Gabreski, Francis Stanley, Col

 Service Photo   Service Details
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Last Rank
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
AAF MOS 1055-Pilot, Single-Engine Fighter
Last AFSC Group
Pilot (Officer)
Primary Unit
1952-1953, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
Service Years
1940 - 1967
Officer Collar Insignia

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

46 kb

Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SSgt Harry McCown (Mac) to remember Gabreski, Francis Stanley (Gabby), Col.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Oil City, PA
Last Address
Long Island, NY

Date of Passing
Jan 31, 2002
Location of Interment
Calverton National Cemetery - Calverton, New York
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Air Force Commander WW II Honorable Discharge Pin Air Force Retired

 Unofficial Badges 

Pearl Harbor Memorial Medallion Cold War Medal

 Military Association Memberships
National Aviation Hall of FameAir Force Memorial (AFM)American Fighter Aces Association
  1978, National Aviation Hall of Fame
  2015, Air Force Memorial (AFM) [Verified] - Assoc. Page
  2015, American Fighter Aces Association

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Francis Gabreski was born on January 28, 1919, in Oil City, Pennsylvania. He completed two years at Notre Dame University before entering the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Gabreski was commissioned a 2Lt and awarded his pilot wings on March 15, 1941. His first assignment was flying P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks with the 45th Pursuit Squadron of the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. He was at Wheeler when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, and managed to get airborne but the Japanese had withdrawn before he could engage any of their aircraft. Gabreski served with the 45th PS until September 1942, when he became a liaison officer to the 315th Polish Fighter Squadron flying with the Royal Air Force. He flew 20 combat missions in Spitfire Mark IX fighters before joining 61st Fighter Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group in February 1943, flying P-47 Thunderbolts. He took command of the 61st FS in June 1943 and was credited with destroying 28 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus an additional 3 on the ground before crash landing in Germany and being taken as a Prisoner of War on July 25, 1944. He was held in captivity until being liberated by the Russians in April 1945. Following WWII, Gabreski became Chief of the Fighter Test Section at Wright Field, Ohio, and completed Engineering Flight Test School. He left active duty in April 1946 to work for Douglas Aircraft, but returned in April 1947 and took command of the 55th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Gabreski next went to school at Columbia University, graduating with a BA in Political Science in June 1949. He was next assigned as Commander of the 56th Fighter Group, flying F-80 Shooting Stars and F-86 Sabres at Selfridge AFB, Michigan. In June 1951, Col Gabreski joined the 4th Fighter Interceptor Group at Kimpo AB, South Korea, and immediately began flying combat missions. He took command of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Suwon AB, South Korea, in November 1951, and was credited with 6.5 more aerial victories in Korea. Gabreski left Korea in June 1952 and served in the Inspector General's Office at Norton AFB, California, from July 1952 to June 1954. He next went through Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, graduating in July 1955. Gabreski became Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters Ninth Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, in July 1955 and served until August 1956, when he became Commander of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina. In August 1960, Col Gabreski was assigned as Commander of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena AB, Okinawa, where he served until June 1962. He was Director of the Secretariat at Headquarters Pacific Air Forces at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, from July 1962 to July 1963, and Inspector General of PACAF from July 1963 to August 1964. His final assignment was as Commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at Suffolk County AFB, New York, from August 1964 until his retirement from the Air Force on November 1, 1967. Col Gabreski wears Command Pilot Wings and accumulated over 5,000 flying hours in his Air Force career. He was also credited with destroying 34.5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat in 289 total combat missions in two wars. After his retirement, Gabreski worked for Grumman Aerospace and the Long Island Rail Road. He married Kay Cochran on June 11, 1945, and they had nine children. Kay died in an automobile accident on August 6, 1993, and Francis Gabreski died on January 31, 2002. They are both buried at Calverton National Cemetery, New York.
Other Comments:
 Francis "Gabby" Gabreski almost didn't make it through flight school. Approximately 12 years later, he would become the first Air Force fighter pilot to become an ace in both World War II and the Korean conflict. Almost 12 years later, he would become the first Air Force fighter pilot to become an ace in both World War II and the Korean conflict. But first he had to earn his wings. An uneasy pilot at best, Gabreski didn't get along with his instructor at Parks Air College, a civilian program the Army used for its novice cadets in 1940. He knew he wasn't progressing as quickly as other students in the Stearman PT-17 biplane, but managed to survive an "elimination flight" conducted by Capt. Ray Wassel, an Army pilot. Wassel told him to step into the plane and give it his best. He flew well enough for Wassel to conclude that he was a marginal pilot, but could probably do better with a new instructor. He was right. Gabreski was most relieved not to let his parents down by failing. Both of them had emigrated from Poland to Oil City, PA. in the early 1900s. His father owned and operated a market, putting in 12-hour days. Like many immigrant-owned businesses in those days, the whole family worked at the market. But Gabreski's parents had dreams for him, including attending Notre Dame University. He did so in 1938, but, unprepared for real academic work, almost flunked out during his freshman year. During his second year at Notre Dame, Army Air Corps recruiters visited the campus. Gabreski went to hear them, primarily because his friends were going. The Army's enticing offer impressed him and he enrolled, reporting in July 1940. After finally making it through primary flight training, he graduated from basic flight training at Gunter Army Air Base, Ala., then from Maxwell Field, AL, for advanced training. He graduated from Maxwell in March 1941 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. His parents proudly attended the ceremony. Gabreski was assigned to fly fighter planes at Wheeler Field on Oahu, Hawaii with the 45th Fighter Squadron of the 15th Fighter Group. There, he flew Curtiss P-40s and P-36s, powerful single-seat fighters. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, young Grabreski was shaving when he heard some explosions. Looking out his window, he saw a gray monoplane with red circles and fixed landing gear flying overhead. He realized the Japanese were attacking. In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, Gabreski realized that his life had changed. His crystal-clear days flying above the Hawaiian Islands and carefree evenings at the Wheeler Officers' Club beach became tedious days patrolling the air, looking for enemy planes. Gabreski, worried about the Nazi invasion of Poland, volunteered for a transfer to one of the RAF's Polish squadrons. The War Department approved his transfer, primarily because he spoke Polish. In October 1942, the new captain reported to Eighth Air Force Headquarters in England. He joined the No. 315 Squadron RAF at Northholt, England, and began flying the new Spitfire Mark IX's (1942-3). He and his fellow pilots flew jet sweeps over the Channel. He first encountered the Germans on Feb. 3, when a group of FW-190s jumped his squadron. Too excited to make a "kill," Gabreski learned that he had to keep calm during a mission, a lesson that served him well later in the war. In February 1943, he joined the 61st Fighter Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group, flying P-47 Thunderbolts. After being promoted to major and given the command of the 61st Fighter Squadron, Gabreski had to wait until August to score his first victory. From that day on, victories came frequently, often in twos and threes, until he finally led all AAF pilots in the theater. In July 1944, he scored his 28th victory, making him America's leading air ace. While waiting to board a plane that would fly him back to the United States on leave, he discovered that a mission was scheduled for that morning. He took his bags off the transport and got permission to "fly just one more." It was a fateful decision. During a second strafing pass, his wing tips hit a small rise in the runway, bending the prop tips. This created a violent vibration, forcing him to make a crash landing. Uninjured, he jumped out of the crashed plane and ran toward deep woods with German soldiers in pursuit. He eluded them for five days, but was finally captured and taken to Stalag Luft I, a permanent prisoner-of-war camp. After the camp was liberated by the Russians in April 1945, Gabreski spent several years in flight testing and in command of fighter units before he succeeded in getting an assignment to Korea. In July 1951, Gabreski, now a lieutenant colonel, downed his first MiG, flying an F-86 Sabre jet. He did this despite being so unfamiliar with the F-86's controls that he replaced the gun sight with a piece of chewing gum stuck on the windshield. He flew witht the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and then the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. In April 1952, he recorded his fifth kill of the Korean air war, becoming the first and one of few pilots to become aces in two wars. He was credited with a total of 6.5 kills in Korea. He ended his career as commander of several tactical and air defense wings, his last assignment being commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at Suffolk County AFB, New York. He retired in November 1967, nearly 27 years and 37.5 destroyed enemy aircraft later, after squeaking through his "elimination flight." At the time he had flown more combat missions than any other American fighter pilot, 289. He received another honor in 1992 when Suffolk County Airport in Westhampton was renamed Gabreski Airport. Gabreski died of an apparent heart attack in Huntington Hospital, Long Island, N.Y., Jan. 31, 2002, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetary, also on Long Island.

