Valor: A Very Special Ace

June 1, 1990

Lt. William Whisner joined the 352d Fighter Group’s 487th Squadron at Bodney, England, in the fall of 1943. He had the great good fortune to study air combat under two men who were to become masters of the art: Squadron Commander Maj. John C. Meyer and Capt. George Preddy, whose wing he often flew.

As with many of the top aces, Whisner’s score mounted slowly at first. On Jan. 29, 1944, while flying a P-47, he downed his first enemy aircraft, an FW-190. The 352d converted to P-51s in April. At the end of the following month, Whisner shot down a second -190 in a 15-minute dogfight against the best German pilot he encountered during the war. The next day, he shared an Me-109 kill with Preddy; then it was home to the States on leave.

Whisner, now a captain, rejoined the 487th Squadron in the fall of 1944 . On Nov. 21 he led a flight of P-51s on an escort mission to Merseburg, Germany. As the bombers left their target, a large formation of enemy fighters struck. Meyer (now a lieutenant colonel) told Whisner to take a straggler in one of the enemy’s three six-ship cover flights. In a linked series of attacks, Whisner shot down four FW-190s in the cover flight and probably got another.

With no more than two -190s left in the cover flight he had attacked, Whisner turned his attention to the main enemy formation, exploding a -190 that had not dropped its belly tank. Evading three -190s on his tail, he shot down another that was closing on one of his pilots. Then, low on ammunition, he joined up with Meyer and returned to Bodney.

Whisner was credited with five -190s and two probables that day. His score later was revised by the Air Force Historical Research Center to six destroyed, making that day one of the best for any USAAF pilot in the skies over Europe. For that achievement, Whisner was awarded his first Distinguished Service Cross–second only to the Medal of Honor.

During the Battle of the Bulge, which started on Dec. 16, the 487th Squadron was moved forward to airfield Y-29 near Asche, Belgium.

On New Year’s Day 1945, Whisner was one of 12 Mustang pilots led by Meyer that had started their takeoff roll when a large formation of FW-190s and Me-109s hit the field. In the ensuing battle, fought at low altitude and before the 487th had time to form up, Whisner shot down a -190, then was hit by 20-mm fire. With his windshield and canopy covered by oil and one aileron damaged, Whisner stayed in the fight, shooting down two more -190s and an Me-109. He was awarded a second DSC for that day’s work–one of only 14 USAAF men to be so honored in World War II. (Meyer received his third DSC, the only Air Force pilot to receive three DSCs in World War II.) At the end of the war, Whisner had 15 and a half victories, which put him in the top 20 USAAF aces of the European Theater.

Bill Whisner returned to combat in Korea, flying F-86s–first with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. He downed two MiG-15s in November 1951, then was assigned as a squadron commander to the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, which was converting from F-80s to F-86s. The wing was commanded by Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski. Whisner scored single victories over MiG-15s on Jan. 6 and 11, 1952, and on Feb. 20 shared a kill with Gabreski. Whisner was a half-victory away from becoming a jet ace.

Three days later, Whisner led a formation of F-86s in a full-scale battle with MiG-15s. He broke off his attack on an enemy fighter and dived into a swarm of MiGs to rescue one of his F-86 pilots who had a MiG on his tail. Whisner lined up on the MiG, ignoring fire from another MiG on his own tail. In a brief, violent encounter, he shot down the MiG in his sights to become the seventh jet ace of the Korean War and the first in the 51st Wing. For that action, Whisner was awarded a third Distinguished Service Cross, the only Air Force man other than Meyer to earn that distinction. He also became one of only six Air Force pilots who were aces in both World War II and Korea.

In the post-Korea years, Whisner continued his career as a fighter pilot, winning the Bendix Trophy Race in 1953. After retiring as a colonel, he finally settled down in his home state of Louisiana. Several “Valor” stories have told of tragic ironies that too often have befallen Air Force heroes. None could be more poignant than the fate of Col. William Whisner. On July 21,1989, he died of a yellow jacket sting.

The writer is indebted to William Hess, author of Whizz: Two-War Ace, for information not available from the USAF Historical Research Center.

Published June 1990. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.