When Cadets At The US Air Force Academy Realized Their Janitor Was Medal Of Honor War Hero

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Master Sergeant William Crawford.

William Crawford proves the old adage you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Perhaps it was the way he carried himself in an unassuming and humble manner, but day after day hundreds of Air Force Academy cadets would pass this janitor in the hall oblivious to the greatness that was among them.

In the mid-1970s, William Crawford might spend one day sweeping the halls and another cleaning the bathrooms, but it was a day approximately 30 years prior that would create for him a special place in the history of war. In 1943 in Italy, the only thing  Private William Crawford was cleaning out was German machine gun nest and bunkers.

William J. Crawford, Medal of Honor recipient.

Under heavy fire and at great risk to himself, his gallantry was so audacious that it earned him the Medal of Honor and the respect of any man who witnessed his actions. And yet, for the cadets at the Air Force Academy, it would take a student’s study of the Allied campaign in Italy to realize who it was that walked among them.

Once the cadets realized the humble janitor was a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, that would never be able to look at him the same and the secret was out.

A Humble Spirit

William Crawford was born in 1918 in Pueblo, Colorado.  For Crawford, he would always call the state of Colorado home despite serving a long career in the military where he was assigned to various duty stations.

It was after retiring from the Army that he returned to Colorado and took up his job as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Interior of Cadet Chapel. Photo Credit.

The cadets would report that the shy janitor they only knew as Mr. Crawford simply blended into the background as he did his job without much fanfare. However, when one of the cadets began reading a book detailing the Allied advance through Italy he came upon the story of a medal of honor recipient named William Crawford.

Talking to his roommate, Cadet James Moschgat, Class of ’77 made the connection and said: said, “Holy cow, you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor [recipient].” The next day, the cadet took the book to Crawford and simply asked if this was him.

Perhaps weighing whether it was worth it to expose his gallantry, Crawford stared at the book for a while then simply said, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”

US Infantrymen during the Italian Campaign


He would then be taken back to that fateful day in Italy and recount the story as only the man who lived it could do.  By September 1943, the Allies were pushing through southern Italy slugging it out with a resilient German army.

For Crawford and the 36th infantry division, that would place them near Altavilla Silentina with orders to take Hill 424.

One Man Assault

On September 13th, Company I was assaulting enemy positions on the hill when the entire company was pinned down by intense machine-guns fire and mortars.

Serving as the squad scout for third platoon, Private Crawford was near the front of this assault and located the first of the gun positions wreaking havoc on the company.

Enemy artillery in the area. Photo Credit.

Without orders, he took it upon himself to eliminate the threat single-handedly. Under heavy fire, he crawled forward to within a few yards of the gun and placement and lobbed a grenade directly on top of the three defenders.

Meanwhile, the rest of the company finally made it to the crest of the hill when they were again coming under fire from two more machine gun nests entrenched in a higher ridge. Again on his own initiative, Crawford set out to destroy the threat.

Crawling under the storm of bullets, Crawford came upon the first machine gun nest and with perfect accuracy once again landed a grenade right in their lap.

Moving on to the second gun, he was able to take it out of action causing the rest of the defenders to flee as they opted not to stick around for a visit from the man they had just watched single-handedly destroy three entrenched positions.

Map of the Italian Campaign. Altavilla is located near Salerno. Photo credit.


Thanks to Crawford’s gallant actions, Hill 424 was successfully overtaken and the Allied advance continued. Unfortunately for Crawford, his position at the front of the assault would eventually lead to his capture by the Germans during the chaos of the battle.

The rest of the company had believed Crawford was killed in action as reports of his gallantry advanced up the chain of command. And for his actions that day in Italy, William Crawford was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, but that is not where the story would end.

Back to Life

In 1944, the medal was presented to his father who accepted it on behalf of his son he presumed to have died in combat. But later in 1944 when a group of soldiers was rescued from German captivity, it turned out William Crawford was among them, oblivious to the fact that he was now the recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Crawford would continue to serve in the military after World War II and retired in 1967 at the rank of Master Sergeant.  After his distinguished and yet humble career in the military, this unassuming man would take a job as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

It was here in 1976 that the truth would come out, and future Air Force officers would get a lesson in both gallantry and incredible humility. As the cadets looked to their janitor with a newfound respect, they would eventually coax the painfully shy man into speaking about his experience to the next generation of leaders.

