|Chino (the "Optics Dude")|
"Here's a picture of me with Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski at the Nashua (New Hampshire) Aviation Heritage Festival (September 16, 2000).
Though I knew he was one of the speakers later that afternoon, I was surprised to see him sitting at a table in the exhibit area, selling his book and talking with visitors. I decided to buy a book and get an autograph and maybe a picture -- he was happy to oblige.
With 34.5 total victories, Gabby is America's greatest living ace. He flew P-47's in Europe in WW2, and F-86 Sabres in Korea a few years later (6.5 victories). I didn't know quite what to say -- "nice job shooting down all those Jerries and Reds, Gabby?"
So I just bought the book, asked for the autograph, shook his hand and said "it's an honor to meet you, Sir."
I did overhear the couple ahead of me asking him about his experiences. He was talking about hearing a strange sound and realizing for the first time that it was the sound of bullets whizzing by his canopy. They asked him if he was worried about being shot down, and Gabby replied, "Me? Naaah -- there wasn't a German alive who could shoot ME down!" It was good to hear that he still has that cocky fighter pilot style even after all these years!
Although he was not SHOT down, he was captured by the Germans. On the day he was to fly back to the USA, he heard there was a mission scheduled, and he left his bags at the airport and went off to fly this "one last mission." He was flying very low to strafe an airfield, and didn't pull up soon enough to clear a rise at the end of the runway. He crash landed, and though he evaded the Germans for several days, he spent the last eight months of the war in a POW camp.
For more on Gabby see
Article at ww.afa.org
Gabreski was also interviewed for World War 2 Fighters by E/A Janes - get it! It's quite cheap now and has an extensive reference section on CD with video interviews and bios of Gabreski, Bud Anderson and other Aces. It's worth getting it for the reference material alone.