Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

25 May 1927

1st Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. Jimmy Doolittle is seen in this photograph sitting on the turtle deck of the Curtiss P-1C Hawk. (National Air and Space Museum)

25 May 1927: At Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, was the first pilot to successfully perform an outside loop.

Flying a Curtiss P-1B Hawk pursuit, he began the maneuver in level flight at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), then pushed the nose down into a dive. When he reached 280 miles per hour (450 kilometers per hour), Doolittle continued to pitch the nose “down” and the airplane flew through a complete vertical circle, with the pilot’s head to the outside of the loop.

Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (NASM)
Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Jimmy Doolittle attempted to repeat the outside loop at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races, with a Curtiss P-1C Hawk, serial number 29-227. The airplane’s wings came off but Doolittle parachuted to safety. (The Curtiss P-1C used wing radiators instead of the large radiator under the nose of the P-1B. This substantially reduced the aerodynamic drag which allowed the airplane to accelerate to too high an airspeed during Doolittle’s maneuver.)

A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle's Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during a demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland Press)
A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during an aerobatic demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections, Cleveland Press Collection)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a pioneer aviator, he won every international air race, and had been awarded every international aviation trophy. He was also the first pilot to fly completely by reference to instruments.

During the early days of America’s involvement in World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle planned and led the Halsey-Doolittle B-25 raid on Japan. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to brigadier general, and then placed in command of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. As a major general, he commanded the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded the Eighth Air Force in England from January 1944 to September 1945. He supervised the transition of the 8th to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and its eventual transfer to bases on Okinawa to continue the war against Japan. World War II came to an end before any of the 8th’s B-29s actually moved west.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)
Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General, United States Air Force, Retired.

General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Curtiss P-1B Hawk, A.C. 27-75. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss P-1B Hawk was a single-engine, single-seat, single-bay biplane pursuit, an aircraft type now known as a fighter. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York.

The P-1B was 22 feet, 10 inches (6.960 meters) long with an upper wingspan of 31 feet, 6 inches (9.601 meters). The lower wing had a span of 26 feet, 0 inches (7.925 meters), a narrower chord, and was staggered 3 feet, 2½ inches (0.978 meters) behind the upper. Both wings had significant taper with rounded tips. Their angle of incidence was 0°. The upper wing had no dihedral, while the inboard lower wing had 1°, and the outer, 5°. The total wing area was 252 square feet (23.4 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer span was 10 feet, 6.0 inches (3.200 meters) and its incidence could be adjusted from +3° to -1.5°. The vertical fin was offset 2° left of the airplane’s centerline. The overall height of the airplane was 8 feet, 10 inches (2.712 meters).

The P-1B had an empty weight of 2,105 pounds (955 kilograms), gross weight of 2,932 pounds (1,330 kilograms), and maximum weight of 3,562 pounds ( kilograms).

The P-1B was powered by a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.1-cubic-inch-displacement (18.8 liter) Curtiss D-12D (V-1150-3) dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-valve 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was a direct-drive engine, rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. The D-12 was 58¾ inches (1.492 meters) long, 34¾ inches (0.883 meters) high and 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide. It weighed 680 pounds (308 kilograms). The P-1B was equipped with an aluminum Curtiss-Reed propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters).

The pursuit had a cruise speed of 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 159.6 miles per hour (256.9 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 157 miles per hour (253 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). It had a service ceiling of 21,400 feet (6,523 meters) and absolute ceiling of 22,900 feet (6,980 meters). Its range was 342 miles (550 kilometers).

The P-1B was armed with two fixed air-cooled Browning machine guns, one .50-caliber and one .30-caliber.

The Air Corps ordered 93 Curtiss P-1 Hawks between 1925 and 1929.

Doolittle flew a Curtiss Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar in appearance to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 May 1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696)

19 May 1942:

Medal of Honor

Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle

United States Army Air Forces

CITATION:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General [then Lieutenant Colonel] James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life while Commanding the First Special Aviation Project in a bombing raid of Tokyo, Japan, on 18 April 1942. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

War Department, General Orders No. 29 (June 9, 1942), Amended by Department of the Army G.O. No. 22 (1959) & No. 4 (1960)

Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
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15 May 1967

Major Charles Seymour Kettles, commanding 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile), Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, 15 May 1967. (U.S. Army)

