Lasting Fame

Some of the naval aviators who would one day achieve lasting fame by rocketing into space served as combat pilots in Korea.

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Major John H. Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, served as a Marine Corps fighter pilot with VMF-311. Here he is pictured next to the tail of his F9F Panther, which sustained damage during a ground attack mission. Glenn’s wingman on some of his missions in Korea was Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, a Marine reservist recalled to active duty.


Glenn’s final duty in Korea was as an exchange pilot with the U.S. Air Force, in which capacity he shot down three enemy MiG-15 fighters in just nine days. His squadronmates nicknamed him the "Mig Mad Marine," which was emblazoned on the fuselage of his F-86 Sabre.

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Ensign Neil Armstrong flew F9F Panthers with VF-51 off USS Essex (CV-9) and had to bail out of his aircraft on one mission after being hit by antiaircraft fire. The future astronaut is flying aircraft number 116 in this photograph taken in 1951.

A boyish-looking Neil Armstrong pictured during some R&R in Hawaii, 1951.

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