World War II ace Bill Halton (1917-1952) – one of the most decorated fliers to ever hail from Rhode Island – was born on July 17, 1917, in Providence. By the time he was killed in action in Korea, he had earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with 17 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Croix de Guerre with Star and numerous campaign ribbons.
He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on August 18, 1941, and was commissioned and awarded his pilot wings on March 7, 1942. After completing P-47 Thunderbolt training, then-Captain Halton was assigned to the 328th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group in England, scoring his first aerial victory in February 1944. He transitioned to P-51 Mustangs and transferred to the 487th Fighter Squadron, was promoted to Major and took command of that unit in November 1944.
In September 1945, at the age of 28, he became Commander of the 352nd Fighter Group. While flying with the 328th FS and the 487th FS, Col. Halton was credited with shooting down 10.5 enemy aircraft and strafing 2 more on the ground. He was released from active duty in March of 1946, but returned on July 5, 1946. When the Korean War broke out, he returned to combat again flying the F-51 Mustang with the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron of the 18th Fighter Bomber Group. In September 1951 he was given command of the 136th Fighter-Bomber Group, moving the unit from Japan to Taegu AB, South Korea. His unit primarily flew interdiction missions against North Korean rail transportation.
In March, 1952, he became Deputy Commander of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, with specific instructions not to fly in combat. However, Colonel Halton made a special request to fly additional missions in order to show that the Mustang could successfully operate in jet combat zones without fighter-interceptor cover. He earned the DSC on one such mission in April, 1952. On May 21, 1952, his aircraft was shot down on a low-level bombing run by a combination of ground fire and MIG interceptors. He was declared MIA, and his remains have never been recovered.
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