AAE Alum, Walker "Bud" Mahurin, ace WWII Fighter Pilot, dies at age 91. "A Hero in our Midst"
Mahurin was the Army Air Forces' first double ace in Europe during World War II and was known as a very courageous, skilled and tenacious fighter pilot and was the only Air Force pilot to shoot down enemy aircraft in the European and the Pacific theater of operations and in Korea.
Mahurin enlisted in the Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet in September 1941 and was assigned to the 8th Air Forces' 56th Fighter Group based in England to fly a P-47 Thunderbolt. He scored his first aerial victories in August 1943 by shooting down two German fighters while escorting B-17 bombers. By October 1943, Mahurin had become an ace - signifying that he had downed five enemy aircraft.
In November 1943, Mahurin became the first American pilot in the European Theater of Operations to have shot down 10 enemy planes. He also became first recipient of the Silverstar in the famous 56th Fighter Group, the “Wolf Pack”, led by Col. Hubert A. “Hub” Zenke.
On March 27, 1944, he shared credit for downing a German bomber, but had to bail out of his heavily damaged plane over France and met up with members of the French Resistance who took care of him until he was airlifted out by the British Royal Air Force. Due to his knowledge of the French Resistance, he was not allowed to return to combat in Europe, but embarked for combat in the Pacific Theater in January 1944.
Later that year, he became commander of the 3rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 3rd Air Commando Group, in the Philippines. Flying a P-51 Mustang, he scored his only aerial victory in the Pacific in January 1945. Mahurin, who eventually was shot down by ground fire and spent hours in a life raft before being rescued, ended the war with 20.75 aerial victories. (The fraction indicates he shared the victories with other pilots)
On return to the U.S, Mahurin worked at the Pentagon and then returned to Purdue University where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. At the start of the Korean War, he was serving in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force but Mahurin wanted to get back to air combat and he got a temporary tour of duty when he flew an F-86 Sabre jet with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing and scored 3.5 aerial victories before he was hit by ground fire in May 1952. He crash-landed and spent 16 months as a prisoner of war, during which he endured torture and brainwashing.
He was the highest-ranking Air Force serviceman to be captured at the time, and condemned as a war criminal, but was freed on the last day of the prisoner-of-war exchange program and returned to the U.S.
After the war, he remained active in the Air Force and helped the Air Force, his willingness to discuss brainwashing techniques and physiological pressure applied to American POW’s, greatly aided the content of survival courses.
Leaving active duty in 1956, Mahurin entered the aerospace industry and joined the Air Force Reserves, subsequently retiring as a Colonel.
The School of Aeronautics & Astronautics honored Mahurin in 1999 as “Outstanding Aerospace Engineer” and he returned to Purdue University later that same year as one of the schools "Old Masters", a program that gets the almost graduates ready for the new world of business.
In 2003, Mahurin ’s long time friend and fellow alum Marine Corp Captain Richard "Dick" Freeman BSAE'50, nominated Mahurin for the USAA Magazine "Heroes in Our Midst Contest" where Mahurin took runner-up place. At that time, Dick summed up all Mahurin's achievements by saying "Mahurin is an outstanding example of what a hero should be and I’m proud to call him my best friend."
Most recently, in May 2007 celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Air Force, the organizers was looking for the greatest hero in the history of the Air Force, and they could not have found a bigger hero than Mahurin. He took part as an honorary marshal in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. where the parade drew more than 150,000 spectators.
His autobiography, "Honest John: The Autobiography of Walker M. Mahurin," was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1962.
Mahurin was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.