Colonel Neel E. Kearby
Neel E. Kearby was born in Wichita Falls on June 5, 1911 to Dr. John Gallatin Kearby, Jr. and Bessie Lee (Stone) Kearby. He spent much of his childhood in Mineral Wells, but later moved to Arlington, graduating from Arlington High School in 1928 and beginning college at North Texas Agricultural College (now the University of Texas at Arlington). In 1937, Kearby received a business degree at the University of Texas at Austin and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. He began flight training at Randolph Field in San Antonio, where he met his future wife, Virginia King Cochran. Once commissioned, Kearby completed a series of assignments and in 1942 was selected to command the 348th Fighter Group, which trained in New England prior to combat assignment in the Pacific Theater. During that time, Kearby trained his unit to effectively deploy the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane. Although the Thunderbolt was known to be bulky and cumbersome, Kearby developed aggressive tactics that his pilots used with great success against the enemy. During a six-month period in 1943 and 1944, Kearby bravely led missions in his P-47 (named the Fiery Ginger, after his wife), accumulating 22 aerial victories, including the destruction of a then-record six enemy aircraft in a single mission on October 11, 1943. The events of that day earned Kearby the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor. His final mission occurred on March 5, 1944, when he was killed in action near Wewak, New Guinea, after downing an enemy bomber. During his military career, Kearby also earned two Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals and the Purple Heart. His body was recovered after the war and buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas on July 23, 1949.
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