Valor Friday

| September 1, 2023

Kegelman and his crew in front of an A-20 Boston bomber

Charles Kegelman is one of the “forgotten firsts” of the Second World War. After America entered the war in December 1941, Americans were first pressed into combat in the Pacific Theater immediately. American troops in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Wake Island were embroiled in fighting for their lives before the official declaration of war. In Europe, the situation was markedly different.

The first American servicemen to be involved in combat in the European Theater were those involved in the Atlantic War (mostly US Navy and merchant mariners) and a handful of those in Europe already. The first large scale ground and air operations in Europe wouldn’t take place for months. It took a long time to ship troops to Europe and for them to receive pre-deployment training once in Britain. Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa at Algiers in late 1942 would be our first major contribution to the land war that had seen Nazi Germany conquer most of Europe and a large part of Africa. The air war was joined a bit sooner.

Leading the American charge into the bombing of Fortress Europe was a young Captain Charles Kegelman of El Reno, Oklahoma. Only 26, he had joined the Army Air Corps’ Aviation Cadet program in 1936. He was trained as a pilot and eventually was assigned to fly the relatively new Douglas A-20 Havoc twin engined medium bomber and ground attack aircraft.

Having only flown for the first time in 1939, the Havoc had only entered service in January of 1941. With the World War raging, it had already been pressed into service with the US, Britain, France, and others. By war’s end, almost 7,500 had been made and it had served in a wide variety of roles such as reconnaissance and as a night fighter.

When Kegelman’s 15th Bomb Squadron arrived in England in May 1942, the British Royal Air Force crews already had significant combat experience with the Havoc (though they called the A-20 “Boston” in their service). While waiting for their own A-20s to arrive, the Americans started training with the British planes.

The 15th Bomb Squadron was put under the RAF 226 Squadron, which had been conducting low-level bombing against German targets on the European Continent. Low level flights had become the norm as the Boston could only carry about 1,200 pounds of bombs, requiring the precision of low altitude flights. Flying down on the deck though exposes you to point blank targeting by anti-aircraft fire.

Soon, the Brits would deem their GI brothers ready for action. Eager to join the fight, Kegelman led his men forward on the greatest of American holidays, 4 July 1942, in the first operational sortie for America in Europe. Six American crewed Bostons joined six RAF planes for the 12 aircraft mission.

Flying with Kegelman that day were three other men, Navigator 2d Lt. Randall Dorton, TSgt. Robert Golay, and Sgt. Bennie Cunningham. After lifting off from England in the early hours, they flew across the North Sea and over Dutch soil. Taking AAA fire as soon as they made landfall, the flight split into two elements. Kegelman, flying wing to an experienced RAF officer, headed toward their target, the De Kooy Airfield. Lying the other wing position was American Second Lieutenant. F A. Loehrl.

Anti-aircraft fire around the Nazi-occupied airfield was intense. As they swung in low over the target, Loehrl’s aircraft was hit, went down, and exploded in flames. Kegelman’s plane was also hit. His right engine was devastated, the propeller sheared off, and the engine afire. Just then, they released their bomb load.

The aircraft, lightened by the release of its load, surged upward, then down. They were so low the right wing tip grazed the ground. Kegelman fought for control and altitude. He was low, and needed some space to troubleshoot the problem. He also needed to get away from the enemy fire. Before he did, the tail hit the ground, ripping part of the fuselage off.

As he was pulling back up from his near crash, he saw an enemy flak tower. The gunners were moving their weapon to bear on Kegelman. Despite his airplane being nearly crippled in the preceding few seconds, he turned the nose of his plane slightly. This lined up his fixed forward machine guns with the enemy gun crew. He opened fire, and dispatched the threat.

Severely damaged and with only one engine, Kegelman turned back towards the sea. While the frigid North Sea wouldn’t ordinarily be considered a position of safety, it surely was for the American airmen that day.

Flying home, at such low altitude that he was nearly grazing the tops of the waves, he made it back by a combination of skill and luck. He and his crew made it back from their first harrowing mission. A more symbolic than a tactical or strategic victory, the mission was much celebrated, similar to the Doolitte Raid on Japan a few months prior.

