Museum exhibit honors World War II aces

Seattle’s Museum of Flight is the home of the American Fighter Aces Association and holds their collections and archives. Opening June 27, a new exhibit draws from that resource to portray the World War II military experience of fighter ace Maj. James C. Stewart and fellow pilots in the famous 56th Fighter Group, acclaimed for having more aces than any other fighter group in the European Theater during the Second World War. The exhibition of artifacts, photographs and videos will be displayed in the Museum’s Great Gallery through September.

“Aces of the 56th Fighter Group of World War II” will feature photographs and artifacts from Maj. Stewart’s personal collection, including his uniform, flight gear and survival equipment. The photographs document his training at Randolph Field, Texas and his flying experiences during combat missions over Germany. California native Stewart was credited with 10 aerial combat victories. The exhibit also includes rare World War II color footage from “Zemke’s Way,” a 1999 New Jersey Public Television documentary about the fighter group.

Based in England during World War II, under the tenacious and inspiring leadership of Col. Hubert “Hub” Zemke, the squadron emerged as one of the most successful American fighter units during World War II. Flying rugged Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and employing innovative tactics devised by Zemke, the 56th flew bomber escort, counter-air missions, and supported ground troops during the invasion of France in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Over roughly two years, 56th pilots totaled 665.5 aerial victories, about 100 more victories than the second highest fighter group in the Eighth Air Force. The 56th produced 39 aces, including the two leading American aces, Lt. Col. Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski and Maj. Robert S. Johnson.

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