In one exchange, Crawford related the point that he never personally received his Medal of Honor with any ceremony due to his captivity and presumed death. The students and staff of the Air Force Academy would remember this fact and see to it that he had his day.

In 1984 when Pres. Ronald Reagan came to speak at that year’s graduation ceremony; they had arranged for their gallant janitor to finally stand face-to-face with the President of the United States and receive his due commendation.

William Crawford died at the age of 81 in the year 2000 at his home in Colorado. And although Crawford was a veteran of the Army, he would become the only non-U.S. Air Force enlisted person buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

The cadets regarded him as one of their own and gave him all the respect such a man deserved.

Credit: “A Janitor’s 10 Lessons on Leadership” – COL James E. Moschgat (USAF Ret.)



A Sailor Who Served On The USS Oklahoma In World War II Has Been Identified

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Navy Seaman 2nd Vernon N. Grow.

It has been a long journey home to your final resting place. 

USS Oklahoma, USS Maryland and USS West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

Full military honors were accorded to the remains of a missing Second World War U.S. serviceman following identification after being returned to his family for internment, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced recently.

Navy Seaman 2nd Vernon N. Grow, 25, of Redding, California was interred April 7 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Grow, assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbour, was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The ship was hit multiple times by torpedoes, causing it to capsize rapidly.  The attack killed 429 crewmen, including Grow.  No individual vessel at Pearl Harbour, excepting the USS Arizona, had as many fatalities.

 From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel removed the remains of the deceased crew, which were later buried in the Nu’uanu and Halawa Cemeteries.

In September 1947, charged with recovering and identifying deceased in the Pacific Theatre American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) members disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and moved them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks.

The laboratory staff was only able to verify the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at the time. The AGRS later buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the Honolulu-based National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl.

In October 1949, a military panel categorized those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, which included Grow.

The deputy secretary of Defence in April 2015 issued a policy memo directing the disinterment of unknowns related to the USS Oklahoma.  Two months later, DPAA personnel started exhuming the remains from the NMCP for analysis.

To identify Grow’s remains, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and DPAA employed a method called mitochondrial DNA analysis, which was a match to his cousins, in addition to laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence, to include dental comparisons, which matched Grow’s records, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

Sixteen million Americans served in World War II. Over 400,000 died during the war. Presently there are 73,072 service members still unaccounted for from the Second World War.


The Remains of a World War Two Pilot Make It Home

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Captain Albert Schlegel.                    

You have had a long journey home.

Capt. Albert L. Schlegel and a Fighter Group P-51D Quartet.

The remains of Capt. Albert Schlegel arrived in Beaufort, Ga., March 27, 73 years after he disappeared in World War II, when his P-51 fighter disappeared during a mission from England to France.

His casket was carried by members of the Military Honours Team after being flown into Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport followed by a service few will forget.

Captain Albert Schlegel, also known as Uncle Sonny to his only living relative in South Carolina, is now in Beaufort.

Helping by providing closure and determining the precise events of what happened to his remaining family has been a tremendous experience, said Jake Lague, a Casualty Assistance Officer.

At 25 years of age, Schlegel had been a pilot when an enemy fire brought his plane down.

He ascended into the clouds, radioed he had been hit, and he was never heard from again until 2016, said Perry Nuhn, Schlegel’s nephew.

That occurred when the Defense MIA Agency had identified his remains overseas.

The entire process that staff at the agency went through to identify his remains was amazing. It has been an honor to be part of that, Lague said.

Now, the fallen serviceman has been returned home to his family.  With the assistance of the Georgia Patriot and Carolina guards, he was escorted back to Beaufort.

Every mission is significant, but this one is slightly different, said Ric Aaron, with the Georgia Patriot Guard.  It is not every day someone from his era gets to welcome home a Second World War veteran killed in combat, WSAV-TV reported.

A situation like this is what he grew up reading about in history books, so to be a part of welcoming this brave man home and taking him to his final resting place has been a wonderful honor for him, Lague said.

The ceremony was scheduled on March 30 when he was buried at the Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina.


WWII Pilot & Commander Nancy Harkness Love: A Symbol of Pride, Passion, and Perseverance

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Lt. Colonel Nancy Harkness Love.  


Nancy Harkness Love in the cockpit of an Army Fairchild PT-19A.

