Hedman, a member of the Flying Tigers, became the first American ace when he shot down five enemy aircraft over Rangoon, Burma, on Christmas Day 1941. Family records indicate he did this in less than 15 minutes and accomplished it in part by flying into a formation of Japanese bombers.
The Japanese pilots apparently were afraid to shoot at Hedman's tiger-toothed, P-40 because they might accidentally hit their own planes.
Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault commanded Hedman as part of the American Volunteer Group fighting Japan before the United States entered the war and wrote the pilot's father, a banker in rural South Dakota. "He is a first rate combat pilot and the reckless bravery of his attacks, both on strafing and bombing missions, and in aerial combat with the Japanese, are something you can well be proud of," Chennault wrote.
"The ace of the American Scalpers squadron is an unassuming straight-forward farm boy from South Dakota who is known as "Duke" to American fliers in Burma," the Chicago Daily News reported.
Actor John Wayne later picked up the nickname "Duke" after playing another member of the Flying Tigers in a movie.
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