Major Daniel Kirby takes command of a squadron of Marine fliers just before they are about to go into combat. While the men are well meaning, he finds them undisciplined and prone to always finding excuses to do what is easy rather than what is necessary. The root of the problem is the second in command, Capt. Carl 'Griff' Griffin. Griff is the best flier in the group but Kirby finds him a poor commander who is not prepared to the difficult decision that all commanders have to make - to put men in harm's way knowing that they may be killed.
AIR-DEVILS OF THE SKY!
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Did You Know?
's character in this movie, Major Daniel Xavier Kirby, was based on Captain John Lucian Smith, USMC Ace who was Commanding Officer in the Marine Fighting Squadron 223 at Guadalcanal in 1942 during World War II. Smith was a Medal of Honor recipient in 1943 and a leader of the "Cactus" Air Force. Smith, a wildcat fighter pilot, shot down nineteen Japanese airplanes over Guadalcanal in 1942. Smith's achievements and commendations were well known to the public prior to this film being made. Smith was eventually promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and likewise, Wayne's Kirby character is also promoted to the same rank in this movie. Moreover, there is also a physical likeness and resemblance between Wayne and Smith. See more
Near the end of the movie, just prior to Kirby (John Wayne) boarding the plane to leave, we see a wounded soldier being loaded onto a 2 engine C-47. In the next scene as Kirby is boarding the plane and is saying farewell to Griff (Robert Ryan), at the ladder, the plane is a 4 engine C-54. See more
Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby
When the command meets a commander for the first time, it's like a wedding. Nobody knows how it's going to turn out. Whether it'll be a happy golden anniversary or a divorce. We'll see.
Referenced in Stalag 17