Major General Carl Spaatz awards Major Kegelman the DSC, notice they are wearing British steel helmets and carrying gas masks

For his bravery and skill under fire that day, Captain Kegelman was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor in action. Some sources list that he also received a similarly lofty honor from the British, but I’m unable to verify that. The rest of Kegelman’s crew received Distinguished Flying Crosses. They received their awards from then-Major General Carl Spaatz on 12 July 1945.

Kegelman was the first American to lead a bombing mission over Europe. He was the first man of the 8th Air Force to received the DSC, and by some sources was the first American airman to be decorated for action in the ETO.

Kegelman would would soon command the 15th Bomb Squadron. He’d fly a further 20 missions with them in North Africa. He returned to the US to command a training post in Oklahoma in 1943. In 1945 he was sent to the Pacific to join the war in the final theater of the conflict.

By now a colonel, Kegelman was assigned to the 42nd Bombardment Group (Medium) at Mindanao, Philippine Islands. He died in a mid-air crash on 9 March 1945. He was 29. In addition to the DSC, he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross four times, and the Purple Heart.

Some of Kegelman’s crew suffered similar tragedy as the war progressed for them. His navigator, Randall Dorton, also died in a plane crash in the Pacific. He was a captain and a passenger aboard an unarmed B-25D converted for transport duties. It crashed in Papua New Guinea 22 May 1944. All ten men aboard perished. The crash site was an 9,500 feet of elevation and so remote it wasn’t discovered until 1959. Dorton earned four Air Medals in addition to his DFC.

Both enlisted men on Kegelman’s Independence Day flight survived the war. Bennie Cunningham lived until 1996 when he died in North Carolina at age 78. He was survived by his with Laurinda, who died in 2001.

Robert Golay, after his first mission, would return to the US. In August 1942, just weeks after his heroic fighting over Europe, he would be pinned with aerial gunner wings. He appears to have made the military a career, as his gravestone lists him as a chief warrant officer four, a rank which didn’t exist until 1949. He died in 2003 at the age of 84. His wife Jeanne, born in 1921, may still be alive.

Category: Air Force, Distinguished Service Cross, Historical, Valor, We Remember

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RGR 4-78

Thank you WW II Veterans.


My Lord! Engine destroyed and part of the fuselage was ripped off. I guess the secret to survival was to be pigheaded enough to just say, “Fuck you reality! I’m not dying today!”

It’s one thing to get on board one of those planes for such a mission. In my opinion, what took real courage was to strap the plane on and go out on your second mission!

RIP to all these brave airmen!


“Cry “Havoc!” And release the Dogs of War!” It’s “More than a Feeling…” (ht2 Boston)

A Salute to these ARMY Air Corps Warriors.

Another great story on unsung Heroes…Men and Machine!

Thanks, Mason.

Quick linky on the A-20.


Mason wrote:

“Charles Kegelman is one of the “forgotten firsts” of the Second World War.”

Yep. Mason Nailed It.

Thank You, Mason, for sharing another Valor story about our Unsung Heroes.

Rest In Peace To All. Sadly, as shared by Mason, COL Kegelman and CPT Dorton did not live to see the end of World War 2.

“Captain Dorton was killed while a passenger in a B-25D bomber aircraft. The aircraft was assigned to the 417th Bombardment Group, 673rd Bombardment Squadron. The aircraft was nicknamed “Torrid Tessie The Terror” and was used as a transport with the machine guns removed. On May 22, 1944 the aircraft took off from Nadzab, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, at 2:25pm on an administrative flight bound for Saidor Airfield in Papua New Guinea, it’s home base. The aircraft crashed in the jungle en route and the 9500 foot altitude crash site was not discovered until 1959. The crew and passengers were officially declared dead the day of the mission. After the recovery of the remains, they were buried on March 7, 1960 in a group burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.”


Never Forget.

Anna Puma

More info on those lost in the crash of B-25D “Torrid Tessie “The Terror”” including two photos of the wreckage.


Bareknuckle brawl at 0.0 ft AGL?

There ain’t enough whiskey in the world that’d get me back in that bird!


Thank you, Gents!