NO. 17865 • 27 Dec 1925 – 28 Sep 1952
Killed in Action in North Korea. Remains not found.
Gene Alton Dennis, "Gene A," was born in Tipton, IN. He was the only child of Byron and Margaret Dennis. In his early youth, the Dennis family moved frequently because his father, an agent and telegrapher for the Nickel Plate Railroad, was transferred from one location to another. Consequently, Gene’s school years were spent moving between Indiana and Ohio until his family finally settled during his senior year in high school in St. Mary's, OH, where he graduated from Memorial High School. Despite his short time at that school, he readily entered into student activities. He was a member of the student Activities Committee and the basketball team, his favorite sport.
The many moves the Dennis family made helped make it a close and loving family. He developed a fondness for railroads and learned railroad operations and Morse code from his father, a skill that proved invaluable to Gene A as he went through pilot training. During their frequent moves, his mother tutored him, helping him make the necessary adjustments to new schools.
Early on, Gene A began to focus on aviation while reading the exploits of COL Roscoe Turner, a famous early stunt pilot, observing the Cleveland air races, reading about early aviation developments, and learning about the exploits of the Army Air Forces during WWII. At the age of 17, Gene A enlisted and, after passing the physical and mental tests, was accepted into the Army Air Force aviation cadet program. That was the first step on his path to earning his military pilot wings.
He was assigned to Kessler Army Air Field (AAF), MS, where he completed basic military training and then went through a series of tests to determine his aptitude for flight training. Out of a group of 160 candidates, Gene A was one of six selected for pilot training and attended on-the-line training at Spence AAF, GA. While there, he received and accepted an appointment to the Academy from Fourth Ohio Congressional District Representative Robert Jones. Private Dennis resigned from the aviation cadet program and went to the USMA preparation program at Amherst College, MA, before taking the entrance examinations. After completing the examinations, he was sent to Westover AAF, MA, along with other Air Corps members of the USMAP program.
Happiness and excitement stirred Gene A when he learned he had been accepted to the Academy. On 2 Jul 1945, PVT Dennis became New CDT Dennis and began the "Beast Barracks" ordeal. He took it in stride and looked forward to the academic year and the Army football program. Unfortunately, his happiness ended when he was deficient in Spanish and turned back. Determined to return to West Point and succeed, he attended the Sullivan Preparatory School to prepare for the reentrance examinations. Happiness returned to Gene A, as well as his devoted parents, when he passed the examinations and was readmitted as a member of the Class of '50.
While at the Academy, Gene A’s positive attitude, willingness to help others to adapt to changing situations, and easygoing disposition were traits that demonstrated a strength of character that was recognized by classmates and won him many friends.
After graduation, Gene A reported to Randolph Air Force Base, TX, for primary flight training. On arrival, he was reassigned to Goodfellow AFB because the Korean War requirements for Reservists placed an extra demand on facilities already filled. At Goodfellow, he joined classmates who had begun their flight training but his experience from the Aviation Cadet Program allowed him to catch up with them. He was in one of the first groups to solo and his flight commander identified him as a natural pilot, predicting his destiny to fly fighters. The prediction was valid. Gene A was selected for advanced jet flight training at Williams AFB, AZ, and was one of the first to solo in the T-33 jet trainer. And, it was old times again as he joined his former roommates, Robert A. Williams and William G. Fuller, as they began their training. His parents attended the graduation ceremonies and his mother proudly pinned silver pilot wings on Gene A’s uniform.
He attended the Fighter Combat Crew Training Course at Luke AFB, AZ, and, as had been predicted, his flying and gunnery skills marked him as an outstanding fighter pilot. He usually outmaneuvered fellow trainees and his instructors in simulated air-to-air fighting. His reputation as a superior fighter pilot was further established as Gene A attended theater indoctrination at Johnson Air Base in Japan. One example of his skill involved an accident during an F-80 training flight. On that flight, he experienced complete electrical failure and subsequent engine flameout. He was faced with two options: eject or make a power-off landing. He chose the latter, entering the flameout pattern to set up for a landing and continued to restart the engine. As he turned on to the final glide path, he delayed lowering the landing gear until he was certain the aircraft could glide to a safe landing. He attempted to lower the landing gear just prior to touchdown but not in time. The aircraft slid to a belly landing and Gene A was unhurt and the aircraft deemed repairable. As he stepped out of the cockpit, he was uncertain why the flameout occurred, but knew he had enough airspeed and altitude to reach an entry point and set up a flame out pattern for a "dead stick' landing while continuing to restart the engine and make it to the runway. Make it he did, demonstrating remarkable professional skill.
That was Gene A’s last flight in the F-80. That same day, he received orders to report to the 474th Fighter Bomber Group in Korea, an F-84 unit. After theater indoctrination flights, he began flying bombing and close air support sorties over North and South Korea. After completing 20 combat missions, he was selected to be a flight leader on his 21st flight and scheduled to lead four F-84s on a combat mission near Pyong Yang, North Korea. On that mission, he was shot down. No one in the flight observed a parachute. He was reported missing in action on 28 Sep 1952 and declared dead on 31 Dec 1953.
Gene A was a courageous and unflappable fighter pilot who is missed by his family, friends, and associates. He was a person not to be forgotten and a joy to know. The Air Medal and Purple Heart were added to his WWII and Korean War service awards such as the WWII Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Korean Presidential Award, the United Nations Service Medal, and Korean Service Medal with one service star.
- Classmate and wingman Bill Curry