Alex Vraciu, one of the most acclaimed World War II Navy fighter pilots, died January 29, 2015 at the age of 96.
Born Alexander Vraciu in East Chicago, Ind., the youngest of two children to Romanian immigrants. After graduating from DePauw University in 1941, he joined the Navy where he earned his wings. He flew Hellcats in the Pacific and was a terror for the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
Vraciu spent five months as a wingman to Medal of Honor recipient Ed "Butch" O'Hare. Vraciu's greatest mission came June 19, 1944 in what became known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". Vraciu engaged an attacking Japanese air squadron 25 miles west of the USS Lexington and shot down 6 Japanese dive bombers in just eight minutes with only 360 rounds of ammunition.
Alex Vraciu ended World War II as the Navy's fourth-ranking flying ace with 19 enemy aircraft shot down in flight and 21 destroyed on the ground.
Despite arguments from historians and politicians, Vraciu was twice denied the Medal of Honor. He was nominated by his commanding officer for the Medal of Honor during the war, but an admiral denied it. He was awarded the Navy Cross.
Vraciu was a career Navy man, retiring in 1964 with the rank of commander. He and his family moved to Danville, California where he worked with Wells Fargo Bank. His life and career were chronicled in "Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu" by Ray Boomhower in 2010.
Boomhower on his interviews with Vraciu: "Throughout our talks he was straightforward, never embellishing what had happened to him, and always giving credit to those who had trained him, including his mentor, Medal of Honor recipient Butch O'Hare, who died during the war."
"Alex led a remarkable life and he should go down in history as a great Hoosier and a true American hero," added Boomhower.
Alex Vraciu is preceded in death by his wife Kathryn and survived by five children, Carol Teague of Davis, CA, Robert Vraciu of Brentwood, TN, Linda Patton of Quincy, CA, Marilyn Finley of Sonora, CA, and Marc Vraciu of Santa Barbara, CA. At the time of his death, Alex had 11 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. He is buried at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, CA.