Women have always proved their strength and abilities in all walks of life, and when it comes to flying airplanes, they haven’t fallen behind their male counterparts. One such example of passion and fervor of flying and the commitment to make female pilots second to none is Nancy Harkness Love.

Hannah Lincoln Harkness, famously known as Nancy Harkness Love was a famous American pilot who served in WWII as a commander.

Nancy H. Love around 1943.



Early Life and Interest in Aviation

On  Valentine’s Day in 1914, Harkness was born into the home of a rich physician in Houghton. She was a born aviator and her interest in aviation began at an early age. She took her first flight at the age of 16 and a pilot license was given to her within a month.

Harkness was adventurous and restless despite attending all the right schools, including New York’s Vassar and the Milton Academy of Massachusetts. She got her commercial license when she finished her freshman year and became famous as “The Flying Freshman.”Nancy Harkness received national attention for owning the commercial license at such a young age. While in Vassar, she took her fellow students on aircraft rides in a rented plane from a nearby airport and made some extra money.

Nancy Harkness received national attention for owning the commercial license at such a young age. While in Vassar, she took her fellow students on aircraft rides in a rented plane from a nearby airport and made some extra money.

Calling WAAC…


Life Before the War

Harkness married an Air Corps Reserve officer, Major Robert M. Love in 1936. Owing to their interest in aviation, they worked together and built an aviation company based in Boston. Nancy was a pilot in the Inter City Aviation Company and the Bureau of Air Commerce.

Her love for aviation and flying made her participate in many air races. Accustomed to being no.1, she stopped racing when she came second in the Detroit Race.

Her experience and devotion to aviation made her a test pilot for the Gwinn Air Car Company. She worked for innovation and modifications in the aircraft. The new tricycle landing gear was also tested by her which later became a standard part of all aircraft.

On the eve of World War II, her love for aviation, adventure, and devotion for the country made her write a letter to Lt. Col. Robert Olds, informing him that she has 49 brilliant female pilots with each of the pilots having flying hours reaching more than a thousand.

Official US Army photo of Robert Olds.

She wanted to help the military and proposed that female pilots can help by transporting aircraft to the bases from factories. The proposal was turned down by the commanding general of the US Armed Forces, Gen. Hap Arnold.

WWII – Nancy Harkness Becomes a Commander

When World War II broke out in 1940, Robert Love, Harkness’ husband was called to Washington for active duty, and Harkness accompanied her there. She took a posting in Baltimore as a civil servant. On her daily commute to work, Harkness piloted her own aircraft. The flying abilities of her caught attention, of Col. William Tunner, who was the commander of the Domestic Division under which her husband was serving. Col. Tunner, was on a hunt for skilled pilots in the country to transport aircraft to military bases from the factories.

The flying abilities of her caught attention, of Col. William Tunner, who was the commander of the Domestic Division under which her husband was serving. Col. Tunner, was on a hunt for skilled pilots in the country to transport aircraft to military bases from the factories.

Jackie Cochran (center) with WASP trainees.


Love’s idea of using female pilots for this job was appreciated by Col. Tunner and she was asked to write a proposal for the initiation of a ferrying division of women. The recommendation of commissioning female pilots into Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was denied. However, Love was appointed as the Executive of Women’s Pilots under Col. Tunner.

Love, within the course of a few months, recruited 29 female pilots, who were fully experienced and brilliant at their flying, in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Love was their commanding officer, and these women pilots started flying in September 1942 from Delaware as ferrying pilots.

Within a span of 6 months, Love was commanding four different squadrons of female pilots operating from various airfields.

Under her command, women pilots flew almost every kind of military aircraft, and the number of pilots under her in the WAFS increased steadily because of the graduates coming in from the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), headed by the legendary Jacqueline Cochran.

WAFS and WFTD merged in August 1943 ad Love was made the executive for all the ferrying operations done under WASP. The record of female pilots flying under her was remarkable. Having been certified in 19 military aircraft, Love even checked out on the hottest fighter of that time, the North American P-51 Mustang.

Nancy Love at the controls of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Queen Bee”.

WASP was disbanded in the year 1944, but due to her love for aviation, Love continued working on reporting duties for the ATC, the Air Transport Command.

End of War

One of the unique achievements of Nancy Harkness Love was that she and her husband were decorated simultaneously for their services during the course of the war. She was given the Air Medal for her exceptional work and role as the leader of over 300 women pilots and training them to fly advanced aircraft of the military.

