Cleveland, Charles, Lt Gen

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Last Rank
Lieutenant General
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
1021A-Pilot
Last AFSC Group
Aircrew
Primary Unit
1967-1967, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing
Service Years
1949 - 1981
Lieutenant General

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State of Birth
Hawaii
Hawaii
Year of Birth
Not Specified
 
This Military Service Page was created/owned by A1C Douglas Freeman (Sundown) to remember Cleveland, Charles, Lt Gen.

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4/15/2008 - Airman May/June Issue -- It took 55 years to confirm pilot's Korean War kills

When retired Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland answered the phone, he thought nothing of it. It was probably just one of his buddies looking to chat or someone trying to sell him another magazine subscription.

But it turned out to be one of the most important calls of his life.

"That's how I found out the Air Force was officially recognizing me as an ace," General Cleveland said. "Right there on the phone."

That meant the Air Force had confirmed the former F-86 Sabre pilot had shot down five enemy aircraft during the Korean War. But while the notification of his new-found status was brief and unceremonious, General Cleveland's journey to reach that point was a very long one.

"55 years, to be exact," he said.

The story started in South Korea in 1952. Then-1st Lt. Cleveland flew with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Kimpo Air Base. He was a skilled pilot and within eight weeks of joining the squadron he had already scored four kills -- each a Russian-made MiG-15 Fagot.

"Each of those dogfights is burned in my brain," the West Point graduate said. "I can remember every minute of those battles like it happened yesterday."

Then, on Sept. 21, 1952, Lieutenant Cleveland's flight once again found themselves in aerial combat with a group of North Korean MiGs. He flew behind one of the enemy jets and let loose with the Sabre's six nose-mounted .50-caliber machine guns. Some of his rounds hit the MiG and within seconds the enemy plane sprouted a trail of smoke and began to fall rapidly.

That was the last image General Cleveland ever had of the MiG.

"At that moment we were being attacked by two other MiGs," the general said. "So my wingman had to call a break so we wouldn't get all shot up ourselves."

His wingman, then-brevet Capt.Don Pascoe, insisted he claim a kill, but the general just didn't feel right about it.

"There were rules for claiming a kill," he said. "You either had to see a fire that wouldn't go out, a plane crash or the pilot eject. Since I hadn't seen any of those happen, I just felt the right thing to do was claim a probable."

And there the story ended. Almost.

Years later, General Cleveland attended a meeting of the American Fighter Aces Association and met Mr. Overton.

When Mr. Overton heard the general's story about the probable kill, he decided to prove the general had indeed shot down the MiG.

Over the years, Mr. Overton spoke to dozens of people and searched thousands of records, including flight details released by the then Soviet Union soon after the war. He compared the Russian records to General Cleveland's accounts and found a description of a downed MiG that seemed to match the story.

He called General Cleveland and said he'd found his missing MiG.

"I had no idea what he was doing," General Cleveland said. "When we first met he told me he was going to prove I shot the MiG down, but I was like, 'Yeah, right.' But, by God, he really did go out and do it."

With this information, General Cleveland and Mr. Overton went before the Air Force Board for Military Corrections in person. After reviewing the proof and listening to testimony, the board agreed to change the record and credit General Cleveland with his fifth kill.

"To have this happen to me so late in my life is extraordinary, even almost surreal," he said. "The recognition has been personally rewarding and professionally satisfying to me. And it's a real honor to be included with that great group of men who make up the rest of the aces."

The achievement is even more special because so many of his friends and colleagues were behind him making it a reality.

"Frankly, to have friends I admire and respect work so hard on my behalf means more to me than the actual recognition," the general said.

It's also an honor today's fighter pilots may never experience.

"I might just be the last fighter ace," he said. "Today's Air Force and Airmen are so technologically capable that the dogfight era has long since ceased. This means there may be no more fighter aces."

In his office, the phone rings again. As the general leans over to answer it, he smiles and picks up the receiver.

"I hope (Air Force) officials haven't changed their minds," he says.
   
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 Unit Assignments
334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron481st Tactical Fighter Squadron78th Tactical Fighter Squadron92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron
522nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron81st Tactical Fighter Wing
  1952-1952, 334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
  1957-1957, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron
  1959-1960, 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron
  1962-1963, 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron
  1967-1967, 522nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron
  1967-1967, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing
 Colleges Attended 
Xavier University, Cincinnati, OHHarvard University
  1949-1949, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH
  1969-1969, Harvard University
 My Aircraft/Missiles
F-80/P-80 Shooting Star  F-84 Thunderjet  F-86 Sabre  F-100 Super Sabre  
F-101 Voodoo  F-4 Phantom  F-111 Aardvark  
  1950-1950, F-80/P-80 Shooting Star1
  1950-1950, F-84 Thunderjet
  2003-2003, F-86 Sabre
  2003-2003, F-100 Super Sabre
  2003-2003, F-101 Voodoo
  2003-2003, F-4 Phantom
  2003-2003, F-111 Aardvark
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