Leon Robert Vance, Jr. was born in Enid, Oklahoma on August 11, 1916. After high school, he entered the United States Military Academy, West Point and graduated with the class of 1939. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry branch.
Vance requested transfer to the Air Corps and was accepted for pilot training. He earned his wings along with a promotion to First Lieutenant on June 21, 1940. With the rapid promotions for existing officers as the United States expanded her military for World War II, he was promoted up to Lieutenant Colonel by September 1943 and was named the Deputy Commander of the United States Army Air Forces‘ 489th Bombardment Group (Heavy).
Continue reading Lieutenant Colonel Leon R. Vance, Jr., USAAF (June 5, 1944)
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.
Continue reading TFH 4/11: First Lieutenant Edward S. Michael, USAAF
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.
Continue reading TFH 2/20 Part 2: The Two Heroes of “Ten Horsepower” – Mathies & Truemper
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.
Continue reading TFH 2/20 Part 1: First Lieutenant William R. Lawley, Jr., USAAF
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.
Continue reading TFH 2/19-20: Corporal Anthony P. Damato, USMC
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:
Continue reading Tidal Wave: The Raid on Ploesti
The members of the United States Air Force aren’t typically associated with ground combat. That doesn’t hold for those brave airmen who volunteer for Pararescue duties and become “Pararescue Jumpers” or “PJs”.
On February 18, 1969, a Kaman HH-43 Huskie of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron was dispatched to try and recover the crew of a shot-down Army helicopter. The Army pilot couldn’t be extracted from the wreckage before darkness fell. The Pararescueman who went down into the jungle to perform the rescue elected to stay with his trapped brother in arms until the rescue could be effected.
Continue reading TFH 2/18: Sergeant Michael E. Fish, USAF
Two days ago, I related the story of Lieutenant Colonel Karl T. Feuerriegel and Captain Kenneth H. Sellers, two pilots with the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron who were decorated with the Air Force Cross for their heroism on the day the communist Tet Offensive was launched in Vietnam. For a three-day period from January 30 to February 1, 1968, another of their fellow Cessna O-2 Skymaster pilots was similarly recognized for his aerial efforts over Nha Trang.
Continue reading TFH 2/1: Lieutenant Colonel Allan R. Baer, USAF
Thomas E. Dayton was born in New York on June 3, 1933. He began his military service on July 7, 1953 when he entered the United States Military Academy, West Point. As the United States Air Force hadn’t opened their own service academy yet, he opted to join that service and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant after graduating in June of 1957. Dayton earned his pilot’s wings and in various roles flew the North American F-86 Sabre, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, and the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
When it came time for Dayton to fly into battle over Southeast Asia with the 22nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, he piloted a Douglas A-1 Skyraider. The 22nd’s primary mission was to interdict and destroy enemy forces and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as other attack missions and the vital role of escorting and coordinating search and rescue missions for downed American fliers. Continue reading TFH 12/5: Major Thomas E. Dayton, USAF