Nancy Harkness did not end her flying career after the war. She was the champion of women veteran pilots who worked in the WASP. She had three daughters at the end of the war and continued as a leader in the aviation industry.

After the creation of U.S. Air Force in 1948, Love was entitled to the rank of Lt. Col in the USAF Reserve. WASP was given military recognition in the year i979, but Love did not live to see the day as she died of cancer in 1976, at the age of 62 years.

Nancy Love, pilot (left), and Betty (Huyler) Gillies, co-pilot, the first women to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The two WAFS were set to ferry a B-17 named “Queen Bee” to England when their flight was canceled by General Hap Arnold.

The Legacy

Harkness’ love for aviation and her passion that women pilots flourish was exceptional and gained for her a lot of respect and dignity. She paved the way for women pilots in the armed forces and her work for the women pilots of America can never be forgotten.

Owing to her efforts and dedication, she was inducted into the Michigan’s Women Hall of Fame, as well as, into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997 and 2005 simultaneously. As a gesture of thanks for her services, a statue dedicated to her is also present at Delaware’s New Castle County Airport.

Nancy Harkness Love is a symbol of dedication, hard work, passion and pride for not only the women pilots in the US but for all the women pilots of the world. Her service to the aviation industry and the US army remains memorable and momentous.



Refusing To Abandon The Wounded, Chaplain Emil Kapaun Remained Behind to Care for His Men and Died in a Korean POW Camp

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.IP. Captain Emil Kapaun Roman Catholic Chaplain.



He didn’t carry a weapon, he wasn’t there to fight, but that didn’t stop chaplain Emil Kapaun from earning the nation’s highest military honor for gallantry. When over 20,000 Chinese soldiers surprised a few thousand men of the 8th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Unsan, one of the worst military routs of the war was about to take place.

Casualties were high as bullets, mortars, and rockets tore through the air before the order for every able-bodied man to withdraw was given. Having already braved the heavy fire to offer services and first-aid to the wounded, this chaplain refused to leave.  The enemy broke through, and combat was hand-to-hand, and yet Kapaun continued to serve faithfully and his time as a POW wouldn’t be any different.

Roman Catholic Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, United States Army recipient of the Medal of Honor.

He continually encouraged the men and willingly gave up his own food and medicine on their behalf until he passed away from his own medical conditions.

In 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded Kapaun the Medal of Honor after an extensive review of his record was conducted. As a result, we now have new knowledge of a story that had been long lost to history and yet is worthy of remembrance.

A Life of Service

Emil Kapaun was born on April 20th, 1916 on a farm just south of Pilsen, Kansas.  Knowing early on he wanted to be in service to the Church, he attended seminary and was ordained a Catholic priest on June 9th, 1940.

US Marines disembark at Pusan on their way to the front lines.

However, he was not beyond service to his country as he joined the US Army chaplains in 1944 seeing service in the Burma theater of operations.  He briefly returned home in 1946, but in September of 1949, he resumed his duties as a Chaplain and headed for Japan.

He would be assigned to the 8th Calvary Regiment, which was one of the first to hit the beaches when the United States pushed back from the Pusan Perimeter in 1950.  Working his way North with the men, he continued to serve with inexplicable gallantry and was awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” for rescuing the wounded under fire.

He would write home about the progress they were making as they closed in on the Chinese border and had hoped he would be home soon.  However, the war had other plans, and more gallantry would be required of the Chaplain.

Father Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass using the hood of a jeep as his altar, October 7, 1950.

With hopes that the war would soon be over as the United Nations forces were well north of Pyongyang, the 8th Calvary Regiment dug in around the North Korean town of Unsan.  Unfortunately for the 8th, approximately 20,000 Chinese soldiers had set their sights on the town in the hopes of destroying multiple ROK Divisions.

On the afternoon of November 1, 1950, the Chinese unleashed their surprise assault taking the American troops completely by surprise. Before midnight, the entire ROK 15th Infantry Regiment had been destroyed and 1st and 2ndBattalion of the 8th Calvary were running dangerously low on ammunition.

Troops of the U.S. 27th Infantry await North Korean attacks across the Naktong River from positions on the Pusan Perimeter, September 4, 1950.

