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Walker M. "Bud" Mahurin, 91

Walker M. "Bud" Mahurin, a top flying ace, dies at 91

Col. Mahurin was the first U.S. pilot to become a "double ace" in the European theater of World War II
Col. Mahurin was the first U.S. pilot to become a "double ace" in the European theater of World War II (Photo courtesy of The American Fighter Aces Association )

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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

Retired Air Force Col. Walker M. "Bud" Mahurin, 91, who as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War was credited with downing 24 enemy planes, making him one of the leading American aces of his generation, died May 11 at his home in Newport Beach, Calif. He had complications from a stroke.

A spokesman for the American Fighter Aces Association said Col. Mahurin shot down 24.25 planes over the course of his career (pilots are awarded a fraction of a kill if multiple fighters engaged the enemy). He downed 20.75 in World War II and 3.5 in Korea before he was captured by the enemy and endured 16 months as a prisoner of war.

To qualify as an ace, a pilot must have five or more documented enemy kills. The top U.S. ace of World War II, Richard Bong, gunned down 40 Japanese planes.

While serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Col. Mahurin flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, a propeller-driven plane equipped with eight 50-caliber machine guns. He used them to devastating effect against the German Luftwaffe.

In November 1943, Col. Mahurin was the first American pilot to become a "double ace," having destroyed 10 enemy planes, in the European theater.

In late March 1944, he was flying on an escort mission over France when he encountered German fighter planes. He dove toward the ground in pursuit of an enemy plane, and his P-47 was shot up in the altercation. He parachuted out.

"The next thing I know, I'm in the French countryside at high noon with 35 of my fellow fighter pilots circling around me like a beehive," Col. Mahurin told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1986. "I ran like hell."

He hid in a tall haystack and eventually made contact with a group of French Resistance fighters, who spirited him out of the country to England five weeks later.

He finished the war flying P-50 Mustangs in the Pacific. His last confirmed kill of the war came against a Japanese plane in January 1945 on a mission over the Philippines.

In 1951, Col. Mahurin was sent to Korea to fly the F-86 Sabre jet, which he described as "a Cadillac" in the sky, complete with an air-conditioned cockpit.

Unlike during his bomber escort days in Europe, Col. Mahurin's objective in Korea was to lure enemy MiG-15 planes into the sky over the Korean peninsula for one-on-one dogfights.

"That was the most fun I ever had," Col. Mahurin said in a 2006 interview. "You seldom think of aerial combat -- getting shot at -- as fun, but it's a lot of fun if you're doing the shooting."


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