Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

18 March 1943

1st Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis, United States Army Air Corps

MEDAL OF HONOR

FIRST LIEUTENANT JACK WARREN MATHIS

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.

Citation:

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.

The Medal of Honor and Purple Heart awarded to 1st. Lt. Jack W. Mathis are displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

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, t 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 at 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.

Capt. Harold L. Stouse’s combat crew, June 1942. 2nd Lt. Jack W. Mathis is in the back row, far right. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers leave contrails at high altitude. (United States Air Force)

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.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR MERLYN H. DETHLEFSEN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Merlyn H. Detlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. Major Dethlefsen was one of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key anti-aircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Major Dethlefsen’s flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Major Dethlefsen’s aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Major Dethlefsen ignored the enemy’s overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of anti-aircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Major Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and anti-aircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy’s ability to provide essential war material. Major Dethlefsen’s consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

General Orders: GB-51, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN KEVIN A. GILROY, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Kevin A. Gilroy (AFSN: 0-3109656), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission against the Thai Nguyen Steel Works in North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Captain Gilroy guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation protecting one of the most important industrial complexes in North Vietnam. He accomplished this feat even after formidable hostile defenses had destroyed the lead aircraft and had crippled a second. Though his own aircraft suffered extensive battle damage and was under constant attack by MiG interceptors, anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, Captain Gilroy aligned several ingenious close range attacks on the hostile defenses at great risk to his own life. Due to his technical skill, the attacks were successful and the strike force was able to bomb the target without loss. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness, Captain Gilroy has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-297 (August 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base

SILVER STAR

MAJOR KENNETH HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen's wingman at Thuy Nyugen, 10 March 1967.
Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen’s wingman at Thai Nyugen, 10 March 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major Kenneth Holmes Bell (AFSN: FR-25966), United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, PACIFIC Air Forces, in Southeast Asia on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Bell was a member of a surface-to-air missile suppression flight in support of a strike against a large industrial complex. Major Bell and his flight, with great courage, flew through anti-aircraft defenses which were so dense that the flight leader was downed, and all three of the remaining flight members’ aircraft were damaged. Major Bell’s aircraft was damaged to the extent that aircraft control was marginal. However, he elected to remain in the target area flying through the hail of flak three more times until he had the key missile installation shattered and burning from a series of vicious attacks. Throughout the entire flight, Major Bell exhibited complete disregard for his personal welfare in the face of overwhelming odds. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Bell has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Headquarters, Pacific Air Force, Special Orders No. G-1014 (July 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)
A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a Mach 2+ tactical fighter bomber. The F-105F is a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. It’s high speed, low radar cross-section and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission.

The F-105F was 69 feet, 7-1/3 inches  (21.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11¼ inches (10.649 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). It had a maximum weight of 54,027 pounds ( kilograms).

The Thunderchief  was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105F had a cruising speed of 596 miles per hour (959.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 876 miles per hour (1,410 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,386 miles per hour (2,231 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Its service ceiling was 52,000 feet (15,850 meters) and range, with external fuel tanks, was 2,070 miles (3,331 kilometers).

The Thunderchief is armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 1,028 rounds of ammunition, and it can carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms) of ordnance.

Of the 833 F-105s built by Republic Aviation Corporation at its Farmindale, New York, factory, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief photographed in Southeast Asia, circa 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major James L. Davis and Captain Phillip Walker with Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief 63-8352, photographed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 12 February 1968, after they completed their 100th combat mission. The F-105 is now carrying the tail code RM, indicating the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (From the collection of Colonel James L. Davis, United States Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1966

Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas A-1E Skyraider. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher, 1st Air Commando Squadron, United States Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

 MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR BERNARD F. FISHER, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, with D.W. Myers, 10 March 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, with Major Dafford W. Myers, 10 March 1966. The airplane is Major Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649. (U.S. Air Force)

Bernard Francis (“Bernie”) Fisher was born at San Bernardino, California, 11 January 1927. He was the son of Bruce Leo Fisher, a farmer, and Lydia Lovina Stoddard Fisher. He attended Davis High School, Kuna, Idaho.

Bernie Fisher served in the United States Navy from 10 February 1945 to 16 March 1946. He was an Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class (AMM 1c). He was discharged following the end of World War II. Fisher attended Boise Junior College, Boise, Idaho from 1947 to 1949, and at the same time, served with the Air National Guard.

Mr. Bernard Francis Fisher married Miss Realla Jane Johnson at Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 March 1948. They would have six children.

Fisher transferred the University of Utah, where he was a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1951.

Fisher flew fighters in the Air Defense Command. He twice landed a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter following a complete engine failure. In 1965, Major Fisher volunteered for service in Vietnam, where he flew 200 combat missions. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of A Shau, one day prior to the Medal of Honor action.

President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to Major Fisher at a ceremony in the White House, 19 January 1967. Fisher was the first to receive the newly-designed U.S. Air Force version of the Medal of Honor.

Colonel Fisher retired in 1974.

In 1999, the chartered U.S. Military Sealift Command container ship MV Sea Fox was renamed MV Maj. Bernard F. Fisher (T-AK-4396). The  41,000 ton ship remains in service.

