Monday, July 31, 2017

"I feel like a heel. I'm getting out but other guys are staying in."

With apologies to Mr Churchill.  "Never in the course of human events has" a construction project been completed on time or within budget.  Not the F-35, Not the F-22, Not the USS Zumwalt, Not Washington DC.  Heck, not the Pyramids.  Probably not even the Cave Drawings of pre-Historic Man.

"Grok, when are you going to finish that Mastodon drawing?"

"Soon, Blok, no later than the next full moon, or maybe the one after that, but soon!"

Needless to say, our school district's construction plan is not going to break mankind's record.

The teachers will be back a week from today.  Most have already stopped in and their guaranteed question, "When can I move my stuff?" is wearing.

Just an update, in case anybody was wondering.  So, as they used to say  "On with the show".

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, 1943 was not a good year for the Army Air Forces.  P-51's and drop tanks were starting to arrive in theater, but not in sufficient numbers to start establishing Air Superiority, much less the Air Supremacy they would have by D-Day.
This is a Keith Ferris mural in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum
Source

Daylight Bombing Raids were taking a severe beating.  60 bombers were lost on August 17 on raids to Schweinfurt and Regensburg.  Figuring 10 men per, that's 600 lost (the site sourced provides an estimate that half were captured, but that's still a sizable dent in available manpower and weaponry.)

Even after that, and with escorts of Mustangs, the 8th AF bombers took losses.  But in a war of attrition, the side with the most resources backed up with the strongest resolve (read stomach) usually wins.  This was the case in WWII.

Unfortunately, individual participant's fate usually was determined by luck, although determination does play a role.  At this point in the war, the average sorties completed before an aircrewman was lost to the effort was 11, far short of the 25 needed to complete a tour.

Which brings us to the subject of this weeks story.  TSgt Forrest L. Vosler (Woody to his crew) had volunteered on graduation from High School to join the Army Air Forces.  He'd wanted to be a pilot (who doesn't?), but failed the initial aptitude screening, so was trained as a radio operator on the B-17.

Not knowing much about what a radio operator did on a B-17 (on everything I flew, the radio operator, me, pushed the button and talked, occasionally changed the frequency, then pushed the button and talked.), this article helped me understand.  Yes, he operated the radio, but was more of a spare crewman (and we'll get to why that was important). He did have a machine gun to man that fired out the top of the aircraft pointed aft.  Here's the view.




TSgt Vosler had a few extra hoops to jump in order to arrive at his designated point of greatness.  He was too tall for the Air Corps but managed to convince them that he was just barely over the limit and would adjust.  The limit was 6', he was 6' 3".

It's now just before Christmas, 1943 and the Target for the day is Bremen.

500 Bombers are in the raid.  (They would orbit over England for two hours getting into the attack formation.)  Bremen had been attacked a few days before, and the mission had been comparatively easy.  It was expected to be the same this time.  Expectations rarely match reality.

TSgt Vosler's crew was on their 4th mission.  As they Bomber Stream crosses the coastline, his bomber is hit by AAA (Hissss!) and loses an engine.  Able to maintain formation, they continue on and release their ordnance.  As they're clearing the target area, they're again hit by AAA and lose another engine.

Now, unable to maintain formation and the defensive firepower protection, they're attacked by fighters.  The tail gunner (probably the most important crewmember besides the pilot) is severely injured and TSgt Vosler is injured by shrapnel from the attack.

After removing the tail gunner from his position, he takes over and resumes firing at attackers.  During another attack, he also is severely injured and shrapnel has entered his eyes effectively blinding him.

The pilot takes the bomber down on the deck to minimize the attack vector and finally the fighters withdraw due to low fuel.

It's obvious to all concerned that the aircraft is not going to make it to England, so they start dumping stuff overboard to reduce weight.  The pilot tells TSgt Vosler to make a position report to improve their chances of being rescued in the North Sea.  When doing so, he realizes that the radio is inoperative.

