Dominic Salvatore Gentile

Piqua, Ohio Distinguished Service Cross (United States) Royal Canadian Air Force
Dominic Salvatore Gentile
Don Gentile on the wing of his P-51B, Shangri-La
Nickname(s)"Don", "Ace of Aces"
Born(1920-12-06)December 6, 1920
Piqua, Ohio
DiedJanuary 28, 1951(1951-01-28) (aged 30)
Forestville, Maryland
Saint Joseph Cemetery
Lockbourne, Ohio[1]
United States
Service/branchRoyal Canadian Air Force (1940–43)
United States Army Air Forces (1943–47)
United States Air Force (1947–51)
Years of service1940–1951
UnitNo. 133 Squadron RAF
336th Fighter Squadron
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished 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"[2], was a World War II USAAF pilot who surpassed Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record of 26 downed aircraft.[3] He later served in the post-war U.S. Air Force.

Early life

Gentile was born in Piqua, Ohio,[4] the son of Italian immigrants[5] Patsy and Josephina Gentile, who immigrated in 1907.[6] 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,[7] during Operation Jubilee.[8]

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.[9]

His first victory flying the P-51 was on 3 March, when he claimed a Do 217 in the Wittemburg area.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower awards the Distinguished Service Cross to Gentile (left) and Colonel Donald Blakeslee on April 11, 1944.

After downing 3 Fw-190s on April 8,[10] 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,[9] 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.

Together with his wingman John T. Godfrey, they were known as ‘Captains Courageous’, ‘The Two Man Air Force’, ‘Messerschmitt Killers’, or ‘Damon and Pythias’ [11]

Post war

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:

Senior Pilot USAF Wings.svg  USAF Senior pilot badgeRAF pilot brevet (Queen's Crown).jpg  RAF pilot brevet
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Service Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Longevity Service Award with bronze oak leaf cluster

Uk dfc rib.png  British Distinguished Flying Cross

Oorlogskruis with Palm.jpg  Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal BAR.svg  Canadian Volunteer Service Medal


On Independence Day Weekend (July 6th) 1986, a statue of Don Gentile (pictured) was dedicated in his hometown Piqua Ohio.[12]

Statue of Dominic Salvatore Gentile, located in Piqua Ohio

Gentile Air Force Station in Kettering, Ohio was named in his honor in 1962. The installation closed in 1996.

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.[13]


  1. ^ Find a grave
  2. ^
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Video: American Army Women Serving On All Fronts Etc. (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  5. ^ Salvatore John LaGumina, The Humble and the Heroic: Wartime Italian Americans (2006) p.182
  6. ^ Philip Kaplan, Two-Man Air Force: Don Gentile & John Godfrey World War Two Flying Aces (2006) p.7
  7. ^ "Major Dominic S. Gentile – 4th Fighter Group". Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  8. ^ Beitman, Isabella Gentile (June 2, 2007), letter from Don's widow (transcribed by Johnson, p. 4)
  9. ^ a b USAF Historical Study No. 85: USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II, Air Force Historical Research Agency, p. 70.
  10. ^ "Dominic Gentile". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  11. ^ 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,
  12. ^ Deeter, Judy (1 February 2016). "Piqua Bad Boy Becomes 'One Man Air Force'". MyMiamiCounty. Retrieved 21 June 2020.
  13. ^ "Enshrinees". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 6, 2011.