Colonel Fisher died 16 August 2014, at Boise, Idaho, at the age of 87 years. He was buried at the Idaho Stave Veterans Cemetery.

Major Bernard Francis Fisher, United States Air Force. (United States Air Force 050311-F-1234P-101)

The United States Navy and Marine Corps adopted the Douglas Aircraft Company AD-1 Skyraider just after the end of World War II. The U.S. Air Force recognized its value as a close air support attack bomber, but it wasn’t until the early months of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War that a number of Skyraiders were transferred to the U.S.A.F.

These aircraft were identified by Department of the Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers, commonly referred to as “bureau numbers,” or “bu. no.” Once acquired by the Air Force, the two-digit fiscal year number in which the airplane was contracted was added to the bureau number, resulting in a serial number with a format similar to a standard U.S.A.F. serial number. For example, Major Fisher’s Skyraider, A-1E 52-132649, was originally U.S. Navy AD-5 Skyraider Bu. No. 132649, authorized in 1952. (The Douglas AD series was redesignated A-1 in 1962.)

While its engine idles, Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 is reamermed, Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)
While its engine idles, Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 is rearmed, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)

The Douglas AD-5 Skyraider was  designed as a two-place, single-engine, antisubmarine warfare aircraft. A low-wing monoplane with conventional landing gear, it has folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers. With two pilots seated side-by-side, the AD-5’s fuselage is both wider and longer than earlier AD-series aircraft.

The side-by-side cockpit arrangement of Bernard Fisher's Douglas A-1E Skyraider, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NMUSAF)
The side-by-side cockpit arrangement of Bernard Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NMUSAF)

The AD-5/A-1E Skyraider is 40 feet, 0 inches long (12.192 meters) with a wingspan of 50 feet, ¼ inch (15.246 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 9 inches (4.191 meters). Its empty weight is 12,300 pounds (5,579 kilograms) and the maximum weight is 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms).

The A-1E is powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-26WA (Cyclone 18 836C18CA1) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine, with water/alcohol injection. This engine has a compression ratio of 6.71:1. The R-3350-26W has a Normal Power rating of  2,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of 2,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m., using 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drives a four-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 6 inch (4.115 meters) through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The engine is 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 6.81 inches (2.002 meters) long. It weighs 2,848 pounds (1,292 kilograms), dry.

Bombs are loaded aboard Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 between missions, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)
Bombs are loaded aboard Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 between missions, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)

The A-1E Skyraider has a cruise speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 310 miles per hour (499 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 330 miles per hour (531 kilometers per hour) at 15,200 feet (4,633 meters). Carrying a 4,500 pound (2,041 kilogram) bomb load, its range is 524 miles (843 kilometers).

The A-1E is armed with four 20 mm M2 autocannon, with two in each outboard wing. The Skyraider can carry a combination of external fuel tanks, gun pods, bombs or rockets on 15 hardpoints.

Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 after crash-landing. (U.S. Air Force)
Heavily damaged Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 after crash-landing near Cần Thơ, Republic of South Vietnam, 21 March 1965. Both pilots, Captains Jerry Pavey Hawkins and William Henry Campbell, were killed. (U.S. Air Force)

Douglas AD-5 Skyraider Bu. No. 132649 (c/n 9506) was built for the U.S. Navy by the Douglas Aircraft Company at El Segundo, California, in 1952. It was redesignated as an A-1E in 1962, and transferred to the U.S. Air Force in 1963.

52-132649 was hit by ground fire and crash landed near Cần Thơ, Republic of Vietnam, 21 March 1965. Both pilots, Captains Jerry Pavey Hawkins and William Henry Campbell, were killed.

The airplane was considered salvageable. It was picked up by a Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe and transported to Tân Sơn Nhứt Air Base near Saigon, where it was repaired and then returned to service with the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Biên Hòa Air Base in November 1965.

Maj Bernard F. Fisher, right, checks the status of an A-1 Skyraider with his crew chief, Technical Sergeant Rodney L. J. Souza, at Pleiku Air Base, 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

52-132649 was next assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, at Pleiku Air Base. The Skyraider was returned to the United States in 1967 and was retired from service in January 1968. It was ferried from Hurlburt Field, Florida, to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it was put on display.

Major Bernard F. Fisher's Douglas A-1E Skyraider, serial number 52-132649, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, serial number 52-132649, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 February 1967

Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, United States Air Force (26 July 1933–24 February 1967)
Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, United States Air Force (26 July 1933–24 February 1967)