Still blinded, he manages to repair the radio by touch and makes the report which is acknowledged by Air/Sea Rescue.

The aircraft successfully ditches and TSgt Vosler climbs out onto the wing dragging the badly injured tail gunner with him.  He then manages to hold on to both the crew member and the aircraft until the rest of the crew readies the dinghy and helps them into it.

They are rescued shortly thereafter.

For his actions on this mission, he received the Medal of Honor from FDR.


Source

The first two sources below, contain much more detailed descriptions of the mission and are worth your time to read.

I found this section from the first source to be comforting.


"They're not playing the game right, hitting a guy in the eyes," Vosler recalled as being his first thought in that horrible moment. "I couldn't see well, but when I moved my hand down to my chest where I'd been hit--I was trying to open my jacket to find out how badly--I noticed that my hand was shaking. I couldn't control it. Then I reached up and dragged my hand across my face to see if there was blood, and when I looked at it my whole hand was covered with blood. 
"The shell fragments had damaged the retina of my right eye, and I was seeing blood streaming down the retina inside my eye, thinking it was on the outside. So my natural feeling was that I had lost the whole side of my face...I thought I only had half a face. 
"I became extremely concerned, I was out of control, really. Obviously I wasn't going to have a chance to get out of this thing now. I knew I was going to die. I knew my life was coming to an end. The fear was so intense, it's indescribable, the terror you feel when you realize you're going to die and there's nothing you can do about it. So I started to lose control, and I knew then that I was either going to go completely berserk and be lost, or something else would happen. 
"And a strange thing DID happen. I lived every day of my life. I relived my whole life, day by day, for 20 years. It put everything in perspective. For the first time I realized what a wonderful, wonderful life I had had. There were only a few days in my whole life that were bad, and I asked God to forgive me for those bad days, and thanked Him for all the many wonderful days he had given me. I said, 'I'm not going to ask you for any more days. It's been too nice.'  I even reached out my hand and said, 'Take me, God, I'm ready.' 
I became very content, very calm, very collected. I no longer feared death, which is a terrible thing to fear. And I slowly realized that if God didn't want to take me at that particular point, then I had to go on and do the best things I could do."
Over the course of writing this series of posts, comments like that are a clear indication that the Recipient survived the action.  Indeed, TSgt Vosler survived, but his injuries were severe enough to end his war.  Multiple surgeries eventually returned his sight and health (with the donation of a healthy eye from a living donor).  He spent his post-military career as a counselor with the VA before passing away in 1992.
 Rest in Peace, Warrior!

TSgt Vosler's Commendation.


For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler's actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crewmember, were outstanding.

Sources:
http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part2/13_vosler.html
 http://www.historynet.com/die-standing-staff-sgt-forrest-l-vosler.htm
http://www.303rdbg.com/crew-duties.html
https://www.quora.com/What-was-the-radio-operators-job-on-a-bomber-in-WWII-Who-would-he-be-communicating-to-and-where-was-he-positioned-on-the-bomber/answer/Kelly-La-Rue
http://theirfinesthour.blogspot.com/2013/12/tfh-1220-technical-sergeant-forrest-l.html

Title Quote Source Statement by TSgt Vosler upon medical retirement while the war was still going on.

62 comments:

  1. Wow. The stories of these amazing men never fail to impress me.

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    1. Yep, "never give up, never surrender" describes them well.

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  2. Such a great post. You're doing great work here Juvat.

    It's often said that one "aw, shit" wipes out a bunch of "attaboys," and that's true. It's also true -- even more true I think -- that one recounting of selfless heroics wipes out ah hell of a lot of b.s. doom and gloom whining. T/Sgt. Vosler really put it in perspective. We only get one pass and we each decide how to fly it. We can take the bitter resentment approach (the "cold and timid souls" TR wrote about) or find a better way.

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    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, as I said, I found that passage very comforting.

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  3. Where do we get such men.......more words fail me....

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    1. I suspect they're around still, they just don't raise their heads until REALLY needed. Or at least that's my hope.

