3 July 1951: Medal of Honor, Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy

Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy.
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy.
Medal of Honor Citation for Lt. (j.g.) John K. Koelsch, U.S.N. (National Archives)
Medal of Honor Citation for Lt. (j.g.) John K. Koelsch, U.S.Navy. (National Archives)

3 July 1951: With his Vought F4U-4B Corsair, Bu. No. 63056, hit and on fire, Captain James V. Wilkins, United States Marine Corps, of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) stationed aboard USS Sicily (CVE-118), bailed out approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Wonson, North Korea. He parachuted onto a mountainside in the Anbyon Valley. Severely burned and with an injured leg, Captain Wilkins was seen by North Korean soldiers on a heavily-travelled supply route. While enemy soldiers shot at him, he tried to escape by crawling up the mountainside.

A U.S. Marines F4U Corsair of VMF-312 about to land aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War. This is the same type fighter flown by Captain. J.V. Wilkins on 3 July 1951. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Marines F4U Corsair of VMF-312 about to land aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War. This is the same type fighter flown by Captain. J.V. Wilkins on 3 July 1951. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy, was a helicopter pilot in charge of a detachment of Helicopter Utility Squadron Two (HU-2), stationed aboard a former U.S. Navy Landing Ship. The LST had been transferred to Japan after World War II and converted to a merchant ship. During the Korean War, it and its 45-man Japanese crew were contracted to the U.S. Navy. The LST was reconverted to a helicopter support ship, designated Q-009.

A torpedo bomber pilot during World War II, Lieutenant Koelsch transferred to Helicopter Utility Squadron One (HU-1) at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1949 and was trained to fly the Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter, a Navy variant of the commercial Sikorsky S-51. He had completed a combat tour aboard USS Princeton (CV-37) but rather than return to the United States with his squadron, requested a transfer to HU-2. Koelsch told his shipmates that he felt rescuing downed pilots was his mission.

A U.S. Navy Sikorsky HO3S-1, possibly Bu. No. 122715, rescues a downed flyer from Wonson Harbor, 1951. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
A U.S. Navy Sikorsky HO3S-1, possibly Bu. No. 122715, rescues a downed flyer from Wonson Harbor, 1951. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

When Captain Wilkins’ Corsair went down, Lieutenant Koelsch volunteered to attempt a rescue. Shortly before sunset, he and his rescue crewman, Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class George Milton Neal, boarded their helicopter, Sikorsky HO3S-1, Bu. No. 122715, and took off from Q-009 in a mist and low clouds.

Lieutenant Koelsch's Sikorsky HO3-S-1 helicopter, Bu. No. 122715, aboard USS Phillipine Sea (CV-47). (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Koelsch’s Sikorsky HO3-S-1 helicopter, Bu. No. 122715, aboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47). (U.S. Navy)

Wilkins heard Koelsch’s helicopter approaching and moved back down the mountain toward his parachute. He saw the Sikorsky flying at about 50 feet (15 meters) below a layer of clouds. The helicopter was receiving heavy ground fire from the North Korean soldiers along the road. The Sikorsky was hit and Koelsch turned away, but quickly returned. Koelsch located Wilkins and brought the HO3S-1 to a hover while rescue crewman Neal lowered a “horse collar” harness on a hoist cable. Neal then lifted the fighter pilot up to the helicopter.

The helicopter continued to be targeted by ground fire and it was finally shot down. 122714 crashed on the mountainside and rolled upside down. Koelsch and Neal were unhurt and Wilkins suffered no new injuries. Koelsch and Neal carried Wilkins and they moved away from the enemy forces, heading toward the coast. The three Americans evaded the enemy for nine days before they were captured.

John Koelsch refused to cooperate with his captors. He was held in isolation and subjected to torture. He refused to give in but soon became very ill. Just three months after being captured, Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch died. For his actions during and after 3 July 1951, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Captain Wilkins and AM3 Neal survived the war and were eventually returned to the United States. George Neal received the Navy Cross.

In 1968, the Garcia-class frigate USS Koelsch (FF-1049) was named in honor of the first helicopter pilot to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

USS Koelsch (FF-1049). (U.S. Navy)
USS Koelsch (FF-1049), a Garcia-class frigate. (U.S. Navy)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1943

Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, USAAF
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, USAAF

2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, USAAF, 99th Fighter Squadron, was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airman” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield in Tunisia and was patrolling the coast of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.

On 2 July, however, they were escorting North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano, Italy. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.

“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”

Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first, it was the only enemy airplane shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1944.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Hall was flying a Curtiss P-40L Warhawk, a variant of the famous fighter that was produced in limited numbers. The P-40L differed from most P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin V-12 engine instead of the more common Allison V-1710. This engine was rated at 1,300 horsepower for takeoff and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,638.8 meters). Identifying features of the P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters) with a dorsal fillet added to the vertical fin for improved longitudinal stability. In an effort to lighten the aircraft, fuel capacity was reduced and the fighter’s armament changed from six .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the wings, to just four. It carried 201 rounds of ammunition per gun.

The enemy airplane shot down by Lieutenant Hall (the first of three) was a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of the war.

Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Hall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had been promoted to the rank of major.

Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major general John K. Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major General John K. Cannon, Commanding General, 12th Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1937

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, takes off from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, 10:00 a.m., 2 July 1937

2 July 1937: At approximately 10:00 a.m., local time, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Lae, Territory of New Guinea, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, enroute to Howland Island, 2,556 miles (4,113.5 kilometers) east-northeast across the South Pacific Ocean. The airplane was loaded with 1,100 gallons (4,164 liters) of gasoline, sufficient for 24 to 27 hours of flight.

They were never seen again.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, prior to takeoff at Lae, New Guinea.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1954

The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas.(University of North Texas Libraries)
The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas, 1 July 1954. (University of North Texas Libraries)

1 July 1954: The last Convair B-36 Peacemaker, B-36J-10-CF 53-2727, a Featherweight III variant, completed assembly at Fort Worth, Texas. The last B-36 built, this was also the very last of the 10-engine very long range heavy bombers in service. It was retired 12 February 1959. It is now in the collection of the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona.

Convair B-36J 52-2827 is one of 14 “Featherweight III” high altitude variants. It was built without the six retractable defensive gun turrets of the standard B-36, retaining only the two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. This reduced the crew requirement to 13. It is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 166,125 pounds (75,353 kilograms) and loaded weight is 262,500 pounds (119,068 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).

The B-36J has ten engines. There are six 4,362.5 cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt and Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major air-cooled, supercharged 28-cylinder four-row radial engines, producing 3,800 horsepower, each, were located inside the wings, turning 19 foot (5.791 meter) diameter three-bladed propellers in a pusher configuration. Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines, producing 5,200 pounds of thrust, each, are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods.

The B-36J Featherweight III had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 418 miles per hour (672.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 43,600 feet (13,289.3 meters) and its combat radius was 3,985 miles (6,413 kilometers). The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).

Designed during World War II when nuclear weapons were unknown, the bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in two bomb bays. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,776.6 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only five still exist.

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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