Gabby Gabreski

Last updated
Francis Stanley Gabreski
Francis Gabreski color photo in pilot suit.jpg
Born(1919-01-28)January 28, 1919
Oil City, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJanuary 31, 2002(2002-01-31) (aged 83)
Huntington, New York, U.S.
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States of America
Service/branch USAAC Roundel 1919-1941.svg United States Army Air Corps
US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Flag of the United States Air Force.svg  United States Air Force
Years of service1940–1967
Rank US Air Force O6 shoulderboard rotated.svg Colonel
Unit 15th Pursuit Group
No. 315 Polish Fighter Squadron
56th Fighter Group
4th Fighter-Interceptor Group
51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
Commands held 61st Fighter Squadron
55th Fighter Squadron
56th Fighter Group
51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
354th Tactical Fighter Wing
18th Tactical Fighter Wing
52nd Fighter Wing
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (13)
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (7)
Other work Long Island Rail Road (president)

Francis Stanley "Gabby" Gabreski (born Franciszek Stanisław Gabryszewski; January 28, 1919 – January 31, 2002) was a Polish-American career pilot in the United States Air Force, retiring as a colonel with 26 years of military service. He was the top American and United States Army Air Forces fighter ace over Europe in World War II and a jet fighter ace with the Air Force in the Korean War.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

United States Army Air Forces Aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force, was the aerial warfare service of the United States during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


Although best known for his credited destruction of 34½ aircraft in aerial combat and being one of only seven U.S. combat pilots to become an ace in two wars, Gabreski was also one of the Air Force's most accomplished leaders. In addition to commanding two fighter squadrons, he had six command tours at group or wing level, including one in combat in Korea, totaling over 11 years of command and 15 overall in operational fighter assignments.

After his Air Force career, Gabreski headed the Long Island Rail Road, a commuter railroad owned by the State of New York, and struggled in his attempts to improve its service and financial condition. After two and a half years, he resigned under pressure and went into full retirement.

Long Island Rail Road commuter rail service in Long Island, New York

The Long Island Rail Road, often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. With an average weekday ridership of 354,800 passengers in 2016, it is the busiest commuter railroad in North America. It is also one of the world's few commuter systems that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. It is publicly owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which refers to it as MTA Long Island Rail Road.

Early years

Gabreski's official Air Force biography states:

Gabreski's parents had emigrated from Poland to Oil City, Pennsylvania, in the early 1900s. His father (Stanisław "Stanley" Gabryszewski) owned and operated a market, putting in 12-hour days. As in many other immigrant-owned businesses in those days, the whole family worked at the market. But Gabreski's parents had dreams for him, including attending the Notre Dame University. He did so in 1938, but, unprepared for real academic work, almost failed during his freshman year.

Poland republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

Oil City, Pennsylvania City in Pennsylvania, United States

Oil City is a city in Venango County, Pennsylvania, that is known in the initial exploration and development of the petroleum industry. Initial settlement of the town was sporadic, and tied to the iron industry. After the first oil wells were drilled in 1861, Oil City became central in the petroleum industry while hosting headquarters for the Pennzoil, Quaker State, and Wolf's Head motor oil companies. Tourism plays a prominent role in the region by promoting oil heritage sites, nature trails, and Victorian architecture. The population was 10,557 at the 2010 census, and is the principal city of the Oil City, PA Micropolitan Statistical Area.

University of Notre Dame Catholic university in South Bend, Indiana, United States

The University of Notre Dame du Lac is a private, non-profit Catholic research university in Notre Dame, Indiana. The main campus covers 1,261 acres (510 ha) in a suburban setting and it contains a number of recognizable landmarks, such as the Golden Dome, the Word of Life mural, the Notre Dame Stadium, and the Basilica. The school was founded on November 26, 1842, by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president.

During his first year at Notre Dame, Gabreski developed an interest in flying. He took lessons in a Taylor Cub and accumulated six hours of flight time. However, his autobiography indicates, he struggled to fly smoothly and did not fly solo, having been advised by his instructor Homer Stockert that he did not "have the touch to be a pilot". [1]

Taylor Cub

The Taylor Cub was originally designed by C. Gilbert Taylor as a small, light and simple utility aircraft, evolved from the Arrowing Chummy. It is the forefather of the popular Piper J-3 Cub, and total production of the Cub series was 23,512 aircraft.

