SEATTLE -- Two veteran fighter pilots took off in a private jet from Boeing Field Tuesday on their way to Washington, D.C. to receive America's highest civilian honor.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie of Bellevue served during the Vietnam War. Navy Cmdr. Clarence Borley of Olympia is a World War II veteran. Both men will join more than three dozen of their fellow Flying Aces at a ceremony on Wednesday.
"Just to be here, to have survived 800 hours of combat, 339 missions, and somehow downed five MiG-21s -- for that all to happen takes a tremendous amount of good fortune," said Ritchie. "All of us who survived combat and were victorious are just thankful to have had the opportunity to serve our country."
Borley was shot down while serving in the South Pacific and spent five days in the water before an American submarine found him.
"We attacked the Japanese twice while I was in the submarine, so I had the experience of air combat and submarine combat all in one mission," he said.
The pilots are being honored for their courage and bravery under extreme measures by shooting down at least five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. Ritchie said the scenes in Top Gun are very realistic when it comes to mid-air battles.
"It's very high-speed, high performance, high G force, very quick," said Ritchie. "For example, on the 8th of July in '72, I downed two MiG-21s in a 1 minute and 29 seconds. But we only had two, two and a half minutes of fighting fuel, so it all happened in a hurry."
There are only 77 American Aces still alive, according to the Museum of Flight. In recent months, there has been an increased urgency to honor these heroes.
A couple volunteered their jet for the veterans' Tuesday trip to D.C. The trip was organized by the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
KING 5's Elizabeth Wiley contributed to this report.