Monday, December 9, 2019

Only the Good die young*

After Vietnam, the DOD did a study which showed that if a fighter pilot made it through the first 10 combat missions, his (there were no "her"s at the time) chances of surviving his tour were exponentially better.  As an aside, the chance of not surviving went back up in his last 10 missions.

In any case, the DOD decided to build a realistic exercise that, as closely as possible, would simulate actual combat.  This exercise was known as Red Flag and is still going on, typically flown at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas.  PACAF also has its own version, Cope Thunder, which was originally flown out of Clark AB in the Philippines .  However, Mother Nature didn't like all the sonic booms, so she pushed the button on Mount Pinatubo.  Cope Thunder has been conducted in Alaska ever since.

The exercise(s) are multi-service, multi-national, in nature with virtually any aircraft participating that could conceivably be used in combat.

All designed to get the personnel experience to improve their odds of making it past the first 10 missions.

The above came to me as I was researching the subject of today's post.

Lt Femoyer's name is the last one on the left column.

Lt Robert E. Femoyer, was born in Huntington VA in 1921 and attended Virginia Tech where he joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps.

Called to active duty in 1943, he began Pilot training in Jackson, Mississippi, but washed out.  Reclassified as a navigator, he completed that training in June of '44 and arrived in the European Theater of Operations in September of that year. He was assigned to the 771 711 (Thanks RHT447, typo) Bomb Squadron in the 447th Bomb Group,  and began flying missions immediately thereafter.  (Sarge, I know you're going to visit this site, which has the Group's pictorial history)

It's November 2, 1944, Lt Femoyer is on his 5th mission and the target is Merseberg, Germany.

He was flying in a B-17 named Lucky Stehly Boy.

As they are approaching the target, the bomber was hit by 3 AAA rounds (HISSSSS!) and severely damaged, losing two engines.  Not able to maintain formation, they lose altitude, jettison their ordnance and turn around for home.

Unfortunately, Lt Femoyer, the navigator, has been severely injured in his lower back and legs and is bleeding profusely.

However, he knows that alone and at lower altitude, the bomber will need to avoid all AAA sites on the return as it is unlikely to survive another hit. So he refuses morphine for the pain.  Asking to be propped up so he can read his charts, he navigates the bomber for 2 1/2 hours avoiding Flak Traps along the way.

Only when the bomber is back over the English Channel does he accept the pain killers.

Damage to the bomber was such that it had to be landed gear up upon return to base.



Lt Femoyer was rushed to the hospital for treatment, but had lost too much blood, and died within the hour.

He was 23 years and 3 days old, on his 5th mission.  They didn't have anything like Red Flag back then.  They just had Real War.

He is buried in Bean's neck of the woods, in Jacksonville, Fl.


Virginia Tech named a building after him.


There are a couple of additional, interesting pieces of information about Lt Femoyer.  First he's one of only 9 Eagle Scouts that have received the Medal of Honor. (Col Leo Thorsness and Lt Jay Zeamer are the other two Air Force Recipients.)

Correction: Tuna pointed out that Wikipedia contradicts itself and that there are actually 11 Medal of Honor Recipients who were Eagle Scouts. Still only 3 Air Force Recipients/Eagle Scouts.

Second, he's the only  Navigator to receive the Medal of Honor.

Lt Femoyer's Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944.

While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body.

In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades.

Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2 1/2 hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage.

Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane.
The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Rest in Peace, Warrior! 

* A little light music


  1. Lt. Femoyer had the courage to put crewmates ahead of himself especially since it seems it was a long flight, that town was hit 23 times during the war. These MOH posts are sobering juvat but I'm thankful you take the time to post them, more people need a reminder what some have sacrificed for this country especially after the events of the past week.

    1. Thanks, Nylon, but when I first went to Lackland and saw that monument, I realized I didn't know the story of a good many of the men named there. This series is intended to rectify that for myself primarily (selfish I know). I'm happy that others find it useful. Just read the story of Cameron Walters, the unarmed, fresh from boot camp, sailor on guard duty, who ran to the sound of the guns and was killed. I disagree with people that say we don't make them like we used to. As I say, Rest in Peace, Warrior!

    2. There were many valiant actions taken at Pensacola. Ensign Joshua Watson, shot 5 times, stayed on his phone and reported critical information during the attack that led authorities to the killer. Died within an hour of reaching the hospital. He joined the valiant cadre of forward observers and naval gunfire observers that have died on the sharp end calling in fire.

      Sad day. Sad day for all.

    3. Sad? yes. Angered? Absolutely. Proud? Positively! Members of the US Navy acquitted themselves well.

  2. An amazing tale. The pain must have been intense. The strength of will to continue the mission was strong in this lieutenant.

    May he be remembered always.

  3. History that needs to be remembered, IMO.

  4. Minor correction--711 squadron. I would know because this was my dad's squadron. He did not arrive until September of '44.

    447th website--

    I have a copy of the pictorial history. Here is another story from the 447th.

