Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

14 November 1965: Medal of Honor, Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army

Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army (Mississippi Armed Services Museum)
Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army (Mississippi Armed Services Museum)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to

CAPTAIN ED W. FREEMAN
UNITED STATES ARMY
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

Place and date: Landing Zone X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 14 November 1965.

Born:  20 November 1927, Neely, Mississippi.  Entered Service At: Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Major Ed W. Freeman, United States Army (1927–2008)

Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion. His flights had a direct impact on the battle’s outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have gone down, with much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers — some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman’s selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a super example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

229th Assault Helicopter Battalion at the beginning of the Battle of Ia Drang. (U.S. Army)
229th Assault Helicopter Battalion at the beginning of the Battle of Ia Drang. (U.S. Army)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 November 1965: Medal of Honor, Major Bruce Perry Crandall, United States Army

Major Bruce Perry Crandall, United States Army
Major Bruce Perry Crandall, United States Army

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to

MAJOR BRUCE P. CRANDALL 
UNITED STATES ARMY
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Rank and Organization: Major, U.S. Army, Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

Place and dates: Landing Zone X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 14 November 1965.

Place and date of birth: Olympia, Washington, 1933.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruce P. Crandall, United States Army (Retired), received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., 26 February 2008. (U.S. Army)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). On 14 November 1965, his flight of sixteen helicopters was lifting troops for a search and destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted. As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission. As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry battalion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers. While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall’s voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time. After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry battalion. His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall’s daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Major Bruce Campbell's UH-1D Huey departing LZ X-Ray during the Battle of Ia Drang, 14 November 1965. (U.S. Army)
Major Bruce Campbell’s Bell UH-1D Iroquois, “Ancient Serpent Six,” departing Landing Zone X-Ray during the Battle of Ia Drang, 14 November 1965. (U.S. Army)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor: Captain Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force

1st Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force, with a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II. (U.S. Air Force/Milwaukee Independent)

9 November 1967: First Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force, was assigned as the Weapons System Officer of AWOL 01, a McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0751. The aircraft commander was Lieutenant Colonel John William Armstrong (USMA ’49), commanding officer of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

AWOL 01 was the lead ship of a two-aircraft strike against the Ho Chi Minh Trail where it crossed a small river at Ban Loboy, Laos. The flight departed Da Nang Air Base at 2000 hours. At 2045 hours, AWOL 01 was making a second low pass over the target when it was enveloped in a ball of fire. The Phantom entered a steep climb, reaching approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), then nosed over and plunged straight into the ground. (Sources vary, stating that 64-0751 had been hit by ground fire, a surface-to-air-missile, or that its bombs had detonated prematurely immediately after release.)

The red X shows the location where AWOL 01 was lost, just southwest of the Laos/Vietnam border. (Together We Served)

Lieutenant Sijan was able to eject. It is not known if Colonel Armstrong was able to escape the doomed fighter. He was not seen or heard from again.

Sijan was severely injured, suffering a fractured skull, a broken right wrist and injured hand, and a compound fracture of his left leg. For two days, he lapsed in and out of consciousness. Then on 11 November, he was able to make radio contact with fighters overhead.

Lockheed HC-130P Combat King refuels a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant with Douglas A-1E and A-1H Skyraiders, SEA 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

A rescue operation was mounted, eventually involving more than 100 aircraft. Nine aircraft were damaged by enemy ground fire, and another, a Douglas A-1 Skyrader, was shot down. (It’s pilot was rescued.) An Air Force rescue helicopter, a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign JOLLY GREEN 15, was in radio contact with Sijan and located his approximate position. Sijan reported that he the helicopter in sight and requested that they hold their position and lower the jungle penetrator. Sijan said that he would crawl to it, and specifically said that they should not insert a pararescueman because enemy soldiers were in the immediate area. The helicopter held the hover over the triple canopy jungle for 33 minutes but never saw the injured pilot. He was not heard from again. Eventually, the rescue operation was called off.

Lance Sijan moved through the jungle by crawling. He was able to evade capture for six weeks before, unconscious, he was found by North Vietnamese soldiers. Taken to a camp near the Ban Karai Pass,

     Sijan waited until a single soldier was left to guard him. He lured the guard close, then overcame him and rendered him unconscious with a left-handed chop to the base of the skull. He tied the guard’s shirt around his swollen leg, took his carbine, and crawled into the jungle.

     He was recaptured within half a day.