Disaster at Unsan

The 3rd Battalion had initially been left alone in the fighting and by using tactics of infiltration the North Korean forces had caused chaos and confusion in the middle of the night and the 3rd Battalion was virtually surrounded.  Casualties through the 8th were soaring and entire ROK regiments virtually ceased to exist.

The order to retreat was given as every able bodied man was given orders to withdraw while leaving heavy equipment behind.  It was a rout, and the Americans were on their way south.  It was in the context of this scene that Chaplain Emil Kapaun calmly walked the battlefield caring for the wounded and it was in the face onslaught that he willingly remained behind with the wounded to be captured.

Battle Map of Unsan


When the Chinese arrived, the fight continued, leading to the certain death of every American soldier left behind.  During the chaos of the battle, Kapaun noticed a wounded Chinese officer and ran through the fire to render aid and hopefully negotiate a peaceful surrender.

Kapaun’s gallantry worked, and the Chinese officer called out to his men to cease the killing.  At one point, a Chinese soldier drew down on an American First Sergeant preparing to shoot when with no regard for his own life, Kapaun pushed him out of the way.  They were now POWs and their ordeal in the war was far from over.

Once in the prison camp, Kapaun continued to serve the men whom he regarded as his congregation.  During the brutal winter of 1950, while men were freezing to death in their sleep, Kapaun would offer them his own clothes.

American POWs captured after the Battle of Unsan.

As they starved on tiny rations, it was common for Kapaun to be seen giving his food to the needy.  He would even forage food from the fields around the camp and sneak it past the guards not for himself, but for others.

A Final Service

As the men were ravaged by dysentery and disease, he boiled their water, washed their clothes, and treated their wounds.  The guards would often mock him for his faith and force him to stand in the cold naked for hours.

He never lost his faith and he never ceased to serve the men.  On Easter of 1951, he led a service using twigs put together as a cross and a small prayer missal he had hidden.

However, disease began to take its toll on Kapaun.  He developed a limp from a blood clot which was followed by dysentery and pneumonia. Once the North Koreas realized his condition, they sought their chance to rid the camp of the man who inspired so much hope in the men.

He was taken to a “death house” against the pleadings of the men where he would be left without food or water to die.  Kapaun’s words to his men were simply, “I’m going where I’ve always wanted to go.”  He died on May 23rd, 1951 and while he was initially honored with the Distinguished Service Cross, subsequent accounts would result in upgrading to the Medal of Honor.

He inspired the men in battle with his gallantry, he inspired the men in the POW camp with his mercy, and he can know continue to inspire us all with his dedication to service and sacrifice.



This Fighter Pilot Saved a Bomber Squadron From German Fighter Attacks For over Half an Hour – Alone

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P.Brigadier General Robert F. Travis.

Howard’s P-51B-5 Mustang (serial 43-6315) “Ding Hao!”

During WWII, he single-handedly protected a bomber squadron against German planes… even when he ran out of ammo. They called him the “One Man Airforce” after that.

James Howell Howard was born on April 13, 1913, in Canton (now Guangzhou), China. His parents were doctors who expected their son to enter the medical profession, as well. But it wasn’t to be.

They moved back to America when he was 14, which wasn’t easy for him. Other kids called him “China” and asked if he really was an American. Perhaps that’s what made him do what he did next.

Colonel James Howell Howard in 1945.

For during his senior year in college, he decided that medicine was no longer his thing – the military was. So after graduation, he signed up to learn naval aviation.

Of the 140 other applicants who tried, he was one of 15 who made it – becoming Navy Seaman Second Class. By 1938, he was in Class 109-C at the Naval Training Station in Pensacola. There he became an Aviation Cadet in the Naval Reserve… but not for long.

His first assignment was aboard the USS Wasp, with the Fighting Squadron Seven (VF-7). The year after that, he was with another ship learning to fly yet another plane. It went on like this till 1941 when his life would again take a different turn.

3rd Squadron Hell’s Angels of the Flying Tigers over China in 1942.


 The Navy offered him a regular commission – a rare honor, and at the time, given to only one other ensign. But Howard refused. He wanted to go back to China.

America was unhappy with the Japanese occupation of China, but was determined to remain neutral. At least officially. Solution? A secret group of fighters taken from different branches of the US military.

Except that they couldn’t go to China. Too obvious. They went to Burma, instead… right across the Chinese border. And that’s how Howard ended up joining the American Volunteer Group with the Flying Tigers.