World War II

U.S. Army Air Forces

At the start of his second year at Notre Dame, Gabreski enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, volunteering as an aviation cadet. After his induction into the U.S. Army at Pittsburgh, he undertook primary flight training at Parks Air College, near East St. Louis, Illinois, flying the Stearman PT-17. Gabreski was a mediocre trainee and was forced to pass an elimination check ride during primary to continue training. [2]

United States Army Air Corps air warfare branch of the US Army from 1926 to 1941

The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) was the aerial warfare service of the United States of America between 1926 and 1941. After World War I, as early aviation became an increasingly important part of modern warfare, a philosophical rift developed between more traditional ground-based army personnel and those who felt that aircraft were being underutilized and that air operations were being stifled for political reasons unrelated to their effectiveness. The USAAC was renamed from the earlier United States Army Air Service on 2 July 1926, and was part of the larger United States Army. The Air Corps became the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, giving it greater autonomy from the Army's middle-level command structure. During World War II, although not an administrative echelon, the Air Corps (AC) remained as one of the combat arms of the Army until 1947, when it was legally abolished by legislation establishing the Department of the Air Force.

Pittsburgh City in western Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States, and is the county seat of Allegheny County. As of 2017, a population of 305,704 lives within the city limits, making it the 63rd-largest city in the U.S. The metropolitan population of 2,353,045 is the largest in both the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, the second-largest in Pennsylvania, and the 26th-largest in the U.S.

Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology is a college within Saint Louis University.

He advanced to basic flight training at Gunter Army Air Base, Alabama, in the Vultee BT-13 and completed advanced training at Maxwell Field, Alabama, in the North American AT-6 Texan. Gabreski earned his wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps in March 1941, then sailed for Hawaii aboard the SS Washington to his first assignment.

Alabama State of the United States of America

Alabama is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama is the 30th largest by area and the 24th-most populous of the U.S. states. With a total of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of inland waterways, Alabama has among the most of any state.

Maxwell Air Force Base Air Force base in Alabama

Maxwell Air Force Base, officially known as Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, is a United States Air Force (USAF) installation under the Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The installation is located in Montgomery, Alabama, US. Occupying the site of the first Wright Flying School, it was named in honor of Second Lieutenant William C. Maxwell, a native of Atmore, Alabama.

SS <i>Washington</i>

SS Washington was a 24,189-ton luxury liner of the United States Lines, named after the US capital city.

Second lieutenant Gabby Gabreski (left) and first lieutenant Cyclone Davis (second from left) at the Wheeler Field Officers Club, Hawaii, 1941 Gabby Gabreski (left) and Cyclone Davis (2nd from left), Wheeler Officers Club 1941.jpg
Second lieutenant Gabby Gabreski (left) and first lieutenant Cyclone Davis (second from left) at the Wheeler Field Officers Club, Hawaii, 1941

Assigned as a fighter pilot with the 45th Pursuit Squadron of the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, 2nd Lt. Gabreski trained on both the Curtiss P-36 Hawk and the newer Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. He met his future wife, Catherine "Kay" Cochran, in Hawaii and became engaged shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During that action, Gabreski joined several members of his squadron in flying P-36 fighters in an attempt to intercept the attackers, but the Japanese had withdrawn. During the spring and summer of 1942, Gabreski remained with the 45th (renamed as 45th Fighter Squadron in May 1942), training in newer model P-40s and in Bell P-39 Airacobras that the unit began to receive.

He closely followed reports on the Battle of Britain and the role played in it by Polish RAF squadrons, especially by the legendary No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. He became concerned that the US did not have many experienced fighter pilots. This gave him an idea: since Polish squadrons had proved to be capable within the RAF and since he himself was of Polish origin and spoke Polish, he offered to serve as a liaison officer to the Polish squadrons to learn from their experience. The idea was approved, and he left Hawaii for Washington, D.C. in September 1942, where he was promoted to captain.

