Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Stories of Sacrifice

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World War II - U.S. Army Air Corps

Henry Eugene "red" Erwin

  • Rank: Staff Sergeant (Highest Rank: Master Sergeant)
  • Conflict/Era: World War II
  • Unit/Command:
    52d Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group, 314th Bombardment Wing,
    20th Air Force
  • Military Service Branch: U.S. Army Air Corps
  • Medal of Honor Action Date: April 12, 1945
  • Medal of Honor Action Place: Koriyama, Japan

He was the radio operator of a B-29 airplane leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan. He was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphorus 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 phosphorus bombs launched by S/Sgt. 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 phosphorus obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. S/Sgt. 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. S/Sgt. Erwin's gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades.

Additional Details
  • Accredited to: Bessemer, Jefferson County, Alabama
  • Awarded Posthumously: No
  • Presentation Date & Details: April 19, 1945

    Fleet Hospital 103, Guam, presented by Gen. Curtis LeMay

  • Born: May 8, 1921, Adamsville, Jefferson County, AL, United States
  • Died: January 16, 2002, Leeds, AL, United States
  • Buried: Elmwood Cemetery (MH) (2-E1/2-279), Birmingham, AL, United States

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