Friday, July 07, 2017

there was only one MOH awarded to a European Theater fighter pilot in WW2. Isn't that crazy? Of all the mind blowing courageous and heroic actions of the WW2 pilots over Europe, only one day's exhibition of bravery was enough to get the brass to part with the top medal

and it wasn't until I read the story just now, that I understand why I've seen so many photos of the P-51 named Ding Hao!

So, what did the pilot (James Howard) do to earn that single medal of honor, that one medal that no other command in all of WW2 fighter pilot commands would get?

He commanding the 356th Fighter Squadron, and flying escort for B-17s  of the 401st Bombardment Group (Heavy) on a bombing mission to attack the AGO Flugzeugwerke in Oschersleben, Germany, which at the time was building Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger (Shrike) fighters for the Luftwaffe.

 Separated from the rest of his squadron after shooting down a Messerchmitt, Howard sighted a swarm of some 30 German fighters attacking a formation of B-17s across the bomber stream.

Howard pressed his attacks for the next 30 minutes (an eternity in aerial combat), single-handedly defended the B-17s, repeatedly and aggressively attacking the attackers and shooting down five more of the Luftwaffe fighters.

Even after his four .50 caliber machine guns had run out of ammunition James continued to simulate attacks on the German fighters. There were no fewer than 16 accounts of Howard’s exploits that day when the bomber crews debriefed.

 The leader of the bomber formation, which itself earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for their attack on German aircraft production that day, reported that “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 and around it. They can’t give that boy a big enough award.”

His command, the 356th Fighter Squadron was part of the 9th Army Air Force. The men in the 9th were on loan to the 8th Air Force for bomber escort duty until the D-Day invasion.

 After D-Day the 354th F.G. reverted to its primary function as Tactical Air Force supporting Patton's troops on the ground, destroying enemy ground facilities.

The 356th Fighter Squadron was part of the 354th Fighter Group ("Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group") of the Ninth (9th) Air Force. There were 3 squadrons that made up the Group, the 356th FS, the 355th FS, and the 353rd FS (the highest scoring fighter unit in the entire war).

Why did he name his P51 "Ding Hao!" well he was born in China. Yeah, I think he was probably the only guy born in China flying P51s over Europe, and he also had been a pilot in the Flying Tigers.

James Howard was born on the 13th of April, 1913, in Canton, China. His father, an American ophthalmologist, was there to teach eye surgery to Chinese doctors. In 1927 Howard’s family returned to St. Louis, Missouri.

His first squadron assignment was with VF-3 Flying Chiefs,  flying Grumman biplane fighters from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) based at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii beginning in late 1939.

To get into the war, Howard resigned his commission in the Navy to join General Chenault’s American Volunteer Group (the Flying Tigers) in June of 1941.

Howard flew 56 missions over Burma in Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters, scoring a total of six confirmed kills, two of which were achieved during air-to-air combat.  And that is why the Ding Hao! had a scoreboard of Japanaese and Nazi flags

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