RAF duty

In October, Gabreski reported to the Eighth Air Force's VIII Fighter Command in England, at that time a rudimentary new headquarters. After a lengthy period of inactivity, he tried to arrange duty with 303 Squadron, but that unit had been taken out of action for a period of rest. Instead, he was posted to No. 315 (Deblin) Squadron at RAF Northolt in January 1943.

Gabreski flew the new Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX, flying patrol sweeps over the Channel. He first encountered Luftwaffe opposition on February 3, when a group of Focke-Wulf 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. He later spoke with great esteem about the Polish pilots and the lessons they taught him. In all, Gabreski flew 20 missions with the Poles, engaging in combat once. [3] [4]

56th Fighter Group

On February 27, 1943, Gabreski became part of the 56th Fighter Group, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, and quickly became a flight leader. He was immediately resented by many of his fellow pilots, and the fact that he was opinionated and verbose did little to ease the situation. [5] In May, shortly after the group moved to RAF Halesworth and entered combat, Gabreski was promoted to major.

On June 9, he took command of the 61st Fighter Squadron when its commanding officer was moved up to group deputy commander. This also stirred ill feelings toward him since he had been jumped over two more senior pilots. [6] This ill will was soon exacerbated when both of these men were lost in combat on June 26 and did not subside until he recorded his first credited kill: an Fw 190 near Dreux, France, on August 24, 1943. [7] His first kill presaged criticism that followed him throughout his combat career, when his wingmen complained that his attack had been too hastily conducted to allow them to also engage. [8]

On November 26, 1943, the 56th FG was assigned to cover the withdrawal of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that had bombed Bremen, Germany. The P-47s arrived to find the bombers under heavy attack near Oldenburg and dived into the fray. Gabreski recorded his fourth and fifth kills to become an ace, but had a close brush with death on December 11, [9] when a 20 mm (.79 in) cannon shell lodged in his engine without exploding, destroying its turbocharger. [10] Low on fuel and ammunition, Gabreski outmaneuvered a Bf 109 until it succeeded in placing a burst of fire into his P-47, disabling the engine. Gabreski stayed in the airplane, however, until it restarted at a lower altitude, where the turbocharger was not needed. [8]

Gabreski and S/Sgt. Ralph Safford, his crew chief. The assistant crew chief Felix Schacki is in the background. 052504-O-0000G-005.jpg
Gabreski and S/Sgt. Ralph Safford, his crew chief. The assistant crew chief Felix Schacki is in the background.

In November 1943, the group commander of the 56th, Colonel Hubert Zemke, was replaced in command for two months by Colonel Robert Landry, a staff officer at VIII FC. Because of Landry's inexperience, combat missions of the 56th were alternately led by deputy commander Lieutenant Colonel David C. Schilling and Gabreski, who acted as deputy group operations officer. When Zemke resumed command on January 19, 1944, Gabreski relinquished command of the 61st FS. [11]

In February 1944, Gabreski brought two Polish pilots into the 56th, who had flown with him in 1943 while serving with the RAF, including future USAAF ace Squadron Leader Boleslaw "Mike" Gladych. With Gabreski's support and to ease a shortage of experienced pilots caused by many veterans reaching the completion of their tours, the 61st FS in April accepted five other Polish Air Force pilots into the squadron as the "Polish Flight". [12]

Gabreski's victory total steadily climbed through the winter of 1943–44. By March 27, he had 18 victory credits and had six multiple-kill missions to rank third in the "ace race" that had developed within VIII Fighter Command. He downed only one more aircraft in the next two months, during which time the two pilots ahead of him (Majors Robert S. Johnson and Walker M. Mahurin, also of the 56th FG) were sent home. [13]

In April 1944, the 56th FG moved to RAF Boxted and Gabreski was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He resumed command of the 61st FS when its commander was transferred to VIII FC headquarters. [14]

On May 22, Gabreski shot down three Fw 190s over a Luftwaffe airfield in northwest Germany. He tied Johnson as the leading ace in the European Theater of Operations on June 27 (passing Eddie Rickenbacker's record from World War I in the process), and on July 5, 1944, became America's leading ace in the ETO, with his score of 28 destroyed matching the total at the time of confirmed victories of the Pacific Theatre's top American ace, Richard Bong. This total was never surpassed by any U.S. pilot fighting the Luftwaffe. [15]

