Lt. Col. Clyde B. East, U.S. Air Force - A Virginia state native, East joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1941, and was stationed with the 414 RCAF Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in May 1943. He completed his combat tour with the RCAF in December of that year, transferring to the U.S. Air Force in January 1944. He remained with the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, until the end of the war in Europe. During this time he flew over 200 combat missions in RF-51 fighters and earned 13 aerial victories, most of them against German Me-109s and Fw-190 fighter aircraft.
East remained with the Air Force after World War II. He flew jets during the Korean War, retired from the Air Force in 1965 and joined the Rand Corporation. East was honored at Veterans Day ceremonies at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library--where East is a Docent--on Nov. 11, 2009, and was introduced as the "Reagan Library's Own American Hero." East now lives in Oak Park, Calif.
Capt. James L. Brooks, U.S. Air Force - A native of Roanoke, Virginia, James L. Brooks entered the Air Force in 1942. He flew P-39s and P-40s in Panama before joining the 31st Fighter Group in Italy in early 1944. The 31st was assigned to the 15th Strategic Air Force for escorting bombers deep into Europe and the Balkans. Brooks recorded his first aerial combat victory over Ploesti, Romania in April 1944.
While on a special mission from Russi to Lvov, Poland, Brooks led the 307th Fighter Squadron during an engagement of 40 JU-87 Stuka dive bombers. The squadron destroyed 27 aircraft. For this mission the 31st received its second Unit Citation and Brooks received the Silver Star. In September 1944 he ended his tour with 280 combat hours and 13 confirmed aerial combat victories-most of them being against Me-109s.
During the Korean War Brooks participated in the first "big, all-jet battle" 42,000 feet over the Yalu River, involving 12 enemy MIGs and four U.S. F-86s.
Brooks resigned from the Air Force in 1951, becoming an engineering test pilot for North American Aviation. He was one of the founders and the first president of the Fighter Aces Association, and a past president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
His war decorations include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross/One Oakleaf Cluster, Air Medal/20 Oakleaf Clusters, and Unit Citation/One Oakleaf Cluster. Brooks now lives in Los Angeles, Calif.
Lt. James K. Kunkle, U.S. Air Force - James K. Kunkle, was a P-38 and P-51 fighter pilot credited with two aerial combat victories. He joined the 401st Fighter Squadron, 370th Group of the 9th Air Force and carried out 36 combat missions in support of the Normandy Landing operations and bombing missions in Germany and the Ardennes. After taking off from Roye/ Amy, 26 miles southeast of Amiens on Sept. 16, 1944, he was attacked near Aachen, Germany, after having attacked two enemy aircraft in order to protect the formation in which he was flying. He was badly burned but was able to open his parachute and was rescued by soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1st Division. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross. Kunkel was one of three American D-Day veterans honored by President Barack Obama and French President Sarkozy in ceremonies at Normandy, France in June 2009. He has also been nominated by the French government to receive the rank of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. Kunkle lives in Santa Barbara, California.
The citation for the DSC reads: "The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to James K. Kunkle (0-763232), Second Lieutenant (Air Corps), U.S. Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-38 Fighter Airplane in the 401st Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group, NINTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 16 September 1944, during an air mission over Aachen, Germany. On this date, while flying as rear man in a squadron on an armed reconnaissance mission, Lieutenant Kunkle noticed that his squadron was about to be surprised by a vastly superior force of enemy aircraft. Unable to summon his leader on the radio, he alone unhesitatingly pulled away from his formation and vigorously attacked the enemy, immediately destroying one of his aircraft. In so doing, Lieutenant Kunkle placed himself in a position to be attacked from the rear and above. When this attack materialized, many hits were registered on his aircraft which caught fire burning his face, neck, and hands. Despite his burning plane and the gunfire from enemy planes, Lieutenant Kunkle continued his attack against the vastly superior enemy force and succeeded in destroying a second enemy aircraft, breaking off combat only when forced to parachute to safety when his left fuel tank exploded. Second Lieutenant Kunkle's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 9th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."
Photo: President Obama greets veteran James Kunkle at D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France, June 2009. Photo courtesy Kunkle.