Dominic Salvatore Gentile
(1920 – 1951)
“…But it was not until I was 17 that I finally got into an airplane. At that time I felt I had come to the place where I belonged in the world.
The air to me was what being on the ground was to other people. When I felt nervous it pulled me together.
Things could get too much for me on the ground. They never got that way in the air.”
I’m sure Don Gentile hardly needs an introduction; the 27-victory (including some shared, three damaged and six ground kills) ace was famously described as a ‘One Man Air Force’ by Gen. Dwight D Eisenhower – and just as famously sent home by Col. Don Blakeslee for cracking up his P-51B Shangi-la after a banned low roll over the airfield on April 13th, 1944.
In truth, Gentile’s tour was already finished when Blakeslee ‘sent’ him home, and the ‘beat up’ was to show off for the assembled press after his last mission.
Gentile was the 8th Air Force’s top-scoring ace at the time, having scored 15.5 victories in one month alone – March 3rd to April 8th, 1944 – the 4th FG’s first month on the new P-51B.
‘. . . a one-man air force’
Gentile (like Blakeslee) was an Ohio boy. Born and raised in Piqua, OH, he had learned to fly before the war and joined the RCAF before the US entered hostilities.
He flew Spitfires with No.133 Squadron RAF, one of the famed ‘Eagle Squadrons’, before they were transferred en masse to become the 4th FG, 8th Air Force, USAAF. Gentile was made a Captain and flew both P-47s and Mustangs as part of the 336th FS.
The remark by Eisenhower (“you appear to be a one-man air force”) was made while presenting Gentile and Blakeslee with DSCs on April 11th, in recognition of their spectacular achievements since converting to Mustangs.
Don Gentile met his end, fittingly, in the air. On January 28th, 1951, he was pilot of a Lockheed T-33 out of Andrews AFB in Maryland.
According to the official investigation, Gentile suffered a flameout after using all the fuel in the Shooting Star’s main tank (there was still fuel in the tip tanks), then had neither enough on-type experience or height to successfully relight the engine.
Turning low to try and make an open field, his wingtip clipped trees and the ace died with his passenger, Sgt. Gregory Kirsch, in the ensuring crash.
You can read an excellent account of that final flight here.