Prisoner of war

On July 20, 1944, Gabreski had reached the 300-hour combat time limit for Eighth Air Force fighter pilots and was awaiting an aircraft to return him to the United States on leave and reassignment. He had already advised Kay Cochran to proceed with wedding plans, and his hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania, had raised $2,000 for a wedding present in anticipation of his return. [16]

Gabreski found, however, that a bomber escort mission to Russelheim, Germany, was scheduled for that morning, and, instead of boarding the transport, he requested to "fly just one more." [17] Returning from the mission, Gabreski observed Heinkel He 111s parked on the airfield at Bassenheim, Germany, and took his airplane down to attack.

He was dissatisfied with his first strafing run on an He 111, and he reversed for a second pass. When his tracers went over the parked bomber, he dropped the nose of his Thunderbolt to adjust, and its propeller clipped the runway, bending the tips. [18] The damage caused his engine to vibrate violently and he was forced to crash land. Gabreski ran into nearby woods and eluded capture for five days. After being captured and interrogated by Obergefreiter Hanns Scharff, he was sent to Stalag Luft I. A DVD of a reunion in 1983 of Stalag Luft III survivors includes a mock interrogation between Hanns Scharff and Gabreski. It is available from RDR Productions in Glenview, IL. Gabreski was liberated when Soviet forces seized the camp in April 1945. [19]

Gabreski flew 166 combat sorties and was officially credited by the USAAF with 28 aircraft destroyed in air combat and 3 on the ground. [20] He was assigned five P-47s during his time with the 56th FG, none of which he named, but all of which bore the fuselage identification codes HV: A. [21]

U.S. Air Force career

Following his repatriation, Gabreski returned to the United States and married Kay Cochran on June 11, 1945. After a 90-day recuperative leave, he became Chief of Fighter Test Section at Wright Field, Ohio, and at the same time completed test pilot training at its Engineering Flight Test School. In April 1946, he left the service, worked for Douglas Aircraft for a year, then was recalled to active duty in April 1947 to command the 55th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. [22]

His command of the 55th FS was brief. The Air Force sent him to Columbia University in September 1947 to complete his degree and study Russian. In June 1949, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He returned immediately to flying, becoming commander of his former unit, the 56th Fighter Group, now flying F-80 Shooting Stars at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. While in command of the 56th, Gabreski oversaw conversion of the unit to North American F-86 Sabres and was promoted to colonel on March 11, 1950. [22]

Korean War

He participated in aerial combat again during the Korean War. In June 1951, he and a group of selected pilots of the 56th FIW accompanied the delivery of F-86Es of the 62d FIS to Korea aboard the escort carrier USS Cape Esperance. The planes and pilots joined the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group at K-14 (Kimpo) Air Base, where most engaged in combat. On July 8, 1951, flying his fifth mission in an F-86, Gabreski shot down a MiG 15, followed by MiG kills on September 2 and October 2. [23]

51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing

51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing 51st Fighter Wing.png
51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing

The growing MiG threat against Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber attacks along the Yalu River caused the Fifth Air Force to create a second Sabre wing by converting the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing from F-80s to F-86s in a 10-day period. [24] Gabreski was transferred to K-13 (Suwon) Air Base, accompanied by most of the former 56th FIW pilots who had come with him to Korea, and took command November 6, 1951. During its first seven months as an F-86 wing, the 51st, with only two operational squadrons, scored 96 MiG kills, comparing favorably to the 125 of the veteran 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, which operated three. Gabreski himself scored 3½ more kills to become a jet ace. [22]

He was an aggressive commander and fostered a fierce rivalry between the two F-86 wings, [25] fueled in part by the fact that the 4th had also been the keenest rival of the 56th FG during World War II. While this aggressiveness paid off in the destruction of MiGs and air superiority over all of Korea, it also led Gabreski to make the first intentional violation of rules of engagement that prohibited combat with MiGs over China. (The MiG force was based in this ostensible sanctuary during the entire war.) Gabreski and a fellow former 56th pilot, Colonel Walker M. Mahurin, planned and executed a mission in early 1952 in which the F-86s turned off their IFF equipment and overflew two Chinese bases. [26]

