Col. Eugene Martin "Gene" Faber, a career Air Force officer and decorated combat fighter pilot who flew during World War II and the Korean War, died in his sleep Saturday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Kingsville resident was 85.
Colonel Martin was born in El Modena, Calif., and was raised there and in Orange and Santa Ana, Calif.
"He excelled in sports in high school and developed an intense interest in flying. Flying was just something he always wanted to do," said a son, Larry E. Faber, a retired Air Force colonel who lives in Boerne, Texas. "In the late 1930s, he took his first flying lessons at what is now John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana."
He graduated from Orange High School in 1941, and the next year, enlisted in the Army Air Forces, where he was trained as an aerial gunner and glider pilot.
"But his greatest ambition was to become a fighter pilot," his son said.
After completing training on P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes, Colonel Faber joined the 404th Fighter Group based in Belgium, which flew aerial combat missions over Germany.
"We were at gunnery school together at Millville, N.J., where we practiced diving on targets pulled by B-26 bombers out over the Atlantic or bombing mock-up villages, trucks and tanks. Then we went over to Europe together on the same ship, the USS Gen. William H. Gordon," said Stanley Lee Bennett of Black Mountain, N.C.
"We got right in at the end of the war. We were both assigned to the 404th. Gene was in the 508th Squadron, and I was in the 507th," Mr. Bennett said. "He was highly respected by his commanding officer. He really was, because he was a good pilot."
When the war ended, Colonel Faber remained in the Air Force Reserve and returned to Villa Park, Calif., after his marriage to the former Sally Joost in 1949.
With the outbreak of the Korean War, Colonel Faber was recalled to active duty in 1950 and sent to Korea, where he joined the 4th Fighter Wing and flew combat missions aboard F-86 Sabre jet fighters.
While serving in Korea with the 4th Fighter Wing, Colonel Faber served with Maj. Gen. Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse, the fighter pilot and air ace who was credited with destroying nine MiGs and one LA-9 Soviet fighter.
"On a mission one day, he was Boots' wingman, and during a dogfight, my father shot down a Russian MiG and was credited with one aerial victory kill," his son recalled.
After the Korean War, Colonel Faber's assignments included fighter weapons testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
"When he was at Eglin during 1956 and 1957, he broke the sound barrier flying an F-104 and was one of the first 100 pilots to do so," his son said.
Colonel Faber returned to active combat flying in 1969, when he flew F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers over Vietnam for a year.
Andy Michalak, a retired American Airlines pilot, also served with the 175th.
"I flew F-86s and A-37 Dragonflies with him and always enjoyed flying with him. I even flew with him on his last flight," Mr. Michalak said. "He was a wonderful man, a gentleman and a good guy all over."
During his 33-year career, he had flown 300 combat missions, and his decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross and seven Air Medals.
A resident of Kingsville since 1964, Colonel Faber purchased an old home in which he was able to indulge his passion for woodworking and remodeling.
He was a member for more than 40 years of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School in Kingsville, where he volunteered as the church handyman.
Funeral services with full military honors, including a military flyover, will be held at his church, 12022 Jerusalem Road, at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
In addition to his wife and son, Colonel Faber is survived by three other sons, Robert K. Faber of Lubbock, Texas, James M. Faber of Keller, Texas, and John A. Faber of Littlestown, Pa.; two daughters, Catherine A. Rhea of Alpharetta, Ga., and Patricia D. Wilsnack of Sebastian, Fla.; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.