Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.
A group of twenty P-38's flew in to Tacloban air
field on Leyte, which badly need more fighters. Suddenly a Japanese Tojo
fighter appeared. One of the P-38's opened up full throttle, hit
the gear and flap levers, sounded a warning to other pilots, and swung
around to face the Tojo. In full view of the Tacloban airstrip, the P-38
pilot attacked and shot down the intruder with one short burst. The Tojo
crashed in flames just outside the field. Finding no other Jap planes,
the P-38 pilot circled and landed.
Major Thomas B. McGuire of the 475th Fighter Group climbed down from his
beloved Pudgy V and grinned. He had just shot down his
twenty-fifth Japanese aircraft. "This is my kind of place. You have to
shoot down Japs to land on your own field."
Shooting down aircraft was something Tommy McGuire excelled at. He
stood about five feet seven inches tall, and sported a big black
moustache to make himself appear older. He was extremely aggressive and
wanted to be the number one ace and win the Medal of Honour before going
home. He was also a magnificent pilot. On one occasion, he was
approaching a Japanese fighter head on, neither willing to move, and
pulled out at the last second. Later at his base, the ground crew had to
use steel wool to scrape away the paint left by the Japanese fighter!
McGuire was the commander of the 431st Fighter Squadron of the 475th
Fighter Group. The pilots of the 431st felt that McGuire could do things
in a P-38 that were virtually impossible. His skill with the P-38 was so
extraordinary, he almost defied reality. He had tremendous faith in his
skills as a pilot and the plane he flew.
Tommy McGuire was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey on August 1, 1920.
His parents, Thomas and Polly, divorced when he was a child, and he
spent most of his youth living with his mother in Sebring, Florida. They
were well off, and Tommy always had plenty of toys to attract friends.
Among his other diversions, he flew kites and model airplanes. During
high school, he played clarinet in Sebring's nationally acclaimed
marching band. He also acquired a reputation as a hell-raiser by driving
his car too fast through the small town. He attended Georgia Institute
of Technology and enlisted as an aviation cadet. He trained at
Corsicana, Texas, and at San Antonio, where he met his wife, Marilynn.
She was a trim, attractive young woman, who had somehow picked up the
incongruous nickname "Pudgy."
He earned his pilot's wings and Lieutenant's bars in February 1942.
McGuire pleaded to be sent where the action was, and was eventually sent
to Alaska. There he flew P-39s and shivered in the cold in Nome. There
was little combat flying in the Alaska, and McGuire soon began to ask to
be transferred. Late in 1942, he was transferred to Harding Field in
Louisiana. He and Marilynn married in December, shortly before his next
transfer, this time to California, where he began flying P-38s
full-time. He learned all about the big twin-engined Lockheed, and put
in for all the flight time he could get.
To the Pacific
In March 1943, McGuire was ordered to report to the 49th
Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force, in the Southwest Pacific. While he was
with the 49th, he first met Dick Bong, already known as the group's
hottest pilot. In mid-July, he reported to the 431st Squadron of the
475th Fighter Group, General Kenney's new, all P-38 group. Kenney, C.O.
of the Fifth Air Force, had made it known that the new group was his
special project. "Don't send any dead-heads," was the word that went
around. Consequently, the 475th started off with some of the best pilots
and enlisted crews in the Pacific. The Group started at Port Moresby in
southern New Guinea, flying P-38H's. McGuire was always hanging around
the flight line, always wanting to learn more about the aircraft.
Captain Nichols, CO of the 431st, noticed this, and made McGuire the
squadron's Assistant Engineering Officer. This small event was typical
of McGuire, and of the reactions it caused. Some other pilots felt
McGuire was an "eager beaver," a "brown-noser." McGuire, his superiors,
and McGuire's defenders would have only observed an excellent young
pilot, who always wanted to do as much as he possibly could.
They flew their first combat missions in August, 1943, up and
over the Owen Stanley Range, flying in support of McArthur's drive up
New Guinea's northern coast and attacking the Japanese airdrome at Wewak.
