NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Walker “Bud” Mahurin, 91, a fighter pilot who shot down two dozen planes in two wars and was regarded as one of America’s top aces ever, has died, his wife said Sunday.
Joan Mahurin said Bud Mahurin died of natural causes Tuesday at his home in Newport Beach.
She said her husband kept flying small planes — and kept receiving fan mail — for most of his life.
“He would get letters from teenagers to old war veterans,” Joan Mahurin said.
Doug Lantry, a historian at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio, said Mahurin’s name is familiar to all in the Air Force.
“Bud Mahurin was the only Air Force pilot to shoot down enemy aircraft in the European theater of operations and the Pacific and in Korea,” Lantry told the Los Angeles Times. “He was known as a very courageous, skilled and tenacious fighter pilot.”
Mahurin was shot down himself twice during World War II and once in the Korean War, which led to his capture and 16 traumatic months in a prison camp.
A native of Benton Harbor, Mich., Mahurin studied engineering at Purdue University then joined the Army Air Forces in September 1941 — three months before Pearl Harbor.
He went by the call sign “Honest John,” a title he’d later adopt for his memoirs.
During the war he was assigned to a fighter group in England, where the first plane he took down was his own.
Mahurin told the Orange County Register in 2007 that during a training run he flew too close to one of the B-24 bombers he was assigned to protect, hit its propellor and had to bail out.
He would redeem himself a month later, shooting down his first pair of German planes in August 1943 while flying a P-47 Thunderbolt.
By October he had become an ace, meaning he had scored five aerial victories. The number rose to 10 later that year, making Mahurin the first “double ace” in the European Theater of Operations. Three of the planes he downed came in a single mission.
In March of 1944 he had to bail out of his heavily damaged plane and needed aid from the French Resistance to get back to England.
His knowledge of the resistance made his potential capture in Europe too dangerous and he was grounded, but he would fly again in the Phillipines and finished the war with over 20 aerial victories. His later service in the Korean War brought the number to 24.
“I was brought up in an age when flying was the only thing,” Mahurin told the Air Force magazine Airman in 2003, when he was a retired colonel. “We knew the value of being an ace, but you just didn’t try to go out and become an ace. Mostly because, in my case, I was scared to death to begin with. I thought if I just get to meet an ace while on active duty, I’d be happy.”
Along with Joan, his wife of 40 years, Mahurin is survived by two sons, a daughter and a stepdaughter.
Mahurin will be buried Aug. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.