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    2. "Where do we get such men....". We find them next door. It is part of the human spirit to rise to the occasion. Thank you Dr. Spock for screwing up generations of American kids by telling them everyone is special and everyone gets a trophy, and thus LOWERING the bar. When these kids finally have to deal with reality, they find out they were lied to, that they are not special, just LOSERS.

      Sorry, didn't to go off on a rant, but this stuff just pisses me off.

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  4. That tale tells a lot about how important attitude is.

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  5. The greatest generation. Thank you for sharing the record of his heroic service.

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  6. Thank you for making this fine American known to me.

    Depending upon when and where he was trained as a radio operator, my mother may have helped train him. She trained radio operators in Morse Code during that war.

    Another fine post, juvat. Your bonus check is in the mail; it should arrive at the same time as your regular paycheck for this gig.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Paul, I've told you before not to encourage the staff in their daydreams of remuneration for this gig.

      That is all.

      ;)

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    2. In one of my books is the story of a B-17 waist gunner. Short version--

      On his third mission, they ran out of gas and had to ditch in the English Channel.

      On a later mission, they were shot down and he had to bail out. With some good luck, he made to Spain and eventually back to his unit. According the book's author he is one of only two or three individuals from WWII to be documented to be a member of all three of the following "clubs"---

      The Goldfish Club (ditching in the water.)
      The Caterpillar Club (Bailing out in combat. Parachutes were made of caterpillar silk.)
      The Winged Foot Club (For walking home from behind enemy lines.)

      I will do some digging and report with more details. Am currently reading this book. Greatest generation? And then some.

      https://www.amazon.com/Jimmy-Stewart-Bomber-Starr-Smith/dp/0760328242/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501517360&sr=1-2

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    3. Paul,
      One can dream can't one? Scrooge, I mean Sarge, will come around sometime.

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    4. RHT447,
      I'm not sure whether or not that guy should have bought a lottery ticket. He's either the luckiest guy alive or used all his luck up. But...I'd rather be lucky than good.

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    5. RHT447,
      I'm about half way through your recommendation on "Flying American Combat Aircraft". Pretty interesting, thanks.

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    6. Jezz, OAFS, if read properly, my comment was not "to encourage the staff in their daydreams of remuneration for this gig." After all, I certain that juvat is well aware of his ( lack of ) remuneration. Those of us ( me ) who are too lazy to blog ourselves are overjoyed that the three ( four ? ) of you at this blog feed our/my need for speed, or rather to read.

      Paul

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    7. I appreciate your support in our ongoing effort to "stick it to the man". Fortunately, my daytime employment allows (barely) me to keep mama in shoes. Tuna, however, living in the high rent district may be in more dire straits.

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    8. Hhmm, might be time to call out the Cossacks. The Kulaks are getting restless.

      [Laughing with an evil laugh expressing much vile evilness. Or something...]

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    9. Besides....when we get LUSH on board, we'll be an unstoppable force, then, you'll see!

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    10. Oh dear. Ya hadda bring LUSH into it, dintcha?

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    11. Three aviators ginst one avionics dude? You in deep Kim Chi, boy!

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    12. did you know Bush senior was member of the goldfish club (and saved by usn sub )

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    13. Juvat - I know.

      Too bad none of your radars will work.

      ;)

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    14. Paweł - there's even camera footage (very blurry) of that event. LINK

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    15. "Too bad none of your radars will work"

      Well, that would eliminate one of the three weapons on board.

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    16. Regarding your comment several back, fortunately it was a relatively low-rent district when we bought. At 8% interest it was still a huge stretch. All of 1 paycheck and $200 from the one on the 15th, but the bump in flight pay shortly thereafter was a Godsend.

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    17. Good use of Strategic Vision Tuna!

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  7. Got a Viet Nam medic, James McCloughan, receiving the Medal this very day, in a couple of hours. Waiting to see his citation.

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    1. For Vietnam? That's got to be an interesting story.