Gabreski was also criticized for having a poor attitude towards wingmen. One historian, citing five interviews with pilots and an unpublished manuscript by a sixth, observed that Gabreski flew the fastest aircraft available and failed to notice when his slower wingmen could not keep up. These pilots, reportedly afraid to fly with him, commented that he was more interested in personal achievement than in his wingmen. He was also criticized for a lack of discipline among his off-duty pilots and for allegedly encouraging exaggerated kill claims. [27]

Nonetheless, at least three wingmen had different views. 1st Lieutenant Joe L. Cannon of the 51st FIW flew over 40 missions with him and described Gabreski as a mentor and "my kind of fighter pilot". [28] 1st Lt. Harry Shumate, another 51st FIW pilot, stated that while flying wingman in Gabreski's flight, Shumate was the first to spot a MiG-15 heading for its base and Gabreski told him to "go get him" while the leader covered. [29] A 4th FIW pilot, 1st Lt. Anthony Kulengosky, observed:

I moved up in the world of wingmen by flying Col. Francis Gabreski's wing on a mission. I was absolutely thrilled to fly on this legend's wing...He was a tiger and went on to become an ace again. When asked who I looked up to the most as a pilot and a gentleman in all my flying, I still have to say it was "Gabby" Gabreski. When he took over the 51st Wing, he asked me to move over as a flight leader in his outfit. [30]

Capt. Robert W. "Smitty" Smith, a 4th FIW pilot in Korea, recalled:

Shortly after my arrival, Gabby flew the first F-86E to arrive on base in simulated combat over the field against an F-86A and whipped the other guy badly, with every Sabre jock on the base as witness. After he landed he briefed all pilots and announced that the limited number of E’s would be reserved for flight leaders. I never forgot his response, when someone asked about the problem of wingmen staying with leaders. He replied "Wingmen are to absorb firepower" and I never knew him well enough to judge whether he had a dry sense of humor, but he made the right choice. One thing I know for sure, Gabby proved himself the greatest at our skills and talents, when he added 6 ½ MIG kills to his 28 victories in WW II and become the all-time American Fighter Ace, and I MIGht [ sic ] add, he did it in the P-47, not the better air-to-air P-51. And he didn’t have a chance to fly the much more powerful F-86F, which arrived after us. [31]

A noted pilot also rebuts some of the criticism. Major William T. Whisner had been a P-51 double-ace in World War II and was one of the pilots Gabreski brought with him from the 56th FIW in June 1951. Before the mission of February 20, 1952, Gabreski and Whisner each had four MiGs credited as destroyed. During the mission, Gabreski attacked and severely damaged a MiG 15 that fled across the Yalu River into China. He broke off the engagement and returned to base after his own airplane was damaged, where he claimed the MiG as a "probable kill". [22]

Whisner trailed the MiG deep into Manchuria trying to confirm Gabreski's kill, but his Sabre ran low on fuel. He completed the shootdown and returned to K-14 where he confirmed the kill for Gabreski but did not claim it himself. Gabreski confronted him and angrily ordered him to change his mission report, confirming Whisner's own role in the kill. Whisner refused. Soon after, Gabreski recanted his anger and the two shared the claim, as a consequence of which three days later Whisner and not Gabreski became the first pilot of the 51st FW to reach jet ace status. [32]

Gabreski's Korean tour was due to end in June. As he approached his mission limit in early April, he quit logging sorties to avoid being transferred from his command. [18] He was, however, grounded by Fifth Air Force from further combat in mid-May when his deputy commander, Colonel Mahurin, was shot down. Gabreski was subsequently replaced by Colonel John W. Mitchell, who had led the mission to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto in World War II. [33]

On his return to the United States, Gabreski received the key to the city from San Francisco Mayor Elmer E. Robinson and was given a ticker-tape parade up Market Street on June 17. [34]