—”The Courage of Lance Sijan,” by John T. Correll, AIR FORCE Magazine, July 2004, Page 54

Sijan was eventually take to the Hỏa Lò Prison—the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He had never received medical treatment for his injuries. During his ordeal he lost more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms). He was subject to interrogation, torture and isolation. He was very ill and by mid-January was suffering from pneumonia. His captors removed him from his cell on 18 January 1968. He was not seen by his fellow prisoners of war after that date. It was reported that he died on 22 January 1968. Lance Peter Sijan was just 25 years old.
Medal of Honor (Detail from a photograph by Mr. Steve White)

          The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress, the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

CAPTAIN LANCE P. SIJAN

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

          While on a flight over North Vietnam on 9 November 1967, Captain Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than six weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food. After being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, Captain Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a Prisoner of War camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered one of his guards and crawled into the jungle, only to be recaptured after several hours. He was then transferred to another prison camp where he was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length. During interrogation, he was severely tortured; however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Captain Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another prisoner. During his intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never complained of his physical condition, and on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Captain Sijan’s extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.

/s/ Gerald R. Ford

Hỏa Lò Prison, the “Hanoi Hilton. (U.S. Air Force)
Lance P. Sijan, (1960 Oracle)

Lance Peter Sijan was born 13 April 1942 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the first of three children of Sylvester Sijan and Jane A. Attridge Sijan. Lance attended Bay View High School in Milwaukee. He was interested in science and art. He played on the varsity basketball, football, swimming and track teams, and was a member of the science club, foreign language and art clubs. Sijan was chosen to speak at the school’s graduation ceremony.

Cadet 4th Class, Sijan, L.P., 1961 (U.S. Air Force)

After finishing high school, Sijan enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Airman, 3rd Class. To improve his education, Airman Sijan was sent to the Naval Academy Preparatory School at Newport, Rhode Island. Completing the one-year course, now-Airman 2nd Class Sijan was appointed as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Sports, academics

While on summer leave from the Academy, on 27 July 1964, Sijan and his younger brother, Marc F. Sijan, were sailing on Lake Weyauwega, Wisonsin, when a gust of wind capsized their boat. Thrown into the water, they unsuccessfully attempted to right the small craft, They were eventually rescued by a motorboat driven by their father.

Local automobile dealerships in Colorado Springs offered special pricing on new cars to Air Force Academy cadets. The Chevrolet Corvette was a popular choice. For his first class (senior) year, Sijan ordered a 1965 Corvette roadster. The car was painted Roman Red and had a white interior. It was powered by a 326.726-cubic-inch (5.354 liter) L75 small block V-8 engine rated at 300 horsepower, with a 4-speed transmission. He picked the car up at the Corvette assembly plant in St. Louis, Missouri.

Lance Sijan with his red 1965 Chevrolet Corvette. (Hemmings)

Cadet 1st Class Sijan graduated from the Air Force Academy with a bachelor of science degree and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, United States Air Force, 9 June 1965.

Lieutenant Sijan was sent to Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, for undergraduate pilot training. Awarded his pilot’s wings in November 1966, Sijan was next assigned to the 431st Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base in California, for Combat Crew Training and transition to the F-4C and F-4D Phantom II. In July 1967, he was transferred to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wind (“Gunfighters) based at DaNang, Republic of Vietnam.

480th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilots, circa 1967. Lieutenant Lance P. Sijan in seated in the front row, fourth from the left. Lieutenant Colonel John W. Armstrong, squadron commander, is standing in the second row, tenth from left, near center. The aircraft is McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0759, assigned to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing commander, Colonel Bud Kaldy.. (Together We Served)

For his actions in combat 22 August 1967, Lieutenant Sijan was awarded the DIstinguished Flying Cross. His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan (AFSN: AF-16419378/F-80654/3537K), United States Air Force, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as the Pilot of an F-4C “Phantom II” tactical jet fighter over North Vietnam on 22 August 1967. On that date, Lieutenant Sijan voluntarily risked his life in striking a heavily defended storage area. Despite heavy ground fire, he participated in multiple passes to deliver flares and ordnance directly on the target. Undaunted by darkness, treacherous terrain, marginal weather, and determined defenses, Lieutenant Sijan dealt a telling blow to the hostile forces by denying them vital war material and petroleum products. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Sijan reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Outside of the Hanoi Hilton, nothing was known of Lieutenant Sijan. He had not been heard from since 11 November 1967. Classified as Missing in Action (MIA), Sijan was promoted to the rank of Captain, U.S. Air Force, 13 June 1968.

Captain Sijan’s remains returned to the United States on 13 March 1974. Once positively identified, on 23 April 1974, his status was changed to Killed in Action (KIA).

In a ceremony at The White House, 4 March 1976, Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States of America, presented the Medal of Honor to Sijan’s parents.

Captain Lance Peter Sijan is the only graduate of the United States Air Force Academy to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lance Sijan’s USAFA class ring.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor, Captain Gerald Orren Young, United States Air Force

Captain Gerald Orren Young, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

YOUNG, GERALD O.