On the 18th, 1st Lieutenant McGuire faced the Japanese fliers in combat
for the first time. He made the most of it, hitting five of them.
One could not be confirmed and he lost a coin toss for another,
leaving him with official credit for three, still not too bad for a
rookie pilot's first fight. (This was the time that his crew had to use
steel wool to scrape off a Jap fighter's paint from his Lightning.)
Three days later, the 431st visited Wewak again, and McGuire shot down
two more Zeros. He was an ace after only two missions! His success was
part of the 475th's outstanding combat debut; in its first 10 days,
Kenney's new group had downed 40 enemy planes - an unrivalled
Tommy McGuire Combat Chronology
|Aug. 17, 1943
First Raid, started operations at
||Silver Star (SS) for late August
assigned Pudgy II; moved to
||shot up & lost one engine, landed at Tsili-Tsili
||visible to cheering ground crews at Dobodura
||borrowed Capt. Nichols' plane, bailed out, injured
|late Oct. - Dec. 12
hospitalized, R&R in Australia, off
promoted to Captain, flew 2 missions
a day, no combat
||cut cards & lost credit for a 4th; 16 kills to-date
little combat, no kills in these 5
||promoted to 431st Sqn Operations Officer
||flew 27 hours
||flew 60 hours, moved to Finschhafen
||assigned Pudgy III, a P-38J-15; moved to
||some big missions for the 475th, no luck for
||promoted to CO 431st Sqn; moved to Hollandia
||broke 5 month drought
||total 18 to-date, promoted to Major
||an Oscar & a Sonia
Charles Lindbergh arrived at 475th
475th FG moved to Biak
shared tent with Lindbergh, explored
cave and went "fishing" with him
assigned Pudgy IV, when
Pudgy III was wrecked
assigned Pudgy V, a new P-38L
||"tacked on" to 9th FS for bomber escort
||see opening story
||total 26 to-date
moved to Dulag
||flew with Dick Bong
||new pilot orientation flight
||awarded Medal of Honour for these 2 days
|Jan. 7, 1945
On Christmas Day 1944, McGuire volunteered to lead a squadron of
fifteen planes to provide protection for B-24 Liberators attacking
Mabaldent Airdrome. As the formation crossed over Luzon, the Americans
were jumped by twenty Zeros. McGuire shot down three throughout the
fight. The following day, he volunteered for a similar mission. One of
the B-24's was being hit and while firing at extreme range of 400 yards
at a 45 degree deflection shot, McGuire hit the Zero in the cockpit and
it burst into flames. During the course of this engagement, McGuire shot
down four Zeros, bringing his total to thirty-eight overall. By
this time Dick Bong had gone home, for a triumphant tour of the U.S.,
with 40 victories to his his credit. McGuire had 38, was still in
combat, and there were still plenty of Jap planes around. Everyone,
including McGuire, expected him to break Bong's record. It seemed like
just a matter of time, not too much time at that. Afterwards, McGuire
would have gone home to a hero's welcome as well. But time ran out for
Tommy McGuire, just as he almost had his goal within his grasp.
The Final Mission
On Jan. 7, 1945, Tommy McGuire led a flight of four planes on an
early morning fighter sweep over the Japanese airdrome on Negros Island.
Flying McGuire's wing was Capt. Edwin Weaver, whom McGuire had given
demerits to when they were cadets in San Antonio. Major Jack Rittmayer
and Lt. Douglas Thropp formed the second element. All were veteran
combat pilots. The P-38's each carried two 160 gallon external fuel
tanks. They spotted a single Jap fighter coming right at them. They
departed Marsten Strip around 0615 and levelled off at 10,000 feet, but
in the vicinity of Negros the weather forced their descent to 6,000
feet. McGuire led Daddy Flight to an airdrome over Fabrica Strip and
made a futile attempt at provoking an enemy response by circling the
area for approximately ten minutes. They were now flying at 1,700 feet.