Gabreski's 6½ MiG-15 kill credits make him one of seven U.S. pilots to become an ace in more than one war (the others being Whisner, Colonel Harrison Thyng, Colonel James P. Hagerstrom, Colonel Vermont Garrison, Major George A. Davis, Jr., and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel John F. Bolt). Gabreski was officially credited with 123 combat missions in Korea, totaling 289 for his career. Although he flew many F-86s in combat, his assigned aircraft was F-86E-10-NA 51-2740, nicknamed "Gabby". [22]


Gabreski's Air Force career continued for another 15 years, during which time he held three wing commands totaling nearly nine years of duty. His assignments were:

Gabreski retired on November 1, 1967. Per his USAF official biography, he retired with more than 5,000 flying hours, 4,000 of them in jets.

Aerial victory credits

Date#TypeLocationAircraft flownUnit Assigned
August 24, 19431 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Dreux, France P-47D 61 FS, 56 FG
September 3, 19431Fw 190 St-Germain, France P-47D61 FS, 56 FG
November 11, 19431Fw 190 Rheine, Germany P-47D61 FS, 56 FG
November 26, 19432 Messerschmitt Bf 110 Oldenburg, GermanyP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
November 29, 19432 Messerschmitt Bf 109 Bremen, Germany P-47D61 FS, 56 FG
December 11, 19431Bf 110 Emden, GermanyP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
January 29, 19441Bf 110Emden, GermanyP-47D56 FG Hq
January 30, 19441 Messerschmitt Me 410 Lingen, Germany P-47D56 FG Hq
January 30, 19441Bf 109Lingen, GermanyP-47D56 FG Hq
February 20, 19442Me 410 Koblenz, GermanyP-47D56 FG Hq
February 22, 19441Fw 190 Paderborn, GermanyP-47D56 FG Hq
March 16, 19442Fw 190 Nancy, FranceP-47D56 FG Hq
March 27, 19442Bf 109 Nantes, FranceP-47D56 FG Hq
May 8, 19441Bf 109 Celle, GermanyP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
May 22, 19443Fw 190 Höperhöfen, GermanyP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
June 7, 19441Bf 109Dreux, FranceP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
June 7, 19441Fw 190Dreux, FranceP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
June 12, 19442Bf 109 Évreux, FranceP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
June 27, 19441Bf 109 Connantre, FranceP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
July 5, 19441Bf 109Évreux, FranceP-47D61 FS, 56 FG
July 5, 19511MiG-15 North Korea North American F-86A Sabre 4 FIG
September 2, 19511MiG-15North KoreaF-86A4 FIG
October 2, 19511MiG-15North KoreaF-86A4 FIG
January 11, 19521MiG-15 Dandong, China ?F-86E51 FIW
February 20, 19520.5MiG-15North KoreaF-86E51 FIW
April 1, 19521MiG-15North KoreaF-86E51 FIW
April 13, 19521MiG-15North KoreaF-86E51 FIW
SOURCES: Air Force Historical Study 85: USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II and Air Force Historical Study 81: USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, Korean War, Freeman 1993, pp. 272–273.

Military awards

Gabreski's military decorations and awards include: [35]

COMMAND PILOT WINGS.png Command pilot badge
Distinguished Service Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Silver Star ribbon.svg
Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Silver oakleaf-3d.svg
Silver oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg
Distinguished Flying Cross with two silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star Medal
Silver oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Air Medal ribbon.svg
Air Medal with silver and bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
AF Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.png
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation with bronze oak leaf cluster
Outstanding Unit ribbon.svg Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Prisoner of War ribbon.svg Prisoner of War Medal
American Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
American Defense Service Medal with one service star
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation ribbon.svg Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
National Defense Service Medal with one service star
Korean Service Medal - Ribbon.svg
Korean Service Medal with two bronze campaign stars
Silver oakleaf-3d.svg
Air Force Longevity Service ribbon.svg
Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster

United Kingdom Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg    Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom)

Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg    Legion of Honour (France)

Croix de guerre 1939-1945 with palm (France) - ribbon bar.png    Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)

Oorlogskruis with Palm.jpg    Croix de Guerre , with Palm (Belgium)

