Brig. Gen. David Lee “Tex” Hill was exactly the sort of man we describe as a living legend. He died Oct. 11 at the age of 92, very much a legend in his own time and, doubtless, for a long time to come.
He was affable, candid, endowed of a great sense of humor, a natural leader, blessed with a sharp mind and clear intelligence. His achievements are impressive.
Hill was a Naval Aviator before joining the American Volunteer Group, or Flying Tigers, where he became an ace. When the AVG was disbanded, he joined the Army Air Corps where he became a triple ace and, after the war, became the Air National Guard’s youngest brigadier general.
Born in Korea on July 13, 1915, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, Hill moved to Texas in 1921 when his father became pastor at a San Antonio church. Hill and Texas hit it off and he made his home there for the rest of his long life.
By 1941 he was an accomplished Navy dive-bomber and torpedo plane pilot. When then-Col. Claire Chennault recruited him for the American Volunteer Group, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he resigned his Navy commission and became a legend, himself, among the many legends in that legendary group. John Wayne said that he based his character in the 1942 movie, “Flying Tigers,” on Hill. When the two met, after the war, they became life-long friends, hunting partners and fellow back-country adventurers.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans smarting from the losses of ships and lives were starved for successes. The Flying Tigers gave them plenty. Although Japanese fighter planes were more maneuverable than the Curtiss P-40s flown by the AVG, Chennault’s brilliant tactics, along with the P-40s’ better armament and ability to withstand battle damage, proved a winning combination. Hill became an ace in a matter of weeks in the skies over China. The Flying Tigers almost always won and the American people loved them.
The AVG was disbanded July 4th, 1942, its assets absorbed into the Army Air Force’s 23rd Fighter Group. As he put on a U.S. uniform again, Hill was promoted to major and given command of the 75th Fighter Squadron. By war’s end, he was credited with 18-1/4 kills, making him a triple ace and then some.
Later, he commanded the 412th Fighter Group, the first Air Force jet unit, flying Bell XP-59s and, later, Lockheed P-80s. After the war he joined the Texas Air National Guard, again flying as a fighter pilot during the Korean war, then becoming the youngest brigadier general in Air National Guard history at the age of 31.
Hill lived at Terrell Hills near San Antonio. It was there that he met and married Marie Caroline Sale in 1942. She survives him, as do their daughters, Shannon Schaupp and Loma Skinner, along with seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
At Hill’s funeral on Oct. 16, aircraft flying over his grave included four Apache helicopters followed by four A-10s, then four P-51s and, finally, a lone P-40.