His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:

For extraordinary heroism in action with the enemy on 26 November 1943. On this date, Colonel Gabreski led a flight of P-47 fighters on a bomber escort mission to targets near Oldenburg, Germany. With complete disregard for the danger involved, Colonel Gabreski led his flight into combat against a large number of rocket firing enemy fighters which were protected by covering fighters. He personally attacked and destroyed the leading enemy aircraft and, despite damage sustained by his airplane from contact with falling pieces of the disintegrating enemy plane, he sought out and destroyed another enemy fighter before returning to join his flight for further escort of the bombers. Colonel Gabreski's outstanding and spirited aggressiveness and his heroic disregard for his personal safety in the face of superior enemy forces where an inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
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Aviator (Command)

 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
Aviation Cadet Flight School45th Fighter SquadronRoyal Air Force (RAF)61st Fighter Squadron  - Zemke's Wolfpack
56th Fighter GroupDepartment of Defense (DOD)POW Germany4th Fighter Wing
51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
  1940-1941, Aviation Cadet Flight School
  1941-1942, 45th Fighter Squadron
  1942-1943, AAF MOS 1055, Royal Air Force (RAF)
  1943-1944, 61st Fighter Squadron - Zemke's Wolfpack
  1943-1944, 56th Fighter Group
  1943-Present, AAF MOS 1055, Department of the Air Force, Pentagon
  1944-1945, POW Germany
  1951-1952, 4th Fighter Wing
  1952-1953, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1941-1945 World War II
  1951-1952 Korean War
 Colleges Attended 
University of Notre DameColumbia UniversityAir War College
  1938-1940, University of Notre Dame
  1947-1949, Columbia University
  1954-1955, Air War College
 My Aircraft/Missiles
AT-6 Texan  PT-13 Stearman  PT-19 Trainer  P-36 Hawk  
P-40 Warhawk/Kittyhawk  Supermarine Spitfire  P-47 Thunderbolt (Jug)  F-80/P-80 Shooting Star  
F-86 Sabre  F-100 Super Sabre  F-101 Voodoo  
  1940-1940, AT-6 Texan
  1940-1940, PT-13 Stearman
  1940-1940, PT-19 Trainer
  1940-1942, P-36 Hawk
  1942-1942, P-40 Warhawk/Kittyhawk
  1942-1943, Supermarine Spitfire
  1943-1944, P-47 Thunderbolt (Jug)
  1949-1951, F-80/P-80 Shooting Star
  1951-1953, F-86 Sabre
  1956-1962, F-100 Super Sabre
  1964-1967, F-101 Voodoo
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