WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the American Fighter Aces Association on May 20 at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Emancipation Hall.
The Congressional Gold Medal, created by the U.S. Mint, is the highest civilian honor Congress can give on behalf of the American people.
“This is a particularly important day for me because while I was not an ace myself, I did serve with several of them,” said Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas. “Fighter aces are rare — today these American patriots are rightfully honored for their exemplary service to our country.”
More than 60,000 American fighter pilots engaged in aerial combat during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Of those pilots, only 1,447 earned the title of fighter “ace,” by downing at least five enemy aircraft.
“My heroes growing up were the aces of World War I and World War II,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the American Fighter Aces Association president. “Of the 1,447 (aces), there are 75 left living on this Earth. All of these men had an outsized impact on the air war that they fought in and, therefore, had an outsized impact on the outcome of the war. The Congress of the United States has done a wonderful thing for the country in recognizing these aces.”
Cleveland accepted the medal from House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, and Johnson.