Monday, June 25, 2018

Nevertheless, He persisted!

The title of this post is taken from a saying frequently used by  howler monkeys to describe some supposedly brave action taken by one of them to fight for the issue of the moment.  It doesn't matter what the issue is, their discussion of it always sounds the same.

For instance, here's a vid of them discussing separating kids from their parents after being detained for illegally crossing our border.





Compelling argument ain't it?

Besides, they never persist.  That would take effort.

Effort like this.



I'd like to introduce 1Lt Edward S. Michael.  Lt Michael joined the Army Air Corps in November of 1940 and applied for Aviation Cadet Training.  However, he flunked the exam and was assigned to Wheeler Field as an Aircraft Mechanic.

Early one Sunday morning in December of '41, he's on KP when he hears aircraft overhead.  Recognizing that the Airfield is under attack, he heads to his duty station coming under attack by a Zero.  A machine gun round hits within a couple of inches of his head, shrapnel causing a minor injury to his face.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

Retaking the exam, and passing, he trains and becomes a B-17 Pilot and is eventually assigned to the 364th Bombardment Squadron in England.

Now, astute readers of this blog will be scratching their head at the familiar sound of that unit's nomenclature.  As well they should, it is the only squadron to have two members receive the Medal of Honor for separate actions.  I have previously posted about Lt William Lawley.  When I was researching Lt Michael and came across his squadron name, Deja Vu dictated I google for a past post on him.  Fortunately, I hadn't as this is a great story of heroism and persistence.

But....I digress.

So, Lt Michael and his crew have trained together and have completed their required 25 missions, but "needs of the Air Force" took precedence and General Doolittle changed the requirements to 30 missions, prorated for those close to or at the previous level.  Lt Michael and crew would have to fly 2 more missions.


Lt Michael is front row, far right
Source
Their 26th target is the ball-bearing factory in Stettin Germany (now Szczecin, Poland, click the link for pronunciation...or ask Pawel.)

Their bombload for the mission is incendiaries and therefore, they are in the last group in the bomber stream.  Which could be good, the Germans might have run out of gas and ammunition attacking the prior formations, or bad, the element of surprise has been lost and the Germans have had time to climb to altitude and prepare.

Unfortunately for Lt Michael and his crew, it was the latter.

Four hours after takeoff and still enroute to the target, they are hit by AAA (Hissss!) and their right wing now has a large hole in it.  

Nevertheless, they persisted.

Now as they approach the beginning of the bomb run, the group is attacked by over 100 fighters in a head on attack.  Lt Michael's bomber, the Bertie Lee, sustains severe damage in the attack.  Two engines took damage,  the radio room was shot up, the cockpit took major damage, and Lt Michael has been hit in the leg and is bleeding profusely.

However, the worst news is delivered by the radioman who makes his way to the cockpit to report that the bombbay is on fire.  At least 3 of the incendiary bombs have been hit by cannon fire and are burning.

Lt Michael attempts to jettison the bombs, but they will not release.

Realizing the near certainty of a catastrophic explosion, Lt Michael orders the crew to bailout.  

Seven of the crew bailout, while Lt Michael and his Co-Pilot maintain control of the aircraft.  Hearing machine gun fire from the nose, Lt Michael realizes the Bombardier hasn't heard the order, so he makes his way forward to verbally tell him.  

Upon reaching the position, the Bombardier tells him that cannon fire has destroyed his parachute.  Lt Michael offers him his.  Which the bombardier refuses. 

Toxic Masculinity at it's finest.

Lt Michael tells him to get to the bomb bay and get the bombs off the airplane.  The bombardier manages to do so.

Still in a dive to evade fighters, they level off about 50' above the ground and start to head back home.  Lt Michael is fighting to stay conscious from blood loss and exertion.  (The time frame from initial damage to this point is about 45 minutes.)

The bomber is badly damaged, the fire has eaten away a good portion of the center of the fuselage.  Engines are out, flight controls are damaged.  The belly turret is jammed in the extended position and the bomb bay doors are stuck open.

They've got 2 chutes and 3 men.  They persist and chose to head for home.

They manage to make it to the Airfield at Grimsby and belly land the aircraft.  "Perfectly" according to the RAF crews who witnessed it.
Source

Lt Michael is whisked off to the hospital where he remains for weeks.  During that period, he manages to bypass censors and let his parent's know that he has been wounded but is alive.  

He is also, consumed with guilt for ordering his crew to bailout.  He second guesses his decision making because he and the other two officers are alive.  The enlisted members of the crew are, at this point, unaccounted.

Whilst recuperation, Lt Michael had grown a goatee, mostly because the hospital had better things to do with him than give him a shave.

News finally arrived that all 7 crewmembers had survived but were POWs.

He makes a vow to not shave until all arrive home.  When advised that he's received the Medal of Honor, he's asked by a General if the beard is something personal.  He responds "Yes Sir, very personal."

Never give up, Never Surrender (Which is another way of saying "Nevertheless, he persisted).

It's the morning of the ceremony, and as he's making final preparations, there's a knock on the door of his hotel room.  Upon opening it, there's an officer there that informs him that the last of the seven has been returned to Allied control.

He responds, "Give me 5 minutes and I'll be ready to go to the White House".

He recovers and remains in what would become the Air Force, retiring in 1971.  
Source

Lt Col Michael passed away in 1994.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!

