updated 8/18/2006 10:24:15 PM ET 2006-08-19T02:24:15

Former fighter pilot Col. Herschel "Herky" Green, recognized as one of the sharpest shooters in World War II, has died. He was 86.

Green died Wednesday at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, said spokeswoman Ann O'Brien, who declined to disclose the cause of death.

A fighter pilot in Europe and Africa from 1943-1944, Green was the leading ace of the 15th Air Force. He destroyed 18 enemy aircraft in the air and 10 more on the ground during his career. He was such a proficient shot that during one attack on German bombers, Green single-handedly destroyed six aircraft.

"He was a tiger," said Art Fiedler, Green's wingman through many missions. "He was a great man to emulate."

Green eventually convinced himself he couldn't be killed after returning from numerous aerial combats unscathed.

"Many times after that, I would tear into large gaggles of Luftwaffe fighters with just a wingman, and my only thought was how many we could get before they got away," he wrote in his 1996 memoir, “Herky! The memoirs of a Checkertail Ace.” "I know that sounds crazy. Maybe it was."

By the time he hung up his pilot's wings in 1944, Green had flown 100 combat missions, amounting to 402 combat hours in the air. He had also amassed numerous military decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Green retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1964 and worked for Culver-city based Hughes Aircraft Co. He retired from Hughes in 1982.

"He felt fortunate that he came out of it," said Jeanne Green, his wife of 60 years. "He really felt humbled that people were interested (in his war exploits).

Besides his wife, Green was survived by daughters Anita Green of Gualala, Calif., and Debra Green of Winchester, Va.

Funeral services were planned for Tuesday.

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