P-51 Mustangs of the 375th Fighter Squadron, Eighth Air Force (1944).

Based at the Kyedaw Airdrome outside the town of Toungoo, he was put in the Second Pursuit Squadron. Then Pearl Harbor happened, so many returned to the US.

But Howard stayed to protect the Chinese and Burmese. He was part of the joint US-British operation that destroyed the Japanese advance on Rangoon on December 25, 1941. The following year on January 3, he was one of four pilots who attacked the Japanese airdrome at Tak, Thailand as they were preparing another attack on Burma.

The Flying Tigers were disbanded on July 4 because America needed all its men. Having shot down six Japanese planes in 56 missions, Howard became an ace. Back in the US, he joined the US Army Air Forces as a commissioned captain with the rank of major and command of the 356thFighter Squadron in the 354th Fighter Group.

Combat box. Photo Credit.

Howard got a P-51 Mustang, complete with his personal emblem – Ding Hao! (“very good” in Mandarin). Based in Britain, he had the honor of joining the longest fighter trip to Kiel, Germany on December 11, 1943 – setting a record.

On January 11, 1944 he set another – one that would put him in the history books. His squadron was escorting a group of bombers tasked with hitting the German town of Oschersleben because of its airplane factory – the AGO Flugzeugwerke.

German planes met them, so Howard dispatched his fighters as best he could. The bombers were built for carrying heavy payloads, not aerial gymnastics, so they were particularly vulnerable. And that’s where the Mustangs came in.

Messerschmitt Bf 110. Photo Credit.

Howard didn’t remember much about the first skirmish, only that he got separated from his squadron. Flying back up to bomber altitude, he saw a combat box (attack formation) of about 20 bombers under fire from six fighters.

So he shot at one plane… hit it and dove after to make sure it was out of commission. It blew up on the snow-covered ground as Howard banked upward for more.

Just before he reached the bombers, a Focke-Wulf Fw 190-A3 flew beneath him. Howard fired… and hit! The pilot ejected, almost hitting the Ding Hao! with its canopy. The former Flying Tiger zoomed back toward the bombers when a Messerschmitt 109 flew beneath him several hundred yards ahead.

German Dornier Do 217E-2 bomber. Photo Credit.

The Me-109 slowed, hoping Howard’s momentum would carry him forward so he could be shot from behind. But the American knew that trick, so he also slowed down to keep the German ahead of him. The enemy responded by going into a dive. Howard fired… and hit again!

No time to see if the plane crashed, because a Mustang and another Me-109 were zooming his way. The American saw Howard and dove. The German did, too, not seeing Howard – who fired. Howard didn’t know if he hit the target because more German planes were attacking the bombers.

Reaching them, he hit a Messerschmitt Bf 110, which flipped over and trailed smoke before moving out of sight. Howard didn’t claim this as a kill, though some of the bomber crews he was protecting swear they saw it crash.

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis

Zooming toward another bomber squadron, he saw a Messerschmitt weaving among the bombers to avoid getting hit. Howard stayed outside the formation and waited till the German zagged out… and fired. Another hit!

Howard later claimed that, “I never did see thirty or forty of those planes all at once the way the bomber people tell it. I’d see one, give it a squirt, and go up again.”

But he was running out of ammo. So he used Ding Hao! to scare them off, using the kamikaze tactics he saw over Burma and China.

As Howard put it, “I was quite busy in a constant merry-go-round… presenting a good enough bluff for them to break off and dive away.”

Howard (left) receiving the Medal of Honor from Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz on June 5, 1944

He shot another German plane, which dove in a spiral. Howard followed and emptied his last bullets into the enemy, then zoomed back up to meet a Dornier 217 aiming at a bomber. Howard flew above the plane and dove. The Dornier did the same, probably wondering why it wasn’t being riddled with bullets.

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, head of the bomber formation, said, “For sheer determination and guts, it was the greatest exhibition I’ve ever seen. It was a case of one lone American against what seemed to be the entire Luftwaffe. He was all over the wing, across and around it. They can’t give that boy a big enough award.”

So they gave him a Medal of Honor – the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to get one. They also made him a Brigadier General.


Mike Novosel (Medal of Honor) and Mike Jr: The Father-Son Vietnam Medevac Team Who Rescued Each Other

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Chief Warrant Officer Michael Novosel Sr.  



