Pease Jr. joined the Army Air Corps in September of 1939. About a
year later, the Plymouth, New Hampshire, native was commissioned as
a second lieutenant. He was immediately put on active-duty in the
Pacific theater, flying B-17 Flying Fortress bombers between the
U.S., Hawaii and the Philippines.
In March 1942, Pease was
transferred to Australia, where he was to help handle evacuees from
Japan. One of those missions included bringing Army Gen. Douglas
MacArthur out of Manila Bay just before the Philippine island of
Luzon was invaded by the Japanese – although it didn’t go
Medal of Honor recipient Army Air Corps Capt. Harl Pease Jr.
service portrait and him standing in front of his aircraft during
World War II. This image was created by USA Patriotism! from an Air
Force photo (left) and courtesy photo (right) by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
When MacArthur was successfully moved to a safer part of
the Philippines by the Navy, the 24-year-old Pease was
tasked with picking the general up and flying him to
Australia. But when MacArthur saw the condition of Pease’s
bomber – it had damaged turbo supercharges, faulty brakes
and bullet holes patched by ration cans – he turned Pease
away, refusing to fly in such a “broken-down crate.”
Despite that snub, Pease went on to do great things,
including in August 1942, when one aborted mission led to
Pease had been promoted to captain by then
and had also turned 25. On Aug. 6, he was part of a bombing
mission over New Guinea when his B-17 lost an engine, so he
was forced to turn back to Australia.
there were plans for his unit to attack an enemy-held air
base the next day on New Britain (an island of Papua New
Guinea northeast of Australia). Pease wasn’t scheduled to be
part of it since his plane was out of commission. But he
didn’t want to miss out, so he and his crew volunteered
anyway, even though all of the usable planes were assigned
to other crews.
Pease’s crew quickly found an
unassigned bomber that was NOT considered combat-ready and
spent hours making it acceptable to fly. They then made the
trip back to Port Moresby, New Guinea, to join the rest of
Early the next morning, despite very
little sleep, Pease was able to keep his ramshackle plane in
formation until the enemy caught up to them about 50 miles
from their target. For the next 25 minutes, Pease and his
crew dodged about 30 Japanese fighters, shooting several of
them down and fighting their way to the target so they could
drop their bombs as scheduled.
After that, the rest
of the squadron was able to dive into some clouds for cover.
But Pease’s crippled plane couldn’t keep up. Before it got
to the clouds, enemy aircraft blew up one of his bomb bay
tanks. Others in the squadron saw Pease drop the flaming
tank from the plane, but that was the last they saw of him.
Pease and his crew never returned to Port Moresby. It’s
believed that their plane was shot down. According to two
Catholic priests who had been at a nearby prisoner-of-war
camp, Pease and another crew member had managed to bail out
of the plane and were captured. They were held at the camp
for several weeks. On Oct. 8, 1942, they were forced to dig
their own graves and executed.
The final mission
Pease and his crew flew was a success, thanks to their
efforts. The fact that they volunteered for such a dangerous
mission was a great inspiration to other men. That’s one of
the many reasons why Pease earned the Medal of Honor.
MacArthur himself recommended the pilot for it. Late in
1942, it was presented to Pease’s parents by President
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Many years after the war,
Pease was memorialized at Manila American Cemetery in the
Philippines, where more than 17,000 other U.S. service
members are buried. In September 1957, the air base at
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, near where Pease grew up, was
named in his honor. It’s now known as Pease Air National
By Katie Lange
D0D News / Defense Media Activity
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Harl Pease's Medal
of Honor Citation