YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Fred J. Christensen, 84; WWII Ace Downed 6 Enemy Planes in 1 Day

April 15, 2006|From the Washington Post

Fred J. Christensen, a leading American ace of World War II who once shot down six German transport airplanes in a day, died April 4 at the Beaumont nursing home in Northborough, Mass. He was 84 and had diabetes.

Christensen was a captain in the Army Air Forces in Europe and assigned to the 56th Fighter Group, a unit called Zemke's Wolfpack, for its commander, Col. Hubert "Hub" Zemke. Among the group's star fliers were David Schilling and Francis "Gabby" Gabreski, who was credited with 28 downings and was the top American ace in Europe.

From his single-engine P-47 Thunderbolt, Christensen managed 21 confirmed aerial kills and shared another.

Though he had a magnificent war record before July 7, 1944, his actions that day brought him national notice.

He was guiding a squadron over central Germany at 10,000 feet when he spotted below a series of large German transport planes -- JU-52s -- as they were preparing to land at a Luftwaffe airfield. He dove in for a close look, alerting other members of the squad first, he told the old United Press wire service.

"They wanted to know if they should stay up there for top cover for me, and I said, 'Hell, no, might as well come on down, too,' " he said. "I just kept moving up the line, shooting them down. They were only about 50 to 100 feet off the ground, and they didn't have a chance."

While other members of his squad shot down several of the so-called Junkers, Christensen's six was the "kill" record for a single mission at the time.

Fred Joseph Christensen, the son of a Harvard University machinist, was born in Watertown, Mass., on Oct. 17, 1921. He said he had wanted to be a fighter pilot since boyhood and learned to fly at 15 when a high school friend's father let him practice in his plane.

After the war, he attended Boston University's music school -- in later years, he played jazz piano at Veterans Administration hospitals -- and flew in the Massachusetts Air National Guard for many years. In the 1960s, he served in the Air Force reserves and also was a technical writer.

His military decorations included the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

His marriage to Marjorie Thompson Christensen ended in divorce.

Survivors include three daughters, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.

Los Angeles Times Articles