A HERO’S ACTION IS ALWAYS EXTRAORDINARY
“The ordinary air Fighter is an extraordinary man and the extraordinary air Fighter stands as one in a million among his fellows.” – PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT
America’s “Top Gun” Fighter Aces are the newest endangered species. These fighter pilots, who earned Ace status by destroying at least five enemy aircraft during aerial combat missions in both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, are a vanishing breed and most likely an endangered species. A hero’s action is always extraordinary because it is so contrary to the basic human instincts of self-preservation and survival. For the Ace fighter pilot it was often kill or be killed.
The American Fighter Ace stands alone as an extraordinary man who has distinguished himself among the elite in aerial combat. Throughout aviation history during World War II, Korea and Vietnam these heroic pilots possessed the skill, fortitude and courage to survive combat missions and return home. To fly in combat may seem exciting and noble, but it was also extremely dangerous and deadly. All fighter pilots, regardless of their personal victory tallies, are deserving of great respect and credit for what they endured.
While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact qualities that separate a good fighter pilot from a great fighter pilot; it has been said [that] “it takes a fighting inner spirit and a motivation and determination to survive and succeed at any cost, with a measure of opportunity and luck added to the mix”.
Of the hundreds of Aces who have served their country since the early days of flight, fewer than 90 remain alive today. In a short few years their historic lives will be a memory – a footnote to our nation’s rich aviation heritage; and many feels that now is the time to enshrine these aviators so that their legacy might live on. A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign has been launched to enshrine these men in a photographic book entitled, Wings of Valor: Honoring America’s Fighter Aces. The men whose images and stories will be included in Wings of Valor: Honoring America’s Fighter Aces reflect the courage and determination it takes to get no less than five enemy “kills” in aerial combat. These men distinguished themselves as Navy, Marines, U.S. Army Air Corps and Air Force pilots who had the courage to pursue their enemy with aggression, agility and precision.
Author Peter Collier and documentary photographer Nick Del Calzo term this project as “a race against time” because of the advanced age of these heroic Aces. Nearly all of them are in their 90s. Due to their high mortality rate, other professional photographers were recruited to assure that as many of the living Aces as possible can be included in this commemorative book. Del Calzo and Collier previously collaborated on the award-winning, New York Times best seller, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond The Call of Duty, now in its third edition. This book features similar portraits of Medal of Honor recipients and their courageous stories.
Wings of Valor: Honoring America’s Fighter Aces will immortalize the men whose incredible bravery and skill flying fighter planes is the very embodiment of the term Ace. Their images and stories are as diverse as America itself. Today, these men will tell you that they are proud Americans who are caretakers of freedom. They have been to the edge and have lived to tell their story.
It is very rare that a media project comes along that so fully conveys the human qualities that characterize America’s aviation elite. Through exceptional images and poignant stories, Wings of Valor: Honoring America’s Fighter Aces, speaks to the very core of enduring American experiences.
“If there’s an elite among fighter pilots, it’s these men. It’s probably unlikely, based on the lack of today’s air-to-air combat, that there will be another designated Ace,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles “Chick”Cleveland, president of the American Fighter Aces Association. “They helped shorten the wars and saved lives. A new book is being created to preserve their legacy so young Americans can be inspired and educated about their actions. This will be America’s book” Cleveland is a Korean War Ace who flew F-86 Sabre jets in MiG Alley.
As the May 3 Kickstarter deadline nears, General Cleveland and his fellow Aces are hopeful Americans will respond by pledging $10 or more to help reach the$65,000 goal to produce the book’s content and assure that these Aces will be fully recognized. (To contribute, Go to www.Kickstarter.com, “Wings of Valor.”) Continue reading