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Alex Vraciu scored nine aerial victories during his first tour. His first kill was a Zero at Tarawa while flying with Butch O'Hare. Then he got a Betty at Tarawa followed by three more Bettys during the second Kwajalein raid. During the first Truk raid he shot down four Zeros, one of which was a float plane Zero, bringing the total for his first combat tour to nine. Vraciu was assigned plane number 19 while training as a night fighter. Seven of his first nine were in this aircraft. Vraciu had nine kills with VF6. Then he joined VF16 and on the second Truk raid he shot down two Zeros bringing his total to 12. Vraciu learned that there would be a fleet engagement [Annotators Note: in the Mariana Islands]. While returning to the carrier after an escort mission Vraciu came across a Betty bomber. He raced the other guys in his squadron up to the Betty, got under it, and shot it down. Around the time of the landings on Saipan and Tinian, which Vraciu strafed, they would put 500 pound bombs on their Hellcats and use them as ground attack planes. Vraciu practiced bombing and skip bombing. He would volunteer to do bomb runs. After he missed a small boat with a bomb he started practicing skip bombing. During a strafing mission at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan, made a good hit on the front part of the bow of a cargo ship and sunk it. He got a citation for shooting down the Betty and another for sinking the ship. They started getting closer to the Turkey Shoot. Widhelm knew that something was going to happen. Two American submarines had located the Japanese fleet and got two of the enemy carriers. On one day Vraciu got six planes. The next day the air was dead. Finally a search plane found the Japanese. They were over 300 miles away. The Americans launched the strike anyway. Vraciu flew escort during this mission, now known as the mission beyond darkness.
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