Hispanic American Aviators in World War II

July 17, 2011 by Carl Chance

Hispanic American Aviators in World War II.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hispanics served in ground and seabound combat units, but they also distinguished themselves as fighter pilots and as bombardiers.

A "flying ace" or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The term "ace in a day" is used to designate a fighter pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft in a single day. Since World War I, a number of pilots have been honored as "Ace in a Day"; however, the honor of being the last "Ace in a Day" for the United States in World War II belongs to First Lieutenant Oscar Francis Perdomo of the 464th Fighter Squadron, 507th Fighter Group.

First Lieutenant Perdomo, (1919–1976), the son of Mexican parents, was born in El Paso, Texas. When the war broke out, Perdomo joined the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet and was trained to pilot the P-47 Thunderbolt. After receiving his pilot training, he was assigned to the 464th Fighter Squadron, which was part of the 507th Fighter Group that was sent to the Pacific Island of Ie Shima off the west coast of Okinawa.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, but while the Allies awaited Japan’s response to the demand to surrender, the war continued. On August 13, 1945, 1st Lt. Perdomo shot down four Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" fighters and one Yokosuka K5Y "Willow" Type 93 biplane trainer. This action took place near Keijo/Seoul, Korea when 38 Thunderbolts of the 507th Fighter Wing encountered approximately 50 enemy aircraft. This action was Lt. Perdomo’s tenth and final combat mission, and the five confirmed victories made him an "Ace in a Day" and earned him the distinction of being the last "Ace" of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action and the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster.

Other Hispanics served with distinction in aerial combat, among which are the following men whose names are placed in accordance to their ranks: Commander Eugene A. Valencia, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel Donald S. Lopez, Sr., Captain Michael Brezas, Captain Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini, Captain Alberto A. Nido, Captain Robert L. Cardenas, 2nd Lieutenant César Luis González, First Lieutenant Francisco Mercado, Jr, Lieutenant Richard Gomez Candelaria, Lieutenant José Antonio Muñiz, Lieutenant Arthur Van Haren, Jr., Technical Sergeant Clement Resto and Corporal Frank Medina.


  • Commander Eugene A. Valencia, Jr., United States Navy (USN) fighter ace, is credited with 23 air victories in the Pacific during World War II. Valencia’s decorations include the Navy Cross, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, and six Air Medals.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Donald S. Lopez, Sr., USAAF fighter ace was assigned to the 23rd Fighter Group under the command of General Claire Chennault. The mission of the fighter group (the "Flying Tigers") was to help defend Chinese nationals against Japanese invaders. During 1943–1944, Lopez was credited with shooting down five Japanese fighters, four in a Curtiss P-40 and one in a North American P-51.

  • Captain Michael Brezas, USAAF fighter ace, arrived in Lucera, Italy during the summer of 1944, joining the 48th Fighter Squadron of the 14th Fighter Group. Flying the P-38 aircraft, Lt. Brezas downed 12 enemy planes within two months. He received the Silver Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters.

  • Captain Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini, Royal Air Force and USAAF, was a flight commander whose last combat mission was attacking the airfield at Milano, Italy. His last flight in Italy gave air cover for General George C. Marshall’s visit to Pisa. Gilormini was the recipient of the Silver Star Medal, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. Gilormini later founded the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and retired as Brigadier General.

  • Captain Alberto A. Nido, Royal Canadian Air Force, the British Royal Air Force and the USAAF. He flew missions as a bomber pilot for the RCAF and as a Supermarine Spitfire fighter pilot for the RAF. As member of the RAF, he belonged to 67th Reconnaissance Squadron who participated in 275 combat missions. Nido later transferred to the USAAF’s 67th Fighter Group as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. Nido co-founded the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and, as Gilormini, retired a Brigadier General.

  • Captain Robert L. Cardenas, USAAF, served as a B-24 aircraft pilot in the European Theater of Operations with the 506th Bombardment Squadron. He was awarded the Air Medal and two oak leaf clusters for bombing missions before being shot down over Germany in March 1944. Despite head wounds from flak, he made his way back to Allied control. On October 14, 1947, Cardenas flew the B-29 launch aircraft that released the X-1 experimental rocket plane in which Charles E. Yeager became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. Cardenas retired as Brigadier General.

