William Shomo

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William A. Shomo was a fighter pilot with the US Army Air Forces during World War II and recipient of the Medal of Honor for bravery on a combat mission over the Philippines.

William Arthur Shomo was born in Jeannette, Pennsylvania on May 30, 1918, and was a licensed embalmer in civilian life. He joined the Army and was assigned in November 1943 to the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, then based in New Guinea and flying P-39s. He was promoted to Captain in September 1944, and became commanding officer of the squadron, by then re-equipped with F-6 Mustangs and based in the Philippines, on Christmas Eve. Two weeks later, on the morning of January 10, Captain Shomo led an armed recon mission over Tuguegarao airstrip on Luzon Island, and spotted a lone Val dive bomber over the field, which he quickly shot down for the first Mustang victory in the Philippines.

Buoyed by this success, Shomo flew another mission to the same area the next day. He and his wingman, Lt. Paul ‘Lippy’ Lipscomb, were flying along the northern coast of Luzon when they ran across a lone ’Betty’ bomber on a southerly heading, escorted by eleven Ki-61 ‘Tonys’ and a Ki-44 ‘Tojo’. Although the enemy planes had the altitude advantage, the two Americans attacked immediately, hoping that a blitz attack would disorient their opponents. As Shomo and Lipscomb started their firing passes, they were astonished to see some of the Japanese fighters waggle their wings in a friendly way, apparently mistaking the Mustangs for more Tonys come to join the escort! Shomo downed two Ki-61s on his first pass, then went back in to bag a third. The bomber dove for a nearby airfield, two Tonys still at its side, but Shomo chased the Betty and put a long burst into its belly, exploding it. The Tojo then latched on to Shomo’s Mustang, firing several well-aimed bursts and forcing Shomo to evade. The Tojo, possibly low on ammo, then dove into the low clouds. Shomo chased and destroyed three more Tonys before the others ran off. He rejoined with Lipscomb, who had shot down three Tonys himself during the battle. The whole engagement had lasted six minutes, and resulted in the destruction of ten enemy aircraft. On April 1, now-Major Shomo was awarded the Medal of Honor for his fight against six-to-one odds.

Neither Shomo nor Lipscomb would see air combat again. Shomo finished the war with over 200 combat missions under his belt, having seen only fourteen enemy planes, eight of which he personally shot down, in his entire tour. Publicity photos taken after his famous fight showed him flying a Mustang called The Flying Undertaker (a reference to his pre-war career).

William Shomo stayed with the Air Force after the war, finally retiring in 1968. He died at his home in Pennsylvania on June 25, 1990, at the age of 72.