William Dunn; America’s first WWII ace

  • Published
  • By Airman Shawna L. Keyes
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The day was Aug. 27, 1941, when William Dunn, American pilot with the British Royal Air Force Squadron 71, became the first American ace of World War II.

The squadron, formed in Sept. 19, 1940, consisted of American pilots who volunteered to assist in the fight against Nazi Germany, as the U.S. had not yet entered the war.

Dunn enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 19, 1934, and served as an infantryman until receiving an honorable discharge on Nov. 22, 1935. He made his way over the Canadian border and joined the Canadian Army on Sept. 7, 1939 and obtained the rank of Sergeant Major before joining the RAF on Dec. 13, 1940, and joined the No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron.  

Dunn’s squadron of Spitfire Mark II fighters were escorting a group of nine Blenheim bombers to Lille, France, while it was occupied by the Nazis. When the group crossed the enemy coast, they encountered a group of yellow-nosed Messerschmitt 109 aircraft.  

In the ensuing dogfight, Dunn’s skull was grazed by a machine gun bullet. He also sustained two bullet wounds through his right calf and part of his right foot was severed.

“[Dunn] shot down his fifth German aircraft [during the fight], becoming the first American ace of World War II,” said Dr. Roy Heidicker, 4th Fighter Wing historian. “After his victory, four German Me-109s attacked Dunn and he was barely able to escape being shot down.”

Despite his injuries, Dunn crossed the English Channel to land at an airfield in Hawkinge, England and was taken to the hospital.

Dunn discovered one of his rivals within the squadron, Gregory Daymond, had been given the official credit as the first American ace of World War II upon his return.

After his hospitalization, Dunn became an instructor pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force before transferring to the Army Air Corps June 15, 1943.

On Sept. 29, 1942, a year after Dunn left the Eagles, the No. 71 Squadron was transferred from the RAF to the Army Air Corps and became the 334th Fighter Squadron within the 4th Fighter Group (now the 4th Fighter Wing).

When the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, asked for artifacts and memorabilia in 1965, Dunn sent in his RAF uniform, some photos, and his logbook from his days in the No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron. Daymond’s claim to be the first American Ace would come to an end after museum personnel began reviewing his logbooks.

“Dunn was very organized,” said Capt. Timothy Anderson, 334th FS director of staff. “He kept a detailed record of all his [flights] in his logbook, and that’s what really helped him get recognized as the true first American ace of World War II.”

Raymond Toliver, American Fighter Aces Association historian, sent Dunn a letter dated March 19, 1968, informing him that upon reviewing his claims with the RAF that he was indeed the first American ace of WWII, and their records would now reflect this change.

“Dunn also served in Korea and Vietnam and after 38 years of service and 378 combat missions retired as a lieutenant colonel,” said Heidicker. “He passed away in Colorado Springs, Colorado, February 14, 1995.”

The 334th FS recently honored its heritage with a memorial dedication ceremony, July 8, 2016, dedicated to Dunn and his fellow comrades of the No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron. Members of Dunn’s family attended the unveiling and donated one of Dunn’s RAF uniforms to the 334th FS.

“It’s neat seeing his uniform in the squadron because it puts everything into perspective,” Anderson said. “We’re just a little section or glimpse of our current history just like Dunn and his comrades were back in their day. It’s neat to see our history and the accomplishments of pilots like Dunn. To actually have a piece of that history here in the squadron is very humbling.”