  • 2nd Lieutenant César Luis González, USAAF, the co-pilot of a C-47, was the first Puerto Rican pilot in the United States Army Air Force. He was one of the inicial participants of the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943 also known as Operation Husky. During the invasion of Sicily, he flew on two night missions, the first on July 9, where his mission was to release paratroops of 82nd Airborne Division on the area of Gela and the second on July 11, when he dropped reinforcements in the area . His unit was awarded a "DUC" for carrying out this second mission in spite of bad weather and heavy attack by enemy ground and naval forces. González died on November 22, 1943, when his plane crashed during training off the end of the runway at Castelvetrano. He was posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant.

  • Lieutenant Richard Gomez Candelaria, USAAF, was a P-51 Mustang pilot from the 435th Fighter Squadron of the 479th Fighter Group. With six aerial victories to his credit, Candelaria was the only pilot in his squadron to make "ace". Most of his victories were achieved on a single mission on April 7, 1945, when he found himself the lone escort protecting a formation of USAAF B-24 Liberators. Candelaria defended the bombers from at least 15 German fighters, single-handedly destroying four before help arrived. He was also credited with a probable victory on an Me 262 during this engagement. Six days later, Candelaria was shot down by ground fire, and spent the rest of the war as a POW. After the war, Candelaria served in the Air National Guard, reaching the rank of Colonel prior to his retirement.



  • Lieutenant Francisco Mercado, Jr.,USAAF, flew 35 combat missions as a Bombardier over enemy occupied Continental Europe as a member of the 853rd Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. He was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew ten missions as the Squadron Lead Bombardier, and one as the Group Lead Bombardier on December 30, 1944, on a mission to the Railroad Bridge at Altenahr, Germany. On July 21, 1944, he earned a membership into the exclusive "Caterpillar Club" after he parachuted over England while returning from a mission with a crippled B-24.

  • Lieutenant José Antonio Muñiz, USAAF, served with distinction in the China-Burma-India Theater. During his tour of duty he flew 20 combat mission against the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force and shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero. In 1960, Muñiz was flying a formation of F-86s celebrating the 4th of July festivities in Puerto Rico and upon take off his airplane flamed out and crashed. In 1963, the Air National Guard Base, at the San Juan International airport in Puerto Rico, was renamed "Muñiz Air National Guard Base" in his honor.

  • Lieutenant Arthur Van Haren, Jr., USN, was a fighter pilot who was considered the top fighter ace of World War II from Arizona. He was part of the infamous U.S. Navy Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2 "Rippers"). Based on the USS Hornet, a United States Navy aircraft carrier of the Essex class, Lt. Van Haren, Jr., flew the F6F Hellcat. He downed nine confirmed enemy planes during grueling combat in the Pacific Theater skies, and had three additional unconfirmed kills. Three of his nine kills occurred in the Marianas Turkey Shoot. Additionally, Van Haren, Jr. was awarded two Distinguished Flying Cross (United States) medals.

  • Technical Sergeant Clement Resto, USAAF, was not an "ace" but served with the 303rd Bomb Group and participated in numerous bombing raids over Germany. During a bombing mission over Duren, Germany, Resto’s plane, a B-17, was shot down. He was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Stalag XVII-B where he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. Resto, who lost an eye during his last mission, was awarded a Purple Heart, a POW Medal and an Air Medal with one battle star after he was liberated from captivity.

  • Corporal Frank Medina, USAAF, was an air crew member on a B-24 that was shot down over Italy. He was the only crewmember to evade capture. Medina explained that his ability to speak Spanish had allowed him to communicate with friendly Italians who helped him avoid capture for eight months behind enemy lines.

Note: For a more complete chronicle of Hispanic Americans in World War II, please log on to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanic_Americans_in_World_War_II.

back to top
  • facebook
  • Aviation Blog
  • Wolf Aviation Fund
  • flying with Walter Boyne
  • Kansas Aviation Museum