“…where I belonged…


Dominic Salvatore Gentile

(1920 – 1951)

Gentile's Shangri-la
Debden, April 13th, 1994. ‘Shangri-la’ before…


“…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. 

Don Gentile crash
…and after: The wreck of P-51B #43-6913, VF-T, on the grass at Debden. (Curiously, the main gear is down but the prop has clearly hit the ground.)

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 receives his DFC from Gen. Eisenhower on April 11th, 1944, while Col. Don Blakeslee stands to attention.
Gentile receives his DFC from Gen. Eisenhower on April 11th, 1944, while Col. Don Blakeslee stands to attention.

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.


The one-man air force – Capt. Dominic Salvatore Gentile.
The one-man air force: Capt. Dominic Salvatore Gentile.

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.

4 thoughts on ““…where I belonged…

  1. Great post about Don Gentile. He is one of my heros and I love reading just about anything about him. I also like the picture with the quote on it.

  2. Thank You AirScape for the great article about cousin Don! My Pops told me about Don when I was young, piqued my interest in all things aviation (My Grandpops received notification from Defense Dept. of Don’s death, Feb. 1951. My Pops (1924-2010) grew up in Wash.D.C. area, served in the Pacific 4th Div. USMC radio operator on AGC-1 ’43-’45, settled in Denver because train he was on going home to D.C. area from Treasure Island after discharge Nov. 1945 got stuck in a blizzard, had to spend the night, fell in love w/ climate, was tired of bugs and humidity)! DESPITE critics Don will always be one of the great WW2 combat pilots- ‘Eagle ‘ squadrons pilot, 188 (?!) combat missions, 351 combat hours, 3 tour extensions, MANY decorations from 5 countries, etc. Thanks to all for interest shown in Don-good to see folks still care about a real hero from a bygone era.

    1. Thanks for your comment Don. It’s an honour to be acknowledged by a direct relative of such an incredible pilot. As you point out, his credentials and achievements were (are) quite outstanding.
      Rest assured, I do still care about this ‘hero from a bygone era’ and veterans like him. And I’m definitely not the only one. They set an incredible example for us who came to enjoy the benefits of their sacrifices. Thinking about the deeds of men like Don Gentile still makes me stand a little straighter and do the right thing by other people.
      Let’s not overlook your Pops’ service and sacrifice either. I love the story about how he got caught in a blizzard and fell in love with the weather! I bet that hardly ever happens!
      Feel free to hit the Contact link if you ever want to contact me directly Andrew. And thanks again for reaching out.

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