From July 1939 to September 1945, the Army Air Forces trained 193,440 pilots. About 36,000 became fighter pilots, but of that number only 697 achieved the honored status of ace during World War II. Many of those aces flew again in the Korean War. Six of them shot down five or more enemy jets to form the elite circle of Air Force prop and jet aces. One of the six was Harry Thyng, a member of Flying School Class 40-A, whose career was studded with distinctions.
In the late spring of 1942, the 31st Fighter Group arrived in the UK to be equipped with Spitfires. Seven of its senior officers were detached to an RAF fighter group to gain operational experience. Among them was Maj. Harrison Thyng, commander of the 309th Squadron. On July 26, 1942, the 31st pilots flew on an RAF fighter sweep over northern France to become, according to several sources, the first AAF fighter pilots to see combat in Europe. Three weeks later, Thyng was awarded the Silver Star for protecting one of his pilots downed in the Channel while Thyng himself was under attack by enemy fighters.
Early in November 1942, the 31st Group moved to Gibraltar to support the Nov. 8 Allied invasion of North Africa (see November ’88 “Valor“). On D-day of Operation Torch, Thyng led his squadron to a field in Algeria. There, American aircraft in the landing pattern were under attack by Vichy French Dewoitine 520 fighters. The 309th pilots downed three of the four Dewoitines, one of them falling to Thyng’s guns for his first confirmed victory.