1944: In the skies over Oschersleben, Germany, Maj. James H. Howard is leading a group of P-51 “Mustangs”, escorting a formation of B-17 “Flying Fortress” heavy bombers. When Luftwaffe fighters intercept the group, Howard immediately shoots down a Messerschmitt Bf-110 long range fighter. Upon returning, he finds 30 German pilots attacking the bombers. Without any tactical advantage, he nonetheless single-handedly attacks the enemy planes, shooting down three, and damaging or possibly destroying three more.
Before the war, Howard was a naval aviator, but left the service to join the Claire Chennault’s famed “Flying Tigers”, where he shoots down six Japanese warplanes. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz presents Howard with the Medal of Honor in June.
1945: Near Bastogne, Belgium, Staff Sgt. Archer T. Gammon’s platoon is advancing through the woods when it is targeted by a German machine gun position. Archer wades through waist-deep snow to attack the position, eliminating it with grenades.
Now rid of the deadly obstacle, the platoon moves forward again, but runs into a hornet’s nest of machine guns, infantry, and a tank. Despite hostile fire zeroing in on him, he again charges forward and eliminates another machine gun nest with grenades and closes within 25 yards of the vehicle while eliminating soldiers protecting their tank. Gammon’s daring assault proves to be too much for the enemy armor, but as it fires a parting shot, an 88-mm shells scores a direct hit on the daring American staff sergeant.
Gammon is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Also on this date, during the American invasion of Luzon Island in the Philippines, Capt. William A. Shomo was leading an armed reconnaissance mission of two P-51 “Mustangs”. He and his wingman spotted a formation of Japanese fighters escorting a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber. Although outnumbered 13-2, the American aviators began the attack.
Shomo shot down three fighters, then the bomber they were protecting. He will shoot down three more enemy fighters and his wingman, Lt. Paul Lipscomb, scores three. Shomo’s seven victories give him the second-highest single mission tally for U.S. pilots in history, and he is awarded the Medal of Honor.
1969: While leading an armored convoy down a highway in Vietnam’s Binh Long Province, 1st Lt. Harold A. Fritz’s formation is ambushed. Surrounded on all sides and in danger of being overrun, Fritz – who had been wounded in the initial moments – disregards his injuries and heavy enemy fire, leaping from his vehicle to rally his men, directing them to reposition and shift their fire.
As the battle wore on, a group of enemy soldiers closed in on the unit. Fritz, armed with just a pistol and bayonet, and some of his fellow men defeat the infiltrating force. Upon arrival of the relief force, Fritz again braves incoming fire to direct the unit. Today, Fritz is one of only 71 surviving Medal of Honor recipients.