Abner Maurice Aust, Jr., was born on October 7, 1921, in Scooba, Mississippi. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Sunflower Junior College in Morehead, Mississippi. While in college, Abner joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) and completed pilot training on June 15, 1942. Abner then enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 23, 1942. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and awarded his pilot wings at Luke Field, Arizona, on April 12, 1943, and then served as an instructor pilot during which time he was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant and then Captain. Desiring to get into combat and become an ace, Captain Aust joined the 457th Fighter Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group at Lakeland Army Air Field, Florida, in October 1944, shortly after its activation.
Captain Aust was the only fighter ace in the 506th Fighter Group with 5 confirmed victories, and has the distinction of being the last fighter ace of World War II.
Only encountering enemy opposition on two VLR missions, Captain Aust took advantage of those opportunities. He claimed his first victories on a VLR strike mission to the Nagoya/Bay of Ise area on July 16, 1945, engaging six Nakajima Ki-84 Hayates (Franks) head on and shooting down three in quick succession.
His next opportunity to score came on August 10, 1945, on a VLR mission escorting B-29s to the northeast of Tokyo. Captain Aust shot down a Mitsubishi Zero at 25,000 feet for his first victory of the day. He quickly spotted another Zero and made two passes damaging his adversary’s plane both times. After the second pass, the Zero dived into clouds and disappeared. Captain Aust was able to spot a third Zero, get behind it, and shot it down over an airfield for this second victory of the day, and his fifth aerial victory of the war.
Unfortunately, during his various aerial encounters on August 10th, Captain Aust became separated from his wingman, 1st Lieutenant Jackie Horner. In addition, to Captain Aust’s misfortune, the armorer maintaining his plane erroneously set the gun camera film at 75 frames per second instead of the normal speed of 16 frames per second. Because of this, his gun camera film only provided proof of the first Zero shot down at 25,000 feet, and the two passes made on the second Zero that disappeared in the clouds. The gun camera film ran out before he shot down the third Zero over the Japanese airfield. Captain Aust did not have an American eyewitness or gun camera film to corroborate his claim of shooting down the second Zero. He would find out several years later than there were several Japanese eyewitnesses to his downing of the third Zero. What follows is an excerpt from the book the “506th Fighter Group: The History of the 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima 1945”, describing Captain Aust’s efforts to gain official confirmation of his fifth aerial victory.
“It took me 18 years to confirm the fifth aircraft destroyed. I kept all my mission records for this mission. My brother-in-law, Phillip Edward was stationed at Misawa AB in northern Japan during the early 1960s. He married a Japanese lady. I sent her all the facts concerning this mission. He and his wife visited this airfield and confirmed my claim by statements from Japanese men who were working at this airfield that day in 1945. That was the only aircraft ever shot down over that air base. They confirmed that it happened about 12 noon and that the airfield anti-aircraft were doing everything they could to shoot me down. Phillip Edward sent me the facts and proof to support my claim. I sent this information with a letter to the Office of Correction of Military Records. This office, after review, approved my requests as did The American Fighter Aces Association. I finally became a WWII Fighter Ace in 1963!”
Captain Aust flew a total of 14 VLR missions during the 506th FG’s deployment on Iwo Jima, and he was credited also with 3 enemy planes destroyed on the ground. His description of the July 16th and August 10th VLR missions are contained in the “506th Fighter Group: The History of 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima 1945”.
He became a career officer in the United States Air Force obtaining the rank of Colonel, and commanded 31st and 3rd Tactical Fighter Wings during the Vietnam War flying both F-100 Super Sabres and F-4 Phantoms.
Colonel Aust passed away on June 16, 2020, at the Lakeland Regional Medical Center at 98 years of age. I had the honor and privilege to interview Colonel Aust on several occasions during 506th Fighter Group reunions, and looked forward to every opportunity to speak with him. He remained active until the end, had a keen intellect, and a memory that rarely failed him.