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Fri, Oct 12, 2007

Gone West: Flying Tiger David Lee 'Tex' Hill

Storied WWII Pilot Was 92

Aero-News has learned renowned World War II fighter pilot David Lee "Tex" Hill passed away Thursday at his home near San Antonio, TX. He was 92... and lived his life to the fullest up to the end, according to friend Tibaut Bowman.

"He was still alert and fabulous just up until when he died," Bowman, who described himself as one of Hill's "hunting buddies, flying buddies and drinking buddies," told the Houston Chronicle.

Hill graduated as a naval aviator in 1939... and soon joined the battle brewing overseas. He joined the American Volunteer Group "Flying Tigers" in China in 1941, flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks.

Hill's accomplishments in the AVG were forever immortalized in the 1942 film, "The Flying Tigers" -- with John Wayne playing him on the silver screen. After dissolution of the Flying Tigers in 1942, Hill was one of only five Flying Tigers to join its USAAF successor, the 23rd Fighter Group. He later rose to command the Group, as a major in the US Army Air Corps.

Throughout the war, he racked up 18 1/4 confirmed enemy kills. Bowman told the Chronicle the "1/4" was due to Hill's involvement in a shoot-down with three other planes; each pilot got credit for one-quarter of the downed plane.

Hill emerged from the war a hero, with numerous medals -- including a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, the British Flying Cross, and six Chinese combat medals.

The pilot also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross... in 2002, 59 years after a dogfight over enemy territory in China. A US Air Force panel found Hill had been denied the medal at the time, due to a difference in opinion between two Army generals and Hill's boss, Brig. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault.

Hill flew over 150 combat sorties. After the war, he was among the pilots who tested America's first jet aircraft. He later joined the Air National Guard... where he became the youngest brigadier general in the history of the Texas Air National Guard.

"Tex Hill was a genuine American hero and a Texan of the highest caliber," Texas Governor Rick Perry said Thursday. "Whether he was flying from the decks of a carrier as a naval aviator, fighting with the legendary Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group, winning a Distinguished Service Cross, or commanding the first jet unit in the Army Air Forces, he always led from the front."

Bowman, Hill's longtime friend, gave the storied aviator one of the highest compliments imaginable.

"I can say this probably on behalf of 50 people, except for my own dad who is my personal hero, 'Tex' Hill was the biggest hero I ever had," he said. "Unquestioning integrity and loyalty, purpose, determination, compassion."

Hill is expected to be buried next week, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

FMI: www.texhill.com, www.flyingtigersavg.com

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