Manuel "Pete" Fernandez
The Search for the Hispanic Ace of the Korean War
By Stephen Sherman, Nov. 2002. Updated June 25, 2011.
Messages Posted on the AcePilots.com Forum, mid-2002:
"I am disappointed in the amount of information that this site has on the only Latino fighter ace, Capt. Manuel J. Fernandez with 14.5 kills during the Korean War. I would appreciate any information on this war hero to integrate into a thematic 6th grade lesson on Latino War Veterans." - A. Arreola
"I've always been fascinated by the story of Manuel J. Fernández Jr., the 3rd US high scoring ace in Korea with 14.5 kills. But I could never get a book with personal accounts of his victories.
Do any of you know a book which includes his personal accounts? Would you share them with us? Thanks in advance." - D. Zampini
"According to Stephen Sewell (a member of the Korean War Forum of Kansas University, who has researched Russian sources matching US and Soviet records) at least 2 of Fernandez's victories are confirmed and were scored against Soviet MiG pilots. On October 4 1952 (Fernandez's 1st MiG kill) his victim was Lt. Kapranov (578 naval aviation regiment), and on March 14 1953 he shot down Lt. Sedyshev (518 regiment, 216 division). Both Soviet pilots perished. Additionally, two MiGs of 224 IAP were lost on January 14 1953, one of them probably shot down by Fernández. But it must also be noted that one of his claims (March 9 1953) is evidently an overclaim, because the Soviets admit 2 MiG lost that day, but those were scored by other USAF Sabre pilots. All his remaining claims were most likely against Chinese MiGs, and we probably will never know how many of them are actually confirmed." - D. Zampini
"You may have previously checked out this site: Maxwell AFB Korean War Aerial Victory Credits. It has much information concerning Captain Fernandez's victories in the Korean War. The home page of this particular web page is the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Field, Alabama, one should be able to locate official US Air Force history on Captain Fernandez." - Q. Elliott
Being the webmaster of AcePilots.com, I too have also been "fascinated" by the story of Manuel Fernandez, and likewise "disappointed" in the paucity of information available about him. I have duly checked out the excellent site at Maxwell AFB Historial Research Agency, and found the following:
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||521004||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||585 52||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||521120||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||1 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||521216||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||40 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530114||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||66 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530218||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||143 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530218||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||144 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530309||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||170 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530314||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||171 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||2||530321||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||187 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530417||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||241 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530508||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||251 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530516||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||279 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||1||530510||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||280 53||Korea|
|CPT||334 SQ||US||AO2075858||0.5||530510||P||A||MIG 15||F 86||282 53||Korea|
Interesting and useful summary information, but not exactly illuminating. The question remains, "Who was Manuel "Pete" Fernandez?"
A Thumbnail SketchThe Wright Paterson AFB Museum offered the following on its website:
"From September 1952 to May 1953, Capt. Manuel J. Fernandez, Jr., flew 124 combat missions in Korea with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. He is credited with downing 14.5 MiG 15 aircraft during his tour in Korea, becoming the number 2 ace of the conflict. Flying an F-86 aircraft, his first victory occurred on October 4, 1952 and his last 1.5 on 10 May 1953.
"In 1956 he was awarded the Bendix Trophy for setting a record with an average speed of 666.661 mph flying an F-100C from George AFB, California to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. He was also a member of the Nellis AFB, Nevada Mach Riders aerobatics flying team.
"Pete Fernandez was born on April 19, 1925 in Key West, Florida, and in 1943 graduated from Andrew Jackson High School., Miami, Florida. He enlisted as an aviation cadet and in 1948 piloted a C-47 in the Berlin Airlift. For his actions Great Britain made him an honorary member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He achieved the rank of Major before resigning in 1963. "
A Welcome Telephone Call
There's not too much written about Fernandez in the books I've read. For the most part, I have used published books, articles, and other websites as sources for this site. Occasionally, relatives of the aces supply me with more information. One day in the year 2000, I was delighted to receive an email from a gentleman who identified himself as a friend of one of Fernandez' daughters. We spoke on the telephone, and he referred me to another daughter, who apparently held his military information, newspaper clippings, medals, etc.
Fernandez' daughter and I chatted on the telephone too, and she spoke animatedly about her father as a great man. I recall how touched and proud she was, when she described how pilots (strangers) would come up to her and tell her how much they had learned from her father, or what a good man he was. She agreed to send me more information about him. But I never received anything. I have lost track of the contact information, and regret it. (But I should note that there was a certain reticence or sadness or something in her manner that made me not surprised that she didn't send me any information, and also made me reluctant to follow up.)
Obviously, I would be delighted to hear from her, any of Capt. Fernandez' relatives, or anyone with more information about him.
More Messages PostedAfter some of these messages were posted, an aviation expert and military pilot, Jack Cook, provided the following:
"Re: earlier posts, Manny Fernandez was killed flying a drug running aircraft in the Bahamas in the 70s. He had trouble during his Air Force service relating to his race and left the service before retirement." - J. Cook
And this email: "The Fernandez story is a very sad one. He wasn't a drug dealer or a user. Just a normal person in a circumstance when he saw a opportunity to make some desperately needed money. Unfortunately with tragic results. This does not diminish in any way the valiant airman he was. I have a good friend, John Tilley, who lived near him in Florida and flew with him in the Air Force. I'll try to contact him and get some more detailed facts as to him demise and the facts leading to it. Just as tragic is the suicide of Navy ace Cecil Harris on his birthday while in police custody no less, or Oscar Perdomo staying drunk for a year after his only son was KIA in Vietnam, then killing himself. There's a human face to all these men and not all their stories have a storybook ending. I'll post an addendum after I talk to John and give the whole story. Best Regards.............JACK COOK"
And then, this: "This morning I attempted to contact my friend John Tilley for more information about Manny Fernandez. To my shock I learned that Tilley had recently died of brain cancer and is now resting in Arlington Cemetary. John was a career AF pilot, P-38 ace in the 431st FS 5th AF, an avid sportsman, and just a neat guy. He and Manny were great friends, both lived near Homestead Florida. John was quite angry over the treatment his friend received in the Air Force, causing him to leave the service early. He had shared with me the fact that Fernandez had died in a light plane crash in the Bahamas while attempting to smuggle drugs into the US. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Thank God that when this country needed them, men like John Tilley and Manuel Fernandez stepped forward." - J. Cook
An Unfinished Story?That's where the story stands, at this writing, November 2002.
I can only echo Jack Cook's words, "Thank God that when this country needed them, men like John Tilley and Manuel Fernandez stepped forward."
Some Answers - late 2003
In the Fall of 2003, Jose Castillo, a nephew of Pete Fernandez, contacted me. He too wanted to follow up on this story. With tremendous energy and persistence, he soon filled out many of the details of Pete's life, especially the ultimately tragic events after Korea. Based on his research, Mr. Castillo built a fine website: Of MiGs & Moxie: The Amazing Aerial Career of Jet Ace Pete Fernandez. I recommend it highly, especially the 1980 Miami Herald article.