Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

1 August 1943

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, "The Sandman," takes off for Ploesti, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” ready for take off at its base in Libya—destination Ploesti, Romania—1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

1 August 1943: Operation TIDALWAVE. 178 B-24 Liberator very long range heavy bombers bombers of the 8th and 9th Air Forces, with 1,751 crewmen, made an extreme low-level attack on the Axis oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.

The mission was a disaster: 53 B-24s were lost, 310 crewmen killed in action, 108 captured, and 78 interred in neutral countries. The damaged refineries were repaired within weeks and their output was higher than before the attack.

Five Medals of Honor were awarded, three posthumously, the most for any single air action in history.

The following is from an official U.S. Air Force publication:

U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet

OPERATION TIDALWAVE, THE LOW-LEVEL BOMBING OF THE PLOESTI OIL REFINERIES, 1 AUGUST 1943

Prior to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces as of June 20, 1941) developed a doctrine of high-altitude, precision, daylight, massed bombing of selected enemy military and industrial targets. Combined with the Royal Air Force’s concentration on mass air attacks on industrial areas at night by 1943, this doctrine evolved into the Combined Bomber Offense featuring “around-the-clock” bombing of German targets.

Petroleum production and distribution systems were among the highest priority targets, and perhaps the most inviting of these was the concentration of oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania, which according to Allied intelligence estimates, produced as much as one third of Germany’s liquid fuel requirements. One of the most heavily defended targets in Europe, Ploesti lay outside the range of Allied bombers from England but could be reached by Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers from the Middle East or North Africa.

Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Allied leaders determined to bomb Ploesti during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 and Gen. Henry H.” Hap’ Arnold delegated the problem to Col. Jacob Smart of his Advisory Council. Smart, the principle architect and planner for Operation TIDALWAVE, proposed, in complete antithesis of USAAF bombing policy, a low-level massed raid on the nine most important Ploesti refineries by five B-24 bomb groups, two from North Africa and three borrowed from Eighth Air Force in England .

By July 1943, the five groups—the 44th, 93rd, and 389th Bombardment Groups from England had joined the 98th and 376th Bombardment Groups at Benghazi, Libya, where they made final preparations and conducted additional low-level training under the direction of Ninth Air Force.

Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. A gunner stands in the waist position. The bomber’s belly turret is retracted. (U.S. Air Force)

Commanded by Brig. Gen. Uzal G. Ent, the force of 178 B-24s took off on the morning of 1 August, followed a route across the Mediterranean, passed the island of Corfu, crossed the Pindus Mountains into Rumania, and approached Ploesti from the east. While over the Mediterranean the formation divided into two parts: the first led by Col. Keith K. (K.K.) Compton commander of the 376th, consisted of the 376th and 93rd Bomb Groups; the second led by Col. John R. (Killer) Kane, commander of the 98th, included the 98th, 44th, and 389th Bomb Groups. Mandated radio silence prevented the leaders from reassembling the formation. The goal of a single, mass attack disappeared.

Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Compton’s formation reached Rumania well ahead of Kane’s. It descended to low level and, in error, made its planned turn to the south at Targoviste, miles short of the correct Identification Point (IP). Compton led two bomb groups toward Bucharest. Col. Addison L. Baker, commanding the 93rd Bomb Group following Compton, saw Ploesti to his left, turned his group and led it into the target first. Meantime, Compton found that he was heading to Bucharest and turned, almost reversing course, and bombed Ploesti from the south.

As the two groups emerged from Ploesti and escaped to the south, the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups led by Kane plunged into Ploesti where they found many of their targets in flames. They sought alternate targets of opportunity. Far to the north, the 389th Bomb Group successfully bombed its target, a separate refinery at Campina, as planned.

In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, i sover Targer White IV, the Astra Romana refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” is over Target White IV, the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Survivors of the attack fled south alone or in small groups trailed by Axis fighters which took a toll of the weakened force. Bombers crashed in fields or disappeared into the water; some diverted to Allied bases in the region; others sought sanctuary in neutral Turkey. Some 88 B-24s, most badly damaged, managed to return to Benghazi. Personnel losses included 310 airmen killed, 108 captured, and 78 interned in Turkey. Five officers: Kane, Baker, Col. Leon W. Johnson, Maj. John L. Jerstad, and 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, earned the Medal of Honor; Baker, Jerstad, and Hughes posthumously.