MEDAL OF HONOR

CAPTAIN HILLIARD A. WILBANKS

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks (AFSN: 3056748), United States Air Force (Reserve), for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron, 21st Tactical Air Support Group, in action over Dalat, Republic of Vietnam, on 24 February 1967. As a forward air controller Captain Wilbanks was pilot of an unarmed, light aircraft flying visual reconnaissance ahead of a South Vietnam Army Ranger Battalion. His intensive search revealed a well-concealed and numerically superior hostile force poised to ambush the advancing rangers. The Viet Cong, realizing that Captain Wilbanks’ discovery had compromised their position and ability to launch a surprise attack, immediately fired on the small aircraft with all available firepower. The enemy then began advancing against the exposed forward elements of the ranger force which were pinned down by devastating fire. Captain Wilbanks recognized that close support aircraft could not arrive in time to enable the rangers to withstand the advancing enemy, onslaught. With full knowledge of the limitations of his unarmed, unarmored, light reconnaissance aircraft, and the great danger imposed by the enemy’s vast firepower, he unhesitatingly assumed a covering, close support role. Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Captain Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. Despite increasingly intense anti-aircraft fire, Captain Wilbanks continued to completely disregard his own safety and made repeated low passes over the enemy to divert their fire away from the rangers. His daring tactics successfully interrupted the enemy advance, allowing the rangers to withdraw to safety from their perilous position. During his final courageous attack to protect the withdrawing forces, Captain Wilbanks was mortally wounded and his bullet-riddled aircraft crashed between the opposing forces. Captain Wilbanks’ magnificent action saved numerous friendly personnel from certain injury or death. His unparalleled concern for his fellow man and his extraordinary heroism were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: GB-50, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 24-Feb-67

Service: Air Force Reserve

Rank: Captain

Company: 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron

Regiment: 21st Tactical Air Support Group

Division: Nha Trang Air Force Base, Vietnam

A Forward Air Controller Cessna O-1G Bird Dog, serial number 51-12824. This is the same type airplane as Captain Wilbanks' O-1G, 51-5078. (U.S. Air Force)
A Forward Air Controller Cessna O-1G Bird Dog, serial number 51-12824. This is the same type airplane as Captain Wilbanks’ O-1G, 51-5078. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks' widow was present this Medal of Honor. It is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins, Georgia.
Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks’ widow was presented this Medal of Honor. It is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins, Georgia.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1944

Valor at Polebrook, by David Poole, depicts the B-17G Flying Fortress, Ten Horsepower, flown by 2/LT Walter E. Truemper and SSGT Mathies, being escorted by Major Elzia Ladoux, commanding officer 509th Bombardment Squadron, aboard My Princess. Major Ladoux tried to assist the crew to land their bomber at RAF Polebrook.
Valor at Polebrook, by David Poole, depicts the B-17G Flying Fortress, “Ten Horsepower,” (TU A) flown by 2/LT Walter E. Truemper and SSGT Mathies, being escorted by Major Elzia Ladoux, commanding officer 509th Bombardment Squadron, aboard B-17F “My Princess” (RQ Q). Major Ladoux tried to assist the crew to land their bomber at RAF Polebrook.

MEDAL OF HONOR

TRUEMPER, WALTER E. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps. 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944.

Entered service at: Aurora, Ill. Born: 31 October 1918, Aurora, Ill.

G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944.

Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper, United States Army Air Forces
Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper, United States Army Air Forces

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which 2d Lt. Truemper was serving as navigator was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged Nevertheless, 2d Lt. Truemper and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, 2d Lt. Truemper’s commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and that they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After 2 unsuccessful efforts their plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. 2d Lt. Truemper, the engineer, and the wounded pilot were killed.

MEDAL OF HONOR

MATHIES, ARCHIBALD (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U .S. Army Air Corps, 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944.

Entered service at: Pittsburgh, Pa. Born: 3 June 1918, Scotland.

G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944.

Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies, United States Army Air Forces
Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies, United States Army Air Forces

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. Sgt. Mathies and the navigator volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Sgt. Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Sgt. Mathies’ commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts, the plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator, and the wounded pilot were killed.

The combat flight crew of the Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress, 42-31763, Ten Horsepower, 510th Bombardment Squadron, 351st Bombardment Group. (U.S. Air Force)
The combat flight crew of the Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress, 42-31763, “Ten Horsepower,” 510th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy). Front row, left to right: 1/LT Clarence R. Nelson, aircraft commander; Flight Officer Ronald Bartley, co-pilot; 2/LT Walter E. Truemper, navigator; 2/LT Joseph Martin, bombardier. Back row, left to right: SSGT Archibald Mathies, flight engineer and top turret gunner; SGT Joseph Rex, radio operator/gunner; SGT Carl Moore, waist gunner; SGT Russell Robinson, ball turret gunner; SGT Thomas Sowell, waist gunner; SGT Magnus Hagbo, tail gunner. (U.S. Air Force)
Ten Horsepower, B-17G 42-31763 (top), escorted by My Princess, B-17G 42-3xxxs)m 24 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
“Ten Horsepower,” B-17G 42-31763 (top), escorted by “My Princess,” B-17F 42-30499), 24 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
A restored World War II Lockheed/Vega-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85718. This airplane, marked as 42-38050, is similar to the bomber flown by Lieutenant Truemper and Sergeant Mathies, 24 February 1944.
A restored World War II Lockheed/Vega-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85718. This airplane, marked as 42-38050, is similar to the bomber flown by Lieutenant Truemper and Sergeant Mathies, 20 February 1944.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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