The annals of American combat history are filled with stories of men who risked their lives to save those of their comrades. Earlier I posted the first of two Medal of Honor-worthy “so that others may live” stories from February 20, 1944, that of First Lieutenant William R. Lawley, Jr. Two other airmen belonging to the United States Army Air Forces predecessor of the present day United States Air Force aboard a single Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, serial number 42-21763 and nicknamed Ten Horsepower, provide us with the second.
William Robert Lawley, Jr. was born in Leeds, Alabama on August 23, 1920. He lived there throughout his childhood, graduating from high school in 1938. With the United States’ entry into the Second World War, Lawley didn’t wait for his name to be called in the draft and volunteered for the United States Army Air Corps on April 9, 1942. Lawley also volunteered for pilot training and received his wings along with his officer’s commission about one year after his enlistment in April 1943.
Anthony Peter Damato was born on March 22, 1922 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Damato volunteered for enlistment with the United States Marine Corps just weeks later on January 8, 1942.
Forrest Lee Vosler was born in Lyndonville, New York on July 29, 1923. During 1942, as his friends from his hometown were being drafted for World War II military service, he decided not to wait for his name to be called, and volunteered by enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps on October 8, 1942.
Vosler had hoped to be a pilot, but his poor performance on the required aptitude tests saw the Air Corps send him to be trained as a radioman instead. Then, he faced another challenge. At the time, there was a 6-foot height limit to be approved for flight status; Vosler was 6′ 3″. He had volunteered to fight for his country, and his determined requests to be assigned to a bomber unit eventually paid off.
The service relented on the height restriction and deployed him to England for service with the 358th Bombardment Squadron of the 303d Bombardment Group (Heavy), part of the United States Army Air Forces‘ VIII Bomber Command, the forerunner of today’s Eighth Air Force of the United States Air Force and Global Strike Command.
After Vosler’s first combat mission to bomb Bremen on November 26, 1943 (83rd mission of the 303d), he was convinced that there was no way he’d survive his 25-mission tour of duty. At the time, the average crewmember longevity was eleven missions.
On December 20, 1943, Vosler boarded Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 42-29664, named Jersey Bounce Jr., with his nine crewmates for what would be his fourth mission (303d mission 90) over enemy territory. Continue reading TFH 12/20: Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, USAAF
Ploesti, Romania (correctly spelled Ploiești, but I will use the common spelling as found in most World War II histories) is, to this day, a center for petroleum production and refining. The first large oil refinery in the world was opened there in 1856-57. Foreign producers, including John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil built and operated facilities there.
Nazi Germany gained control of most of Romania and the Ploesti oil production facilities in 1941. As Germany had little petroleum production of its own, the strategic significance of the city’s resources couldn’t be underestimated. By the middle of 1943, Germany was consuming up to 22 million tons of oil, but was only bringing in 14 million tons. If the Ploesti facilities could be severely damaged or destroyed, the war in Europe would assuredly be shortened by months and tens of thousands of lives might be saved.
As the war progressed into the summer of 1943, the United States Army Air Forces – progenitor of today’s United States Air Force – prepared to execute the first large scale bombing raid against the Ploesti refineries. Five heavy bomber groups would be used, flying from bases in North Africa.
The plan was called Operation TIDAL WAVE. It was scheduled for a Sunday: August 1, 1943 – seventy years ago today. The men who flew the mission and survived came to know their attack on Ploesti by a much grimmer name: