WWII legendary ace’s aircraft lore alive and well in 12th FTW, 39th FTS

  • Published
  • By Janis El Shabazz, 340th Flying Training Group Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas – 340th Flying Training Group’s 39th Flying Training Squadron, initially activated as the 39th Pursuit Squadron in 1940, re-designated as the 39th FTS in 1999 and subsequently activated in the Reserve component in 2001, has a storied WWII past that’s being celebrated by its operational host, the 12th Flying Training Wing, which painted the squadron's T-6 flagship aircraft in the heritage scheme used on the P-51 “Little Girl” that then-Capt. Leroy Grosshuesch flew to single-handedly sink a Japanese destroyer off Goto Retto near Kyushu, Japan in 1945.

Grosshuesch was the commander of the 39th Fighter Squadron on July 30, 1945, when he embarked, with four other aircraft, on a search and destroy mission over Southern Japan. Flying in heavy overcast at 1,000 to 1,100 feet, they came upon two destroyers. His P-51 had no bombs that day – just machine guns and four 20mm cannons. Under heavy anti-aircraft fire he dove in and released a long burst on one of the destroyers. With his aircraft obscured from view by a large fire ball resulting from the explosion of the decimated destroyer, his flying mates thought he had perished in his attack on the destroyer. He survived and was awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry that day. Grosshuesch (eventually promoted to colonel) became a U.S. Army Air Force ACE, credited with shooting down eight enemy aircraft in aerial combat.

“As Citizen Airmen we proudly support our active duty partners in the 12th FTW to accomplish the critical Air Education and Training Command mission,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Lessner, 39th FTS commander. “The12th Operations Group and 559th FTS efforts to get the 39th flagship painted in the WWII pattern to honor the squadron’s heritage is a testament to our bond and seamless total force integration relationship, working side-by-side daily to provide unrivaled instructor pilots to AETC to graduate the world’s best military pilots for service in the world’s greatest Air Force. We are honored to be the standard bearers carrying on the legacy of the proud heritage cemented by commander Grosshuesch over Japan in 1945.”

The 39th FTS is the Reserve associate to the 12th FTW at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. The 39th’s heritage is backed by having earned 16 campaign streamers, 12 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards and a presidential unit citation.

Lessner will lead a 39th FTS all Reserve four aircraft dissimilar formation flyover above JBSA-Lackland Nov. 5 to salute the unit's sister squadron, the 433rd Training Squadron, the only all-Reserve military training unit in the Air Force, as the 433rd graduates 600 new Airmen into the long blue line.

During the graduation flyover, 340th FTG Commander Col. Michael Vanzo, whose grandfather fought to capture Okinawa and provide the airfield that Grosshuesch’s team used for their historic flight, will join 737th Training Group Commander Col. Michael Newsome at JBSA-Lackland to welcome America's new Airmen to the Air Force.