MAJOR CHARLES SEYMOUR KETTLES

FIELD ARTILLERY, UNITED STATES ARMY

CITATION: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major (Field Artillery) Charles S. Kettles (ASN: 0-1938018), United States Army, for acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. On 15 May 1967, Major Kettles, upon learning that an airborne infantry unit had suffered casualties during an intense firefight with the enemy, immediately volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1D helicopters to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and to evacuate wounded personnel. Enemy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire raked the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters; however, Major Kettles refused to depart until all helicopters were loaded to capacity. He then returned to the battlefield, with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival, to bring more reinforcements, landing in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft. Upon departing, Major Kettles was advised by another helicopter crew that he had fuel streaming out of his aircraft. Despite the risk posed by the leaking fuel, he nursed the damaged aircraft back to base. Later that day, the Infantry Battalion Commander requested immediate, emergency extraction of the remaining 40 troops, including four members of Major Kettles’ unit who were stranded when their helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire. With only one flyable UH-1 helicopter remaining, Major Kettles volunteered to return to the deadly landing zone for a third time, leading a flight of six evacuation helicopters, five of which were from the 161st Aviation Company. During the extraction, Major Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly. Army gunships supporting the evacuation also departed the area. Once airborne, Major Kettles was advised that eight troops had been unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due to the intense enemy fire. With complete disregard for his own safety, Major Kettles passed the lead to another helicopter and returned to the landing zone to rescue the remaining troops. Without gunship, artillery, or tactical aircraft support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft, which was immediately damaged by a mortar round that shattered both front windshields and the chin bubble and was further raked by small arms and machine gun fire. Despite the intense enemy fire, Major Kettles maintained control of the aircraft and situation, allowing time for the remaining eight soldiers to board the aircraft. In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Major Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety. Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield. Major Kettles’ selfless acts of repeated valor and determination are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States  of America, presents the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Seymore Kettles, United States Army (Retired), in a ceremony at The White House, 18 July 2016. (Library of Congress)

Charles Seymour Kettles was born at Ypsilanti, Michigan, 9 January 1930. He was the third of five sons of Albert Grant Kettles, an airplane pilot, and Cora Leah Stoble Kettles.

Kettles attended Edison Institute High School, Dearborn, Michigan, and then Michigan State Normal College (now, Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti. While there, he learned to fly.

Charles Kettles was conscripted into the United States Army, 18 October 1951. He underwent basic training at Camp Breckinridge, near Morganfield, Kentucky. After graduating from Officer Candidate School, Fort Knox, Kentucky, 28 February 1953, Kettles was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Field Artillery, United States Army Reserve. He was next assigned to the Army Aviation School for flight training. Lieutenant Kettles served in Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Lieutenant Kettles was released from active duty in 1956 and returned to Ypsilanti. With his older brother, Richard, he formed Kettles Ford Sales, Inc., an automobile dealership. At the same time, he maintained his reserve commission, assigned to the 4th Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment.

Kettles married Miss Anna Theresa Maida of Philadelphia on 25 August 1956. They would have six children. They divorced 21 September 1976 after twenty years.

In 1962, Kettles Ford was foreclosed, and its vehicle inventory returned to the manufacturer.

In 1963, Kettles requested to return to active duty with the U.S. Army. He was sent to Fort Wolters, Texas, in 1964, for transition training in helicopters. He then deployed to France. While in Europe, Kettles trained to fly the Bell UH-1D Iroquois, universally known as the “Huey.”

Returning from Europe in 1966, Captain Kettles assumed command of the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was promoted to the rank of major, 27 February 1967. The unit then deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in support of the Americal Division. Kettles first tour “in country” was from February through August 1967.

Major Kettles’ personal Bell UH-1D Iroquois, 65-10045, was undergoing maintenance on 15 May 1967. (Charles S. Kettles Collection)

On 14 May 1967, the day prior to the Medal of Honor action, Major Kettles took part in the rescue of a six-man Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol which was surrounded by enemy soldiers, and was in the target zone for an imminent B-52 “Arc Light” strike. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

For his actions in Operation MALHEUR on 15 May 1967, Major Kettles was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The Medal was presented by Lieutenant General L. J. Lincoln, commanding Fourth United States Army, in a ceremony at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, in May 1968.

