(This is a re-hash of something I posted on the Ute board. I think many here will enjoy it.)
If you've been around the Ute and Cougar boards for a while you know I like stories about Medal of Honor winners. The astonishing courage of Henry Eugene "Red" Erwin
has been one of my favorites ever since I first learned of it.
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Henry Eugene "Red" Erwin, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in action as the radio operator of a B-29 airplane in the 52d Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group (VH), 314th Bombardment Wing, Twentieth Air Force, leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan, on 12 April 1945. Staff Sergeant Erwin was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphoresce smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the launching point was reached. Upon entering the assembly area, aircraft fire and enemy fighter opposition was encountered. Among the phosphoresce bombs launched by Staff Sergeant Erwin, one proved faulty, exploding in the launching chute, and shot back into the interior of the aircraft, striking him in the face. The burning phosphoresce obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. Staff Sergeant Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and feeling his way, instinctively, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot's window. He found the navigator's table obstructing his passage. Grasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unleashed the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot's compartment. Groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared, the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the plane out of its dive. Staff Sergeant Erwin's gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades.The Military Times Hall of Valor
General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 44, June 6, 1945
site tells more of the story:
Henry Erwin's comrades did not believe he could survive his severe burns, and his Medal of Honor was one of the most quickly approved in history; it took just six days. Intent on seeing the Medal presented to him before he died, and with no Medal of Honor available in the area, a plane was dispatched to Hawaii where a Medal of Honor was on display in a glass case. Unable to find anyone to open the case, his comrades broke into it, pocketed the Medal, and flew it back to Erwin's bedside for presentation. Incredibly, Erwin survived, endured 41 plastic surgeries, and retired after a career working for the Veterans Administration. He died in 2002.
I understand that Irwin knew, at the time he picked up the bomb, that it was burning at over 1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can read about every Medal of Honor ever awarded at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society
website. Spend a little time there. If you're like me, you'll come away amazed, and perhaps with a lump in your throat.
I love being a citizen of a country that produces men like Red Irwin. As we all bite into Monday's hamburgers and hot dogs, let's take a moment to think about why we celebrate Memorial Day. Let's remember our heroes and try to honor them.