Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Veteran's Day Tribute

Thursday being Veteran's Day, I sat down to write about two veterans: my uncle, Guy Otto, and my father-in-law, Arnold Cotton, when I realized that I didn’t really know anything about my uncle’s time in the service other than that he was a fighter pilot in the Air Force during WWII. So I did what any sensible person would do, I googled him, and there he was on a website for the 82nd Fighter Group, 97th Fighter Squadron. I thought I’d share a some of his story and wait to write about Arnold another day.

First Lt. Guy Otto joined the Air Force in August 1944 when he was 21 years old.  He flew 50 missions over Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Czech, and Italy between October 1944 and April 1945. That’s a lot of flight time; just over 244 hours. He took his first flight on his 22nd birthday on October 8, 1944. After an hour-and-a-half in the air he lost an engine in the P-38, but managed to land the plane without incident. Just eight days later he was escorting B-24’s over Austria when he had his first experience with FLAK (anti air-craft gunfire); he later wrote “scary” beside this entry in his flight log, and a couple weeks later he wrote that he “finally got to fire the guns and cannon.”

Some of his missions were to drop chaff (small fibers that reflect radar signals) or escort bombers. In November 1944 he flew his first dive bombing mission where he successfully bombed highways to disrupt troop movement in Yugoslavia. The next day found him on his first Droop Snoot mission to bomb a depot in Oseppo, Italy, and then back to Yugoslavia the following day on another dive bombing mission, which he wrote about in his log as “very harrowing, having to fly down river valleys on the approach to the bridge actually below some of the hilltops where the enemy could fire down on us. This is the worst for the tail end fighter whose job it [is] to take gun camera film of the damage to the target.”

In March 1945 he was assigned his first squadron lead in a fighter sweep over Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He wrote home that this will “give you gray hairs quickly.” The following day, he was escorting an unarmed photo reconnaissance aircraft in Munich when he was attacked near the target area by a ME-262, a German jet-powered fighter aircraft (the world’s first) considered to have been the most advanced German aviation design during World War II. He wrote that the ME-262 pilot “almost got close enough to be part of the formation, but left when we dropped our spare tanks and turned into him.”

His next bombing mission wasn’t until April 1945 when he spent several days bombing railroad bridges in Germany. On April 8th after bombing a bridge he made a “fighter sweep over some marshalling railroad yards [and] was credited with 2 1/3 locomotives.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission. Several days later he was again bombing railroad bridges, this time in Austria. When he returned he found that several holes had been blown into the bottom of his plane by the rocks that are thrown up from the bombs, evidence of the dangers involved with dive bombing. He also received the Air Medal and 4 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters—the bronze oak leaf cluster represents second and subsequent awards of the Air Medal (2nd awarded on March 13, 1944; 3rd on April 16, 1994; and 4th on June 4, 1945. I couldn’t find records for the award of the Air Medal and 1st Oak Leaf Cluster).

The Distinguished Flying Cross

Awarded to aviators and aircrew for heroism and/or extraordinary achievement during aerial flight, the Distinguished Flying Cross is the only medal conferred by all five military services, in all wars and campaigns from World War I to the present.

On April 22nd, during an armed recon mission in Italy, Guy’s wingman, Lt. Hollingsworth was shot down after they encountered heavy machinegun fire. They were flying at low altitude over what appeared to be an abandoned government building. Lt. Hollingsworth was captured as a POW and was liberated on Victory in Europe Day.

The Air Medal
Awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the armed forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Awards may be made to recognize single acts of merit or heroism or for meritorious service. Award of the Air Medal is primarily intended to recognize those personnel who are on current crew member or non-crew member flying status which requires them to participate in aerial flight on a regular and frequent basis in the performance of their primary duties. However, it may also be awarded to certain other individuals whose combat duties require regular and frequent flying in other than a passenger status or individuals who perform a particularly noteworthy act while performing the function of a crew member but who are not on flying status. These individuals must make a discernible contribution to the operational land combat mission or to the mission of the aircraft in flight.

Guy flew his last mission on April 26, 1945 and was awaiting transportation to the United States when the war ended.

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