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, clears the triple stacks at Astra Romana, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” clears the triple stacks at the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Despite the extreme heroism of the airmen and their determination to press the mission home, the results of Operation TIDAL WAVE were less than expected. TIDALWAVE targeted nine major refineries that produced some 8,595,000 tons of oil annually, about 90 percent of all Rumanian oil production, and the attack temporarily eliminated about 3,925,000 tons, roughly 46 percent of total annual production at Ploesti. Three refineries lost 100 percent of production. Unfortunately, these losses figures were temporary and reflected much less than the planners had hoped for. The Germans proved capable of repairing damage and restoring production quickly, and they had been operating the refineries at less than full capacity, anyway. Ploesti thus had the ability to recover rapidly. The largest and most important target, Astro Romana, was back to full production within a few months while Concordia Vega was operating at 100 percent by mid-September.

The U.S. Army Air Forces never again attempted a low level mission against German air defenses.

Dr. Roger Miller, Historian, AFHSO.

Air Force Historical Studies Office Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, DC.

U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 July 1943

Flight Officer John Cary Morgan, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, commanding 8th Air Force, 18 December 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

MORGAN, JOHN C. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 326th Bomber Squadron, 92d Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 28 July 1943.¹

Entered service at: London, England. Born: 24 August 1914, Vernon, Texas.

G.O. No.: 85, 17 December 1943.

Citation:

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while participating on a bombing mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe, 28 July 1943.¹ Prior to reaching the German coast on the way to the target, the B17 airplane in which 2d Lt. Morgan was serving as copilot was attacked by a large force of enemy fighters, during which the oxygen system to the tail, waist, and radio gun positions was knocked out. A frontal attack placed a cannon shell through the windshield, totally shattering it, and the pilot’s skull was split open by a .303 caliber shell, leaving him in a crazed condition. The pilot fell over the steering wheel, tightly clamping his arms around it. 2d Lt. Morgan at once grasped the controls from his side and, by sheer strength, pulled the airplane back into formation despite the frantic struggles of the semiconscious pilot. The interphone had been destroyed, rendering it impossible to call for help. At this time the top turret gunner fell to the floor and down through the hatch with his arm shot off at the shoulder and a gaping wound in his side. The waist, tail, and radio gunners had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen and, hearing no fire from their guns, the copilot believed they had bailed out. The wounded pilot still offered desperate resistance in his crazed attempts to fly the airplane. There remained the prospect of flying to and over the target and back to a friendly base wholly unassisted. In the face of this desperate situation, 2d Lt. Officer Morgan made his decision to continue the flight and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship and for 2 hours he flew in formation with one hand at the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot before the navigator entered the steering compartment and relieved the situation. The miraculous and heroic performance of 2d Lt. Morgan on this occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew.”

Lieutenant John Cary (“Red”) Morgan, 482nd Bombardment Group, with a B-17 Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

John Cary Morgan was born 24 August 1914 at Vernon, Texas, the first of four children of Samuel Asa Leland Morgan, an attorney, and Verna Johnson Morgan. He was educated at the New Mexico Military Institute, and also attended Amarillo College, West Texas Teacher’s College and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Red” Morgan traveled to the South Pacific in 1934, working on a pineapple plantation in the Fiji Islands. He returned to the United States in 1937, arriving at the Port of Los Angeles from Suva, Fiji, aboard the Matson passenger liner S.S. Monterey, on 6 September, after a 12-day voyage.

One of Matson Lines’ “white ships,” S.S. Monterey, arrived at Sydney Harbor, 14 June 1937. (Royal Australian Historical Society)

Morgan married 20-year-old Miss Margaret Wilma Maples at the First Methodist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 3 December 1939. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Lewis N. Stuckey. They were divorced, 1 May 1941.

Morgan registered for Selective Service at Oklahoma City, 16 October 1940. He was described as being 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 meters) tall, weighing 180 pounds (81.7 kilograms), with red hair and blue eyes. Morgan had broken his neck in an oil field accident before the United States entered World War II, and had been classified 4-F by the draft board: “not qualified for military service.”

Morgan went to Canada and on 4 August 1941, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After flight training, he was sent to England and assigned to RAF Bomber Command. Flight Sergeant Morgan flew twelve combat missions with the RAF. He was then transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps with the warrant rank of Flight Officer. On 23 March 1943, Red Morgan was assigned to the 326th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 92nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), at RAF Alconbury (Army Air Force Station 102), at Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England.

The original “Ruthie,” Lockheed Vega B-17F-35-VE Flying Fortress, 42-5910, 326th Bombardment Squadron, landing at RAF Chelveston (AAF Station 105), Northamptonshire, England. (Imperial War Museum UPL 19152)

The incident for which Morgan was awarded the Medal of Honor occurred during his fifth combat mission with the 326th Bombardment Squadron. He was the co-pilot of a Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 42-29802, named Ruthie II.

