Though often called “the Forgotten War,” the Korean War saw many advances in aviation. The war ushered in the jet age and saw the first widespread use of the helicopter in combat. The aviators of the war, many of which were veterans of WWII, knew the bravery necessary to win in aerial conflict. These are six of the bravest aviators of the Korean War.
1. John Walmsley
Flying the dangerous — but effective — missions of Operation Strangle, Capt. Walmsley piloted a B-26 invader with a massive, mounted searchlight for illuminating enemy convoys at night. On September 14, 1951, Walmsley and his crew embarked over North Korea, where he attacked and damaged a heavily-armed supply train.
When his bombs and ammunition were expended, he stayed on target to direct follow-on attacks through intense anti-aircraft fire. On his third pass, the train was destroyed, but his aircraft was severely damaged and crashed. Walmsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
2. Col. George Andrew Davis, Jr.
Already an ace with seven victories in WWII, Davis had racked up another twelve kills by February 1952. On that day, Davis and his wingman attacked a group of a dozen MiG-15s moving in on American bombers. Approaching the group from behind, Davis blasted the first MiG he came upon before they realized he was there.
Speeding through the formation, he engaged and downed a second MiG. Despite drawing heavy fire from the other MiGs, Davis bore down on a third enemy fighter. A burst of cannon fire sent Davis’ plane spiraling to the ground. Davis received the Medal of Honor for his selfless sacrifice.
3. Lt.(jg) John K. Koelsch
On July 3, 1951, Koelsch responded to a downed Marine aviator near Wonsan, North Korea. Due to heavy fog, his air support was unable to provide covering fire and, during the pickup, his helicopter was downed by enemy fire. He rescued the other two men from the burning aircraft and then led them in evading communist patrols for three days.
After six more days, the men made their way to the coast where they were captured before they could be rescued. Koelsch later died as a POW due to malnutrition and illness. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
4. Louis Sebille
Having flown light bombers in Europe during WWII, Sebille transitioned to fighter-bombers and was stationed in Japan at the outbreak of the Korean War. During the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, Sebille flew F-51s in close-air support and ground attack roles. On Sept. 5, 1950, he led a flight of three planes to attack an advancing armored column. Diving on the column, he intended to release both bombs, but one stuck. When he attempted to pull away, his plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire.
Mortally wounded, Sebille turned and dove again at the column. He fired all of his rockets and emptied his machine guns into the communist vehicles. This time though, he had no intention of turning away. With his remaining bomb still attached to his wing, he slammed his crippled plane into the lead vehicle, sacrificing himself and holding up what remained of the column. Sebille’s sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor.
5. Charles Loring
Major Loring was already a veteran of ground attack missions in WWII when he joined American forces fighting in Korea in 1952. Flying F-80 Shooting Stars, Loring provided close air support and conducted ground attack missions against the communists. On Nov. 22, 1952, Loring led a flight in an attack against a massive Chinese artillery battery that was putting devastating fire on UN positions.
As Loring began his dive bombing run, his aircraft was struck and disabled. His wingman called for him to turn away and return to friendly lines. Instead, Loring, with a steely determination, ignored his wingman’s pleas and continued his dive. He never pulled up and crashed his plane straight into the Chinese battery, destroying it entirely. Loring received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions.
6. Thomas Hudner, Jr.
On Dec. 4, 1950, Hudner, then a Lieutenant Junior Grade, and his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown – the first African-American naval aviator, took off as part of a six-plane flight flying close air support for the Marines engaged at the Chosin Reservoir. After taking enemy fire and trailing fuel, Brown crash-landed his plane. Still alive, but pinned in his plane, Brown tried unsuccessfully to extricate himself as his plane caught fire. Hudner, unwilling to leave his stricken friend, crash-landed his own plane and worked to extract Brown while they waited for a rescue helicopter to arrive.
Working frantically, Hudner and the rescue pilot were still unable to remove Brown as he began to lose consciousness. With darkness approaching and Brown’s condition deteriorating, Hudner finally abandoned his effort. Two days later, Navy planes bombed the wreckage to keep Brown’s body out of the enemy’s hands. For his efforts to save Brown, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor.