WWII Ace, Detroit Native, Helped Organize Michigan ANG

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
One of the last fighter aces to fly as a "Red Devil" of the Michigan Air National Guard died earlier this year.

Urban L. "Ben" Drew was a Detroit native who became the first pilot to shoot down two enemy jet aircraft in a single mission - while flying a propeller-driven P-51 Mustang -- in the later stages of World War II. Drew, who left the military as a major in 1950, also served as the first assistant adjutant general for air for the Michigan National Guard, helping to guide the organization of the Michigan Air National Guard in the years after the Air Force became a seperate military service. Drew died April 3, 2013, at his home in California.

"The 107th Fighter Squadron proudly continues the tradition, established decades ago by legendary Airmen like Urban Drew, to fly, fight, and win -- even against a seemingly better-equipped enemy," said Lt. Col. Emmanuel Saridakis, commander of the 107th FS. "He is a role model for all Airmen."

A native of Detroit and later an alumnus of both Wayne (now Wayne State) University and the University of Michigan, Drew was flying with the Yellowjackets of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 36lst Fighter Group, in Europe when he became an ace, recording a total of six aerial victories. While flying in Europe, Drew's P-51 was nicknamed "The Detroit Miss" after his hometown.

Part of the Eighth Air Force flying out of England, Drew and his fellow Airmen were assigned to fly escort missions to U.S. bombers on missions into Germany. On Oct. 7, 1944, on a flight near Hamm, Germany, Drew engaged and shot down two German ME-262 jet aircraft - the first U.S. pilot or allied Airman to do so. That action drew a request from his squadron that he be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but the medal was rejected due to a lack of supporting evidence. During the combat, the gun camera aboard the Detroit Miss jammed leaving no film of the victories. His Wingman during the flight, 2nd Lt. Robert McCandliss, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during the flight and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war.

Several decades later, the actions of Drew were reviewed by the Air Force - and confirmed by war records of the German Luftwaffe - and he was awarded the Air Force Cross for the action, one of only two such medals awarded for actions during World War II. Drew was finally awarded the medal in 1983. (The Air Force was not established as a separate service until two years after the war.)

"Major Drew's exploits as a fighter pilot during World War II, particularly his two ME-262 'kills,' cement his position as a true patroit and hero," said Brig. Gen. Leonard Isabelle, a fighter pilot who is the current Michigan assistant adjutant general for air. "Our hearts and prayers are with his family as we celebrate his full life and his numerous contributions to both the Air National Guard and our nation's defense."

Following his service in Europe, Drew was assigned to fly P-47 Thunderbolts with the 413th Fighter Squadron, 414th' Fighter Group based on Iwo Jima for the remainder of the war. In total, in addition to his Air Force Cross, Drew was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 15 Air Medals for his combat missions during the war.

After World War II, Drew left the active Air Force was became a member of the newly-re-designated 107th Bombardment Squadron (Light) of the newly-created Michigan Air National Guard. Through several name changes, the 107th today operates as the 107th Fighter Squadron, flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The 107th is nicknamed the "Red Devils." When Drew was assigned to the unit as an instructor pilot, the squadron had recently begun flying F-51 Mustangs - essentially the same aircraft as the P-51, but re-designated in a new naming convention. Drew served with the Michigan Air National Guard 1947-1950.

During Drew's tenure as the assistant adjutant general for air, the Michigan Air National Guard was in the early days of organization after being separated from the Michigan Army National Guard in the fall of 1947.

In 1950, Drew resigned his commission and later went on to own and operate charter air companies in England and later in South Africa. He eventually retired to California, living in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Burial arrangements for Drew are pending at Arlington National Cemetery.