Honoring Redhawk Heritage on Veterans Day

November 9, 2011 -- As we pause on this Veterans Day to honor the members of our armed services, we also celebrate our American military heritage. In doing so, we recall the achievements and sacrifices of our predecessors who served our nation.

For the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard, this includes remembering the 371st Fighter Group of the Second World War, a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber unit that served in Europe. Following the war, many new National Guard aviation units inherited the lineage and honors from US Army Air Forces units that served during the war, in order to preserve the heritage of distinguished air units. In May, 1946, the 371st Fighter Group was redesignated as the 142nd Fighter Group and allocated to the State of Oregon. Therefore, the 371st Fighter Group is the origin of the lineage and honors of today's 142nd Fighter Wing.

And so we remember and honor the achievements of the 371st Fighter Group in World War II. In November, 1944, the Group was stationed at airfields in France, engaged in mortal combat with the enemy. The 371st's three flying squadrons, the 404th Fighter Squadron (FS), 405th FS and 406th FS, flew their Thunderbolts in close support missions for Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr's Third Army as Patton approached the fortified city of Metz and the German frontier. They attacked the enemy's troops, vehicles, and equipment in the field, storage dumps, trains, rail lines, marshalling yards, buildings, factories, bridges, roads and strongpoints across northeastern France and into southwestern Germany. The Group was soon to be involved in the cauldron of the Battle of the Bulge.

We pause on this Veterans Day to remember the supreme sacrifice made by 371st Fighter group members during World War II, including the following men among the all too many examples:

- 1Lt Harry W. Strahlendorf, 404th FS, while on his 48th mission over Normandy, France, was killed in action June 24, 1944 near Cherbourg, France. He was attacking an enemy 88mm anti-aircraft emplacement at Fort du Roule, which dominated the city and its defenses, when his P-47 was struck by anti-aircraft fire, lost its tail and crashed. A "founding" pilot of the 404th, at age 29 he was a bit older than most fighter pilots in the group, who called him "Pop."

- 1Lt Robert A. Booth, 405th Fighter Squadron, crashed in foul weather conditions October 27, 1944 while trying to deliver relief supplies to the 36th Infantry Division's "Lost Battalion" in the Vosges Mountains of France. The 405th did successfully deliver enough of the specially-modified drop tanks containing food, ammunition, radio batteries and medical supplies to help the unit survive through a week of encirclement by the enemy, until it was relieved by the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

- 1Lt Samuel B. Bridges, Jr., 406th FS, who had completed over 50 combat missions, was killed in action March 23, 1945 near Speyer, Germany. While strafing enemy motor transport his P-47 was hit by anti-aircraft artillery, and he crash-landed on the ground after striking an obstruction as he bellied in. One report indicated he escaped from the flaming wreckage of his Thunderbolt only to be cut down by a sniper.

These men lost their lives, their families a son, husband and/or father. Their Squadron lost a comrade, the Group lost a pilot and America lost a warrior. Let us never forget the service and sacrifice of the members of our armed forces who answer the call of duty for our country, past and present. In Portland, Oregon on this Veterans Day, members of the 142nd Fighter Wing will do that, and remember their heritage of honor in the 371st Fighter Group of World War II.


Sources:
Army Air Forces Website Forum, Discussion of loss of 1Lt Robert A. Booth, accessed 8 November at:
http://forum.armyairforces.com/P47-371st-FG-lost-in-the-vosges-France-m156699.aspx

Battle of Cherbourg, accessed 9 November, 2011 at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cherbourg

Clemson University Alumni Association Webpage for Samuel B. Bridges, Jr., accessed 9 November, 2011 at:
http://cualumni.clemson.edu/page.aspx?pid=1778

Lost Battalion Symposium, July 18 - 19, 2008, Texas Military Forces Museum, Austin, Texas, accessed 8 November 2011 at:
http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/symposium/lostbattalion.htm

Maurer, Maurer, editor, Air Force Combat Units of World War II, Office of Air Force History, Washington D.C., 1983

Memorial Webpage to 1Lt Harry William Stahlendorf, accessed 9 November 2011 at:
http://www.awon.org/awstrahl.html