Dominic Salvatore Gentile
Dominic Salvatore Gentile
Don Gentile on the wing of his P-51B, Shangri-La
|Nickname(s)||"Don", "Ace of Aces"|
|Born||December 6, 1920|
|Died||January 28, 1951 (aged 30)|
|Service/||Royal Canadian Air Force (1940–43)|
United States Army Air Forces (1943–47)
United States Air Force (1947–51)
|Years of service||1940–1951|
|Unit||No. 133 Squadron RAF|
336th Fighter Squadron
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross (2)|
Distinguished Flying Cross (8)
Air Medal (4)
Dominic Salvatore "Don" Gentile (December 6, 1920 – January 28, 1951), also known as "Ace of Aces", was a World War II USAAF pilot who surpassed Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record of 26 downed aircraft. He later served in the post-war U.S. Air Force.
Gentile was born in Piqua, Ohio, the son of Italian immigrants Patsy and Josephina Gentile, who immigrated in 1907. After a fascination with flying as a child, his father provided him with his own plane, an Aerosport Biplane. He managed to log over 300 hours flying time by July 1941, when he attempted to join the Army Air Forces.
Royal Canadian Air Force
The U.S. military required two years of college for its pilots, which Gentile did not have, so he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was posted to the UK in 1941. Gentile flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mark V with No. 133 Squadron, one of the famed "Eagle Squadron" during 1942. His first kills (a Ju 88 and Fw 190) were on August 19, 1942, during Operation Jubilee.
4th Fighter Group
In September 1942, the Eagle squadrons transferred to the USAAF, becoming the 4th Fighter Group. Gentile became a flight commander in September 1943, now flying the P-47 Thunderbolt. Having been Spitfire pilots, Gentile and the other pilots of the 4th were displeased when they transitioned to the heavy P-47. On 16 December 1943 Gentile claimed a third-share destroyed Ju-88, and a Fw-190 west of Tours on 5 January 1944. Two Fw-190s were claimed on 14 January and another on 25 February.
By late 1943, Group Commander Col. Don Blakeslee pushed for re-equipment with the lighter, more maneuverable P-51 Mustang. Conversion to the P-51B at the end of February 1944 allowed Gentile to build a tally of 15.5 additional aircraft destroyed between March 3 and April 8, 1944.
His first victory flying the P-51 was on 3 March, when he claimed a Do 217 in the Wittemburg area.
After downing 3 Fw-190s on April 8, he was the top scoring 8th Air Force ace when he crashed his personal P-51, named "Shangri La", on April 13, 1944 while stunting over the 4th FG's airfield at Debden for a group of assembled press reporters and movie cameras. Blakeslee immediately grounded Gentile as a result, and he was sent back to the US for a tour selling war bonds. In 1944, Gentile co-wrote with well-known war correspondent Ira Wolfert One Man Air Force, an autobiography and account of his combat missions.
His final tally of credits was 19.83 aerial victories and 3 damaged, with 6 ground kills, in 350 combat hours flown. He also claimed two victories while with the RAF.
Note in the accompanying color photograph, that the shroud, normally surrounding the six exhausts for smoother air flow, has been removed. This was a common practice for pilots in "the heat" of combat, where any extra cooling to the engine was helpful towards performance.
After the war, he 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 June 1949, Gentile enrolled as an undergraduate studying military science at the University of Maryland.
On January 28, 1951, he was killed when he crashed in a T-33A-1-LO Shooting Star trainer, AF Ser. No. 49-0905, in Forestville, Maryland, leaving behind his wife Isabella Masdea Gentile Beitman (deceased October 2008), and sons Don Jr., Joseph and Pasquale.
Gentile was buried with full military honors in Saint Joseph Cemetery in Lockbourne, Ohio.
Awards and Decorations
Gentile's awards and decorations include:USAF Senior pilot badge RAF pilot brevet
|Distinguished Service Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Distinguished Flying Cross with silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|American Campaign Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal|
|Air Force Longevity Service Award with bronze oak leaf cluster|
Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm
Winston Churchill called Gentile and his wingman, Captain John T. Godfrey, Damon and Pythias, after the legendary characters from Greek mythology. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.
- Find a grave
- Johnson, Richard Riley (1995). Twenty Five Milk Runs (And a few others): To Hell's Angels and back. Victoria, Canada: Trafford Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 1-4120-2501-X. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
- Video: American Army Women Serving On All Fronts Etc. (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
- Salvatore John LaGumina, The Humble and the Heroic: Wartime Italian Americans (2006) p.182
- Philip Kaplan, Two-Man Air Force: Don Gentile & John Godfrey World War Two Flying Aces (2006) p.7
- "Major Dominic S. Gentile – 4th Fighter Group". AcePilots.com. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
- Beitman, Isabella Gentile (June 2, 2007), letter from Don's widow (transcribed by Johnson, p. 4)
- USAF Historical Study No. 85: USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II, Air Force Historical Research Agency, p. 70.
- "Dominic Gentile". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
Cohen, David; Covington, Greg (1 February 2016). "The Last Flight of Don Gentile". Warbird Digest. Vintage Aviation Publications. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
Don Gentile needs no introduction. Whether known as ‘Captains Courageous’, ‘The Two Man Air Force’, ‘Messerschmitt Killers’, or ‘Damon and Pythias’, the exploits of he and his wingman, John Godfrey,
- Deeter, Judy (1 February 2016). "Piqua Bad Boy Becomes 'One Man Air Force'". MyMiamiCounty. Retrieved 21 June 2020.
- "Enshrinees". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 6, 2011.