Declassified: Retired Navy captain can finally detail his heroic actions during Korean War

More than seventy years after winning a long classified dogfight that could have sparked World War III, a U.S. Naval aviator detailed his heroism after receiving an overdue commendation.

(Video: Fox News)

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, E. Royce Williams joined the Navy as an aviation cadet and became a pilot flying the F9F-5 Panther during the Korean War. This week, he joined Fox News’ “Special Report” to discuss the details of a mission left classified until 2017 for which his heroism earned him the highest honor from the president of South Korea Tuesday.

“I had a fair amount of training under my belt. I was eager to do my part and I didn’t in any way think it was going to involve shooting down enemy airplanes,” Williams began after it was explained by host Bret Baier that he had been stationed in the Sea of Japan, assigned to the USS Oriskany.

“Our primary mission was air support and anti-air logistics. There was a major city about halfway between the border and Soviet Union called Chongjin. We basically stationed the carriers and the other ships in that area so that we could hit a city called Hoeryŏng. It had major supplies of manufacturing and warehousing,” he explained.

After returning to base on the morning of Nov. 18, 1952, Williams and three other F9F-5 Panther pilots were sent out on a combat air patrol in blizzard-like conditions. Climbing to 12,000 feet to get over the storm, he described how he and his wingman came upon a group of Soviet aircraft after the other pilots were called back over a system warning.

“As we popped on top, I scanned and I saw seven aircraft contrails. I now had the lead and a wingman that I’d never flown with before, but we were assigned to intercept,” the veteran explained of the encounter with Soviet MiGs and added, “There was no intention of any harm. We didn’t intend to have any killing going on.”

In his declassified report, the captain wrote, “Two broke right and one left for a coordinated attack. I had planned to attack the single plane but lost him in the sun, so I countered to the right into the first attacking plane.”

“When the MiG was hit or had observed me it seemed to stop in mid-air as though it dropped speed brakes. I had to wrap it up to the right to avoid collision,” his account continued.

“35 minutes. I just had another MiG smoking, losing speed and altitude, and I ran out of ammunition,” Williams said of the dogfight that stood as one of the longest recorded in naval aviation history that ended with him taking down no fewer than five enemy aircraft.

“I had the guy go in and quit when I ran out of ammunition, but it gave plenty of time to make me a target. I looked and I saw he made a quick maneuver, but he got me just as I turned and the damage was done,” he explained and added, “I got all kind of battle-scarred and lost pretty much the capability to fight.”

As Baier laid out, Williams successfully landed back on the Oriskany and counted 263 bullet holes and a 37-millimeter gash in his Panther. However, details of his harrowing feats remained sealed for 65 years, even from those closest to him.

“I had been warned, informed, told not to talk about it,” the pilot recounted. “Even that is in direct order. I didn’t talk to anybody, including my wife.”

The Navy captain was joined on the program by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who has been actively working to see that Williams be granted the highest award for his service, the Medal of Honor.

“It’s an amazing story of what would have had an absolute impact on the war had we known that Captain Williams was in a dogfight with Soviet aircraft. That would have been essentially World War III,” the congressman explained and said, “This is even before the latest redo of ‘Top Gun,’ because here’s somebody who flew off the Oriskany, which is talked about in the first ‘Top Gun,’ downed MiGs, basically single-handedly, and then had it classified so that none of us knew about it for more than a generation.”

At the time, President Eisenhower had even traveled to South Korea to meet with Williams to discuss the encounter.

Tuesday, before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met with President Joe Biden and attended a State Dinner, he joined retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett and Williams to present them with the Taeguek Order of Military Merit for their efforts during the Korean War. He also posthumously honored Marine Corps 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez who died at the Battle of Inchon Landing in Sept. 1950.

“They’ve been teasing me with presents and whatnot until the moment today. Meeting the president and getting their highest award, the equivalent of the Medal of Honor. I think it’s a little overblown. But I’ve been thrilled,” Williams expressed.

When asked about his perspective on military service today, he suggested, “My thinking is that the world changes. Now versus the 1920s. We’re not quite the same nation. Nor do I see the same outlet of young people who I feel should be thinking about a career in the military.”

“If I have any chance to speak to groups, I try and encourage them to think about it. We need them and they’re hard to come by. My purpose, I guess with what time I have, is to try and promote that,” he added.

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