Monday, November 2, 2015

Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway. *

While visiting Lackland AFB recently, I took the opportunity to stroll the Parade Field and take in the static displays as well as the historical vignettes and Memorial to the Military Working Dogs.  All very moving, even if some of the aircraft have not been maintained well and aircraft history placards have not been maintained at all.  Pet peeve, but I digress.


There was also another memorial on the south side of the field.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, since December 1861 when the Navy Medal of Honor was authorized and February 1862 when the Army Medal of Honor was also authorized, there have been 3495 Medals of Honor awarded.  Since becoming a separate service in 1947, there have been 18 Air Force Medals of Honor awarded.  

Squinting at the statistics and definition of "air force" a little, then doing a recount, since WWI there have been 60 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the Army Air Service which became the Army Air Corps which became the US Air Force.  That corroborates what is shown on the monument above.

Many of the names I recognize, having read their biographies (Day, Thorsness, Sijan, and Doolittle ) or recognized the names as also being names of bases, or the fact that the recipient was also an ace (Rickenbacker, Luke, Bong, Kearby, McGuire).  Having lived in Sebille Manor on Kadena and been a member of the 80TFS Juvats, I knew about Sebille and Loring.

I resolved to look up the rest and see what they did to merit receiving the Nation's highest award for valor.  Honor, courage and valor being character traits I rate very highly.

This is the first of those posts.  

The first "Air Force" Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously in 1919 to 2LT Frank Luke, namesake of Luke AFB in AZ.  Having checked out in both the F-4 and F-15 at Luke, I was already familiar with his balloon busting abilities in WWI.

Air Force Medals of Honor 2 and 3 however were a different story and are the subject of this post.  Awarded to 1LT Harold E. Goettler and  2LT Erwin R Bleckley in 1922, again posthumously, their citation is brief and does not contain many details.



"1st. Lt. Goettler, with his observer, 2d Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, 130th Field Artillery, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of this mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in the instant death of 1st. Lt. Goettler. In attempting and performing this mission 1st. Lt. Goettler showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage and valor." source
1LT Harold E. Goettler

Lt Bleckley's citation reads virtually the same just switching the role performed.
"2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor."

2LT Erwin R. Bleckley



Wikipedia added a tidbit of information in its discussion of Lts Goettler and Bleckley's final mission, it made mention of the "Lost Battalion".  I vaguely recalled reading of that unit during my time at CGSC, but couldn't remember any particulars.

The "Lost Battalion" was 554 men who participated in an attack in the Argonne Forrest in October 1918.  Flanked on the left by French forces and on the right  by Americans from the 92nd Division, they began the attack on schedule not aware that both flanking units had delayed their attack.  They were soon completely surrounded.

Trapped there for 6 days, food, water and ammunition was dangerously low.  Communication was difficult and at times resorted to Carrier Pigeons.  At one point, while under artillery fire from friendly forces, a Pigeon, named Cher Ami, was launched with the message "WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT." source

The source also notes the pigeon received the Croix de Guerre for the effort.

In any case, Lt's Goettler and Bleckley volunteer to try to drop boxes of food, water and ammunition to the trapped men.  Flying in the morning and attempting to drop the supplies into the area where the men were trapped, described as about 350 yards long by 50 yards wide, had met with limited success and their DeHavilland DH-4 had sustained damage.  

Source


Despite the warning by their squadron commander that a second try would be "exceedingly more difficult and hazardous", they decided to try again at a lower altitude and slower speed .  While making the second attempt Lt Goettler, the pilot, was shot and killed causing the aircraft to crash.  Lt Bleckley was mortally wounded in the crash.

Source


On October 8th 1918, the Allies broke through and rescued the 197 surviving members of the Lost Battalion. 

Sometimes you roll the dice and lose,  that doesn't negate the valor of your actions.

* John Wayne.  Particularly appropriate to these heroes.  






12 comments:

  1. An excellent way to kick off the first Monday of November. Really good stuff Juvat.

    I hate to admit it but I didn't know the story of Lieutenants Goettler and Bleckley and their Medals of Honor. I did know the story of the Lost Battalion though. (Members of that unit HATED the term "Lost Battalion." Then, as now, the media tended to "get it wrong.")

    "This Day in Aviation" - great site, puzzles me why I didn't have it linked earlier. I have rectified that and there's now a link on the sidebar under the Sierra Hotel category.

    Another thing which struck me, and it shouldn't have, is that Air Force Medal of Honor recipients are predominantly officers, I think there's four enlisted recipients on that monument. But when you think about it, in the Air Force the guys (and now gals) who go to war are predominantly pilots and other (mostly) commissioned air crew. So it's not odd to see so many officer recipients.

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  2. I read somewhere that when it was instigated during the Civil War, awards were given pretty freely. Now I suspect there are many more who deserved them but either their comrades only know the story or politics intervened. In any event if you were to ask every single surviving MoH awardee, I doubt that any would say they did it for the medal.

    Another interesting story - the remains of another awardee , Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, were found 71 years after the ferocious battle at Tarawa

    http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/07/02/moh-recipient-remains-battle-tarawa/29613679/

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    1. Yes, when the MoH was first instituted the criteria for the award were not as stringent as they are now. Some of those awarded during the Civil War were later revoked. Politics sometimes (unfortunately) get mixed up in the award. Race (sadly) used to be a factor as well, some of those cases have been corrected with awards upgraded (years after the fact) to the MoH.

      I read that story (thanks for the link) about 1LT Bonneyman, one of the links on the side bar is for History Flight (I've "promoted" that link up to the Sierra Hotel section) who were instrumental in finding the remains of those Marines killed and buried at Betio. One of their missions, besides giving awesome rides on old aircraft, is locating the remains of servicemen lost in the Pacific War.

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  3. Hey--really good story, of which I was unaware, thanks. Gotta ask what's with the (what appears to be a) "Old Dutch Cleanser" logo on the side of the aircraft in the illustration? Also it shows French soldiers tending to the crew--they made it back to Allied lines?

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    1. That was the insignia of the 50th Aero Squadron which adopted that particular logo because...

      The 50th Aero Squadron adopted the Dutch Girl logo of Old Dutch Cleanser to show they meant to "Clean up on Germany"

      Good eye Cap'n!

      As for the painting, it appears that their bird came down on our side of the lines. However, I could find no confirmation of that.

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    2. According to the citation, Lt goetsler was killed instantly. If true, it would be unlikely the plane would have made it back to friendly lines. I think it was artistic license.

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    3. Yeah, I'd go with artistic license as well, barring other information becoming available.

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  4. Interesting post, I hadn't heard of them either... Squadron emblems were 'strange' in those days, as there wasn't an approval 'chain' per se... Look at 94th Aero Squadron!

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    1. No approval chain sounds (to me) like a good thing.

      "Hat in the ring" seems appropriate, Uncle Sam throws his hat into the ring (entering WWI) to defeat "the Hun."

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  5. Anyone who was even nominated has my total respect.

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  6. Several times a week I go by the house where Lt. Col. Charles White Whittlesey the commander of 1st. Battalion, 308th. Infantry, 77th. Division. was born. The house is a local museum and well kept up.
    As near as I can figure there were 5 MoH. awarded from that one battle.

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