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November 26 2008 at 6:28 PM

SeaBat  (Login SeaBat)
Forum Member

This Thanksgiving we should all remember our Veterans and those currently serving - it is their service that allows us to give thanks for all of our many blessings.

Some of you might remember Tom Parry, our dear friend. Tom is now at his final port of call, but a young friend of his and mine, Marty, gives us all a very poignant reminder of exactly what the price of that freedom is and the price paid for our ability to give thanks....

"At 2:30 in the morning on the 12th of April, 1945, a lone B-29 approached the Japanese coast.

Along with its bombing mission, it had the task of dropping a large phosphorus flare that would be used by the hundreds of following aircraft as a navigation beacon. Dropping the flare was the radio operators job; at a signal from the pilot he was to release it through a narrow tube that had a flapper valve at the bottom. Simple procedure, to be accomplished in a few seconds.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. When the pilot gave radio operator Henry E. (Red) Erwin the signal; there was a malfunction in the tube. The burning flare hit the jammed valve, bounced back up into the aircraft and exploded directly in Erwin's face, blinding him and completely tearing off one ear.

White phosphorus burns at two thousand degrees, an intensity that makes aircraft metal burn like a match head. The flare at Erwin's feet started eating its way through the floor and into the bomb bay, where there were thousands of pounds of incendiary bombs.

Erwin was alone and there was no time to think. The aircraft was doomed, along with all in it, unless he did something. He bent over and picked up the white hot mass of fire with his bare hands and began to feel his way to the cockpit, screaming for the pilot to open his window. When he reached the navigators folding table, which was in the down position, he tucked the blazing flare under his arm while he lifted the obstruction out of his way. When he passed the flight engineers position he was literally a human torch with his entire upper body in flames. His hair was burned away, his clothing gone and his face unrecognizable. The engineer turned an extinguisher on him which temporarily stopped the fire but the phosphorus was still burning his flesh. Finally he reached the co-pilots station and threw the flare out the open window before collapsing to the deck.

Erwin never lost consciousness as the aircraft raced for an emergency landing at Iwo Jima. The only time he spoke was to ask the pilot if everyone was okay. When the plane landed and the hatches were opened the rush of fresh air re-ignited Erwin's upper body and another extinguisher had to be used. He still did not lose consciousness!

When the incident was described during the debriefing back on Guam, his battle hardened fellow crewmen had to keep walking out of the room to avoid breaking down in tears at memory of the raw courage that they had witnessed.

Incredibly, Technical Sergeant Erwin lived! He underwent two years of hospitalization and 48 surgeries. He was the only Medal of Honor recipient in the Twentieth Air Force and no American has ever deserved it more. Sometimes when we get to focusing on how bad we think things are or how hard our day has been, it is not a bad idea to put thing in proper perspective. Does anybody doubt that during that incredible twenty second walk Sgt Irwin would not have traded ANY of our problems for his? "

Give thanks for the bravery of so many!!!

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