As I've mentioned in previous posts, I spent most of my flying career either in the Pacific or TDY from my Stateside assignment to the Pacific. As a boy, I read every book I could get my hands on about flying fighters, fighter pilots and WWII. I'd read about Europe, but for whatever reason, the stories about the Air War in the Pacific seemed to stick with me. So, as I've been working my way through the names on the monument that I didn't recognize right off the bat, it didn't surprise me that many of them received the Medal of Honor for actions in the European Theater. It also didn't surprise me, given the hazardous nature of unescorted, daylight bombing that many of the names on the monument would be Bomber Aircrew.
There were a few names on the monument that I knew were Fighter Pilots, Bong, McGuire and Kearby and all were from the Pacific. I kept hoping I'd run in to a Fighter Pilot Recipient who'd received the Medal for actions in Europe.
Well, it's taken a while, but finally...
Lt Col James H. Howard, received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on 11 January 1944 near Oschersleben Germany. He was the only Fighter Pilot in the European Theater awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII. That piqued my interest and we're off and running.
Turns out, He's a unique man in many different respects.
For one, he was born in China, on April 13th 1913 in Canton. Had to look up where Canton was, so off to Google Earth I go. Turns out, those silly Chinese Communists renamed the city to Guangzhou and it is about 75 miles NNW of Hong Kong. His father was a missionary and doctor there. Howard lived in China until he was 14 when he returned to the US.
In 1938, He joined the US Navy as an aviation cadet, earning his "wings of Gold" in 1939.
Wait a second, juvat! (I can hear Sarge saying). A Naval Aviator, wins the MOH while flying with the Army Air Corps? No Way! Yes, Way! sort of.
As they say, the story gets curiouser and curiouser.
|This Enterprise, not the Nuke (nor the Galaxy Class Star Ship!)|
After earning his wings, He's assigned to VF-7 aboard the Enterprise (CV-6) and serves aboard her until June of 1941. In fact, he does so well aboard her that he's offered a regular commission. In those days, regular commissions were almost exclusively the purview of Annapolis grads, so being offered one is high praise. Turning it down is unheard of, and doing so usually is the beginning of the end of your time in the service. Remember this is pre-WWII, and that time period is generally referred to as "The Great Depression". Voluntarily sinking a respectable career is unheard of. However, fortune seems to have smiled on our young adventurer. In April of 1941, Roosevelt ordered the American Volunteer Group (AKA the "Flying Tigers") to be formed and authorized recruitment of Reserve personnel from the Military. Ensign Howard resigns his commission and joins the AVG.
While flying with the AVG, he shoots down 6 Japanese aircraft, making him an Ace.
General Chennault was their leader and and insisted on the use of the tactics he had developed and taught. I first learned those tactics in ROTC in the mid 70's and used them throughout my flying career. Basically, they are, don't ever get into a furball, don't slow down and don't turn with a target. Come in fast, shoot to kill and leave. Reenter the fight when you have made sure your Situational Awareness is as good as it can be.
So, back to Howard and the AVG. This site tells the story of one of his first combat missions, an attack on a Japanese airfield. It quotes his book, Roar of Tigers (and yes, I've orderd the book!)
"I pulled up sharply for another run at the targets below," Howard recalled. "I roared down the line of idling aircraft with my thumb on the firing button all the way. The machine guns left a wonderful line of destruction the length of that array of fighters. I hauled back on the stick for the getaway.
"Nothing doing! As the nose came up, a dull thump shook my fighter. With mine the only plane strafing ground targets that day, every Japanese gun on the field was pointed right at me on the second pass. Smoke poured from the cowling and the screaming Allison went dead. My prop idled down until it was just a windmill. I had been hit by ground fire.
"In the distance I could see the two specks that were Newkirk and Hill racing for home. I was alone and going down over a wide-awake enemy airfield. I yelled my predicament into the radio.
