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WW II veteran receives Distinguished Flying Cross

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFPN) -- On Jan. 11, 1944, a young first lieutenant helped land a battle-damaged B-17 Flying Fortress on a small rural airfield near Cambridge, England.

Almost 60 years later, Francis Hoad, 80, was recognized for his heroic efforts during a ceremony here Nov. 22 when U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe and U.S. Congressman Frank Lucas presented him with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"We are here to honor an American hero," Inhofe told the standing-room-only crowd gathered at the base auditorium.

"That was our first raid that we ever went on, we were pretty green," said Hoad, reliving the day. After dropping a dozen 500-pound bombs over Oschersleben, Germany, the B-17 crew was returning to England when their plane suffered severe damage when it was fired upon over Holland. "We were pretty happy we were going home," said Hoad. "I don't know how it happened, but (a Messerschmitt) F-109 fighter got us right over the top of the tail section with a 20 mm shell and took out all the flight controls."

Then-1st Lt. Hoad, who is a 1943 graduate of Vance pilot training, was the co-pilot. His pilot was 1st Lt. George Bingham.

After being hit, the plane "just keeled over and started down," said Hoad. "We had no control. We were diving at over 300 mph. It was beginning to vibrate."

They eventually gained control and headed for Royal Air Force Ludham auxiliary airfield. Once over friendly territory, Hoad ordered the eight other crew members to bail out in case the landing attempt failed. Bingham and Hoad only had autopilot controls and the delicate manipulations they had to perform were very difficult.

They decided to make three landing attempts and if they failed they would bail out and ditch the aircraft. "We had a plan," Hoad said. "That's the way you do this. You don't keep trying it 'til you kill yourself. You have a plan and then do it. "I was supposed to aim it for the runway. George had power and elevation," Hoad said. "We had a little bit of control over it, but not much."

The B-17 wing is 103 feet across, so they were concerned about putting the wing into the ground when turning.

They made their first attempt, but did not get lined up with the runway. "We decided to get further out. We got lined up again. This time I had it lined up with the taxiway, it was not a runway," Hoad said. On their third and final try they got the plane lined up perfectly at about 100 feet altitude, but there was another problem. "We didn't plan on something," Hoad said. "There was a house between us and the runway and we didn't see it 'til we got close."

As they approached the house the pilot pulled up but Hoad felt a thump. Their landing gear had clipped the chimney on the house. They got the aircraft down but lost control and it went off into the field and came to a stop in the dirt.

But, they were on the ground.

That action was just beginning for the young lieutenant. Three months later, he volunteered to co-pilot for another B-17 crew and was shot down by enemy coastal guns. Hoad spent 13 months as a prisoner of war.

"I got shot down on my 13th mission," he said. "It was a fluke, a lucky shot. They got us over Oostende (Belgium) and took out the No. 3 and 4 engines.

"Everybody in back of the plane was killed," he said. "The navigator got hit and I got hit. We got peppered real bad."

They ditched the aircraft in the North Sea. The Germans captured them as their life raft floated ashore in Calais, France.

As a Distinguished Flying Cross recipient, Hoad, who served 27 years in the Army Air Corps and Air Force Reserve, is in good company. Others who have received the medal include Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh, Navy Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd and Amelia Earhart.

But, Hoad, said humbly, "I wanted it for my kids." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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