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Hamilton WWII Ace fighter pilot dies

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HAMILTON, Mont. - On Friday a WWII Ace fighter pilot from Hamilton will be laid to rest at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery in Missoula.

Frank McCauley was 100 years old.

He was part of an exclusive group of American heroes. In 2015 he was flown to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Gold Medal that was presented to all living and past Ace fighter pilots.

On Thursday NBC Montana met with the veteran's family. His son Kirk McCauley showed us a replica of the P-47 fighter Rat Racer his dad flew in the European Theater to protect B-17 bombers.

McCauley successfully shot down 5 1/2 enemy aircraft, which gave him "Ace" fighter pilot status.

Kirk remembers his dad's permanent smile.

"His personality," he said, "was such that everyone became a friend."

NBC Montana found archive footage from the Corvallis Memorial Day Parade in 2014. In that footage you can see the smiling face of Frank McCauley when he was honored as grand marshal.

Kirk said his dad was an Ohio farm boy with a positive nature who was successful and "lucky" in life.

McCauley's other sons, Craig and Kevin, granddaughter Kristy and Frank McCauley's wife Bobbie said he brought luck into everything he did.

"He expected the best out of life," said Bobbie, "and I think he got it."

In recent years McCauley received a number of accolades both nationally and internationally. He is featured in a book on fighter pilots called Wings of Valor.

"All of the young people in America have become aware of the passing of these wonderful men," said Bobbie, "and what they contributed to their own lives. He received hundreds of letters asking for his autograph."

Frank's son Kevin said his dad never talked about the war except to say "it was his job."

"The proudest part of his job," said Kevin, "was making sure those bombers were safe. It wasn't about status or anything else. He just wanted to make sure everyone was safe."

Bobbie said men like her husband fought for freedom and kept the world safe.

"We owe it to them to never have another war," she said. "We owe it to our young people to keep the world safe."

Kirk's daughter Kristy will bring to her grandfather's graveside service a special gift.

It's a tattoo on her arm of a little rat, the motto of McCauley's P-47 fighter, the Rat Racer.

Bobbie McCauley said at 100, her husband "faced death as he faced life, expecting the best. I'm sure he'll get it," she said.

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