top of page

Paul E. Drury joined The Navy in November 1942 and completed flight training in August 1943 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ensign Drury was then sent to Jacksonville, Florida where he received carrier qualifications flying the F4F wildcat.


That year the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce asked the Navy to fly a formation of planes down the St. Johns River for Navy Day. Paul was chosen as one of four for possibly the first Navy fly over in Jacksonville. Paul and his fellow pilots were allowed to fly low for the enjoyment of the public. The reception was good and once they turned around and came back, he and his fellow pilots daringly flew under the Main Street Bridge!


Ensign Drury then reported to VF-27 in California in late December 1943. VF-27 sailed to Hawaii where they qualified on the USS Princeton in the F6F Hellcat. While in Hawaii they painted the tiger cat face on their Hellcats. It was strict Navy policy to keep the appearance of their aircraft free of artwork except for small squadron emblems or aircraft names. Other services allowed their aviators elaborate artwork privileges. The Tiger Cat face painted on the cowling gave the Hellcat a frightful appearance. Paul’s number 10, Paoli Local, must have looked hideous to the Japanese pilots.


Paul saw combat for the first time on September 21st 1944 in the first carrier raids over Luzon. Ensign Drury and his fellow squadron mates engaged the Japanese over Manila in a wild dogfight. Paul started his trek towards being a Navy ace with three and one half victories that day, destroying one Zero, two Tony’s, and sharing a Hamp with his division leader, Carl Brown.


His next combat came on the morning of October 24th as his squadron was scrambled off to deal with an enemy observation aircraft that had been tailing them for the past several days. Paul and the other pilots were assigned to whatever fighter that was ready to fly. Paul took off in another Hellcat other than his “Paoli Local”. The flight consisted of two groups of four aircraft. Paul was flying wing to Red Shirley. Their carrier radar operators vectored them from one bogey to another bogey. Each time they shot down the snooping enemy aircraft. Suddenly a call came in for both flights of four to go at full speed to intercept another flight of bogies. As they neared the location of the enemy, Paul saw the sky blackened with Japanese aircraft. Paul and his fellow pilots were to take part in the greatest sea and air battle in history. The Battle for Leyte Gulf. Even though Paul and the others were low on fuel and ammunition, they charged the incoming enemy. After downing two Zero’s and a Tojo, Ensign Drury landed back on the Princeton as an Ace. Paul and his fellow pilots were being debriefed in the ready room, when a Japanese pilot dropped his bomb on the Princeton. Below the Princeton’s flight deck, a squadron of torpedo bombers had just been filled with gas and fitted with torpedoes. They were ready to be lifted up to the flight deck for launching when the enemy bomb penetrated the flight deck and exploded among them. One by one the loaded planes exploded. Paul and the other pilots were sent to the flight deck to stand ready to take off with their fighters if things turned bad for the carrier. Before they could even strap themselves into their Hellcats, internal explosions had destroyed both of the ship’s elevators. The bowels of the ship were an inferno. The demise of the Princeton was inevitable. With the Princeton in flames, the Captain gave orders to abandon ship. Paul and the others took to the sea and began swimming toward the destroyer Irwin. They pulled themselves up a cargo rope on the side of the rolling ship. The order was then given to the Reno to sink the Princeton. As Paul and the others watched, the once mighty Princeton was enveloped in a huge mushroom cloud. As the cloud dispersed, the Princeton was gone. It was now 6:00 p.m., and Paul was indeed ready for rest. Paul and most of the other survivors of the Princeton were then transferred to the damaged Birmingham to be taken back to Pearl Harbor.


Paul returned to the States and helped reform VF-27 abroad the USS Independence. The war ended with Ensign Drury and his squadron flying over Tokyo Bay as General Mac Arthur accepted the surrender of the Japanese Leaders on the deck of the battleship Missouri.


Drury left the service after the war credited with six and one half confirmed aerial victories. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Gold Star, and the Air Medal with one Gold Star.

"F6F Navy Ace Paul Drury"

  • Ernie Boyette