2nd Lieutenant John Cary (“Red”) Morgan being interviewed by Lieutenant Joe Graham, ETO Radio Department. (Imperial War Museum)

Promoted from flight officer to 2nd lieutenant, John C. Morgan continued to fly combat missions, now with the 482nd Bombardment Group (Pathfinder). On 6 March 1944, the H2X radar-equipped B-17 on which he was co-pilot, Douglas-Long Beach-built B-17F-70-DL 42-3491, was hit by an 88-millimeter anti-aircraft artillery shell and shot down. The aircraft commander, Major Fred A. Rabo, Lieutenant Morgan, and two others escaped as the airplane exploded. Six airmen were killed, including Brigadier General Russell A. Wilson.

Douglas-built B-17F-70-DL Flying Fortress 42-3491, call sign “Chopstick G. George,” was shot down near Berlin, Germany, 6 March 1944. The bomber exploded immediately after this photograph was taken. (U.S. Air Force)

The survivors were captured. Lieutenant Morgan spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at Stalag Luft I. He is the only Medal of Honor recipient to have been held as a Prisoner of War after being awarded the Medal.

Lieutenant Morgan was separated from active duty 29 January 1946, but remained in the Air Force Reserve. In the civilian sector, Morgan worked for the Texaco oil company.

Red Morgan married Chris Ziegler of Chicago, Illinois, who was a secretary for Texaco, in 1947. They had one son. According to an obituary in the New York Times, Morgan had a third wife, Gladys, at the time of his death.

Morgan was promoted to the rank of major in July 1950. Recalled to active duty during the Korean War (from June 1951 to August 1953), he was assigned to the Technical Training Command. Morgan was promoted to lieutenant colonel in August 1957.

Lieutenant Colonel John Cary Morgan, United States Air Force, died at Midlands Hospital, Papillon, Nebraska, 17 January 1991, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Second Lieutenant John C. “Red” Morgan, USAAF, at Stalag Luft I, 1944.
“12 O’Clock High”

Authors Beirne Lay, Jr., and Sy Bartlett used Morgan as the model for the character of “Lieutenant Jesse Bishop” in their novel, Twelve O’Clock High, and the Academy Award-winning 1949 motion picture adaptation that followed. The Jesse Bishop character was played by actor Robert Patten, a USAAF navigator during World War II.

¹ “Although both the original fact sheet and the official Medal of Honor citation give the date as 28 July 1943, official records of the 92d Bombardment Group pinpoint it as 26 July.  See Memo, Lt. Col. Andre R. Brosseau, Operations Officer, Headquarters, 92d Bombardment Group to Commanding Officer, 92d Bombardment Group, subj: Report on Planning and Execution of Operations for Mission 26 July 1943, Hannover, Germany, 27 July 1943, Air Force Historical Support Division, Reference Branch documents.  The memo does not detail Flight Officer Morgan’s actions but does pinpoint the mission to Hannover on 26 July 1943.” —Air Force Historical Support Division

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 July 1944

First Lieutenant Donald Dale Pucket, U.S. Army Air Corps (1915–1944). (Longmont Museum)

MEDAL OF HONOR

PUCKET, DONALD D. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 98th Bombardment Group.

Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 9 July 1944.

Entered service at: Boulder, Colo. Birth: Longmont, Colo.

G.O. No.: 48, 23 June 1945.

Citation: He took part in a highly effective attack against vital oil installation in Ploesti, Rumania, on 9 July 1944. Just after “bombs away,” the plane received heavy and direct hits from antiaircraft fire. One crewmember was instantly killed and 6 others severely wounded. The airplane was badly damaged, two engines were knocked out, the control cables cut, the oxygen system on fire, and the bomb bay flooded with gas and hydraulic fluid. Regaining control of his crippled plane, 1st Lt. Pucket turned its direction over to the copilot. He calmed the crew, administered first aid, and surveyed the damage. Finding the bomb bay doors jammed, he used the hand crank to open them to allow the gas to escape. He jettisoned all guns and equipment but the plane continued to lose altitude rapidly. Realizing that it would be impossible to reach friendly territory he ordered the crew to abandon ship. Three of the crew, uncontrollable from fright or shock, would not leave. 1st Lt. Pucket urged the others to jump. Ignoring their entreaties to follow, he refused to abandon the 3 hysterical men and was last seen fighting to regain control of the plane. A few moments later the flaming bomber crashed on a mountainside. 1st Lt. Pucket, unhesitatingly and with supreme sacrifice, gave his life in his courageous attempt to save the lives of 3 others.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
Donald D. Pucket, 1938. (The Coloradan)

Donald Dale Pucket was born at Longmont, Colorado, 15 December 1915. He was the son of Roy A. Pucket, an automotive mechanic, and Lula M. (Gilmore?) Pucket.

