He enrolled at Notre Dame in 1938, but his college education was cut short by the war. He first saw combat on December 7th, 1941, when he joined a flight of P-36s to intercept Japanese Navy aircraft over Pearl Harbor. Soon afterwards, he put his Polish language skills to use by becoming a US-Polish liaison officer for the legendary No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron in Britain. Once American units reached the European theater, he joined the 56th Fighter Squadron and would rack up 28 kills in the course of the war. He was shot down over Germany in July 1944 and was a POW until Soviets liberated his camp in April 1945.
After the war, the Air Force sent Gabreski to Columbia in order to complete his degree and study Russian. Enrolling in 1947, he may have been one of GS's first students. He graduated in 1949 with a BA in Political Science.
In Korea, he became a jet ace, scoring 6.5 kills again MiG-15s. With this achievement, he became one of only seven American pilots to become aces in two wars.