Born to Romanian immigrant parents in East Chicago, Indiana, Vraciu lived briefly in Romania as a child. In early 1941, he graduated from DePauw University and in June Vraciu enlisted as a naval aviator in the United States Navy Reserve. Vraciu is also a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity.
- War service
The squadron entered combat in October 1943, flying from USS Independence.
Vraciu scored his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on October 10, 1943. He and O'Hare came across an enemy formation; O'Hare went below the clouds to get a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero and Vraciu lost him, but followed a second Zero to Wake Island, where it landed. Vraciu strafed the Zero on the ground. He then saw a Mitsubishi G4M ("Betty") bomber and shot it down. Vraciu later commented: "O'Hare taught many of the squadron members little things that would later save their lives. One example was to swivel your neck before starting a strafing run, to make sure enemy fighters were not on your tail." Vraciu also learned from O'Hare the "highside pass" used when attacking Betties, to avoid the lethal 20 mm cannon wielded by the tail gunner.
The squadron later transferred to USS Intrepid, which was nicknamed "The Evil I" because of a reputation for bad luck. However, Vraciu began downing Japanese aircraft in multiples: three Betties on January 29, 1944 and four fighters over Truk Atoll on February 17. With nine victories, he became and remained VF-6's leading ace of the war.
Although he had an opportunity to rotate back to the US, Vraciu requested additional combat duty and joined VF-16 on USS Lexington. By mid-June he had 12 kills, a record for carrier aviators at the time.
The next day, escorting bombers in an attack on the Japanese Mobile Fleet (Kido Butai ), Vraciu downed his 19th victim, making him the foremost US Navy ace by a considerable margin, although he would hold that title for only four months.
For his actions at the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, Vraciu was nominated for the Medal of Honor. However, when the nomination reached the desk of Admiral George D. Murray, at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii, it was downgraded to a Navy Cross.
Soon afterwards, Vraciu was assigned to the promotion of war bond sales in the US. There he married his sweetheart, Kathryn Horn, with whom he would have three daughters and two sons.
Later in 1944, Vraciu managed to obtain a return assignment to the Pacific, flying F6F Hellcats in VF-20. After two missions with VF-20, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a December mission over the Philippines. Vraciu was rescued by Filipino resistance fighters, who appointed him commander of a 180-strong guerrilla unit. Six weeks later he made contact with US forces and was returned to the Navy.
Vraciu ended the war as the US Navy's fourth highest ranking ace.
He subsequently became a test pilot and was instrumental in forming the post-war Naval Air Reserve program. Promoted to Commander, Vraciu led VF-51 from 1956 to 1958, winning the Navy's individual gunnery championship in 1957.
He retired in 1964 to begin a career in banking.
Vraciu now lives in Danville, California. Although retired, he continues to be active on the lecture circuit. Vraciu made an appearance in "The Zero Killer", a January 2007 episode of the History Channel's Dogfights series.
He has persistently declined invitations to write an autobiography. However, Vraciu cooperated with the Indiana Historical Society Press, which in March 2010 published an account of his life, titled Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu.
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