Dominic S. Gentile
Dominic S. Gentile was born on December 6, 1920. He enjoyed aviation as a
youngster; he even acquired an Aerosport biplane as a teenager, and cut
quite a figure in the small Ohio town of Piqua, flying it around, buzzing
water towers, his girlfriend's house and the like. He enrolled in the
Royal Canadian Air Force right out of high school. He soon transferred to
the RAF and began flying in England. In 1942, he joined the No. 133 Eagle
Squadron, composed only of American fighter pilots who had volunteered to
fight with the British. Flying Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes, the Eagle
Squadrons gave Don Gentile the chance to prove himself in combat against
the Germans. He score his first aerial victory on August 1, 1942,
destroying an Fw-190 and a Ju-88 over France.
For this he was awarded the British
Distinguished Flying Cross.
That September, he transferred into the
United States Eighth Air Force: 336th Fighter Squadron, Fourth Fighter
Group, which claimed over one thousand German aircraft destroyed.
Several Eagles, such as Gentile, Don Blakeslee, Jim Goodson, and Duane
Beeson, became top aces of the European theatre, especially after the
Group's conversion to P-51 Mustangs.
On a mission in early 1944, Gentile
downed a couple of Germans, only to be bounced by two others. Gentile went
into a tight turn with the Hun. Not many pilots could turn in a
Thunderbolt on the deck with an FW-190, but Gentile had the skill and was
too frightened to worry about spinning out. The Hun had his No. 2 glued on
his wing and he soon showed Gentile he was a tough adversary. Gentile went
shuddering and shaking over the treetops with the two Germans. He was cold
with fright, the same as he had been in his green RAF days when he escaped
a German assailant with violent black-out turns and pull-outs, thus
winning the bet that his body could stand more black-outs than the
Germans. On some reverse turns Gentile squirted what little ammunition he
had left after downing the other two Jerries. Now he found himself without
ammunition and with two determined, accomplished killers on his tail. In
the head-on attacks the German discerned that the Thunderbolt's wings were
not firing; this made him press the attack that much more resolutely. The
Hun peppered Gentile with some 30° deflection shots. Gentile pulled away
and flicked down.
One of the Germans had been lost in the
manoeuvring and Gentile found himself going around in circles over the
trees, rawhided by the German. Gentile was defenceless without ammunition;
his one chance of surviving the vendetta was to evade the German fire
until his ammunition was also exhausted. The German kept pressing for the
one brief opportunity of lining the Thunderbolt up in his sights.
Gentile's hand got clammy on the throttle.
"Help! Help! I'm being clobbered!"
Gentile screamed in near panic.
Somewhere above in the clouds the rest
of his squadron was flying about. Until this day Gentile remembers the
imperturbable drawl of Willard Millikan answering: "Now, if you will tell
me your call sign and approximate position we'll send help."
Gentile shot back, "I'm down here by a
railroad track with a 190!"
But Millikan couldn't find Gentile. The
duel (cannon vs. flying skill) went on down below. Characteristically,
Gentile began talking to himself: " . . . Keep calm, Gentile . . . don't
Gentile still managed to keep one jump
ahead of the German, but his desperation mounted. The Hun was lathered and
remorseless, having seen the American clobber the two 190 pilots, his
acquaintances and perhaps his friends. He knew by now that the American
with the "Donnie Boy" insignia was a superlative pilot; this was a chance
to blast an American ace out of the sky without risk. He kept firing, but
the American always climbed or banked just inside his line of fire.
Gentile felt like giving up; he was going to be shot down anyway; it would
be better to get some altitude and bail out. But he had some last words:
"Horseback, Horseback! If I don't get
back, tell 'em I got two 190s!"
The two fighters were flat-out on the
deck, down by the railroad track, the German on the American's tail
firing. The German began to close the gap. Gentile suddenly honked his
ship up and stood it on his prop until it quivered and was ready to stall
out. For the first time Gentile had gotten above the Hun and could have
swooped down on him for a kill had his ammunition not been exhausted.
Gentile had preserved himself. He had made the Hun fire all his ammunition
without hitting him. The German suddenly peeled off and sulked home, his
two FW comrades un-avenged. Gentile bounced down the runway at Debden. He
didn't bother to gun the motor before switching it off. He was spent and
worn, his very fingers heavy with weariness. The intelligence officer
jumped on the wing of his plane to interrogate him. Gentile didn't answer,
just sitting in the cockpit rolling his eyes and panting.
One of the pilots composed a song to be
sung to the tune of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching. It
became a Debden theme song. The chorus:
Help, Help, I'm being clobbered,
Down here by the railroad track,
Two 190s chase me 'round
And we're damn near to the ground
Tell them I got two if I don't make it back!
Duane Beeson and Don Gentile were
involved in a highly publicized "ace race," to see who could shoot down
more German planes. They both forwent leaves thay were due in early 1944
to continue their battle.
Gentile had a big day on March 8, 1944,
when he shot down 3 Bf-109s (plus a shared credit) over Berlin. On April
5, 1944, Gentile claimed his 27th enemy planes destroyed, thus breaking
Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI record of 26. (At the time the Eighth Air Force
recognized ground kills as part of a pilots score, in part because
strafing missions were felt to be least as dangerous, if not more so, than
aerial combat. Seven of Gentile's destroyed aircraft were on ground
kills.) Three days later, on April 8, Gentile downed three more planes,
raising his total to 30.
credited with 21+ air victories. He scored two kills with the RAF
in the Spitfire, 4.33 kills in the P-47 Thunderbolt, and 15.5 kills in the
P-51B Mustang. He made half of his claims in March 1944, flying over the
skies of Germany.
On April 13, a throng of local and US
reporters gathered at Debden to greet Gentile, then the leading 8th AF
ace. He buzzed the airfield, too closely as it happened, and "pranged his
kite." Blakeslee was livid, and true to his word, sent Gentile home (whose
tour was up anyway).
It was in the Fourth Fighter Group that
Gentile met Captain John T. Godfrey, another American pilot who had been
transferred from the RAF. With Godfrey as Gentile's wingman, the two
formed a lethal combat team whose impressive teamwork destroyed more enemy
planes than any other partnership of American fighter pilots. In June of
1944, the two men returned to the States, temporarily participated in a
war bond tour, and were eventually separated after Gentile's assignment to
Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.
After the war Don Gentile stayed with
the Air Force: as a test pilot at Wright Field, as a Training Officer in
the Fighter Gunnery Program, and as a student officer at the Air Tactical
School. In 1951, Don Gentile made his last flight, crashing a T-33 trainer
which killed both Gentile and his passenger. His decorations include the
Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying
Cross, the Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the World War Two
Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the British Distinguished
Flying Cross, the British Star, the Eagle Squadron Crest, and other