Commander David McCampbell, USN (June 19 & October 24, 1944)

With my Medal of Honor posts, I like to learn and pass along “back story” of the great men who have been decorated with our nation’s highest honor. For today’s 70th anniversary tribute to David McCampbell, the greatest United States Navy “ace” of World War II with 34 aerial victories against enemy Japanese aircraft – including five in one day and nine on another, the acts for which he received the Medal – nothing is really required besides the records of his heroism.

McCampbell flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat, was the founding skipper of Navy Fighting Squadron 15 (VF-15), and also commanded Carrier Air Group 15.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

McCAMPBELL, DAVID

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, Air Group 15. Place and date: First and second battles of the Philippine Sea, 19 June 1944. Entered service at: Florida. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars, Air Medal

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commander, Air Group 15, during combat against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. An inspiring leader, fighting boldly in the face of terrific odds, Comdr. McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our fleet on 19 June 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed 7 hostile planes during this single engagement in which the outnumbering attack force was utterly routed and virtually annihilated. During a major fleet engagement with the enemy on 24 October, Comdr. McCampbell, assisted by but l plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of 60 hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down 9 Japanese planes and, completely disorganizing the enemy group, forced the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the fleet. His great personal valor and indomitable spirit of aggression under extremely perilous combat conditions reflect the highest credit upon Comdr. McCampbell and the U.S. Naval Service.

As noted in his Medal of Honor citation, Commander McCampbell was also the recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with Valor Device, and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. His Navy Cross was awarded for valor on the very next day after his 9 “kills” that assured him the Medal. Here, from Military Times’ Hall of Valor are the citations for his other decorations.

NC-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Combat Plane and Commanding Officer of Air Group FIFTEEN (AG-15), attached to the U.S.S. ESSEX (CV-9), and as Target Coordinator for the combined aircraft of three Task Groups, in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Luzon, Philippine Islands, during the battle of Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944. Commander McCampbell’s coolness, quick thinking, superior judgment and outstanding leadership resulted in the sinking of one medium aircraft carrier, one light cruiser, two destroyers, the heavily damaging of one large aircraft carrier, one small aircraft carrier, two destroyers and the damaging of one battleship. By his outstanding performance not only was the maximum damage inflicted on the enemy but our own losses were kept at a minimum. His courage and skill were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

SilverStar-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Captain [then Commander] David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a Pilot of a carrier-based Fighter Plane in Air Group FIFTEEN (AG-15), attached to the U.S.S. ESSEX (CV-9), in an attack against the enemy in the Central Philippine Islands on 12 September 1944. Commander McCampbell so ably led the attack group as to cause maximum damage and destruction to the enemy and he did, personally, engage and destroy four enemy airplanes in aerial combat and, in the face of anti-aircraft fire, did strafe and cause serious damage to an enemy merchant ship. Captain McCampbell’s relentless devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

LegionOfMerit-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” to Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Target Coordinator during carrier attacks on the enemy in the Philippine Islands 11 – 14 November 1944. When he successfully directed the efforts of numerous attacking groups and so skillfully deployed the forces at his command as to completely destroy a large enemy troop convoy and to cause the maximum damage to shipping and to harbor facilities in the Philippine area. His courageous and resourceful leadership was at all times inspiring to the pilots who followed him and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (Commander Campbell is authorized to wear the Combat “V”.)

DFC-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for heroism while participating in aerial flight in the line of his profession as Commander of an air group in operations against the enemy. He led his group against the strong fortifications on Marcus Island on 19 May 1944 and early in the attack was hit by anti-aircraft fire which seriously damaged the after-fuselage and controls, and set fire to the auxiliary gasoline tank. Despite this heavy damage to his own plane, he remained to direct operations of his Group until all ammunition was expended and then led them back to their carrier. By his courage and skill he insured that the maximum amount of destruction was inflicted on the enemy. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

DFC-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight against enemy forces on 19 June 1944. As Commander of a carrier-based Air Group, he led component parts of his group in an outstanding attack against an enemy convoy in the vicinity of the Marianas Islands. His timely coordination of strafing, dive bombing, low level bombing and rocket attacks was such that it resulted in the destruction of upwards of fifty thousand tons of enemy merchant shipping, at least one enemy destroyer and three escort vessels, and damage to numerous others. He contributed courageous and inspiring leadership to the officers and men under his command. His courage and skill were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

DFC-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Second Gold Star in lieu of a Third Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander David S. McCampbell (NSN: 0-72487), United States Navy, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as pilot of a carrier-based fighter plane on 13 September 1944. When, as leader of a fighter sweep assigned to a mission against the enemy in the Central Philippines. He did engage and destroy in aerial combat three enemy planes and did, in the face of anti-aircraft fire, destroy two more planes on the ground by strafing. His courage and ability were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

McCampbell retired with the rank of Captain after thirty-one years of service to our nation on July 1, 1964. He passed away at age 86 on June 30, 1996 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Since September 17, 2002, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-82) has sailed with the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy and is permanently home-ported overseas in Yokosuka, Japan. The ship has a simple motto inspired by her namesake:

Relentless in Battle

And indeed, so was David McCampbell. So very, very relentless.

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