By Holly Quick, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
WASHINTON (NNS) -- The American Fighter Aces were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for heroic military service throughout the history of aviation warfare at a ceremony at the Capitol's Emancipation Hall May 20.
The distinguished group of aviators is comprised of 1,447 combat pilots who shot down at least five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat from World War I to Vietnam. Of the 75 remaining, 35 veteran pilots attended the ceremony, and 15 in attendance served in U.S. Navy.
"To me there's no greater achievement I could receive because I have a passion for flying," said retired Cmdr. Philip Kirkwood, who served during WWII. "I leave the legacy to my children."
Between February 1944 and December 1945, Kirkwood scored 12 confirmed kills, making him a certified "double ace." In one day alone, he is credited with six downed aircraft in a single mission while intercepting a massive Japanese strike group.
Another WWII Veteran, retired Cmdr. Clarence Borley, who shot down Japanese fighters before being downed and spending five days in a life raft, shared similar pride in service to his country.
"It's a great honor be associated with people who are fellow Fighter Aces and who support us," said Borley. "What the Navy Aces were able to accomplish was significant in winning the wars."
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland and President of the American Fighter Aces Association accepted the award on behalf of the American Fighter Aces.
The Congressional Gold Medal, which was designed and struck by the United States Mint, will be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it will be displayed and made available for research. Each Fighter Ace received a bronze replica of the medal.
"This is a great historical moment and they've done a great job preserving some of the aircraft that we flew, but unfortunately we can't preserve the people who flew them," said retired Lt. Tilman "Tilly" Pool, a World War II Distinguished Flying Cross Recipient.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.