Pucket attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he studied business. He was president of the Board of Directors of the School of Business, and a member of the Delta Sigma Pi (ΔΣΠ) fraternity. During his senior year, he was the fraternity’s president and headmaster. Pucket graduated in 1938. Pucket was employed by a finance company as an insurance inspector.

On 16 September 1939, Donald Dale Pucket married Miss Lorene Edna Joyce, a public school teacher, at Denver, Colorado. They rented a home at 2705 High Street, Pueblo, Colorado.

In 1940, as required, Pucket registered for the Draft (conscription for military service). His registration shows that he was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 158 pounds (71.7 kilograms). He had brown hair and brown eyes.

Pucket enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces at Denver, Colorado, 25 November 1942 and was trained as a bomber pilot. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, in October 1943. Lieutenant Pucket was assigned to the 343rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), as a B-24 Liberator pilot and deployed to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in April 1944. He was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in June 1944. He was killed in action during an attack against the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 9 July 1944.

Lieutenant Pucket’s remains were eventually returned to the United States. On 31 October 1950, Lieutenant Pucket’s remains were interred in a group grave with those of five members of his crew, at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, Missouri. They were: Staff Sergeant Herschel K. Devore, Technical Sergeant Ilas B. Dye, Staff Sergeant Leon Fournas, Staff Sergeant Lawrence L. Hood and Staff Sergeant Jack C. Rathbun.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, First Lieutenant Donald Dale Pucket, United States Army Air Corps, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters (three awards), and the Purple Heart.

[Note: Records available online do not indicate the specific variant or serial number of the B-24 Liberator flown by 1st Lieutenant Pucket, however research revealed that there were two B-24s lost by the 98th Bombardment Group on 9 July 1944. They were both North American/Dallas-built B-24G-15-NT Liberators, serial numbers 42-78346 and 42-78348. The B-24 in the photograph below is their sister ship, 42-78349.] ¹

North American B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
North American B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ UPDATE: Information provided by Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan B. Ott, United States Army, indicates that Lieutenant Pucket’s bomber was North American Aviation B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78346. Thank you very much, Colonel Ott.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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

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

3 July 1951: With his Chance Vought F4U-4B Corsair, Bu. No. 63056, hit and on fire, Captain James V. Wilkins, United States Marine Corps, of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) stationed aboard USS Sicily (CVE-118), bailed out approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Wonson, North Korea. He parachuted onto a mountainside in the Anbyon Valley.

Severely burned and with an injured leg, Captain Wilkins was seen by North Korean soldiers along a heavily-traveled supply route. While enemy soldiers shot at him, Wilkins tried to escape by crawling up the mountainside.

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

Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy, was a helicopter pilot in charge of a detachment of Helicopter Utility Squadron Two (HU-2), stationed aboard a former U.S. Navy Landing Ship (Tank), USS LST-488. The LST had been transferred to Japan after World War II and converted to a merchant ship. During the Korean War, it and its 45-man Japanese crew were contracted to the U.S. Navy. The LST was reconverted to a helicopter support ship, designated Q-009.

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

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

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

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

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

The helicopter continued to be targeted by ground fire and it was finally shot down. 122715 crashed on the mountainside and rolled upside down. Koelsch and Neal were unhurt and Wilkins suffered no new injuries. Koelsch and Neal carried Wilkins and they moved away from the enemy forces, heading toward the coast. The three Americans evaded the enemy for nine days before they were captured.

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

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

In 1965, the Garcia-class destroyer escort USS Koelsch (DE-1049, later classified as a frigate, FF-1049, in 1975) was christened in honor of the first helicopter pilot to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

USS Koelsch (FF-1049). (U.S. Navy)
USS Koelsch (FF-1049), a Garcia-class frigate, 21 May 1979. (U.S. Navy)

John Kelvin Koelsch was born 22 December 1923 in the family home at 2 Draycott Place, Chelsea (a borough in the southwest part of  London, England). He was the third son of Henry August Koelsch and Beulah Anne Hubbard Koelsch. Mr. Koelsch was an American banker. The family returned to America aboard White Star liner R.M.S. Adriatic, sailing from Liverpool on 26 April 1954, and arriving at the Port of New York on 5 May.

In America, the Koelsch family lived in Briarcliff Manor, Westchester County, New York.