Lieutenant General L.J. Lincoln, Commanding Fourth United States Army, presents the Distinguished Service Cross to Major Charles S. Kettles, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, May 1968. (U.S. Army)

In October 1969, Major Kettles  returned to South Vietnam for a second 12-month combat tour, now commanding the 121st Aviation Company. Major Kettles was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel (temporary), 18 August 1970.

Major Charles S. Kettles, commanding the 121st Aviation Company, with a UH-1 Huey helicopter, 1 January 1969. (Department of Defense)
Major Charles S. Kettles was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 18 August 1970. (U.S. Army)

Lieutenant Colonel Kettles married his second wife, Catherine (“Ann”) Cleary Heck. 14 March 1977.

Lieutenant Colonel Kettles retired from the United States Army in 1978. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross, he had been awarded the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); and twenty-seven Air Medals.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Seymour Kettles, Air Defense Artillery, United States Army.

He completed his college education which had been interrupted when he was drafted into the Army twenty-six years earlier, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and a Master of Science in Industrial Technology from Eastern Michigan University. He then taught Aviation Management at E.M.U.

Charles Kettles also worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until he retired in 1993.

Beginning in 2012, efforts began to upgrade Colonel Kettles’ Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor. A bill, S.2250, was passed in the first session of the 114th Congress authorizing the award, which was also approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Colonel Kettles. (U.S. Army)

In a ceremony held at The White House, 18 July 2016, the Medal of Honor was presented to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Seymour Kettles, United States Army (Retired), by Barrack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America.

Charles Seymour Kettles died in his home town of  Ypsilanti, Michigan, 21 January 2019. He was buried at the Highland Cemetery.

A reconnaissance platoon of the 1st Air Cavalry Division exits a Bell UH-1D Iroquois at Du Pho, Republic of Vietnam, circa 1967. (Sgt 1st Class Howard C. Breedlove, United States Army)

The Bell Helicopter Co. UH-1D Iroquois (Model 205) was an improved variant the UH-1B (Model 204). The type’s initial military designation was HU-1, and this resulted in the helicopter being universally known as the “Huey.” The UH-1D has a larger passenger cabin, longer tail boom and increased main rotor diameter.

The UH-1D was a single main rotor/tail rotor medium helicopter powered by a turboshaft engine. It could be flown by a single pilot, but was commonly flown by two pilots in military service. The helicopter had an overall length of 57 feet, 0.67 inches (17.375 meters) with rotors turning. The fuselage was 41 feet, 5 inches (12.624 meters) long. The helicopter had a height of 13 feet, 7.4 inches (4.150 meters), measured to the top of the mast. The maximum gross weight of the UH-1D was 9,500 pounds (4,309.1 kilograms).

A U.S. Army Bell UH-1D Iroquois, Republic of Viet Nam, circa 1967

The two blade semi-rigid, under-slung main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet, 3.2 inches (14.712 meters), and turned counter clockwise when viewed from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) At 100% NR, the main rotor turned 324 r.p.m. The two blade tail rotor assembly had a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). It was on the left side of the pylon in a pusher configuration and turned counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

101st Airborne Division soldiers move away from the landing zone after being dropped off by a 176th Aviation Company  (Airmobile) Bell UH-1D Iroquois helicopter during Operation Wheeler, 1967. (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

The UH-1D was powered by a Lycoming T53-L-9 or -11 turboshaft engine which were rated at 1,100 shaft horsepower at 6,610 r.p.m., for takeoff (5 minute limit). The T53-L-11 was a two-shaft free turbine with a 6-stage compressor (5 axial-flow stages, 1 centrifugal-flow stage) and a 2-stage axial-flow turbine (1 high-pressure stage, and 1 low-pressure power turbine stage). As installed in the UH-1, the engine produced 115 pounds of jet thrust (511.55 Newtons) at Military Power.

Its maximum speed, VNE, was 124 knots (143 miles per hour, 230 kilometers per hour). With full fuel, 206.5 gallons (781.7 liters), the helicopter had a maximum endurance of three hours.

Many UH-1D helicopter were upgraded to the UH-1H standard.

A Bell UH-1D Iroquois, 65-09733, of the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) “Minutemen.” (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 May 1926

The Byrd Arctic Expedition Fokker F.VIIa/3m at Spitzbergen, Svalbard, 9 May 1927. (Ohio State University Archives)

9 May 1926: Lieutenant Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., and Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, United States Navy, departed Spitzbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway, on a round-trip flight to the North Pole.

Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., U.S. Navy (Library of Congress)
Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, U.S. Navy (Photo NH 50611)
Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, U.S. Navy, circa April 1925 (U.S. Navy)

Their aircraft was a Fokker F.VIIa/3m three-engine, high-wing monoplane, construction number 600. The airplane was It was purchased for the Byrd Arctic Expedition by Edsel Ford, and named Josephine Ford in honor of his 3-year-old daughter, Josephine Clay Ford.

Fokker F.VIIa/3m c/n 4900, Josephine Ford. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
Fokker F.VIIa/3m, Josephine Ford. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

With Chief Bennett as the expedition’s pilot and Lieutenant Commander Byrd navigating, they flew approximately 840 miles (1,350 kilometers) to the Pole and returned the same day. The total duration of the flight was 15 hours, 44 minutes.

Commander Byrd, President Coolidge, Warrant Officer Bennett.
Secretary of the Navy Curtis Dwight Wilbur, Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., President John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett and Admiral Edward Walter Eberle, at the White House, 5 March 1927.
Medal of Honor, U.S. Navy, 1919–1942.

For this accomplishment, Lieutenant Commander Byrd was promoted to Commander, and Chief Bennett to Warrant Officer. Both aviators were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Coolidge.

In the years since this event, there has been speculation that the airplane may not have actually reached the North Pole. Professor Gerald Newsom of Ohio State University, an astronomer who taught celestial navigation, analyzed Byrd’s handwritten notes and estimated that because of the inadequacies of the equipment then available to Byrd, Josephine Ford may have flown 21 miles (33.8 kilometers) beyond the North Pole, or fallen 78 miles (125.5 kilometers) short. Professor Newsom pointed out, though, that the fact the Byrd was able to return to Svalbard after nearly 16 hours proves that he knew how to navigate using that equipment under those conditions.

(See https://web.archive.org/web/20161216185546/http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/byrdnorth.htm for additional information.)

Richard E. Byrd holding a Bumstead Sun Compass used for celestial navigation at very high latitudes, 1925. (Maynard Owen Williams/National Geographic Society, Image ID 612617)
Richard E. Byrd holding a Bumstead Sun Compass used for celestial navigation at very high latitudes, 1925. (Maynard Owen Williams/National Geographic Society, Image ID 612617)
Fokker F.VIIa/3m c/n 4900, Josephine Ford (David Horn Collection)
Fokker F.VIIa/3 Josephine Ford (David Horn Collection)
Prototype Fokker F.VIIa/3m, c/n 600, at Detroit Michigan, September 1925. (Robert McMahan Collection)

Josephine Ford is the first Fokker F.VIIa/3m monoplane, c/n 600. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Veere, Netherlands in 1925, and made its first flight at Schipol, 4 September 1925. It was demonstrated for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines), then disassembled and shipped to the United States. 600 was flown from New York to Detroit, where it participated in the First Annual Aerial Reliability Tour, 28 September–3 October 1925, flown by Egbert P. Lott. The airplane was evaluated by the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, and was then sold to Edsel Ford.

The United States did not register aircraft prior to 1927. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Registry data base, FOKKER VII (TRI-MOTOR) Serial Number 600 was registered 21 June 1927 to the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, as NC267. The registration was cancelled 14 March 1930.

Fokker F.VII 3m Josephine Ford (Fokker Aircraft)

Sources vary as to the actual dimensions of the Fokker F.VIIa/3m. The Henry Ford, the museum which owns the airplane, gives its dimensions as 49.167 feet (14.986 meters) in length, with a wingspan of 63.5 feet (19.355 meters) and height of 12.75 feet (3.886 meters). Another source says that the airplane is 47 feet, 11 inches (14.605 meters) long with a wingspan of 63 feet, 4 inches (19.304 meters) and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight is variously given as 4,630 pounds, 5,060 pounds or 6,724 pounds and maximum takeoff weight is 7,950 pounds, 8,800 pounds or 11,464 pounds. It has a cruise speed of 81 knots. Or 90. . . .

Josephine Ford was powered by three air-cooled 787¼-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-4 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines, rated at 215 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The J-4 weighed 475 pounds. (The specific variant, J-4, J-4A, or J-4B, is not known.)

Josephine Ford is in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.

Fokker F.VII/3m Josephine Ford, flown by the Byrd Arctic Expedition, in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum.
Fokker F.VIIa/3m Josephine Ford, flown by the Byrd Arctic Expedition, in the collection of The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan. (The Henry Ford Museum)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1943

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

SMITH, MAYNARD H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943.

