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Boyd J. Wagner
Branch of Service:
City: Nanty Glo
State: Pennsylvania
County: Cambria
Honored By:
Marty Kuhar
Military Service:

First American Ace in WWII

At the outset of WWII with Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, and invasion of the Philippines, America needed a hero. Buzz (Boyd) Wagner’s daring accomplishments as America’s first Ace in WWII proved him to be that hero.

Boyd Wagner was born in 1916 and grew up in Nanty-Glo. He studied engineering at the University of Pittsburgh for three years and then joined the Army Air Corps in 1938. He was assigned to the 24th pursuit group flying the Curtiss P-40 fighter when on December 12 flying a solo reconnaissance mission he was attacked by Japanese fighters. He initially dove away but returned and shot down two of the attacking planes. He then proceeded to strafe a nearby Japanese airfield destroying several planes on the ground.

In action on December 17th while attacking a Japanese airstrip near Vigan City in the Philippine Islands, Buzz Wagner engaged another Japanese zero and shot it down – recording his fifth kill and becoming America’s first Ace pilot. Later in December attacking the same airfield he was wounded by enemy fire and evacuated to Australia to recover. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to the 8th fighter group. Now flying the Bell P- 39 he shot down 3 Japanese zeroes bringing his air-to-air kills to eight.

It was decided that Wagner’s experience and knowledge would be more valuable back in the U.S., training fighter pilots, and as a liaison to the Curtiss P-40 plant to help engineers improve the P-40’s combat performance. Despite his protests at being pulled out of combat, he was sent home to the United States.

It is not uncommon for America’s heroes to have tragic deaths. Buzz Wagner died in an accidental crash on a routine flight in a P-40 near Eglin Airfield in Florida. He was buried in Grandview cemetery in Johnstown where an estimated 20,000 people attended the service.

Distinguished Service Cross Citation
Lieutenant Wagner received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action near Vigan City in the Philippine Islands.  On December 16, 1941, while leading a reconnaissance mission, Lieutenant Wagner left one airplane of his formation above a hostile airfield to continue observation and with a companion drove through heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire to obtain vital information. Observing about twenty-five hostile airplanes on the landing strip he dove directly on them releasing six fragmentation bombs and making several direct hits. In spite of being left unsupported due to the destruction of the accompanying airplane, he continued his attack sweeping the hostile airplanes on the ground five times with machine gun fire and setting fire to the enemy’s fuel supply before returning to report the accomplishment of his mission.

In addition, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

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