Fischer grew up on a farm in Iowa and enlisted in the U.S. Army after two years at Iowa State University. He transferred to the Air Force in 1950 and achieved a remarkable combat record during 105 missions. He was credited with shooting down 10 Soviet-made MiG-15 fighters, enough to qualify him as a double ace.
In his last dogfight before his F-86 Sabre Jet was downed by a Chinese fighter pilot, Fischer chalked up his 11th MiG.
Fischer parachuted into enemy territory just north of the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China, on April 7, 1953.
Fischer, a captain at the time, was taken by Chinese soldiers to a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria, where he spent the next 25 months. Three other American pilots from the Korean War were being held in the same prison. The four made headlines across the United States as a symbol of Cold War tensions, their imprisonment continuing months past the signing of the armistice and cease-fire that stopped the fighting July 27, 1953.
Nine months into his captivity, Fischer said, he used a nail to dig a hole through the wall of his cell and escaped. Intent on stealing a MiG, he was deterred by a guard and then tried to reach a railway station, where he was recaptured.
He and the other pilots were released May 31, 1955, after being tried by the Chinese in a mock trial in which they were found guilty of participating in germ warfare. They were then deported to the United States.
The release of the aviators may have been a strategic move by China to reduce tensions with the United States, which had risen sharply during a crisis over the Taiwan Straits, said Doug Lantry, a research historian at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Fischer “not only survived an incredible and strange ordeal but went on to pass his knowledge of what he learned on to future airmen,” Lantry said. “That is one of the reasons he’s so important to the Air Force. He gathered an awful lot of knowledge of how to fly, how to fight and how to survive.”
Later in life Fischer learned that Chinese ace Han Decai was credited with shooting him down in 1953.
“When I found out that Han had been given credit for me, I tried to contact him through Chinese embassies,” Fischer said. “In 1996, I joined a group of [ World War II-era] Flying Tiger pilots who had been invited to visit China. There, I met Gen. Han and presented him with an F-86 model. We’ve met again since then. And we have become friends.”
Harold Edward Fischer Jr. was born May 8, 1925, on a farm outside Lone Rock, Iowa. From a young age, he had an interest in aviation and often spent his 10-cent allowance to buy issues of Flying Aces, a magazine about World War I. He later accumulated model airplanes and launched them from a windmill on his family’s farm.
After his release from the Chinese prison in 1955, Fischer returned to Iowa State University to pursue a master’s degree in industrial administration. During the Vietnam War, he flew 200 missions, primarily in helicopters. His final active-duty assignment, in 1978, was with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
His decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
We honor you, Harold Fischer.