Edward Stanley Michael was born on May 2, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois. His enlistment record shows that he had been a machinist in civilian life and had completed three years of high school. Michael enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on November 4, 1940 at age 22. His record indicates that he was going to be assigned to the Hawaiian Department, but his World War II experience would be in Europe, not the Pacific.
Michael later received an officer’s commission and successfully completed training as a pilot. He learned to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and was assigned to the United States Army Air Forces‘ 364th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), flying from RAF Chelveston in Northamptonshire, England.
On April 11, 1944, Michael’s bomber was devastated by Nazi fighter attacks over Germany. As aircraft commander, Michael didn’t think his ship would make it, and ordered the crew to bail out. Seven men did, but the severely wounded co-pilot couldn’t, and the bombardier’s parachute was shredded by the enemy’s shells and rendered unusable.
Michael, himself wounded and losing blood, refused to leave his crew mates to certain death and returned to the cockpit. Miraculously, he managed to get the plane back to England and landed safely. About nine months later, he received our nation’s highest honor for his incredible flight.
MICHAEL, EDWARD S.
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 364th Bomber Squadron, 305th Bomber Group.
WePlace and date: Over Germany, 11 April 1944 (Air Mission). Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. G.O. No.: 5, 15 January 1945
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B17 aircraft on a heavy-bombardment mission to Germany, 11 April 1944. The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh. Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries. With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane. Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator’s gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm. fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing. Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank. Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness. The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.
Michael remained in the service after the war, transitioning to the United States Air Force in 1947. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1971. Michael passed away at age 76 on May 10, 1994 and was laid to rest in the Evergreen Cemetery, Springville, Utah.
The 364th Bombardment Squadron was last active in the early 1970s. The descendant of the 305th Bombardment Group is today’s 305th Operations Group, the flying arm of the 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.