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    2. Apparently no matter how many times they wounded him, he just kept looking after his men, refused extraction at least once, and crawled out in the middle of an empty field at night with a "Shoot me" blinking light in order to get a supply drop.

      Still looking for a copy of his citation. I may have missed something.

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    3. Yep, read that also, seems like a slam dunk, but what took so long?

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    4. High Probability. I think I read that another medic in the battalion (?) had received a posthumous Medal in the same time frame. Maybe some paper pusher thought that "Above and beyond the call of duty" only happened once every 3 months or something.

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  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_McCloughan


    Good article at the WaPo, but crummy comments:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/07/31/a-soldier-survived-48-hours-of-terror-in-vietnam-today-he-receives-the-medal-of-honor/?utm_term=.0c79182a91ec

    Waiting now for the live video to start.

    /
    L.J.

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    1. Yeah, I googled him as soon as I saw Proof's post. What I read leads me to believe the Medal was well deserved.

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    2. I just wonder what took so long.

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    3. I could not read many of the comments. I read the WAPO daily to keep informed about enemy actions.

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    4. Yeah, that got pretty disgusting pretty quick didn't it?

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    5. What the heck? This is about the honor of a man, and a grateful nation finally recognizing said honor.

      Don't they realize that all the presenting President does is hook it around his neck and shake the man's hand?

      It is the Congressional Medal of Honor. All fault lies within the Defense Department for sitting on the recommendation and for Congress to get over itself to recognize the recommendation and to make the award.

      These people are flipping nuts! They literally have driven this nation farther apart than that four year thingy involving a minor dispute over Ft. Sumter.

      For shame on these people and their sorry little lives. For shame, libtard medames et messirs, for shame.

      I lit into those preponderous fat-asses at WAPO for the honor of my country, which they have besmirched by surviving long enough to operate an input devise. I basically reposted what I done writ above.

      I do not understand 'my fellow man.'

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    6. "I do not understand 'my fellow man."

      You and me both, my Friend, you and me both.

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  9. Marvelous post altruistic or underwritten, it doesn't matter (to us, the selfish consumers). Have you thought of the unions? They have rendered help in situations like this.
    Yes, expectations rarely match reality.

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    1. Thanks.
      Unions? Have you seen Sarge? He's got union bustin' goons out the wazoo!

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  10. "I became very content, very calm, very collected." A wonderful feeling. Whether that comes from a near-death experience like his or eventual maturity that we all get, we're all better off once that happens. I find myself free from concern of what others think and there's a great deal of contentment that comes from that. And I'm far more happy because of it.

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    1. "He don't care what most people say" is a lyric from one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs. It applies to me to a pretty full degree. I agree that I'm happier for it.

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  11. relating to the opening statement...
    The prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on 9 September 1940, 102 days after the contract was signed, and first flew on 26 October
    on time definitely
    the story of how this evolved into finest escort fighter of WW2, is worthy of telling another time

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    1. But then came the upgrades and the changes and the drop tanks and the engine and the canopy and then it was the finest escort fighter of WWII, and that's my dilemma right now. I cringe in fear of a conversation that starts with "Would it be great if....."

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  12. What Tuna said. It was strange to look back at it.

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    1. And did your moment come with Maturity or Vietnam? or both?

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    2. I haven't matured, so it must have been Viet-Nam.

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    3. My wife says the same thing about me (not having matured), so bird of a feather, Dave.

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  13. Found a copy of the citation at Stars and Stripes:
    https://www.stripes.com/news/full-text-of-president-trump-s-remarks-at-the-medal-of-honor-ceremony-july-31-2017-1.480830

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    1. Wow! Shoulda been presented in 1968, but wow and well deserved.

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    2. Oh and looking forward to your posting thereof.

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    3. Wednesday 5:30 Eastern. He's waited so long, he goes to the front of the line!

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  14. Amazing story, and well deserved. The interesting thing is that he gave the rest of his life to helping other Veterans.

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    1. Yes, well...There was that prayer.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)