Gentile was initially turned down when he tried to join the Army Air Force. There was a requirement of two years of college that he had not yet met. So Gentile joined the Royal Canadian Air Force instead, serving from 1940-1943.
He was moved to the U.S. Army Air Force and became a flight commander in 1943, then stayed in active duty until 1951.
Gentile became famous during his service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He was nicknamed “Ace of Aces” after passing Eddie Rickenbacker’s World War I record of downing 26 enemy aircraft.
One account from a 1944 edition of the Dayton Daily News said that the team of Gentile and his favorite wingman, John Godfrey, destroyed 53 enemy planes. Gentile was credited with destroying 30 enemy planes, including 23 in air combat and seven on the ground. The two men often credited each other for saving their lives multiple times.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt nicknamed Gentile “Captain Courageous,” and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who met Gentile in person, and called him “a one-man Air Force.”
Gentile’s air fighting career ended in early 1944 after he crash-landed his famous plane, the “Shangri-La.” Gentile flew in 188 combat mission over Europe.
Many awards and decorations were bestowed on Gentile. They include: Air Force Senior pilot badge, Royal Air Force pilot brevet, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Air Force Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal and more.
After World War II, Gentile was a student officer at the Air Tactical School and became an Air Force test pilot at Wright Field.
On Jan. 28, 1951, Gentile was killed when he crashed in a T-33A-1-LO Shooting Star trainer, leaving behind his wife Isabella Masdea Gentile Beitman and sons Don Jr., Joseph and Pat.
Gentile was buried with full military honors in Saint Joseph Cemetery in Lockbourne, Ohio.
Gentile Air Force Station in Kettering was named in his honor in 1962, and the installation was closed in 1996.
A statue of Don Gentile was dedicated in his hometown Piqua on Independence Day Weekend 1986.