Ed Heller was born on December 5, 1918, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program on March 16, 1942, and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Forces and awarded his pilot wings on February 16, 1943. Heller was then assigned to the 486th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group, and began flying combat missions in Europe in July 1943. During World War II, Heller was credited with destroying 14 locomotives and 14 aircraft on the ground in strafing runs, and shooting down 5.5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat. Heller again served in combat during the Korean War, where he shot down 3.5 enemy aircraft before he was downed over China and taken as a Prisoner of War on January 23, 1953. The Chinese Communists held Col Heller for 2 years after the Korean War had ended, and released him on May 31, 1955. After repatriation, Heller returned to flying status and served in various fighter squadrons and fighter wings with Air Defense Command, Air Training Command, Tactical Air Command, and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, including standing alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He retired from the Air Force on April 1, 1967. Col Heller wears Command Pilot Wings and accumulated over 4,500 flying hours during his Air Force career. He also flew 145 combat missions during World War II in P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs with 19.5 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground and in the air, and another 59 combat missions during the Korean War in F-86 Sabres with 3.5 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and 1 aircraft damaged. His total air victories in two wars is 9.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy, 24 April 1944. On this date Lieutenant Heller with his flight leader attacked a strongly defended enemy airdrome and Lieutenant Heller destroyed three enemy aircraft. In the attack the flight leader was lost. Lieutenant Heller then set course for home alone. Spotting another airdrome with many planes parked in the dispersal area, with complete disregard for the intense anti-aircraft fire and the hazards of low level attack, Lieutenant Heller coolly selected a target, attacked and destroyed two airplanes. He again set course for home and soon found another air field loaded with airplanes. Although his fuel and ammunition supply was low and he was deep in enemy territory, he fearlessly flew into an intense barrage of ground fire and with his remaining ammunition sprayed buildings, aircraft, and enemy personnel. In this attack he destroyed two airplanes and damaged others. During all these attacks, Lieutenant Heller destroyed seven enemy airplanes, damaged five others, and inflicted damage on buildings and other installations. The courage, skill, and determination to destroy the enemy displayed by Lieutenant Heller reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.