Kenneth Ford, Marine Corps Ace, VMF-121

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Kenneth M Ford flew with Guadalcanal’s “Cactus Air Force” during the early days of WWII. First seeing action in F4F Wildcats, Ford later shot down five aircraft at the controls of the F4U Corsair. Ford was in the thick of things. Shot down on one occasion, and forced to ditch on others, he never stayed on the ground for long. I got to know the man in later years. His love for the Marine Corps and his Corsairs were something he never tired of talking about.

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Marine Corps aviation cadet at Long Beach, 1940.

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Early days in the South Pacific. The Wildcats Ford flew were ex-USS Lexington aircraft that recovered aboard USS Yorktown at Coral Sea when the former carrier was aflame. Given that the Yorktown had more Wildcats than it needed, the “surplus” Lexington aircraft were handed to the Marines. Pictured are two of those aircraft, F4F-3’s with non-folding wings. The new -4’s (folding wings) had arrived in the fleet, and the older “hard wing” birds were fine by the Marines on land.

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“66” was Ford’s mount when he bagged two Zeros. Taking off from Henderson Field on 12 June 1943, Ford and a flight of eight Corsairs intercepted Japanese fighters over the Russell Islands. Ford had two confirmed, and one probable. Ford told me that squadron mate Joe Foss was a great instructor. “I listened – we all listened – to Foss. When it came to air combat tactics, he was always right. When I first saw Zeros face to face, I was hopped-up and nervous, but boy, was I prepared.”

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