When this effort failed, McGuire proceeded to another airdrome on the
western coast of the island. En route, Rittmayer throttled back while
breaking through the clouds and became temporarily separated from the
rest of the flight. McGuire ordered his pilots to regroup, but learned
that Rittmayer's aircraft encountered engine trouble. Thropp, therefore,
moved into the number-three position.
Suddenly, Weaver spotted a Japanese fighter heading in their
direction, 500 feet below and 1,000 yards ahead. The Ki-43 Oscar,
piloted by Warrant Officer Akira Sugimoto, passed below McGuire's P-38
before either pilot could react. Meanwhile, Sergeant Mixunori Fukuda,
piloting a Ki-84 Frank, was attempting to land and noticed his comrade's
plight. Sugimoto fired into Thropp's aircraft, destroying one of the
turbo-chargers. The Lieutenant's first thought was to drop his belly
tank, but McGuire anticipated his intention and ordered his pilots to
refrain from doing this. It is assumed he issued this order to avoid an
early return to Leyte, thereby scrubbing the mission.
Rittmayer, meanwhile, had rejoined the flight and manoeuvred his
malfunctioning fighter to an advantageous position. He fired into
Sugimoto's Oscar, frightening the Warrant Officer off Thropp's tail, but
the enemy pilot didn't flee as anticipated. Instead, he turned his
fighter tightly and fired several long bursts into Weaver's P-38. Weaver
summoned McGuire's assistance.
McGuire's response was immediate as he turned sharply to the left,
but something went wrong as his Lightning shuddered and threatened to
stall. He sharply increased his turn in an attempt to get a shot at the
enemy fighter, but his plane lost momentum and snap-rolled to the left.
It was last seen in an inverted position with the nose down about
Weaver momentarily lost sight of McGuire's fighter, but a second
later witnessed an explosion. Sugimoto broke off his attack against
Weaver just before McGuire's plane crashed. Rittmayer and Thropp pursued
the damaged Oscar as it climbed to the north, and the young Lieutenant
managed to deliver one last burst into Sugimoto's aircraft before it
crash-landed in the jungle. He died shortly thereafter from six bullet
wounds to the chest. Now Sergeant Fukuda arrived on scene and charged
head-on at Thropp's P-38, but Weaver recovered from his ordeal in time
to fire at the Frank. Rittmayer turned his aircraft to assist, but
Fukuda caught the Major in a vulnerable position and fired a burst into
his aircraft. The bullets struck the P-38 with telling effect, and it
exploded outside the village of Pinanamaan. McGuire had crashed near
this area a few minutes earlier.
Thropp's aircraft bellowed smoke from its engine, while Fukuda tried
to advance on Weaver. When this failed, Fukuda chased Thropp and
discharged a burst from his guns, but the lieutenant escaped to the
relative safety of a cloudbank. Weaver sought to locate the Frank, but
could not; he and Thropp returned to Dulag about ten minutes apart. They
gave their combat reports, which disagreed on several points; and it
wasn't until after the war that it became known that two, not just one,
Jap planes were involved.
It can be said that McGuire was never shot down by enemy fire, only a
split second violation of his rules for combat resulted in his death.
Some critics have maintained that McGuire's order to keep the tanks was
greedy and foolish; supposedly he wanted to score a 'quick kill' on the
lone Japanese plane. Charles Martin, McGuire's biographer makes a
persuasive case for other motivations. McGuire almost certainly ordered
his flight to keep their drop tanks so that they could complete their
mission. There's not much question that McGuire wanted the three extra
kills he needed to surpass Bong's record. But it seems unlikely that he
would have been foolish enough to violate his own rules of combat in
pursuit of that goal. Far more likely he thought the single Jap fighter
would pass by his four Lightnings, and then he could go about his
It is ironic that McGuire did get one thing he wanted so desperately,
the Medal of Honour. But a cruel twist of fate resulted in it being
awarded posthumously. Tommy McGuire's legacy is still flourishing, and
McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey is named after him; and a P-38,
decorated as Pudgy V sits outside the base.