Maj. Manuel John “Pete” Fernandez, Jr. was the third highest scoring U.S. Air Force and American ace of the Korean Conflict with 14.5 victories. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star for extraordinary heroism in Korea on March 21, 1953.

Pete Fernandez was born in Key West, Florida, on April 19, 1925. His grandparents emigrated from Spain to Cuba before settling in the United States. His father, an early amateur enthusiast, became chief radio operator for the new Pan American World Airways, then pioneering the air routes to the Caribbean and Latin America. Pete earned his private pilot’s license at age 15. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps after graduating from High School in 1943, entering the Aviation Cadet Program. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and received his wings on November 20, 1944. He became a pilot instructor at Midland, Texas, followed by instructor assignments in San Jose, Guatemala, and Panama. He didn’t experience any aerial combat in WWII.