Colonel Thomas George Lanphier Jr.

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Thomas George Lanphier, Jr.

Death: November 26, 1987 (71)
Immediate Family:

Son of Colonel Thomas George Lanphier, Sr. and Private
Brother of Captain Charles Cobb Lanphier and James Lanphier

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Immediate Family

About Colonel Thomas George Lanphier Jr.

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. Most modern historians discount his version entirely, giving Rex T. Barber credit for the kill.


He was born on November 27, 1915, in Panama City, Panama to Thomas George Lanphier Sr. 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.

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.

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.

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

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, a retired lawyer / historian and state of Oregon politicians credit Barber with the sole kill. Lanphier's claim does not stand up to the accounts given by every other battle participant including American Lightning pilots Besby Holmes, Doug Canning and Rex Barber, and Japanese Zero pilot Kenji Yanagiya.

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. 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.

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. He served as the Washington liaison and was a strong proponent of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and Global Surveillance System in the 1950s. Mr. Lanphier was President of Fairbanks Morse from 1960 until August 1962. In 1965 he was a senior projects manager at North American Space Division in Downey, California.


Lanphier died November 26, 1987, in San Diego, California, of cancer. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Fictional portrayals

Lanphier was played by actor William Schallert in the 1960 film, The Gallant Hours.

Legacy and decorations

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Colonel Thomas George Lanphier Jr.'s Timeline