Imagine flying into heavy enemy fire to rescue your son who was shot down. Alternatively, imagine rescuing your injured father under the same circumstances. All this and that wasn’t even what Mike Sr. won his Medal of Honor for. Novosel Sr. flew bombing runs over Japan in a B-29 Superfortress. After the war, he entered the reserves to be able to raise his family, eventually getting his son, Mike Jr. into flying.

At the start of the Korean War, Novosel rejoined active duty. He flew more combat missions before joining the reserves again and flying as a commercial pilot. According to his son, Novosel was moved by JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and again volunteered, this time for the Vietnam War.

The type of bomber the Novosel Sr. flew during WWII.

Novosel hoped to be an instructor but was put near, sometimes on, the front lines as a Huey Medevac pilot. He flew thousands of missions during the war, extracting over 5,500 men. Eventually, Mike Jr. decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined as a Medevac pilot as well.

Mike Sr. was able to give his son the traditional dollar ride, the first official ride in the pilot’s main aircraft. Novosel Sr. also was the one to officially clear his son to fly. The two flew in multiple separate missions over several months. In one seemingly simple flight, Mike Jr. was shot down. Mike Sr. was returning from a mission when he heard that his son went down. A simple detour later and Mike Jr. was rescued without incident. Mike Jr.’s wounds were minimal as he was up and flying in a few days.

The type, or variation of the type of helicopter that the Medivacs used to rescue troops.

A very relieved Mike Sr. continued his flight after securing his son’s safety. Less than a week later, however, Mike Sr. was shot down himself. His tail rotor was torn off and Mike Sr. went down in a rice paddy. As coincidence would have it, Mike Jr. was out and ready to take the call. He quickly came to his father’s aid and pulled him out.

Mike Novosel Sr. would eventually be flown to the departure base by his son who took over his father’s call sign. Before that, however, Novosel Sr. would perform such a heroic and selfless rescue that it would earn him the Medal of Honor.

On October 2nd, 1969, Novosel Sr. got a call about a pinned down Vietnamese unit and went in without any air cover, only an orbiting command and control aircraft. Through the dense grass and other vegetation, Novosel could not spot a single Vietnamese soldier, though command told him he was right over them. It soon became apparent why none of the wounded could be seen. They were prone in the deep grass because the Viet Cong/NVA had them surrounded. The enemy soon opened fire on Novosel’s Huey from all directions.

The Jungle where Novosel flew was much thicker than what is seen here. Many of the men were completely obscured by the helicopter wash pushing over the tall grass.

It was only after flying low over the whole area that the Vietnamese troops began gaining the confidence to stand up and be seen. Finally, Novosel was able to fly over and began picking up the troops. Without radio contact and no interpreter, it was difficult to coordinate who should go to the chopper and who should take cover.

Novosel ran two separate runs, escorting the wounded to a base, under heavy fire before finally getting an attack helicopter escort and suppressive bombing runs. Despite the cover, the enemy was well entrenched on the heights and still rained fire from all directions. Ready to be done on his third and final run, Novosel saw a lone wounded man up the hill as close as 10 yards to the enemy position.

Novosel decided that the best option was to back the tail of his Huey up to place the largest section of the helicopter between the Vietnamese soldier and the attacker’s position. This risky and complicated maneuver actually worked, and small-arms fire rattled off the Huey with little effect.

All was going according to plan until a Viet Cong/NVA lined up to fire right through the front windscreen of Novosel’s seat. A barrage of automatic fire ripped through the windscreen and the bottom viewing plexiglass. Novosel was wounded by fragments in his right leg and had a bullet tear through the sole of his shoe. This led to a jerk reaction tipping the Huey back and to the right, though Novosel was able to recover quite well. His rescue fell onto the landing skids but was able to be pulled into the helicopter as Novosel flew back to base.

Holes were punched through the rotor; the radios were destroyed as well as a few of the non-vital instruments and other cosmetic damage. Novosel’s wounds turned out to be fairly light, especially considering the terrible position he found himself in. He was credited with saving 29 lives that day, men who almost certainly faced a terrible captivity or death and was so bestowed the Medal of Honor. He heavily praised his crew and has always praised his country for the many opportunities it afforded him. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 83. His son has most recently flown helicopter support for offshore oil platforms.


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