This real-life “Top Gun” from the Korean War hid his wartime experiences for 50 years.
According to KUSI, Navy pilot Royce Williams in 1952 participated in what may have been the longest solo aerial duel against four Soviet jets, taking out the adversaries’ aircraft in less than 30 minutes.
Williams, 97, who retired in 1975, was presented with the Navy Cross on Friday. This is the second-highest military medal bestowed by the service.
Williams had promised to remain quiet about this fleeting but memorable aerial battle for decades, even among friends and family, according to a 2022 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In the “Top Gun” movies, Tom Cruise, who portrayed the fictional Maverick, commended the American hero on his win.
He said on video recording,“Your grit and bravery are simply astounding. You are a true American hero and I offer you my most sincere thanks and congratulations to you, sir.”
On November 18, 1952, Williams and three other US fighter pilots were operating a combat air patrol in an F9F Panther over the Yalu River, over the northernmost portion of the Korean Peninsula that separates North Korea from China, and close to the Soviet Union.
Due to mechanical issues, the patrol’s commander returned to a US aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan with his wingman. Williams and his wingman then observed seven Soviet MiG-15s heading in their direction as they approached the Americans.
Williams told the American Veterans Center, “They just didn’t come out of Russia and engage us in any way before.”
Four of the MiGs opened fire on the pair when they were told to move in between the Soviet forces and the American aircraft ships, prompting Williams to retaliate.
Williams defied orders to stand down and outmaneuvered Soviet fighter fighters for the next 30 minutes. He took 263 holes in his own jet after firing all 760 rounds of the 20mm shells his plane was carrying, but he still managed to make it back to the aircraft carrier unharmed.
After the declassification of Korean War documents in 2002, Williams only started telling the tale, according to The Independent. The Soviet Union did not participate in the Korean War as a recognized combatant.
Williams was referred to as “an American hero and a Top Gun pilot like no other,” by Rep. Darrell Issa, who worked to get his accomplishments formally acknowledged.