Gott, Metzger, and “Lady Janet” (November 9, 1944)

On November 9, 1944, the United States Army Air Forces‘ Eighth Air Force launched a major raid against the city of Saarbrucken, Germany. Piloting one Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress of the 452nd Bombardment Group (Heavy)‘s 729th Bombardment Squadron was First Lieutenant Donald J. Gott (Born June 3, 1923; Arnett, Oklahoma). In the co-pilot’s seat was Second Lieutenant William E. Metzger, Jr. (Born February 9, 1922; Lima, Ohio).

Both of these men, aboard their plane nicknamed Lady Janet, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their incredible courage on that day in trying to save the life of one of their crewmates who couldn’t bail out of their damaged craft.

As Lady Janet approached the target, the plane was struck by multiple anti-aircraft shells, knocking out three of the four engines and starting fires. Even though the bomber was perhaps mortally wounded, Gott and Metzger kept on course and unloaded their bombs on target.

The remainder of the story is best told by the men’s citations.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*GOTT, DONALD J.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 729th Bomber Squadron, 452d Bombardment Group. Place and date: Saarbrucken, Germany, 9 November 1944. (Air Mission). Entered service at: Arnett, Okla. G.O. No.: 38, 16 May 1945.

Citation: On a bombing run upon the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken a B-17 aircraft piloted by 1st. Lt. Gott was seriously damaged by antiaircraft fire. Three of the aircraft’s engines were damaged beyond control and on fire; dangerous flames from the No. 4 engine were leaping back as far as the tail assembly. Flares in the cockpit were ignited and a fire raged therein, which was further increased by free-flowing fluid from damaged hydraulic lines. The interphone system was rendered useless. In addition to these serious mechanical difficulties the engineer was wounded in the leg and the radio operator’s arm was severed below the elbow. Suffering from intense pain, despite the application of a tourniquet, the radio operator fell unconscious. Faced with the imminent explosion of his aircraft, and death to his entire crew, mere seconds before bombs away on the target, 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot conferred. Something had to be done immediately to save the life of the wounded radio operator. The lack of a static line and the thought that his unconscious body striking the ground in unknown territory would not bring immediate medical attention forced a quick decision. 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot decided to fly the flaming aircraft to friendly territory and then attempt to crash land. Bombs were released on the target and the crippled aircraft proceeded alone to Allied-controlled territory. When that had been reached, 1st. Lt. Gott had the copilot personally inform all crewmembers to bail out. The copilot chose to remain with 1st. Lt. Gott in order to assist in landing the bomber. With only one normally functioning engine, and with the danger of explosion much greater, the aircraft banked into an open field, and when it was at an altitude of 100 feet it exploded, crashed, exploded again and then disintegrated. All 3 crewmembers were instantly killed. 1st. Lt. Gott’s loyalty to his crew, his determination to accomplish the task set forth to him, and his deed of knowingly performing what may have been his last service to his country was an example of valor at its highest.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*METZGER, WILLIAM E., JR.

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 729th Bomber Squadron 452d Bombardment Group. Place and date: Saarbrucken, Germany, 9 November 1944 (Air Mission). Entered service at: Lima, Ohio. G.O. No.: 38, 16 May 1945

Citation: On a bombing run upon the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany, on 9 November 1944, a B17 aircraft on which 2d Lt. Metzger was serving as copilot was seriously damaged by antiaircraft fire. Three of the aircraft’s engines were damaged beyond control and on fire; dangerous flames from the No. 4 engine were leaping back as far as the tail assembly. Flares in the cockpit were ignited and a fire roared therein which was further increased by free-flowing fluid from damaged hydraulic lines. The interphone system was rendered useless. In addition to these serious mechanical difficulties the engineer was wounded in the leg and the radio operator’s arm was severed below the elbow. Suffering from intense pain, despite the application of a tourniquet, the radio operator fell unconscious. Faced with the imminent explosion of his aircraft and death to his entire crew, mere seconds before bombs away on the target, 2d Lt. Metzger and his pilot conferred. Something had to be done immediately to save the life of the wounded radio operator. The lack of a static line and the thought that his unconscious body striking the ground in unknown territory would not bring immediate medical attention forced a quick decision. 2d Lt. Metzger and his pilot decided to fly the flaming aircraft to friendly territory and then attempt to crash land. Bombs were released on the target and the crippled aircraft proceeded along to Allied-controlled territory. When that had been reached 2d Lt. Metzger personally informed all crewmembers to bail out upon the suggestion of the pilot. 2d Lt. Metzger chose to remain with the pilot for the crash landing in order to assist him in this emergency. With only 1 normally functioning engine and with the danger of explosion much greater, the aircraft banked into an open field, and when it was at an altitude of 100 feet it exploded, crashed, exploded again, and then disintegrated. All 3 crewmembers were instantly killed. 2d Lt. Metzger’s loyalty to his crew, his determination to accomplish the task set forth to him, and his deed of knowingly performing what may have been his last service to his country was an example of valor at its highest.

Both men were buried in an unmarked grave in France. Their remains were located and identified fifty years later in 1994 and were brought home. Gott rests in peace in the Harmon Cemetery, Harmon, Oklahoma; Metzger in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Lima, Ohio.

The squadron and group the two courageous flyers served with are today part of the United States Air Force‘s (Reserve) 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base in California.

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