PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Retired Captain Arthur Ray "Hawk" Hawkins, one of the Navy's top flying aces, died March 21 of complications from a stroke. He was 81.
Captain Hawkins was the Navy's 10th-ranking ace during World War II, with 14 confirmed and three probable aerial victories, all while flying F6F Hellcats. He flew from the aircraft carriers USS Cabot and USS Belleau Wood.
Captain Hawkins's war record included destroying 39 aircraft on the ground. His awards included three Navy Cross and two Distinguished Flying Cross medals.
He was inspired to join the Navy at 19 by the 1942 death of his older brother, an Army Air Forces fighter pilot shot down in the South Pacific.
Captain Hawkins was a slot pilot with the Blue Angels acrobatic team from 1948 through 1950 and returned as flight leader in 1952-53. During the latter tour, he became the first person to survive an ejection at supersonic speed.
While stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War, he worked to recover Japanese family artifacts lost during World War II. He was awarded the Emperor of Japan Third Order of the Sacred Treasure, which historians say was the highest award ever given by Japan to a foreign military officer.