The now 97-year-old former naval aviator, Royce Williams, reportedly shot down four Soviet MiG fighters within the span of a half hour, but never told anyone about it until now.
On Friday, Mr Williams received the Navy Cross, which is the branch’s second-highest military honour, according to CNN.
On 18 November 1952, Mr Williams was behind the stick of an F9F Panther while fighting in the Korean War.
The 27-year-old pilot and a group of three others were assigned to patrol the extreme northern end of the Korean Peninsula, near the borders of China and the then-Soviet Union.
At some point during their patrol Mr William’s flight lead suffered mechanical issues and was forced to return to an aircraft carrier in the sea of Japan. The leader’s wingmate returned with him, leaving Mr Williams and one other pilot alone on the patrol.
The men were not alone in the skies, however — seven Soviet MiGs were then identified heading towards the patrol.
During a 2021 discussion with the American Veterans Centre, Mr Williams said that the Soviet fighters "just didn’t come out of Russia and engage us in any way before."
The two pilots found themselves an unwitting vanguard as they were ordered by commanding officers to keep themselves between the MiGs and the US aircraft carriers.
Mr Williams recalls four of the MiGs turning to fire on him and his wingman, which prompted him to return fire. He recalls damaging the tail of one Soviet fighter and sending it sailing toward the ground. His wingmate followed the plane down to report its location. After Mr Williams’ first volley with the Soviets, US commanders ordered him not to engage.
"I said, ‘I am engaged,’" Mr Williams told the American Veterans Centre.
The MiG-15s were faster than the US’s sole jet fighter, a fact Mr Williams knew. He assumed if he turned and ran they would catch him and shoot him down, forcing him to fight.
A more than half-hour dogfight ensued, with Mr William’s using the Panther’s considerable maneuverability to stay out of the Soviet’s gunsights while returning fire from his own 20mm cannon.
By the end of the battle, Mr Williams had fired all 760 rounds of his cannon ammunition and downed four Soviet jets.
He did not escape unscathed, however; the MiGs damaged and disabled his plane’s rudder and wing controls, which help the plane climb and descend.
With his ammunition expended, Mr Williams limped back to the US aircraft carrier, though he still had a single MiG chasing him. Thankfully for Mr Williams, his wingman returned and scared off his pursuer.
In the meantime, the aircraft carrier was on high alert and reportedly began firing on Mr Williams, thinking he was one of the Soviet MiGs from the dogfight. An officer on board quickly put a stop to that once they realised who it was.
The ship was also forced to turn itself to align with Mr Williams, as he had lost significant control of his plane due to the damage it received in the dogfight.
Once he was safely back aboard the ship, his crewmates counted 263 holes in his plane, which they ultimately shoved off the ship and into the sea due to the extent of the damage.
While Mr Williams had an incredible story, it was one he would have to keep quiet; high-ranking naval officials and even the US President spoke with him and warned him not to speak of the dogfight as they were worried the direct military conflict between the US and the Soviet Union could kick off World War III.
Mr Williams was first allowed to share his story in 2002 when documents pertaining to his dogfight were declassified. As more people learned about his story, he began receiving more invitations from veterans groups and others to share his memories, ultimately leading to the Navy’s recognition and decision to award him the Navy Cross.