Colonel Charles H. MacDonald, the USAAF's third ranking ace in the Pacific Theater during World War II, began his distinguished career as a flying cadet at Randolph Field in 1938. His early assignments included pursuit flying training in the 20th Pursuit Group at Barksdale Field, Louisiana; Moffett Field, California; and, eventually Hamilton Field, California. In February 1941, MacDonald was transferred to Wheeler Field, Hawaii. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he managed to get a damaged fighter airborne. Patrolling the west side of the island, his biggest enemy was the flak from nervous gunners since the Japanese had already returned to their carriers.
In October 1942, newly promoted Major MacDonald was transferred to Westover Field, Massachusetts, as the Squadron Commander of the 342d Pursuit Squadron. In early 1943, the 342d were loaded onboard ship and ordered to Europe. In mid-Atlantic, the unit, with winter flying gear, was diverted to Australia. October 1943 found MacDonald as Commander of the 475th Fighter Group flying P-38 Lightnings out of Doba Dura, New Guinea. Shortly after assuming command, he downed two Japanese dive-bombers as they attacked Allied shipping. By June 1945, MacDonald had 27 aerial victories.
From July 1945 until mid-1948, he served as the Legislative Liaison to the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in 1949. Later assignments included Commander of the 33d Fighter Group flying F-84s at Otis Field, Massachusetts; Operations Officer at 1st Air Force Headquarters, Mitchell Field; and Commander of the 23d Fighter Wing flying F-86 Sabres at Presque Isle, Maine. Colonel MacDonald next served as the Air Attaché to Sweden for 3 years.
An avid sailor, MacDonald was the first American in the diplomatic corps to compete in sailing events with Swedish diplomats. In 1956, he began a 3-year tour, first as a student and then as an instructor, at the National War College on Fort McNair. His last assignment was as the Deputy Commander, 25th Air Division, McChord Air Force Base, Washington. Colonel MacDonald retired from the Air Force in 1961, and for 10 years toured the Pacific by sailboat.
On Christmas Day, 1944, over Luzon Island in the Philippines, MacDonald sighted a large number of enemy planes 5,000 feet below. As he led his flight of P-38s down, he met 15 to 20 enemy fighters at 14,000 feet. Splitting the Japanese formation as he closed, he quickly downed one enemy fighter and, while making a pass at a bomb-carrying fighter, set it afire with a deflection shot--pulling up over it just as the aircraft's phosphorus bomb exploded. Climbing behind two other fighters, Colonel MacDonald scored hits on one, causing it to burn and the pilot to bail out, and then, as he turned on the remaining plane, his guns jammed. Weaving his way from the area through enemy ground fire, he turned back to drive off a Japanese plane pursuing a P-38, ordered his wingman to fire as he made a head-on pass and forced the enemy plane to abandon the attack. He then resumed his formation position and led his flight from the area. For his extraordinary heroism that day, Colonel MacDonald was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, First Oak Leaf Cluster.