PERDOMO, OSCAR FRANCIS
PERDOMO, OSCAR FRANCIS (1919–1976). Oscar Francis Perdomo was the last fighter pilot of World War II to shoot down five enemy aircraft in one day and earn the title of “ace in a day.” Born in El Paso, Texas, on June 14, 1919, he was the son of Mexican immigrants Frank Perdomo and Beatrice (Rodriguez) Perdomo and the eldest of five children. When he was five, his family moved to Los Angeles, California. He attended James A. Garfield High School, where he actively participated on the track team and was a member of the yearbook staff. He graduated in June 1937.
On October 16, 1940, while working for the Pacific Milk Crate Company, Perdomo registered for the draft in Los Angeles. Almost two years later, on August 11, 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army but was placed in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, the forerunner to today’s U.S. Army Reserve. In February 1943 Perdomo, by then married to Helen Doris Stewart, entered active duty at Santa Ana Army Air Base. He began the U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet Training Program and first underwent a series of tests to determine his ability to fly and in what capacity—navigator, bombardier, or pilot. Accepted as a pilot, Cadet Perdomo proceeded to pre-flight training, which included a condensed basic training program; academic courses in mathematics, physics, and military law; and time in flight simulators.
Upon completion, Perdomo transferred to Thunderbird Field II near Scottsdale, Arizona, for primary flight training. He was assigned to Training Squadron 5, Twelfth Army Air Forces Training Detachment, and flew the Boeing PT-17 Stearman—a two-seat, fabric-covered, wooden-framed biplane trainer. Paired with an instructor, he was required to successfully complete sixty hours of flight time including his first solo flight. On August 28, 1943, he graduated. In his class yearbook, he noted that “64% of the class washed out.”
Perdomo then went to Minter Field, near Shafter, California, for basic flight training and most likely flew a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. His training focused on familiarization with this more powerful and complex aircraft and seventy to seventy-five hours of formation flying, instrument flying, navigation, acrobatics, and night flying. Advanced flight training took him to Williams Field, near Chandler, Arizona, where he flew the North American AT-6 Texan. Cadets were required to complete seventy flying hours that included aerial gunnery, combat maneuvers, navigation, and instrument flying. He graduated on January 7, 1944, with Class WFTC 44-A, earning his Pilot Badge (or “wings”), and was commissioned a second lieutenant.
He reported to Chico Army Air Base on January 20, 1944, and by April was transferred to Harding Field near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he began training in the latest version of the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt, a fighter-bomber. Later that year, he transferred to Dalhart Army Air Field in Texas, where he joined the 464th Fighter Squadron, 507th Fighter Group. On February 26, 1945, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.
The following April, elements of the 507th began to arrive on Ie Shima, a small island four miles to the northwest of Okinawa that would serve as the group’s base until the end of the war. Perdomo, along with the 464th Fighter Squadron, arrived in June. His Thunderbolt bore nose art of a personal nature and showed a baby in a diaper with a rifle in one hand, a cigar in its mouth, wearing a black derby. It was accompanied by the words, “Li’l Meaties’ MEAT CHOPPER”; the comical depiction paid homage to his infant son Kenneth.
The initial mission of the 507th was escorting B-29 Superfortress bombers from Okinawa on very long range (VLR) daylight raids on Japan, China, and Korea. On August 8, 1945, Lieutenant Perdomo participated in at least one such raid against steel works in Yawata, Japan. During this period, the U.S. Army Air Force was abandoning high altitude daylight missions for low level night missions against the Japanese. This eliminated the need for escorts and allowed fighters on Ie Shima to focus on their own very long range sweeps for Japanese aircraft.
On August 13, 1945, fifty-three P47s of the 507th Fighter Group took off from Ie Shima. Mission 507-35 consisted of a fighter sweep over Keijo, Korea (present-day Seoul). Of the fifty-three fighters that took off, only thirty-eight reached the target area. There they encountered fifty-plus enemy aircraft, many of them referred to as “Oscars” (Nakajima Ki-43 single engine fighters), at 8,000 feet. This was Perdomo’s tenth and last combat sortie since arriving on Ie Shima. He shot down three enemy aircraft. Then, as he began to climb in search of friendly aircraft, he spotted two Japanese Yokosuka K5Y1 navy biplane trainers (known as “Willows”) and fired on the closest one, which spiraled into the ground. The second “Willow” escaped, and Perdomo resumed his aerial climb, when he encountered four more “Oscars.” Outnumbered, he dove hoping to elude the fighters, and, using the clouds as cover, he managed to maneuver behind them. He singled out and successfully shot down one of the enemy planes.
Mission 507-35 lasted eight hours and eighteen minutes. Of the twenty Japanese aircraft shot down by the 507th, Perdomo accounted for five. His aerial victories were confirmed by film from his nose camera. Upon closer review, it was found that the four Nakajima Ki-43s were actually Nakajima Ki-84s (named “Franks”) with the Twenty-second and the Eighty-fifth Sentais.
For his actions on August 13, 1945, Lieutenant Perdomo received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. As a whole, the 507th Fighter Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. In addition, he earned the unique distinction of “ace in a day.” The term refers to an aviator who shoots down five or more enemy aircraft in one day. With the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan on August 14, Perdomo was the last aviator of World War II to earn the distinction.
In January 1946 the 507th Fighter Group was transferred to Yonton, Okinawa, where four months later it was deactivated. In his short tour of duty in the Pacific, Perdomo ended World War II with ten combat sorties and 56.6 flight hours. He left active duty on January 10, 1950, but was recalled on January 21, 1952, due to the Korean War. During the next six years, he continued flying, including F-86 Sabre jets, and served at several air bases throughout the United States with one tour at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam. He left active duty in January 1958 and entered the United States Air Force Reserves. He was placed on the inactive roles in 1970 with rank of major.
Divorced some years earlier, Perdomo married Helenett Louise Kuhn in September 1962; they had two daughters. They divorced in 1967. In May 1970 he received word that his son, Kris Mitchell Perdomo, a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, had been killed in action. His grief over the death of his son contributed to his alcoholism and decline in health.
On March 2, 1976, Maj. Oscar Francis Perdomo died in Los Angeles. His ashes were spread on the ocean, and he was survived by his remaining three children. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross and Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, his decorations include the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.
Oscar F. Perdomo Collection, San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. Mary Scott, “The Last Ace of World War II,” Air Power History 36 (Fall 1989). John Stanaway, Mustang and Thunderbolt Aces of the Pacific and CBI (New York: Osprey Publishing Limited, 1999).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Mike Zambrano, Jr., "PERDOMO, OSCAR FRANCIS ," accessed July 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fperd.
Uploaded on March 11, 2020. Modified on March 24, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.