Entered service at: Caro, Michigan.

Born: 1911, Caro Michigan.

G.O. No.: 38, 12 July 1943.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft’s oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier’s gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson reads the Citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 4379)

Sergeant Smith was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress on his first combat mission. The bomber was so badly damaged that, on landing, the airplane’s structure failed from battle damage and it broke in half. There were over 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes.

Battle damage to the radio operator's compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Battle damage to the radio operator’s compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Maynard Harrison Smith was born at Caro, Michigan, 19 May 1911. He was the second child of Henry Harrison Smith, a lawyer, and Mary Christine Gohs Smith, a school teacher.

Smith worked as a clerk in a government insurance office. He married Miss Arlene E. McCreedy at Ferndale, Michigan, 31 July 1929. They had a daughter, Barbara Lou Smith. They divorced 22 October 1932. He later married his second wife, Helene Gene Gunsell, at Caro, Michigan, 30 March 1941.

Maynard Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 August 1941. He was trained as an aerial gunner, and on completion, was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. He was assigned as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 combat crew of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.

A gunner fires the two Browning .50 caliber machine guns of his electrically-powered Sperry ball turret.

Following the 1 May mission, Staff Sergeant Smith flew only four more combat missions before a medical board diagnosed him with Operational Exhaustion. He was removed from flight status and reverted to his initial rank of private.

While stationed in England, Sergeant Smith met Miss Mary Rayner, a British subject and USO volunteer. They were married in 1944. They would have four children.

Sergeant Smith was released from active duty, 26 May 1945.

Following World War II, Smith worked for the Department of the Treasury. He later founded Police Officers Journal, a magazine oriented toward law enforcement officers.

Based on an examination of certain facts in his life, as well as anecdotes by persons who knew him, it is fair to say the Maynard Smith was a troubled individual. But the extreme courage he displayed on 1 May 1943 cannot be denied.

Maynard Smith died at St. Petersburg, Florida, 11 May 1984 at the age of 72 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Forces, was the first of only five Air Force enlisted airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also awarded the Air Medal, with one oak leaf cluster (two awards).

This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning .50-caliber machine gun at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .50, AN-M2, at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force) 

Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29649 was delivered to Denver, Colorado, 29 January, 1943. After crossing the North Atlantic Ocean, the new bomber was assigned to the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Thurleigh, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England, 24 March 1943. It was identified by the letters RD-V painted on its fuselage.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was one of 18 B-17s of the 306th Bombardment Group assigned to attack German Kriegsmarine submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast of France. Another 60 B-17s from three other groups were also part of the mission. Only 12 bombers from the 306th arrived over the target, which was heavily obscured by clouds. Each bomber carried two 2,000-pound (907 kilogram) General Purpose bombs, which were dropped from 25,200 feet (7,681 meters) on a heading of 270°. After a 20-second bomb run, the group released its bombs at 11:26 a.m.

Damage to the left side of 42-29649’s radio compartment. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying away from the target area, the 306th flew over the city of Brest at low altitude. 42-29649 was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The group was then attacked by 15–20 Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Two bombers were shot down over the city and a third ditched near the coast. -649 caught fire and three crewmen bailed out over the water and were lost.

Of the 78 B-17s dispatched, 7 were lost. 73 crewmembers were listed as Missing in Action, 18 Wounded in Action and 2 Killed in Action.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was flown by Captain Lewis P. Johnson, Jr., aircraft commander/pilot; 1st Lieutenant Robert McCallum, co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant Stanley N. Kisseberth, navigator; Staff Sergeant J.C. Melaun, nose gunner and bombardier; Technical Sergeant William W. Fahrenhold, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Maynard H. Smith, ball turret gunner; Technical Sergeant Henry R. Bean, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Robert V. Folliard, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Joseph S. Bukacek, waist gunner; Sergeant Roy H. Gibson, tail gunner. Sergeants Bean, Folliard and Bukacek were killed in action.

This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524. also o fthe 423rd Bombardment Squadron, was very similar to teh one on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. The squadron identification markings, "RD", are painted on the fuselage. The second letter "D" identifies this particular airplane. (U.S> Air Force)
This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524, Meat Hound, was also of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group. 8th Air Force. It is the same type as the B-17F on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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