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