KSLA Salutes: WWII P-38 ACE

KSLA Salutes: WWII P-38 ACE
Lenox, Jr. recounting a combat mission during WWII/Source: Lenox Family
Lenox, Jr. recounting a combat mission during WWII/Source: Lenox Family

A total 1,447 American fighter pilots earned the title of ACE from WWI through the Vietnam War — less than 50 of them are still alive.

"To be a fighter ACE you had to shoot down at least five aircraft, not on the ground, they all had to be in the air, you had to be fighting them in the air, we had to shoot them down in the air," said Ret. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jack Lenox, Jr.

Lenox is the only surviving P-38 ACE.

From December 1943 to July 1944, Lenox completed 51 combat missions, flying 252 combat hours. He's credited with five confirmed victories, one probable and three damaged.

He did it all behind the controls of "Snookie," his P-38 aircraft.

"I loved that airplane," Lenox said. "I'd sit there and talk to it as we were going into a combat. I would say we have to watch this guy he's going to shoot at us and we got a shot at him and will try and keep from getting shot down."

"Sometimes we could go through a whole mission and we would not see an enemy fighter, other times the sky would be covered with enemy fighters," he continued.

Lenox recalled losing a lot of friends, most of them bomber-crews.

"It was always bad if you saw some of your friends getting shot down and you hated to see that but that's what we're there for," Lenox said. "I guess we're fortunate that we were flying fighters instead of flying the bombers."

He earned a Silver Star and has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal among other commendations for his success in combat.

"We did what we had to do, we went there mainly to protect the bombers, and the bombers really were sitting ducks," Lenox said.

After his service, Lenox went to work for NASA contractors. He served on the launch teams for all of the Apollo rocket missions and the dawn of the shuttle program in the 60s. When asked where if he could recall the moon landing, he laughed.

"Yeah, I was home in bed," Lenox said. "We were in the middle of 8 hours shifts."

Lenox said he knew they were going to land and he also knew he had to get back to work the next shift so he stayed in bed.

Lenox retired in 1984 and now lives in Shreveport, close to his son, and under the watchful eye of his faithful four-legged companion Belle.

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