John Tilley

On "Ace" designations and decorations

Interviewer: John, you, like too many heros of WWII, are two damn modest! I noticed the casual mention of being a "Senior Flight Commander" and only one of three authorized to lead combat missions – at 21! I can also count. Doesn't five confirmed kills qualify as an "Ace?" What about decorations? The story isn't complete without that information.

About the "Ace" and "hero" BS. In the history of U.S. Military Aviation (all wars to date) 1447 pilots have officially qualified as "Aces." And, yes, I'm one of them. I'm proud of that but don't believe in "bragging" about it. There's too damn much luck involved. Let's say pilot "A" shoots down four very tough and very good enemy fighters. Pilot "B" finds a bunch of "wheels down and welded" dive bombers, transports, or even trainers and shoots down a half dozen. After the war, no one knows pilot "A" from Joe Sixpack, but "B" is listed in all the history books as an "Ace." Big Deal!

And why should someone be called a "hero" for doing a good job at something he was trained and paid to do – and enjoys doing? As some Korean War ace was reported to have remarked: "No man should be paid money for having this much fun." My Group Commanding Officer, Charles McDonald (27 kills) once said "flying fighters in the war is the greatest game in the world played for the highest stakes imaginable." That it is!

Now, about decorations. Ever since I learned that Lyndon B. Johnson was given the Silver Star for flying as a Congressman "observer" in the back of a bomber on one reconnaissance mission with no shots fired in anger, I haven't had much respect for military decorations short of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

John Tilley

John and Kate 

  John & Kate Tilley at 475th Fighter Group Reunion, Gatlinburg, TN, August, 1994

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