POL Krzyz Walecznych (1940) BAR.PNG    Polish Cross of Valour (Polish : Krzyż Walecznych) (Poland)

Presidential Unit Citation (Korea).svg    Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation

United Nations Korea Medal ribbon.svg    United Nations Korea Medal

Republic of Korea War Service Medal ribbon.svg    Korean War Service Medal

Odznaka pilota.jpg    Polish Pilot Badge

Long Island Rail Road

Following his retirement from the Air Force, Gabreski worked for Grumman Aerospace until August 1978. He was asked by New York Governor Hugh Carey to serve as president of the financially stressed and state-owned Long Island Rail Road in an attempt to improve the commuter line. Carey was opposed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary election by his own lieutenant governor, Maryanne Krupsak, and in part appointed Gabreski to enhance his election campaign based on Gabreski's Polish extraction and Long Island affiliations. [36]

After what he described as an 18-month struggle with the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gabreski resigned on February 26, 1981. [37] He charged that the creation of an executive director's position, and its appointee, obstructed his efforts to improve service, replace equipment, and change its executive staff. However, a severe heat wave in the summer of 1980 that overwhelmed the commuter line's air conditioning systems was apparently the final straw that forced his resignation. [36]

Personal life and death

Francis and Kay Gabreski had nine children in 48 years of marriage. Two of their three sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and became career Air Force pilots. [38] His daughter-in-law Terry L. Gabreski was promoted to lieutenant general in August 2005, the highest-ranking woman in the USAF until her retirement in 2010. [39] His wife died as the result of an automobile accident as they both were returning from the Oshkosh Air Show on August 6, 1993. She was interred in Calverton National Cemetery, 25 miles from their home in Dix Hills. [40]

Gabreski died of an apparent heart attack in Huntington Hospital, Long Island, New York on January 31, 2002, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetery. [41] [42] Gabreski's funeral on February 6 was with full military honors and included a missing man formation flyover by F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.


Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, which became Suffolk County Airport in 1969, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in 1991. The collocated New York Air National Guard installation at the airport was also renamed Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base. In 1978, he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Gabreski Road at Shaw AFB, SC, is named in his honor.

The Colonel Francis S. Gabreski squadron of the Civil Air Patrol located in Bellport, New York is named in his honor.