John K. Koelsch enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Navy 14 September 1942. He was trained as a pilot. When qualified as a Naval Aviator, Koelsch was commissioned as an ensign, 16 October 1944. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) 1 August 1946.

Following the Korean Armistice Agreement, Lieutenant Koelsch’s remains were returned to the United States and interred at Arlington National Cemetery, 14 October 1955.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 June 1944

Second Lieutenant David R. Kinsley, United States Army Air Forces
Second Lieutenant David Richard Kingsley, United States Army Air Corps, photographed as an aviation cadet.

MEDAL OF HONOR

KINGSLEY, DAVID R. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 97th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force.

Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 23 June 1944.

Entered service at: Portland, Oregon. Birth: Oregon.

G.O. No.: 26, 9 April 1945.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, 23 June 1944 near Ploesti, Rumania, while flying as bombardier of a B17 type aircraft.

On the bomb run 2d Lt. Kingsley’s aircraft was severely damaged by intense flak and forced to drop out of formation but the pilot proceeded over the target and 2d Lt. Kingsley successfully dropped his bombs, causing severe damage to vital installations. The damaged aircraft, forced to lose altitude and to lag behind the formation, was aggressively attacked by 3 ME-109 aircraft, causing more damage to the aircraft and severely wounding the tail gunner in the upper arm. The radio operator and engineer notified 2d Lt. Kingsley that the tail gunner had been wounded and that assistance was needed to check the bleeding. 2d Lt. Kingsley made his way back to the radio room, skillfully applied first aid to the wound, and succeeded in checking the bleeding. The tail gunner’s parachute harness and heavy clothes were removed and he was covered with blankets, making him as comfortable as possible. Eight ME-109 aircraft again aggressively attacked 2d Lt. Kingsley’s aircraft and the ball turret gunner was wounded by 20mm. shell fragments. He went forward to the radio room to have 2d Lt. Kingsley administer first aid. A few minutes later when the pilot gave the order to prepare to bail out, 2d Lt. Kingsley immediately began to assist the wounded gunners in putting on their parachute harness. In the confusion the tail gunner’s harness, believed to have been damaged, could not be located in the bundle of blankets and flying clothes which had been removed from the wounded men. With utter disregard for his own means of escape, 2d Lt. Kingsley unhesitatingly removed his parachute harness and adjusted it to the wounded tail gunner. Due to the extensive damage caused by the accurate and concentrated 20mm. fire by the enemy aircraft the pilot gave the order to bail out, as it appeared that the aircraft would disintegrate at any moment. 2d Lt. Kingsley aided the wounded men in bailing out and when last seen by the crewmembers he was standing on the bomb bay catwalk. The aircraft continued to fly on automatic pilot for a short distance, then crashed and burned. His body was later found in the wreckage. 2d Lt. Kingsley by his gallant heroic action was directly responsible for saving the life of the wounded gunner.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

David Richard Kingsley was born 27 June 1918 at Portland, Oregon. He was the second of nine children of David Ross Kingsley, a machinist, and Angelina Marie Rutto Kingsley. He attended St. Michael’s School in Portland.

With both of their parents dead and their oldest brother in the Navy, Dave Kingsley cared for his younger siblings. He worked as a firefighter, and was engaged to Miss Harriet Zalabak.

Aviation Cadet David R. Kingsley, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1942.

Kingsley enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces at Portland Army Air Base, 14 April 1942. He had brown hair, blue eyes, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 165 pounds (75 kilograms). Kingsley was trained as a bombardier and commissioned a second lieutenant in July 1943.

The gunner saved by Kingsley later said, “David then took me in his arms and struggled to the bomb bay, where he told me to keep my hand on the rip cord and said to pull it when I was clear of the ship. . . Then he told me to bail out. I watched the ground go by for a few seconds and then I jumped. I looked at Dave the look he had on his face was firm and solemn. He must have known what was coming because there was no fear in his eyes at all. That was the last time I saw. . . Dave standing in the bomb bay.”

Kingsley’s bomber, a Vega-built B-17F-35-VE, 42-5951, crashed near the village of Suhozem, in central Bulgaria. In addition of Kingsley, seven people on the ground were killed.

Major General Ralph P. Cousins presented Lieutenant Kingley’s Medal of Honor to his older brother, Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Thomas Kingsley, U.S. Navy, in a ceremony held at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Portland, Oregon, 4 May 1945.

Following the war, Lieutenant Kingley’s remains were exhumed and returned to the United States. They were then buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Kingsley Air National Guard Base, Klamath Falls, Oregon, is named in his honor.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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