By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communications and Outreach Division
There are the rare times when the number five is luckier than a seven. Not at a Las Vegas casino, perhaps, but definitely so for a naval aviator nicknamed “Lucky Pierre,” the U.S. Navy’s only ace of the Korean War.
Guy Pierre Bordelon Jr., a native of Ruston, La., was a pre-law student at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and then later enrolled at Louisiana State University where he studied until the middle of 1942. A few months later he joined the Navy Reserves and went to Georgia for flight school as an aviation cadet. After completing advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas, he became an ensign with his wings of gold in May of 1943.
Ensign Bordelon, who struggled through flight school, became what is known as a “plowback” instructor, assigned to the Training Command, rather than being assigned to the fleet.
It was a fortuitous decision. “Being kept back from going out to the fleet was the best thing that could have happened to me, because then I really learned how to fly,” Bordelon told his daughter Michele, as quoted in previous articles.
When the war ended, he had been training with an FM-2 Wildcat squadron. He then applied for the regular Navy.
Promoted to lieutenant in 1946, Lt. “Lucky Pierre” Bordelon’s career was relatively uneventful. He had been an instructor and staff officer and had done everything that was considered routine onboard ships like USS Corregidor (CVE 58), USS Valley Forge (CV 45), and USS Helena (CA 75). At the start of the Korean War, Bordelon served in numerous intelligence, operations and logistics positions within his Cruiser Division Three.
In April of 1952, Bordelon reported to Composite Squadron 3 (VC-3), an all-weather fighter squadron based at Moffett Field in California. He was the Officer-In-Charge (OIC) of a detachment flying the Vought F4U Corsair. For the next year he gained experience in the relatively new field of night radar fighter interception that would soon make history.
Onboard USS Princeton (CVA 37), Bordelon and “team dog” performed night interdiction over the rugged peninsula of Korea almost nightly. During this time, Bordelon flew 41 low-level missions against Communist transportation systems and earned three air medals.
Bordelon and his team were accustomed to enemy flak and other dangers connected with night combat operations. So in the summer of 1953, Fifth Air Force requested his team’s services to take on low-flying Communist aircraft harassing United Nations forces at night. Several U.S. Air Force jets had been lost trying to engage these “Bed-Check Charlies” so Bordelon and his team went ashore to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Pyongtaek, Seoul and got their aircraft ready.
On June 29, 1953, shortly before midnight, Bordelon shot down two Yakovlev 18s. The next night he destroyed two North Korean Lavochkin fighters.
His “kills” weren’t the only exciting aspect of his missions. One evening he chanced upon two Tupolev Tu-2 bombers, but as he closed in on them, he discovered a disconnected wire kept him from firing. Rather than pulling off, Bordelon throttled his Corsair, pulling ahead of the enemy aircraft. What came next is remarkable. The former “plowback” pilot turned around, flipped on his landing lights and lowered his landing gear, and then headed directly at the two enemy aircraft. As Bordelon closed the gap, the enemy pilots panicked, with one diving straight down and the other pulling straight up. Bordelon’s gamble on his game of Chicken paid off – he had broken up their bombing run on Inchon.
Lucky Pierre’s fifth “kill” came early in the morning on July 17th when he shot down another Lavochkin fighter while dodging anti-aircraft fire. All five of these victories were accomplished in the same F4U-5N Corsair, named “Annie Mo”, in honor of his wife. He was the only pilot to earn “ace” status (shooting down five enemy aircraft, or kills) during the Korean War, the only U.S. pilot to score all of his “kills” at night, and the last American pilot to “ace” while flying a propeller-driven aircraft. See Bordelon’s own recollections of the night fighter experience here.
Alas, the “Annie Mo” lasted only another week; she was wrecked in an accident while being piloted by an Air Force Reservist.
In November of 1953, Bordelon went to Europe to instruct pilots of the French Aeronavale to fly Corsairs. When he returned to the United States in 1954 he served in various command and staff positions in the United States and the Pacific. One of his last staff assignments was for Commander, Task Force 140, which supported Apollo recovery missions.
Cmdr. Guy “Lucky Pierre” Bordelon had a 27-year career in which he flew more than 15,000 hours and earned 37 decorations, including two Silver Stars, Korean Order of Military Merit, the NASA Outstanding Service Medal and the Navy Cross, given to those who have demonstrated extreme valor in the face of an armed enemy. It is second only to the Medal of Honor.
After Bordelon retired in 1969, he and his wife Anne returned to Louisiana. He died Dec. 19, 2002. In 2004, the Guy P. Bordelon, Jr. Air Terminal at Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base in New Orleans was dedicated to him. In 2011, Bordelon was inducted into the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame and Museum.