"I was too low to bail out, so I whipped my P-40 around and aimed for a wheels-up crash landing. I rolled back my canopy and tried to protect my descent so that I would wind up at the far end of the field near the woods. If it worked out I could make a run for it into the trees.
"My hand was on the flap control when the Allison gave a tentative cough.
"I advanced the throttle a notch. She caught again! COME ON! More gratifying noise up front. the engine picked up more momentum and the prop started spinning faster. I looked down at the airspeed...ninety--barely above stall!
"As I skimmed over the field, I lifted the nose and the plane responded by gathering more speed. I closed my canopy but as I did I realized that I wasn't out of the woods yet!
"Nakajimas appeared on either side of me. We flew straight and level for what seemed endless moments. then it dawned on me that they hadn't even noticed me or my predicament. the Japanese pilots apparently had their gaze fixed on the ground, engrossed in the confusion and disaster that had befallen their fellow pilots.
"My engine was not operating at full power so I applied maximum throttle and soon left my 'escort' behind."
Man, talk about lucky! Engine failure directly over an airfield you've just strafed? Flying formation with enemy fighters stationed at the airfield you've just strafed? Not circumstances where one should expect a long life. But survive he did, and as I said, leaves the AVG when it's disbanded with 6 kills.
As he returns Stateside, he's offered commissions in both the Navy and the Army Air Corps. Due to some "issues" with security at North Island and being threatened with arrest, Howard accepts the commission with the Air Corps. While Stateside, he assumes command of teh 356th Fighter Squadron (a squadron in the 354th Fighter Group) and is promoted to Major. The Group deploys to RAF Boxted where they will be flying the new P-51B. There mission is to escort the B-17s flying missions in support of Operation Pointblank, the daylight bombing of Germany.
On January 11th 1944, Major Howard is leading the group which is escorting the B-17s in an attack on the Focke-Wulf factory located at Oschersleben Germany.
During the handoff between the P-47s they were relieving, Major Howard notices a ME-110 approaching the tail of a B-17. He dives on the guy and approaches to very close range. Firing a lethal burst, he shoots the ME-110 down. He follows that almost immediately by shooting down a Me-109, not realizing that the rest of his squadron is engaged at the rear of the B-17 formation. (Bomber formations at that time could be many miles long.) He's all alone against what is estimated to be 30 German Fighters.
He gets another "kill" when he attacks an FW-190. As he approaches firing range, the German jettisons his canopy and bails out. A kill's a kill!
At this point, Howard has been in action, solo, for almost a half hour. and was down to one functioning machine gun. He sees another ME-109 coming in, and attacks it shooting it down. Out of ammunition, he continues to make aggressive passes on German Fighters as they approach, until finally the B-17s are safe.
Major Allison Brooks, the B-17 Leader said ""For sheer determination and guts, it was the greatest exhibition I've ever seen. It was a case of one lone American against what seemed to be the entire Luftwaffe. He was all over the wing, across it and around it. They can't give that boy a big enough reward."
|Ding Hao means Very Good!|
The P-51 at the time was still classified Top Secret, and so the matter was not talked about immediately, but about a week later, the story was released and in a press conference , Major Howard was asked a couple of questions.
"Why, when you knew you were surrounded by enemy fighters, didn't you join up with your own P-51s?" asked a reporter.
"He who rides a tiger cannot dismount," Howard replied.
"Why did you risk your neck doing what you did?" To which Major Howard replied
"I seen my duty and I done it!"
His Citation to accompany the Medal of Honor.
For conspicuous gallantry in combat near Oschersleben, Germany on Jan. 11, 1944, he received the Medal of Honor. He was leading a group of P-51s in support of a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. The citation reads, in part: "As Major Howard's group met the bombers in the target area, the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Major Howard, with his group, at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME-110. He lost contact with his group and returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand While he could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than 30 German planes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some 30 minutes, during which time he destroyed three enemy planes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement three of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Major Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the Armed Forces of the United States."Warrior!
* An old Chinese Proverb.