Maj. Thomas McGuire, the number two fighter ace-of-aces in the U.S. Air Force with 38 kills during World War II, was searching the Philippine sky on Jan. 7, 1945 for three more Japanese plans to splash when he was shot down and killed in “Pudgy V” his P-38 “Lightning” twin-engine fighter.
McGuire and three of his buddies in the 431st Squadron, 475th Fighter Group, 5th Air Corps took to the clouds that day to try and make him the American fighter pilot with the most enemy kills. With three more Japanese planes he would be one up on Maj. Dick Bong who had shot down 40 planes.
Bong was on his way home from the air war in the Pacific to receive the Medal of Honor for his ability as an extraordinary aviator with a lot of luck and a superb ability to down enemy aircraft. All McGuire had to do was put three more rising sun flags on the fuselage of his P-38 in Bong’s absence and he would be number one!
The four P-38s were on an unauthorized fighter sweep over Negtos Island when they were intercepted by two Japanese fighters. McGuire was attacked by a Ki-43 “Oscar.” At that point his wing-man joined the fight and tried unsuccessfully to shoot the enemy fighter out of the air.
McGuire’s plane crashed and burned moments later.
Like his friend and leading fighter ace Bong, McGuire would also receive the Medal of Honor posthumously. Only three dozen Air Force pilots received this nation’s highest commendation for gallantry during the Second World War.
McGuire was a graduate of Sebring High School. He also attended aeronautical engineering school at Georgia Tech before the war. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program in 1941 at Tampa and went off to war without finishing his college education..
Former Staff Sgt. Von Spahr of Englewood was McGuire’s armorer for most of the pilot’s time in the Air Corps. He was the non-com in charge of putting the machine-gun bullets and bombs in McGuire’s P-38.
The fighter ace was temperamental and demanding. As squadron commander he made his ground crew jump though hoops for him.
“He had to have his officer’s cap on to fly his P-38,” Spahr recalled decades later.“ He was suspicious and wouldn’t fly without his hat. All pilots had superstitions.”
Spahr vividly remembers the day McGuire flew back to base mad as hell because his machine-guns jammed while he was in a dogfight with a Japanese fighter plane..
“He was jumping up and down because his machine-guns quit firing,” he said. “His crew chief and I checked out his plane. What we discovered was that all four of his .50-caliber guns had run out of bullets. Each one had fired 500 rounds to begin with.
“That day McGuire shot down five Japanese airplanes,” Spahr said. “He also had three more probable kills.
“When he found out his guns hadn’t jammed, he had simply run out of ammunition, he found me and apologized. That didn’t happen often that an officer would apologize to an enlisted man.”
Then there is the story about Spahr and McGuire on Hollandia in the southwest Pacific. Their squadron had run the Japanese off and taken over the enemy fighter base on the island.
“My squadron commander told me to take a Jeep and go out to the flight line and pick up a guy that was flying a P-38 into base. I went out there, the P-38 landed. the pilot pushed his canopy back as I jumped up on the wing beside him. He was sitting there filling out his flight log as I watched. I was looking down as he signed his name: Charles A. Lindbergh!
“When he looked up at me my face was a foot or two away from his. He was one of the biggest names in aviation in those days. All I remember I took him back to the squadron headquarter’s and I had been ordered. I’m not sure I said a word to him.”
Lindbergh was sent out to the island by Lockheed, the plane’s manufacturer, to show the group’s P-38 pilots how to lean out their gasoline mixture and get more mileage out of a tank of aviation fuel.
“Lindbergh flew with our squadron. He was McGuire’s wingman. On his last mission with the squadron he shot down a Japanese reconnaissance plane. After that flight he was grounded by the 5th Air Force.
“In December 1944, shortly after the invasion of the Philippines, I had enough points to come home. I was on a troop transport off Luzon watching Mac Arthur’s troops come ashore,” Spahr said. “A few weeks later I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge three years to the day from when I had sailed to war.”
After riding a slow-moving troop train from San Francisco to Ohio City he reached home and was discharged from the Air Corps. He went to work for the post office in his home town a short while later. It was the beginning of a 34-year career with the post office.
After a dozen years Spahr retired and moved to Englewood. Again he signed up and worked for the local post office down here in 1960.
D.O.B: Name: 3 Sept. 1923
Hometown: Ohio City, OH
Currently: Englewood, FL
Entered Service: 1 Nov. 1941
Discharged: 15 Sept. 1945
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 431st Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force
Commendations: Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon w/3 Bronze Stars, Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/1 Bronze Star, Distinguished Unit Citation w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster
Battles/Campaigns: Pacific Theater
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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