by John Wukovits
The most decorated naval aviator of the war, David McCampbell entered the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea with the reputation as an ace. He had achieved that distinction during the June 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea, where he splashed seven Japanese aircraft. As commander of the Essex’s “Fabled Fifteen,” the nickname applied to Air Group Fifteen based on the carrier, McCampbell ended the war with 34 enemy aircraft to his credit.
; The native of Bessemer, Alabama, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1933. His leadership abilities and flying prowess quickly led him up the chain of command. After the war, he captained an aircraft carrier, before retiring from the Navy in 1964.
McCampbell received numerous honors for his war service. In addition to the Medal of Honor for his feats in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, McCampbell received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Though a hero, he did not relish shooting down so many of the enemy’s aircraft in the Pacific. As he mentioned in an interview with the Palm Beach Post shortly before his death in June 1996, at the age of 86, “I brag about the planes I shot down, but I don’t brag about the number of people I killed. For thirty-two years, all I did was try to forget all of it.”