Warren A. Skon, Navy ace pilot in WWII, and wife Hazel Skon, both 92, die days apart

Warren A. “Andy” Skon, 92, a retired Navy captain who was an ace fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II, died Jan. 19 at his home in McLean.

His wife of 67 years, Hazel M. Skon, also 92, died three days later at their McLean home. Both had pneumonia, their daughter Nancy Jedele said.

(Family photo) - Warren Skon, Navy fighter pilot and ace of World War II crouches on the wing of his plane. He received the Navy Cross, the second highest award for valor. He died Jan. 19. His wife, Hazel, died three days later on Jan. 22. Both were 92.

Capt. Skon was a highly decorated pilot who took part in several major air-combat operations during his two years as a naval aviator in the Pacific. He participated in the Navy’s first nighttime fighter actions from an aircraft carrier and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy’s highest award for wartime valor.

He was credited with shooting down seven Japanese airplanes during the war, making him an ace. (An ace is a pilot who downs at least five enemy aircraft.)

In 1943, when he was assigned to the USS Enterprise, Capt. Skon was the wingman to Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, who was the Navy’s first flying ace and who received the Medal of Honor in 1942.

On the night of Nov. 26, 1943, a formation of Japanese torpedo bombers was detected flying toward the Enterprise and other ships in what the Navy called Task Force 58 near the Gilbert Islands. O’Hare, Capt. Skon and other pilots scrambled into action to confront the enemy planes, downing several in the Navy’s first nighttime airborne firefight.

Capt. Skon (then an ensign) was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in intercepting the enemy airplanes and repelling the attack. No ships in the U.S. group were seriously damaged.

The Navy Cross citation praised Capt. Skon’s “oustanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty” and said his “fighting spirit in the face of great peril was largely responsible for saving the carrier task group from serious damage.”

The award was bittersweet, however, because in the midst of the battle, O’Hare was shot down and lost at sea. Neither he nor his plane was ever found.

The last person O’Hare spoke to, by radio, was Capt. Skon. As they were converging on a plane, Capt. Skon later told an Associated Press reporter, “Butch said, ‘You take the side you want!’ I said, ‘I’ll take the port.’

“ ‘Roger,’ he said, and that was the last word he said.

“Then I saw tracers around his plane. I saw it sheer off and drop quickly below us.”

O’Hare, for whom Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was later named, was one of the few Medal of Honor recipients to return to action and later die in battle.

Capt. Skon was later assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the Pacific. Flying a F6F Hellcat, he shot down three Japanese planes, including two dive bombers, within a nine-day period in June 1944 that later became known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.”

He downed two Japanese fighter planes on July 3, 1944, and two more on Sept. 21, for a total of seven. He damaged four other aircraft in aerial combat and, although it could not be confirmed, was believed to have shot down an eighth plane.

After the war, Capt. Skon was a Navy flight instructor and commanding officer of Navy fighter groups. He managed a Defense Department project in connection with the White House Communications Agency from 1967 to 1970. When he retired from the military in 1973, he was the Navy’s assistant inspector general.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Capt. Skon’s decorations included four awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal and eight Air Medals.

He later worked for 13 years for Wheeler Industries, a Northern Virginia defense contractor, on ship design projects.

Warren Andrew Skon was born Oct. 29, 1919, in St. Paul, Minn., and attended the University of Minnesota for two years before entering a Navy flight training program in 1942. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from George Washington University in 1966 and a master’s degree in international affairs, also from GWU, in 1968. He also completed courses at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

His wife, the former Hazel Marie Nelson, was also born in St. Paul. She volunteered with Navy charity groups and was a member, with her husband, of Redeemer Lutheran Church in McLean. They had lived in McLean since 1963.

Survivors include two daughters, Nancy Jedele of Laurel and Joy Maziarz of Quincy, Mass.; and a granddaughter.