WWII Vet Receives Long-Awaited Medals
(September 14, 2009)
Col. Mark Kelly speaks with World War II Tech. Sgt. Holt Thornton, before a medal presentation ceremony Aug. 29, 2009 at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Aug. 29. Mr. Thornton's granddaughter, Carrie Bass, researched her grandfather's service to ensure he received all of the medals he earned during his World War II service. Mr. Thornton joined the Army Air Corps at 17 years old and served in Africa, France, Italy and other various parts of Europe during from 1941 to 1944. Colonel Kelly is the 4th Fighter Wing commander.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ciara Wymbs
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (9/8/2009 - AFNS) --
Although he was not dressed in the khaki Army Air Corps uniform he wore after
enlisting at 17, World War II veteran Tech. Sgt. Howard Thornton was no less
proud when he received medals during a special ceremony here Aug. 29.
A small gathering of family, friends and military members assembled to honor Mr.
Thornton and witness the presentation of long overdue decorations.
A former aerial gunner, Mr. Thornton returned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base,
his final duty station, for a presentation of medals he earned in combat during
World War II, but was never formally presented.
While assigned to the 763rd Bomb Squadron, 460th Bomb Group at Spinazzola,
Thornton flew 52 missions in the
European theater, including the famed Ploesti raids on Romanian oil production
As a crewmember of the B-24 Liberator, Mr. Thornton's missions
sent him to targets in Italy, France, Romania and other areas of southern
His service was not without hardship. He was wounded twice, and on three
occasions, he had to bail out of his stricken aircraft into enemy territory.
Now 85, Mr. Thornton recalled his time spent in the service.
"We took three flights to Ploesti; they called them combat missions," he said.
"We dubbed them suicide missions. One time into combat is enough for anybody."
Mr. Thornton said he feels very grateful to be where he is today.
"I'm very thankful; I carried a prayer book with me on all the missions I flew,
in my flying book. I'm the same way now," he said.
The delay of recognition was caused by a 1973 fire at the National Personnel
Records Center in St. Louis, which resulted in the damage or destruction of
nearly 18 million military records from the years 1912 to 1964.
Although slightly charred around the edges, Mr. Thornton's personnel file
survived the fire.
After hearing his war stories through the years, his family began the process to
recover his records, intending to display his decorations at home.
Upon learning he had left the service before a proper presentation of awards
could be made, Mr. Thornton's granddaughter, Carrie Bass, contacted the base for
The Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB, Texas, provided medals, and the
Seymour Johnson AFB Airman's Attic supplied an updated uniform for the ceremony
since, according to Mr. Thornton, his old uniform was a bit snug.
Col. Mark Kelly, the 4th Fighter Wing commander, pinned Mr. Thornton's medals to
his chest, nearly 65 years since he last saw combat. The colonel pinned on Mr.
Thorton's fourth Air Medal, second Purple Heart, third and fourth
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals, the American Campaign Medal and
the World War II Victory Medal.
Colonel Kelly remarked on how Airmen owe men like Mr. Thornton for the Air Force
that exists today.
"We in this profession, we say not often enough that we stand on the shoulders
of giants," Colonel Kelly said. "It's a rare day that we get to stand amongst
one and spend some time. The Airmen of today do what they do to be worthy in
Article by USAF 2nd Lt. Matt Schroff
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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