Wing, Nellis Air Force Base where he taught pilots how to fly the F-100s. Forbes flew 67 missions during Vietnam-mostly at night-interdicting transportation. He also served on Air Staff at the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Forbes retired as a colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster, Air Medal with 16 clusters, Joint Services Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star. He logged more than 5,100 hours of flight time in military jets including single-engine props, twin-engine props, four-engine props and single-engine jets. He also logged more than 900 hours in civilian aircraft.

Forbes lived in Kalamazoo with his wife and was an active volunteer at the Air Zoo. He was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on April 18, 2009, and passed away February 3, 2018.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program