Lieutenant Colonel John C.
Several World War II fighter aces who remained on active duty became
general officers, but only a few reached four-star rank. One of them was
John C. Meyer, fourth-ranking US ace in Europe, with 24 confirmed
air-to-air victories, including one German jet. Of the top 15 Eighth
Air Force aces, Meyer also was the leader in aircraft destroyed on the
ground, the most hazardous of fighter operations.
During the Korean War, Meyer, then a colonel with the 4th Fighter Wing,
added two jet victories to become the seventh-ranked all-time Air Force
ace. He was the only Air Force officer to be three times awarded the
Distinguished Service Cross, predecessor to the Air Force Cross and second
only to the Medal of Honour.
Like all successful fighter pilots, John Meyer was an aggressive hunter
with complete confidence in his own ability. He was also a smart pilot and
an imaginative combat leader. One of his college professors said Johnny
Meyer had the best mind of any student he ever taught at Dartmouth.
Meyer's career as a fighter pilot began in July 1940 when he
graduated from flying school. He started by flying Iceland-based P-40s on
fruitless convoy patrols. When the 352nd Fighter Group arrived in
England during the summer of 1943, Meyer was in command of its 487th
Squadron. He had earned a reputation as a no-nonsense commander, but he
demanded no more of his men than he did of himself. That approach was to
pay off in the highly disciplined arena of air combat. On Nov. 26, 1943,
Major Meyer won his first victory, flying a P-47, and would score two more
in the Thunderbolt.
For a mission on May 8, 1944, Meyer was awarded the first of his
three DSCs. Leading a flight of eight P-51 Mustangs, to which the
group had converted the previous month, he attacked a large formation of
enemy fighters that was about to intercept a stream of Air Force heavy
bombers. During the engagement, which dispersed the enemy fighters, Meyer
and his wingman became separated from the rest of the flight. While
climbing back to altitude, he sighted 15 enemy fighters closing on the
bombers. Meyer attacked immediately, shooting down two Luftwaffe fighters
and breaking up their attack. He then destroyed another fighter before
heading for Bodney, the group's base in England, low on fuel and
ammunition. Meyer, now a lieutenant colonel, was awarded an oak leaf
cluster to the Silver Star for downing three Bf-109s and one FW-190 on
Nov. 11, 1944. Ten days later, he earned his second DSC for leading 11
P-51s in an air battle east of Leipzig, against more than 40 enemy
fighters. Meyer manoeuvred his formation into position for a surprise
attack, himself shooting down three FW-190s. In one case, he used the
contrail of an FW-190 for cover, firing at the unseen enemy until he could
see strike flashes through the contrail, then breaking off just before
ramming the burning enemy plane.
Meyer was awarded his third DSC for a mission on Jan. 1, 1945,
during the Luftwaffe's desperate mass strike on airfields in Belgium and
Northern France. The 352nd Group, of which Meyer was then deputy
commander, was operating temporarily from field Y-29, Asche, Belgium under
IX Tactical Air Command. A man who had earned a reputation for "thinking
like a German", Meyer had a hunch that the Luftwaffe might gamble on New
Year's Day as a good day to catch the Allied airfields napping. He felt
the enemy would believe a New Year's Eve hangover might have caused the
pilots to sleep in that morning. Meyer postponed the 487th Squadron's
party one day, which proved to be a wise decision. As Meyer was about to
lead 12 P-51s off the runway, the field was attacked by an estimated 50
enemy fighters. Taking off with full wing tanks, Meyer shot down one
FW-190 just after he had raised his landing gear. Then, in a 45-minute
running battle, he downed another FW-190. The 352nd was credited with
destroying 23 enemy fighters that day. The superb actions of the 487th
Squadron that day earned them a Distinguished Unit Citation.
On Jan. 9, 1945, after completing 200 combat missions, Meyer was
en route to Paris to make a radio broadcast when he was seriously injured
in an automobile accident that ended his World War II career. He would not
see combat again until 1951 in Korea.
After Korea, Meyer served in Air Defence Command led SAC divisions, and
commanded Twelfth Air Force. Later he was appointed director of operations
on the Joint Staff, then was vice chief of staff of the Air Force before
his final assignment as commander in chief, Strategic Air Command. He was
the second fighter ace to command SAC, following Gen. Bruce Holloway who
had been the leading ace in China during the early days of World War II.
General Meyer retired in July 1974 and in December of the following year
suffered a fatal heart attack.