The Marine Corps' first ace, Marion E. Carl, was awarded the Navy Cross for " extraordinary heroism" during his very first combat mission. Upon graduating from college in 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. Due to his intense desire to be a flyer, Carl resigned his Army commission to enter the Marine aviation cadet program and received his wings in late 1939. While at sea with VMF-221 Squadron, his carrier was diverted to Midway Island the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor. By mid-1942, the island's total defensive air strength stood at a meager 100 aircraft, including 21 obsolete Brewster Buffaloes and seven F4F-3 Wildcat fighters.
At the start of the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942, Captain Marion Carl flew one of the Grumman F4Fs on his first combat mission, scoring his first aerial victory and winning the Navy Cross. After Midway, he joined VMF-223 Squadron which, along with a dive bomber squadron, became the first echelon of Guadalcanal's Cactus Air Force. In less than 3 months of fighting over this bitterly contested island, Carl scored 15 1/2 aerial victories and won his second Navy Cross. Furthermore, TIME magazine wrote up an incident during which he bailed out of a crippled fighter over the water; he was eventually picked up by a friendly native in a canoe and returned to base 5 days later.
Marion Carl was finally withdrawn from combat in early 1944, finishing as the seventh ranking Marine Corps ace with 18 1/2 victories. Flying as a test pilot after the war, he was the first Marine aviator to operate a jet aircraft from a carrier and set both world speed and altitude records. He also commanded the first Marine jet squadron, led the first jet aerobatic team, became the first Marine helicopter pilot, and was the first pilot to wear a full pressure suit. His other assignments included leading air units in Vietnam and serving as Inspector General of the Marine Corps. Having accumulated 14,000 flying hours, Marion Carl retired as a major general in 1973.
On the night of 3 June 1942, a Japanese strike force with four aircraft carriers was spotted closing on Midway Island. Flying a F4F-3 Wildcat , Captain Marion Carl was in one of two air groups committed early next morning to defend the Marine garrison. Some 30 miles off Midway, 25 American Fighters tackled 108 Japanese Zeros and dive-bombers. Though both greatly outnumbered and outclassed, the Marine pilots fought doggedly against the highly experienced enemy flyers. Following this initial air engagement, 15 of the 25 Marine aircraft failed to return; Carl's Wildcat was one of only two planes fit to fly again. As a result of the Island's heroic defensive effort, the Japanese commander ordered a second air attack. Late on 4 June, Navy aircraft from three US carriers found the enemy task force in the midst of preparing for their second strike. In the ensuing battle, all four Japanese carriers were destroyed along with 322 of their aircraft. The Battle of Midway would prove to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific.