Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 359th Bomb Squadron, 303d Bomb Group.
Place and date: Over Vegesack, Germany, March 18, 1943.
Entered service at: San Angelo, Tex. Born: September 25, 1921, San Angelo, Tex.
G.O. No.: 38, July 12, 1943.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy over Vegesack, Germany, on 18 March 1943. 1st Lt. Mathis, as leading bombardier of his squadron, flying through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire, was just starting his bomb run, upon which the entire squadron depended for accurate bombing, when he was hit by the enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, a large wound was torn in his side and abdomen, and he was knocked from his bomb sight to the rear of the bombardier’s compartment. Realizing that the success of the mission depended upon him, 1st Lt. Mathis, by sheer determination and willpower, though mortally wounded, dragged himself back to his sights, released his bombs, then died at his post of duty. As the result of this action the airplanes of his bombardment squadron placed their bombs directly upon the assigned target for a perfect attack against the enemy. 1st Lt. Mathis’ undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit.
Jack Warren Mathis was born 10:30 p.m., 25 September 1921, at San Angelo, Texas. He was the second of three children of Rhude Mark Mathis, a salesman, and Avis Cannon Mathis.
Mathis enlisted as a private in the United States Army, 12 June 1940, at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After six months service, he was transferred to the Air Corps as an aviation cadet and sent to Goodfellow Field, southeast of his hometown of San Angelo. He trained as a bombardier, as did his older brother, Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr.
Jack Mathis was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 4 July 1942. He deployed to Europe in September 1942. Mathis was promoted to first lieutenant in January 1943.
Lieutenant Mathis was assigned to the combat crew of a Boeing B-17F-25-BO Flying Fortress, 41-24561, of the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303d Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Molesworth. The ship, named The Duchess, was under the command of Captain Harold L. Stouse. It carried fuselage identification markings BN T.
Because of the severe effect that German submarines were having against transatlantic merchant convoys, U-boat pens and construction yards were a high-priority target for bombers of the 8th Air Force.
On 18 March 1943, the 8th launched Mission No. 24 against the Bremer-Vulkan-Vegesacker Werft submarine construction yard on the River Weser at Bremen-Vegesack, Germany. The attack force consisted of 76 B-17s and 27 B-24 Liberators. Each bomber was loaded with six 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) M44 high-explosive bombs. The plan called for bombers to drop from 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). Each squadron would release their bombs simultaneously.
Mission No. 24 was Jack Mathis’ fourteenth combat mission. He was the lead bombardier of the 359th, the second element of seven B-17s of the 303d Group. The bombardier controlled the heading of the B-17 through adjustments to his Norden bomb sight. The squadron’s bombing accuracy was dependent on the skill of the lead bombardier.
As the American bombers approached the target, Mathis took careful aim at the target 24,000 feet below and opened the bomb bay doors. With his eye pressed to the Norden bombsight, Mathis was less than one minute away from releasing his bombs when an antiaircraft shell exploded near the right nose of his B-17, named The Duchess. Fragments from the shell shattered the Plexiglas nose, nearly severed his right arm above the elbow, and caused deep wounds in his side and abdomen. The concussion threw him to the rear of the nose section. Nevertheless, Mathis went back to his bombsight and accurately dropped his bombs before collapsing dead over his bombsight.
—Excerpted from A Test of Courage: 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis, an article from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 1 May 2015
Reconnaissance photographs later revealed that seven enemy submarines and two-thirds of the shipyard had been destroyed in the attack. For his extraordinary effort, 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the first awarded to an 8th Air Force Airman.
Jack Mathis’ older brother, Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., was at RAF Molesworth awaiting his brother’s return from the mission. He was present when The Duchess landed. Mark Mathis requested a transfer to the Captain Stouse’s crew with 359th to take his brother’s place. Tragically, on his fourth mission, he too, was killed.
First Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis was buried at Fairmount Cemetery, San Angeleo, Texas. His brother, First Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., is buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Netherlands.
Mathis Field (San Angelo Regional Airport, or SJT) was named after the two Mathis brothers.
Lieutenant Jack W. Mathis’ Medal of Honor is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The Duchess survived 59 combat missions. It was returned to the United States after the war in Europe came to an end. It was scrapped in August 1945.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in awarding the MEDAL of HONOR to
STAFF SERGEANT FORREST L. VOSLER,
AIR CORPS, UNITED STATES ARMY,
for service as set forth in the following
“For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler’s actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crew member, were outstanding.”
