After graduating at the top of his flight school class, James Swett decided to join the Navy — until a Marine colonel talked him into flying for the Corps instead. Once he received his Marine officer commission, Swett shipped out to serve in War World II, where he would mark his mark sooner than he could ever expect after he shot down enemy aircraft on his first time out. Stationed on the island of Guadalcanal, Swett’s impressive 450 hours of pre-war flight time was about to be put the ultimate test.
In the early morning of Apr. 7, 1943, a Japanese attack fleet was preparing to bombard the island of Guadalcanal. That day, Swett had embarked on two standard flight patrols that resulted in nothing but clear skies.
But the third scheduled flight was about to turn very deadly. Swett received intel that 150 Japanese planes were en route to his position and he was prepared to defend it. Soon after making his very first enemy contact, Swett managed to shoot down a handful of enemy fighters.
After a several of defensive maneuvers, Swett took a few rounds to his starboard wing. Heading back to base, Swett discovered a series of enemy dive bombers headed toward him — so he engaged with short bursts, scoring additional kill shots.
After shooting down seven dive bombers, Swett’s fighter plane was severely damaged and crash-landed into the ocean as he attempted to make it back to Guadalcanal.
Once Swett surfaced, a Coast Guard boat picked up the now salty Marine aviator. Swett shot down a total of seven enemy fighters on his very first day in combat.
Swett was credited with shooting down 15 1/2 enemy planes during his time in the war and received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 10, 1943.
Check out Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear this flying ace retell his heroic story for yourself.