See also

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  1. Boyne 2005, p. 71
  2. Werrell 2005, p. 186
  3. Boyne 2005, p. 72
  4. There is considerable disagreement on the number with the RAF. Boyne states "two dozen". Freeman in The Mighty Eighth placed it at 13. Ace-Pilots made it an unspecified number more than 27. 18FWA, Aces, and the NMUSAF fact sheet state 20
  5. Freeman 1993, p. 47. Freeman and Boyne comment that this ill will was not shared by 56FG ace Jerry Johnson, who rose to the rank of lieutenant general.
  6. Freeman 2004, pp. 59, 69
  7. Freeman 2004, p. 272. All information regarding his claims is from Freeman, corroborated by "Air Force Historical Study 85: USAF Credits For Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II." Archived May 22, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: January 17, 2010
  8. 1 2 Boyne 2005, p. 73
  9. Gabreski's 11 December flight is detailed in Edward H. Sims' book American Aces in Great Fighter Battles of World War II. It forms section 6 of that documentary.
  10. Freeman 2000, pp. 36–38
  11. Freeman, 56th Fighter Group, p. 46
  12. Freeman 2004, p. 64, includes photograph of the flight.
  13. Johnson 1958, p. 292
  14. Freeman 2004, p. 56
  15. Freeman 2004, p. 87
  16. "Francis S. Gabreski, a World War II air ace, dies at 83." Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. Retrieved: May 12, 2007
  17. ""Colonel Francis S. Gabreski/"". Archived from the original on February 20, 2007. Retrieved 2016-04-17.USAF biography. Retrieved: February 20, 2007
  18. 1 2 Boyne 2005, p. 74
  19. Freeman 1993, pp. 172, 272
  20. NMUSAF fact sheet. Includes RAF sorties
  21. Freeman 1993, p. 273
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 NMUSAF fact sheet Archived 2008-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ""Air Force Historical Study 81: USAF Credits for Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, Korean War."" (PDF). Archived from the original on February 16, 2008. Retrieved 2007-05-11.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)Air University. February 16, 2008.
  24. Davis 1998 [ page needed ]
  25. Werrell 2005, p. 86.
  26. Werrell 2005, pp. 131, 188.
  27. Werrell 2005, p. 188. Note: The sources are cited at p. 286, note 37. Werrell interviewed 60 pilots, and his narrative indicates the criticisms were a majority view.
  28. Thompson and McLaren 2002, p. 21.
  29. Thompson and McLaren 2002, p. 70.
  30. Thompson and McLaren 2002, p. 62.
  31. "Autobiography of Robert W. Smith." Retrieved: January 14, 2010.
  32. Davis 1978, p. 27. The episode is told in Whisner's words. Werrell also reported the incident, using this source.
  33. Werrell 2005, pp. 187, 202.
  34. "Guide to San Francisco Call Bulletin photographs, June 1952." [ permanent dead link ]Online Archive of California. Retrieved: May 11, 2007.
  35. Oliver & Lorenz (1999). Gabreski, Colonel Francis S.; Awards and decorations. The Inner Seven. Turner Publishing Co. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
  36. 1 2 "Francis S. Gabreski." videofacts. Retrieved: May 12, 2007.
  37. Cummings, Judith. "Stripped of power in '79, ex-LIRR chief charges." [ permanent dead link ]The New York Times, March 1, 1981. Retrieved: May 12, 2007.
  38. Col. Donald Francis Gabreski (USAF ret.), USAFA 1970, F-4, F-16 pilot; Lt. Col. Francis Robert Gabreski (USAF ret.), USAFA 1981, Lockheed AC-130 pilot.
  39. Yaley, Jason. Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate 'Air Force Heritage Week' Air Force Link. Retrieved: 5 April 2016. Her spouse is Colonel Donald F. Gabreski.
  40. "Catherine C. Gabreski." Find-A-Grave. Retrieved: May 12, 2007. Note that Kay also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
  41. "Inside Francis S. Gabreski>" United States Air Force. Retrieved: 14 February 2010.
  42. Swank, Linda. "Francis S. Gabreski Field, Section 14, site 724.." In Their Honor. Retrieved: 13 February 2010.


  • Boyne, Walter J., "Gabreski", Air Force magazine, Vol. 88, No. 11, November 2005.
  • Davis, Larry. "F-86 in Korea." Wings of Fame. London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1998. ISBN   1-86184-017-9.
  • Davis, Larry. MiG Alley: Air to Air Combat Over Korea. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1978. ISBN   0-89747-081-8.
  • Gabreski, Francis S. and Carl Molesworth. Gabby: A Fighter Pilot's Life. New York: Dell Publishing, 1992. ISBN   0-7643-0442-9.
  • Freeman, Roger A. 56th Fighter Group. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN   1-84176-047-1.
  • Freeman, Roger A. The Mighty Eighth: Units, Men and Machines – A History of the US 8th Air Force.. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1993. ISBN   0-87938-638-X.
  • Freeman, Roger A. Wolfpack Warriors: The Story of World War II's Most Successful Fighter Outfit. London: Grub Street, 2009, First edition 2004. ISBN   1-904010-93-8.
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  • McLaren, David R. Beware the Thunderbolt! The 56th Fighter Group in World War II. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Puiblishing, 1994. ISBN   0-88740-660-2.
  • Oliver, William E. and Lorenz, Dwight L. The Inner Seven: The History of Seven Unique American Combat "Aces" in World War II and Korea. Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing Company, 1999. ISBN   978-1-56311-504-2.
  • Olynyk, Frank. Stars & Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace 1920–1973. London: Grub Street, 1995. ISBN   1-898697-17-5.
  • Thompson, Warren E. and David R. McLaren. MiG Alley: Sabres vs. MiGs Over Korea. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2002. ISBN   1-58007-058-2.
  • Werrell, Kenneth P. Sabres over MiG Alley. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2005. ISBN   1-59114-933-9.
Preceded by
Robert K. Pattison
President of Long Island Rail Road
Succeeded by
Daniel T. Scannell