Better Late than Never

It took 55 years, but the Air Force has finally recognized retired Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland as an ace for downing five MiG-15s during the Korean War. A phone call in January from the Air Force Board for Military Corrections confirmed to him that, based in large part on MiG flight records unearthed by a colleague in Russian archives in 2003, USAF now accepted one of the former F-86 pilot’s probable kills as a confirmed kill, giving him five in total to qualify him as an ace. “It’s a great feeling to have the Air Force recognize me as an ace,” Cleveland said. “And it’s a real honor to be included with that great group of men who make up the rest of the aces.” Cleveland flew an F-86 as a lieutenant with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Kimpo Air Base starting in 1952. During aerial combat on Sept. 21 of that year, he engaged a MiG-15, hitting it and watching it emit a trail of smoke and descend rapidly. But he claimed the encounter as a probable kill since he did not actually see the airplane crash or the pilot eject. He left South Korea with four kills, two probables, and four damaged enemy aircraft. Years later, after a chance meeting, Dolph Overton, a West Point colleague and former Air Force captain and Korean War ace, began to assemble a case to get the probable kill changed to confirmed and Cleveland his deserved recognition. At first the Air Force board rejected the case since personal accounts may not be used as factual evidence. But then bolstered by the discovery of the Russian records that matched Cleveland’s account of the shootdown, the board changed its mind. (USAF report by SSgt. Matthew Bates) (Air Force Magazine’s Guide to Aces and Heroes will be updated in May.)