Lt Michael's Citation:


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B17 aircraft on a heavy-bombardment mission to Germany, 11 April 1944.
The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh.
Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries.
With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane.
Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator's gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm. fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing.
Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank.
Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness.
The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.
Primary Source:
http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part2/16_michael.html


36 comments:

  1. Bugs me that these true warriors retire at such low ranks. Makes you wonder.

    RIP Sir, you were one Hell of a man!

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    1. I thought the exact same thing. Retiring as an O-5 generally requires nothing more than showing up (ask me how I know). Col Michael did way more than that. I believe the phrase “above and beyond” applies. After all, FDR attributed it to him.

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  2. Big Brass ones. As to the retirement ranks: The Navy promotes to flag based upon "Needs" (i.e. politics) of the Navy, not performance, particularly seamanship. I suspect USAF is similar.

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    1. You're absolutely correct (in both sentences).

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    2. I wonder if his lack of advancement was due to his being more truthful than most penta-wonks.

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    3. Or just plain jealousy....

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    4. Got a buddy who did nothing but fly fighters his entire AF career--no staff postings, schools, nada--was AF advisor to Louisiana Nat Guard (the "Coonass" Air Force) for some 15 yr as a terminal assignment. La politicians liked him o much they wouldn't let him go, so AF wouldn't promote him beyond O-5 in revenge but he didn't care..he was "avaitin" Upon retirement the AF gave him the "Black Bird" so he at least got 0-6 ret pay, so there's that..

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    5. I flew on the wing of a Lt Col on his finis flight at Kunsan. He'd never had an assignment other than flying F-4s. I think he had something like 4-5K hours in it. 2 ship range ride to Koon-Ni. Dollar a bomb, nickle a hole. Good thing it was the end of the month. Course, I might have had .5% of the time he had. Great lead, flew way ahead of the jet and kept me within sight of my jet most of the time. Fud, wherever you are, it was fun!

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  3. I am in awe. Words escape me, so I will quote Michener "Where do we get men such as these?"

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    1. They're rare, even in those days. Approaching extinction in today's colleges and universities. However, the howler monkey population seems to be thriving.

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  4. There should be a medal for the B-17s. They truly persisted.

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    1. remember, the deadly summer of 1943 made the force so decimated that unescorted raids had to be suspended until P-51 came to turn the tide...

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    2. More on that next week. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel! *


      *Pawel, the saying alludes to a TV show from my childhood, Batman. Very campy show, but I loved it.

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  5. What a great story! It's articles like this that ought to be read by more than those of us here. An appreciation of what's gone on in year's past is something that seems to be missing in today's society. To our peril.

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  6. Thank you juvat, for this tribute to this fine American.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  7. there are still burn-out ruins of the synthethic fuel factory mere few clicks away from my home...
    coal-to-fuel is totally unviable economically but in the total war situation it has been Germanys last hope especially when Soviets overran Ploesti, main source of oil for Germany for WW2
    here is wiki on the site, sadly only in Polish
    https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabryka_benzyny_syntetycznej_w_Policach
    reportedly this site produced 15% of German synhethic fuels in 1943
    talk about high value target!

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    Replies
    1. An interesting site, Pawel. I even could figure out what most of the pictures were, as well as the different types of fuel. It looks like the raids reduced production by 50-60% across all grades of fuel.

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  8. Real-life events such as this warriors tale puts anything Hollywood produces to shame. B-17's were built tough, the men flying them were tougher. Outstanding choice for this post Juvat.

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    1. Thanks, Nylon.
      "B-17's were built tough, the men flying them were tougher."
      Agreed.

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    2. "Aluminium Planes, Men of Steel"

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    3. speaking of Hollywood...
      where did got he production of "Mighty Eighth?"

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  9. Nicely said, Juvat. Thanks for helping to keep the memory of such men alive.

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    1. Thanks, Proof. High praise, indeed.

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  10. Great story. I have not yet been able to find a crew photo for my dad, so I persist. However, I have put up two photos of him here--

    https://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/191089

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    Replies
    1. Well done, Mr Thompson. Your Dad was SOMEBODY!

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  11. Outstanding! And amazing story that he managed to survive!

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    1. Yeah, I get his second guessing himself after successfully recovering the aircraft, however, hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20. There were probably a million things that could have gone wrong in that RTB that would have resulted in the loss of all on board. He made the right decisions at each juncture (IMHO), the plan just changed to reflect current circumstances.

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  12. BZ to Lt. Michael. Only one small quibble -- the B-17 ball turret wasn't retractable, only the B-24's. If a B-17's ball turret couldn't be returned to guns vertically-down position, the hatch couldn't be opened normally. I don't know if B-17 ball turret gunners could otherwise be extracted by other crew members in extremis. I would hope a few minutes' work with a steel emergency axe would defeat aluminum and Plexiglas, but I don't know.

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    1. I knew that, having been in a B-17 and a B-24. There wasn't a lift mechanism in the B-17. I took the citing author at his word. Sorry.

      I do know that Andy Rooney was a war correspondent and one of his early stories was of a belly landing B-17 with the ball turret gunner stuck in the turret. It ended badly.

      One more example of toxic masculinity (AKA what Captain Steve said earlier).

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  13. Good man. Nevertheless, his beard persisted, until it couldn't. Reminds me of the goatee I had grown for two months during terminal leave, until a buddy asked me to be a side-boy for his retirement. It was at the end of May so I was technically still on active duty, so my beard couldn't persist any longer. Thanks for the history lesson.

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    1. Well it persisted until his vow had been fulfilled. At that point, it wasn't relevant. I have no doubt had that crewman not come home, he'd have kept it until 1994.

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