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 37th ARS Da Nang AFB, Republic of Vietnam.

Place and date: Khesanh, 9 November 1967.

Entered service at: Colorado Springs, Colo. Born: 9 May 1930, Chicago, Ill.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Young distinguished himself while serving as a helicopter rescue crew commander. Capt. Young was flying escort for another helicopter attempting the night rescue of an Army ground reconnaissance team in imminent danger of death or capture. Previous attempts had resulted in the loss of 2 helicopters to hostile ground fire. The endangered team was positioned on the side of a steep slope which required unusual airmanship on the part of Capt. Young to effect pickup. Heavy automatic weapons fire from the surrounding enemy severely damaged 1 rescue helicopter, but it was able to extract 3 of the team. The commander of this aircraft recommended to Capt. Young that further rescue attempts be abandoned because it was not possible to suppress the concentrated fire from enemy automatic weapons. With full knowledge of the danger involved, and the fact that supporting helicopter gunships were low on fuel and ordnance, Capt. Young hovered under intense fire until the remaining survivors were aboard. As he maneuvered the aircraft for takeoff, the enemy appeared at point-blank range and raked the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. The aircraft crashed, inverted, and burst into flames. Capt. Young escaped through a window of the burning aircraft. Disregarding serious burns, Capt. Young aided one of the wounded men and attempted to lead the hostile forces away from his position. Later, despite intense pain from his burns, he declined to accept rescue because he had observed hostile forces setting up automatic weapons positions to entrap any rescue aircraft. For more than 17 hours he evaded the enemy until rescue aircraft could be brought into the area. Through his extraordinary heroism, aggressiveness, and concern for his fellow man, Capt. Young reflected the highest credit upon himself, the U.S. Air Force, and the Armed Forces of his country.

Sikorsky HH-3E 66-13290, a Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter of the 37th Air Rescue Squadron, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam, 1968. This aircraft is similar to 66-13279, Jolly Green 26, the helicopter flown by Captain Young, 9 November 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Sea King 66-13290, a “Jolly Green Giant” rescue helicopter of the 37th Air Rescue Squadron, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam, 1968. This aircraft the same type as 66-13279, “Jolly 26,” the helicopter flown by Captains Young and Brower, 9 November 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The remaining crew members of Jolly Green 26 died in the crash. They were Captain Ralph Wayne Brower, the helicopter’s co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Eugene Lunsford Clay, flight engineer; Sergeant Larry Wayne Maysey, Pararescueman. The soldiers that “Jolly 26” had just rescued, Special Forces Master Sergeant Bruce Raymond Baxter and Specialist 4 Joseph George Kusick, both of U.S. Army Reconnaissance Team UTAH, were also killed.

Captain Brower, Staff Sergeant Clay and Sergeant Maysey were each posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” during the rescue.

Hill 891, a 2,923-foot hilltop just west of the Laos/Vietnam Border: the crash site of UH-1D "Spartan 53" and HH-3E "Jolly Green 26," 9 November 1967. (190th AHC)
Hill 891, a 2,923-foot hilltop just west of the village of Talat Luay, Laos, along the Vietnam Border: the crash site of UH-1D “Spartan 53” and HH-3E “Jolly Green 26,” 9 November 1967. (190th AHC)

Gerald Orren Young was born at Chicago. Illinois, 19 May 1930. He was the son of Orren Vernon Young and Ruth Vesta Bovee Young.

Gerry Young enlisted in the United States Navy, 24 May 1947, and trained as an aviation electriciann’s mate. He was discharged 29 February 1952. Young reenlisted 6 August 1955 and served until 15 July 1956, when he was selected as aviation cadet in the United States Air Force. He graduated flight school and was commissioned a second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, 18 June 1958. Lieutenant Young trained as helicopter pilot. He was sent to the Marshall Islands for his first operational assignment, flying in support of the Operation Hardtack I nuclear weapons test series, from June through December 1958.

After a little over one year of duty in Japan, Lieutenant Young returned to the United States to support strategic missile bases at several locations. In August 1967 Young was reassigned to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. He flew 60 combat missions in the HH-3E.

Following the 9 November 1967, Captain Young was hospitalized for several months. On 14 May 1968, in a ceremony at The Pentagon, President Lyndon Johnson presented the medal of Honor to Captain Young.

Major Young served with Detachment 24, 42nd ARRS, based at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, from February 1972. Det. 24 flew the twin-engine Bell UH-1N “Huey” helicopter.

He next attended the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, preparing for an assignment with the Fuerzas de Defensa de Panamá (Panama Defense Forces). While there, on 21 August 1972, Major Young’s wife, Nancy, died of a heart attack.

Following duty in Panama, Major Young completed a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Maryland. He then served as air attache to Columbia, followed by a series of staff assignments.

Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Orren Young retired from the U.S. Air Force, 30 June 1980, after more than 30 years of military service. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Colonel Young had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster. He died 6 June 1990. Colonel Young’s remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 November 1944

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

2 November 1944: The 8th Air Force sent 638 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, escorted by 642 P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighters from their bases in England, over 500 miles to attack the I.G. Farben Leunawerke synthetic oil refinery at Leuna, a 3-square-mile facility a few miles from Merseberg, Germany.

The Leuna refinery used a hydrogeneration process to produce aviation gasoline from coal. This was the most heavily defended target in all of Germany, surrounded by more than 1,700 88 mm and 105 mm antiaircraft guns (“flak”) in 36-gun batteries. According the the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “Aircrews viewed a mission to Leuna as the most dangerous and difficult assignment of the air war.

One B-17 pilot described it: “When I describe the flak over Leuna as a cloud, I don’t mean just a wall of smoke; it was a box, the length, width, and depth of our route to the ‘bombs away’ point.”

On the 2 November attack, the bombers were under “intense” anti-aircraft fire for 18 minutes, and heavy fire for 30 minutes. They were also attacked by a record 700 Luftwaffe fighters including the new Me 262 twin-engine jets. The 8th Air Force lost 38 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and 28 fighters. An astonishing 481 bombers were damaged.

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Femoyer was the navigator on one of those B-17s, commanded by Second Lieutenant Jerome Rosenblum. B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, Hotshot Green, of the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) based at RAF Rattlesden, was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and fell out of formation.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
to

FEMOYER, ROBERT E.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 711th Bombing Squadron, 447th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Merseberg, Germany, 2 November 1944.

Entered service at: Jacksonville, Fla. Born: 31 October 1921, Huntington, W. Va.

G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2-½ hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Edward Femoyer was born 30 October 1921 at Huntington, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Edward Peter Femoyer and Mary Elizabeth Kramer Femoyer. After graduating from St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School in Huntington, Femoyer attended Marshall College for one year before transferring to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (better known as Virginia Tech), at Blacksburg, Virginia, as a member of the Class of 1944.

In February 1942, when he registered with the draft board, Femoyer was an employee of the Hercules Powder Company, a manufacturer of explosives. He was described as having brown hair and eyes, was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Femoyer joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps at Roanoke, Virginia, 11 November 1942. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps 4 February 1943 at Miami Beach, Florida, where he received basic military training.

Aviation Cadet Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

After aircrew training at the University of Pittsburgh, March through June, 1943, Aviation Cadet Femoyer was sent to the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi, for flight training. He did not qualify as a pilot but was recommended for training as a navigator. He trained at Selman Army Airfield, near Monroe, Louisiana, and attended aerial gunnery school at Fort Myers, Florida. On graduation, 10 June 1944, Robert Edward Femoyer was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Following combat crew training at Lincoln, Nebraska, he was deployed to England in September 1944. Lieutenant Femoyer was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Rattlesden, southeast of Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk, England.

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer’s body was returned to the United States in 1949, and buried at the Greenlawn Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida. A residential building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute was built following the war and named Femoyer Hall.

Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)
Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052 was one of 2,400 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California from 1943 to 1945. 2,395 of these were the “G” variant, with its distinctive “chin” gun turret. -052 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1943. In January 1944, the new bomber was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at U.S. Army Air Forces Station 126 (RAF Rattlesden), Suffolk, England. The new bomber flew its first combat mission 4 February 1944.

The B-17G was camouflaged with the standard U.S.A.A.F. olive drab sides and upper surfaces, with neutral gray underneath. The vertical fin and wing tips were painted yellow and two vertical green stripes circled the aft fuselage. The four engine cowlings were painted blue, and a blue chevron was painted on the top of the right wing, indicating that this B-17 belonged to the 711th Bomb Squadron. The 447th’s group identification, a white letter “K” surrounded by a black square, was painted on the upper portion of the fin. Below this was its abbreviated serial number, “238052.” A black capital “L”, identifying the individual airplane, was painted at the bottom of the fin.

42-38052 was a replacement aircraft and was flown by several crews. It carried the names El Mal Centavo (“The Bad Penny”) and Lucky Stehley Boy, (“. . . so named in honor of Dr. Stehley of Cumberland. . . .”—Grant County Press, Petersburg, West Virginia, Thursday, 31 August 1944, Page 1, Column 6.)

This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)
This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)

On 27 March 1945, -052 crash-landed at B-53, a forward airfield near Merville, France, when its left main landing gear failed to extend. It was repaired and survived the war.

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The veteran bomber was flown back to the United States and on 15 August 1945, arrived at the reclamation center at Kingman, Arizona. It was scrapped 8 November 1945, after less than two years of service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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