Thomas George Lanphier, Jr.

Thomas George Lanphier, Jr.
Born November 27, 1915
Panama City, Panama
Died November 26, 1987(1987-11-26) (aged 71)
La Jolla, California
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Known for Mission to shoot down the plane of Admiral Yamamoto
Spouse(s) Phyllis Lanphier
Children Patricia Lanphier Mix
Judith Lanphier Strada
Janet Lanphier
Kathleen Lanphier
Phyllis Lanphier
Parent(s) Thomas George Lanphier, Sr., Janet Cobb-Lanphier

Military career

Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank Colonel
Commands held 72nd Fighter Wing

World War II

Thomas George Lanphier, Jr. (November 27, 1915 – November 26, 1987) was a colonel and fighter pilot during World War II who was first given sole credit, then later partial credit, for shooting down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy.[1]


He was born on November 27, 1915 in Panama City, Panama to Thomas George Lanphier, Sr.[2] He married Phyllis of Boise, Idaho and had the following children: Patricia Lanphier Mix; Judith Lanphier Strada; Janet Lanphier; Kathleen Lanphier; and Phyllis Lanphier. He studied journalism at Stanford University and graduated in January 1941.[1]

He completed his pilot training at Stockton Army Air Field, California on October 30, 1941, and was assigned to the 70th Pursuit Squadron, 35th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field in Novato, California.[1]

Until December 1942 he served in Fiji then his squadron was moved to Guadalcanal and he joined the 347th Fighter Group. He scored his first aerial victory on Christmas Eve in 1942 when he shot down an A6M Zero. Lanphier was promoted to captain in March 1943. The next month he destroyed three A6M Zeros over Cape Esperance on April 7, 1943. By the end of his tour, he flew 97 combat missions out of Guadalcanal in P-39s and P-38s.[1]

Following World War II, he was one of the founding members of the Idaho Air National Guard, eventually retiring as a Colonel.[3]

Yamamoto Mission

Main article: Operation Vengeance

Allied codebreakers determined the route and time schedule of the Mitsubishi G4M bomber carrying Isoroku Yamamoto by breaking the Purple code and Lanphier was selected for the mission to shoot it down. The mission was a success with both of the "Betty" bombers being destroyed. Officially, the after-action report gave Captain Lanphier and his wingman First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber each half-credit for the kill. While the USAF did not reverse its 1991 decision giving half credit to each pilot,[4] a retired lawyer / historian[5] and state of Oregon politicians credit Barber with the sole kill[6] after an inspection analyzed the crash site and determined the path of the bullet impacts, thereby validating Barber's account and invalidating Lanphier's claim.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in February 1945, Lanphier served as director of operations of the 72nd Fighter Wing of the Second Air Force until late 1945. Leaving active duty following the war, he was promoted to colonel in the Air Force Reserves in 1950.

After the war he worked as an editor of the Idaho Daily Statesman and the Boise Capital News while continuing to serve as an officer and fighter pilot in the Idaho Air National Guard. He served as president of the Air Force Association from September 1947 to September 1948.[7] In December 1949, to promote the AFA's "airability program", an aviation awareness campaign, Lanphier made a round-the-world flight using scheduled airlines, making the 22,140 mile trip in under five days. He carried with him a letter from President Harry Truman commemorating the 46th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright brothers. Upon returning to New York, the letter, postmarked in 12 countries, was delivered to AFA President Robert S. Johnson, for presentation to the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association at its annual 17 December anniversary of the Wright's first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.[8]

He was then appointed special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, and then special assistant to the chairman of the National Security Resources Board. From 1951 to 1960, he was vice president of the Convair division of General Dynamics in San Diego, California.[1] In 1965 he was a senior projects manager at North American Space Division in Downey, California.


He died Thursday, November 26, 1987, in San Diego, California, of cancer. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[1][2]

Legacy and Decorations

During World War II, Colonel Lanphier was credited with downing nine Japanese planes, damaging eight on the ground, and sinking a destroyer. His decorations include:

Bronze star
1st Row Navy Cross Silver Star with 1 oak leaf cluster Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 oak leaf cluster Air Medal with 1 oak silver leaf cluster
2nd Row American Defense Service Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star World War II Victory Medal Armed Forces Reserve Medal


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 McFadden, Robert D. (November 28, 1987). "Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., 71, Dies. U.S. Ace Shot Down Yamamoto.". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., the World War II fighter pilot who shot down the Japanese airplane carrying the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, died Thursday at the San Diego Veterans Administration Hospital at La Jolla, Calif. He was 71 years old.
  2. 1 2 "Thomas George Lanphier, Jr. Captain, United States Army Air Corps; Colonel, United States Air Force". Arlington Retrieved 2011-11-17. Thomas George Lanphier, the World War fighter pilot died Thursday, Nov 26, 1987, in San Diego, California, of cancer. He was 71. He was born on November 27, 1915 in Panama City, Panama to Thomas George Lanphier, Sr., a West Point graduate and World War I veteran. He married Phyllis of Boise, Idaho.
  3. Idaho Air National Guard
  4. Sowell, John (November 10, 2014). "Did an Idahoan or an Oregon native shoot down Yamamoto?". Idaho Statesman.
  5. Bourgeois, Donald P. (April 18, 2013). "Historian says Oregonian Rex Barber shot down Yamamoto in World War II". Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  6. Notable Oregonians: Rex T. Barber—WWII Fighter Pilot and Ace from the Oregon Blue Book
  7. Straubel, James H., "Crusade For Airpower: The Story of the Air Force Association", Aerospace Education Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1982, Library of Congress card number 82-70630, ISBN 0-9608492-0-3, Appendix A, page 400.
  8. Straubel, James H., "Crusade For Airpower: The Story of the Air Force Association", Aerospace Education Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1982, Library of Congress card number 82-70630, ISBN 0-9608492-0-3, page 72-73.
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