/s/ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler was the radio operator/top gunner aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr.,¹ one of 21 B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, sent on Mission No. 90, an attack against Bremen, Germany. The bomber was under the command of 2nd Lieutenant John F. Henderson. Captain Merle R. Hungerford, an instructor pilot, acted as co-pilot. The bombers encountered heavy antiaircraft fire over the target, and were attacked by as many as 125 enemy fighters. Bombing from an altitude of 26,200 feet (7,986 meters), the B-17s dropped 24 tons of incendiary bombs.
Jersey Bounce, Jr. was hit by anti-aircraft artillery just after its bomb load was released. The number 1 engine, outboard, left wing, and the number 4 engine, outboard, right wing, were damaged. When the B-17 slowed and dropped out of its formation, it became a target of opportunity for the Luftwaffe fighters.
The crew reported that as many as ten fighters attacked, one after another. Flight engineer and top turret gunner Staff Sergeant William H. Simpkins, Jr., was credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, and right waist gunner Sergeant Ralph F. Burkart shot down a Messerschmitt Me 210 twin-engine heavy fighter. Sergeant Stanley E. Moody, the left waist gunner, destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and probably shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.
The heavily-damaged bomber flew at low altitude as it headed for the North Sea, and then toward England. Vosler sent repeated distress signals which allowed search and rescue aircraft to locate the B-17. Lieutenant Henderson ditched 42-29644 within sight of land. The crew were quickly rescued by a small coastal freighter, MV Empire Sportsman.² The bomber crew was then transferred to a British air-sea rescue boat.
Forrest Lee Vosler was born at Lyndonville, New York, 29 July 1923. He was the son of William I. Vosler, a farmer, and Lottie I. Furness Volser. He attended Livonia Central High School, Livonia, New York, graduating in 1941. He was employed as a drill press operator by General Motors at Rochester, New York.
Forrest Lee Vosler enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Rochester, 8 October 1942. He was 6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters) tall and weighed 147 pounds (66.7 kilograms). After completing basic training at Atlantic City, New Jersey, Private Vosler trained as a radio operator at Scott Field, Illinois, and as an aerial gunner at Harlingen, Texas. After completing training Private Vosler was promoted to Sergeant, 25 May 1943. In August 1943, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Deployed to the United Kingdom, Staff Sergeant Vosler was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Molesworth (AAF-107), Cambridgeshire, England.
Technical Sergeant Vosler was the third of only four enlisted airmen two be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. Vosler was hospitalized for the next 12 months. After recuperating from his wounds, Vosler was discharged from the Army Air Corps, 17 October 1944. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Forrest Vosler had been awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, World War II Victory Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Following the War, Forrest Volser was employed as an engineer at radio station WSYR, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the Syracuse, New York, area. He attended the College of Business Administration, Syracuse University, at Syracuse, New York. He was a member of the Sigma Chi (ΣΧ) fraternity.
Forrest Vosler married Miss Virginia Frances Slack, 28 October 1945, at the Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse, New York. The ceremony was presided over by Rev. James R. Rockwell. They would have a daughter, Sondra Lee Vosler, and a son, Marcellus Vosler.
Vosler had lost one eye and found that blurred vision in his remaining eye made it impossible to keep up with his studies. He dropped out of college at the end of the 1945 fall semester.
“Woody” Vosler worked for the Veterans Administration for thirty years.
Forrest Lee Vosler died at Titusville, Florida, 17 February 1992 at the age of 68 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Forrest L. Vosler Noncommissioned Officer Academy and the Forrest L. Vosler Veterans Memorial Park at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, are named in his honor.
Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr. The bomber was on its 32nd combat mission. It had been flown by at least nine different pilots and with different combat crews.
42-29664 was delivered from the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, to Denver, Colorado, 30 January 1943. It arrived at Salina, Kansas, 12 February 1943, and was sent on to Morrison, New Jersey, 28 February 1943. It was then flown across the north Atlantic Ocean to England. The new B-17F was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1943. It carried group identification markings VK C painted on its fuselage.
The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).
The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).
These engines gave the B-17F a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet, though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).
With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).
The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions.
The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.
The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.
Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.
¹ “Jersey Bounce” was a popular song of 1942.
² M/V Empire Sportsman was built by Richards Ironworks Ltd., Lowestoft, Suffolk, 1943. 325 Gross Registered Tons.