Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, has cosponsored the American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act (H.R. 685), which establishes a Congressional Gold Medal to honor United States pilots who destroyed at least five enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The estimated 1,500 pilots qualified as aces nationally would be honored collectively with one medal to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. Several Fighter Aces hail from our region of Pennsylvania.
"These brave men were vital in our efforts to preserve and promote peace and freedom, as they risked their lives with every mission they undertook," Rep. Barletta said. "It is most appropriate, as we prepare to mark our nation's 237th birthday, that we take steps to honor this elite group of heroes who gave so much of themselves to preserve the American way of life."
Fighter Aces from the 11th District or nearby:
Thomas J. Lynch, from Hazleton, scored 20 aerial victories in the South Pacific with the 35th fighter group before being shot down and killed in action on March 8, 1944 on a mission over New Guinea with America's top Ace, Dick Bong (40 victories). His Lockheed P-38 Lightning was hit at low level by Japanese ground fire which led him to bail out at low altitude. This caused his parachute to fail to open properly and he was killed as he fell into the jungle. One of America's greatest Fighter Aces was never found.
William R. Beyer, from Danville, scored 9 aerial victories with the 361st fighter group flying the P-51 Mustang over Europe. He also was one of America's few "Ace in a Day" downing 5 German Fw190s all in one day over Eisenbach on September 27th 1944.
Joseph Kruzel, from Wilkes-Barre, scored 6 aerial victories over Europe and the South Pacific. He joined the regular Air Force after WWII and rose to the rank of Major General.
Charles Hauver, from Bloomsburg, joined the Army Reserves following Pearl Harbor and was shipped to Europe following D-Day. He recorded 5 aerial victories.
The bill directs the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Smithsonian. It also expresses the sense of Congress that the Smithsonian should allow the medal to be displayed elsewhere around the country, particularly in areas that are closely associated with the American Fighter Aces and in facilities affiliated with the Institution.
"For some people, thinking about fighter pilots conjures up images from the movie "Top Gun,'" Barletta said. "Well, for these brave men, it was no Hollywood movie. They lived it."