    When we still lived in Chico, at his request, I sent Mr. Collins photos of Ashley Guynn's grave marker there. And yeah, guess where I get my screen name.

    1. Oooops! Corrected. And I made the screen name connection when I did so. Looks like your Dad arrived about the same time Lt Femoyer did.

  5. It sounds so simple. Drop ordnance, bug out. Difficult enough to do in an unpressurized and unheated aircraft not under fire. But when the impossible happens, shot to hell, down two engines, to function and to function well while mortally wounded? The MoH just doesn't seem to be enough.

    And then for his story not to be taught? To sacrifice and then be basically forgotten by his nation? Sad. Very sad.

    Every school should have a shrine or hall of heroes.

  6. Definitely deserved the MOH. The pain must have been excruciating! Re the 10 missions, that's still better than the newbie helo drivers in 'Nam. 10 MINUTES was their expected lifespan in their first couple of hot missions. P'Cola investigation is going to be interesting. Hearing some 'strange' comments about what went on, and yes, ENS Watson should be recognized for his sacrifice!

    1. One hopes that the three of them are recognized and remembered.

  7. "Looks like your Dad arrived about the same time Lt Femoyer did."

    I got that wrong. I have a copy of the orders assigning my dad and his crew to 711 squadron so I double checked--it was 14 Dec '44. They flew their first mission (of 35) on Jan 2nd '45. They all survived the war without injury. My dad remarked to me "We came home on three engines more than once".

    Here is a treasure trove of 447th history--

    Here is his first mission--

    Although assigned to 711, he flew this mission with 708 (lower left, Thompson). Interesting to note they had three of these on board--

    My dad was an inveterate poker player, so it seems fitting that he flew his final mission in this ship--

    --as opposed to serial number 42-31188. Aces and Eights.

    1. Looking forward to browsing through those links, thanks

    2. I had seen that top level site as I was researching the post. Quite a lot of good info to peruse there. I could see why a poker player would prefer a Royal Flush to Two Pair (especially Aces and Eights). Since Luck counts for a lot in combat, I'm not sure I'd have named an aircraft "Dead Man's Hand". Just sayin'

    3. Re: "Dead Man's Hand". Point taken, although gallows humor has always played well with those of us in uniform, especially if we are being shot at.

      Another Lt. Femoyer side note:

      Back in the mid-90's, my reserve unit did a one day exercise at Mather Field in Sacramento. Arriving early, we snooped around a bit an discovered Femoyer St. It is still there. I haven't learned how to capture Google Earth coordinates yet, so--the dark pavement of runway 22R and the taxiway at the NW end form the letter "L". The taxiway points right at the right angle intersection of Superfortress Ave. and Femoyer St., maybe 100 yds away.

      There are two Blackhawks parked side by side on the ramp facing (west) a hanger complex with white roof. That complex is where we held our exercise. Anti-terrorist swat/cops and robbers scenario using M-16's loaded with blanks, and the MILES laser system. Beeeeeeeep! You dead. Good times.

    4. Took me a bit to figure it out. If you go to the "Add" menu and "Placemark", then click on the location you want, it pulls up a window with the coordinates in it. Then it's just Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V to cut and paste (unless you're on a Mac then YOYO. I believe the point you wrote about is:

    5. Yes, that's it. Sorry for the clumsy word description (Y'all go down that thar holler an' turn left at the big oak... Um yeah, they're ALL big oaks...) Thanks for the pr0 tip.

      My only excuse it that the wife and I spent a mind numbing two hours at the SS office yesterday. Ye gods and little fishes. 90 minutes in, supervisor on the waiting room floor calls out five ticket numbers in sequence and has all of us form a line prior to being called. Wife and I are last of the five. We stand in line for half and hour before we are called.

      Me: "Yes, this is the same issue we had last year".

      Them: "Oh, you should talk to your CPA about that".

      Me: (Holding up copies of forms) "Well, here are the forms you had us fill out last year to resolve it".

      Them: "Oh, Ok. Do that then".

      Affirmative Action hiring at it's finest.

      Plus side--Had nice weather to put up outside Christmas lights.

    6. Yes, well....I've got that to look forward to in 2020. Oh, frickin' goody!

  8. These entries always bring to mind how many of our greatest generation WERE SO YOUNG!! Life taken away too early. And another story of our family life taken away but still living for so many years in a haze of mental illness.
    My cousin's story is told here by his armor gunner. There's a lot more here, as well. I've always thought it interesting.

    1. Thanks Dave, I’m also looking forward to reading that one.

  9. Really enjoyed this one. Maybe it's because he was a fellow Navigator. The Army and Air Force remembers their heroes, but they get ugly buildings named after them. That's one slight advantage that the Navy has- Destroyers we can name after our MOH awardees.

    1. Well...There is that! Occasionally, we name whole bases after them also. Luke comes to mind. Sometimes you don't even need that, just being a native and dying in an accident can get a base named for you.


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