November 9, 2017

1942. American Pilot Recognized for Gallantry

Captain Charles C. Kegelman Awarded Distinguished Service Cross
Major General Carl Spaatz (left) presents the Distinguished Service Cross to Charles C. Kegelman, commander of the 301st Bombardment Group, July 11, 1942 (source)
This U. S. Flyer Has the Stuff
Bounces in Flaming Plane, Silences an Anti-Aircraft Gun Tower and Wobbles Safely Home
Gets D. S. C. Award
His Twin-Motored Bomber Loses a Propeller, the Nose Section is Shot Away and a Wing Is Burned Off, But Still He Made It
United Press Staff Correspondent

London (UP) — Flight Captain Charles C. Kegelman became the first hero of the European AEF yesterday when on the first United States raid against Nazi airdromes he practically picked his flaming plane off the ground, machine-gunned an anti-aircraft gun tower into silence, and flew safely home.

Kegelman, whose home is in El Reno, Oklahoma, demonstrated "superior airmanship, extraordinary gallantry and coolness in saving the lives of his crew," Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander-in-chief of U. S. troops in the European theater, said in announcing the D. S. C. award.

The Douglas twin-motored light bomber, one propeller and the nose section of the starboard motor shot away and a wing in flames, actually hit the ground on the enemy airfield but Kegelman literally bounced it into the air again.

A section of the starboard wing—the one around which flames from the wrecked and dead motor were roaring—was torn away by the ground. Nearby a German flak tower was hanging away at the plane with deadly fire.

Several shots ripped through the tail of the plane as it floundered while Kegelman carefully nursed the one good motor and gradually gained altitude.

It was a good time to beat it for home, but Kegelman had a score to pay for that flak tower. Swinging around in a tight turn and jamming the throttle open for all the speed possible, he raced at the tower.

For a moment it was a deadly duel as the wounded plane roared at the tower. The German guns fired rapidly but Kegelman held his nose guns and wing cannon fire until he was right on the target.

Then he slammed everything in his guns at the target, pulled aside, started climbing. There were no more shots from the tower. Whether that blast knocked out the guns, or the Germans, respecting such raw courage, held their fire, neither Kegelman nor his superiors know. All they say in the official headquarters communiqué is that:

"The tower ceased firing. Continuing home on one engine the pilot landed without further incident, the flames in the starboard engine having died out on the way back."

Headquarters didn't say what "without further incident" meant but there must have been plenty of incidents to worry Kegelman and his two crewmen as they nursed their plane back home, crossing occupied territory dotted with enemy airfields and plotting their course to avoid a German fighter craft.
El Reno, Oklahoma (UP) — Captain Charles C. Kegelman, first of the AEF in Europe to win a distinguished service cross, was the hero of his home town of El Reno, Oklahoma today and his mother and father were about to forgive him for forsaking medical school training to become a pilot.

His father, also named Charles C. Kegelman, wanted to know the details of how he bounced his plane off the ground, machine-gunned a flak tower into silence and flew his crew away in a badly damaged ship.

His mother wanted to know about his safe landing and if he was injured.

And they smiled when they learned that a few hours after the raid on Nazi airdromes in Holland he was awarded the first distinguished service cross for valor in Europe.

"I guess maybe we can forgive him for quitting the medical school," said his sister, Mrs. E. E. Milam, also of El Reno. "He just wasn't interested. He spent all of his afternoons in Oklahoma City and every dollar he could scrape together learning to fly."

Kegelman's wife, Marian, was visiting friends in Austin, Texas.

"She was too excited to talk," said Kegelman's sister. "She said to tell her about it again. Then, she said she would have to sit down. Good news makes you feel like that sometimes."

The 26-year-old hero of the AEF is a 6-foot 2-inch blond. He weighs about 180 pounds. He has one sister, Anne Kegelman, living in Los Angeles, and another, Mrs. Eldon Smith of Oklahoma City. He was born at El Reno.