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Michael Frederick, DK2
Vraciu, Alexander, CDR USN(Ret).
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Home Town East Chicago, IN
Last Address Danville, CA
Date of Passing Jan 29, 2015
Location of Interment Oakmont Memorial Park - Lafayette, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates Unknown
Last Known Activity
Alex Vraciu was born on November 2, 1918, in East Chicago, Illinois. He graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from DePauw University in 1941, and he received his private pilot's license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1940. Vraciu enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on June 24, 1941, and began flight training on October 9, 1941. He was commissioned an Ensign and designated a Naval Aviator on August 28, 1942, and then completed fighter and carrier training before joining VF-3 (later redesignated VF-6) in March 1943. Lt Vraciu was credited with the destruction of 9 enemy aircraft in aerial combat before transferring to VF-16 in February 1944. He then destroyed an additional 10 enemy aircraft before returning to the U.S. in July 1944, for a total of 19 aircraft destroyed and 1 damaged during World War II. Lt Vraciu joined VF-20 in November 1944, but was shot down in the Philippines in December and joined up with guerrilla forces, reaching friendly lines in February 1945. He then served as a text pilot at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, from April to September 1945, followed by service on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air at the Pentagon from September 1945 to October 1951. During this time, he helped start and implement the Naval and Marine Air Reserve Program. His next assignment was at NAS Los Alamitos, California, from November 1951 to March 1954, and he then completed U.S. Naval General Line School before serving as Communications Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) from December 1954 to February 1956. CDR Vraciu served as Commanding Officer of VF-51 from March 1956 to January 1958, followed by service as Officer in Charge of ATU-202 at NAAS Kingsville, Texas, from February 1958 to January 1961. His final assignment was as Assistant Operations Officer for the Commander of Carrier Division THREE from February 1961 until his retirement from the Navy on December 31, 1963.
After retiring from the U.S. Navy, Vraciu moved to Danville, California, where he worked for Wells Fargo bank. In retirement he continued to give public lectures to schools, businesses, and civic groups.
Vraciu appeared in "The Zero Killer" (2006), during season one, episode six, of the History Channel's Dogfights series.
In his later years, Vraciu declined invitations to write an autobiography; however, he agreed to be interviewed and participated in oral history projects at the Indiana Historical Society and the University of North Texas, which eventually resulted in the publication of his biography, Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010).
Awarded for Actions During World War II
Battalion: Fighting Squadron 16 (VF-16)
Division: U.S.S. Lexington (CV-16)
Citation: The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander [then Lieutenant, Junior Grade] Alexander Vraciu, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron SIXTEEN (VF-16), attached to the U.S.S. LEXINGTON (CV-16), during operations in the vicinity of the Marianas Islands. On 12 June 1944 while participating in a daring strike against enemy shipping in a SaipanHarbor, Commander Vraciu dove through intense anti-aircraft fire to sink a large enemy merchant ship by a direct hit on its stern. On 14 June 1944 in the course of a strike against enemy positions in the islands of North of Saipan, Commander Vraciu sighted an enemy search plane. Despite an altitude disadvantage, he approached the plane so skillfully keeping in its "blind spot" that he was able to overhaul it and shoot it down. On 19 June 1944 with his Task Force under attack by a numerically superior force of enemy aircraft, Commander Vraciu struck furiously at the hostile bombers and, in the face of vigorous fighter opposition, succeeded in shooting down six thus contributing to the break-up of a concentrated enemy attack. On 20 June 1944 while flying escort for bomber and Torpedo Planes on a long-range strike against the Japanese Fleet, Commander Vraciu fearlessly closed with a group of hostile fighters, blasting one from the sky and severely damaging another to enable our forces to attack and disable a Japanese carrier. By his devotion to duty, Commander Vraciu reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
US Navy High Individual Aerial Gunnery Award - 1957
Other Memories Vraciu entered combat in October 1943, flying from USS Independence (CVL-22) with Butch O'Hare as commander of Fighting Six. Vraciu scored his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on October 10, 1943. Alex Vraciu was O'Hare's wingman - both scored that day. When they came across an enemy formation O'Hare took the outside airplane and Vraciu took the inside plane. O'Hare went below the clouds to get a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero and Vraciu lost him, so he kept an eye on a second Zero that went to Wake Island and landed. Vraciu strafed the Zero on the ground, then saw a Mitsubishi G4M Betty bomber and shot it down. Alex Vraciu later told, "O'Hare taught many of the squadron members little things that would later save their lives. One example was to swivel your neck before starting a strafing run to make sure enemy fighters were not on your tail." Vraciu also learned from O'Hare the "highside pass" used for attacking the Japanese Mitsubishi Betty bombers. The highside technique was used to avoid the fatal 20-mm fire of the Betty's tail gunner.