Korean War – First Hand Story

 

The Skyraider

The Skyraider

It has been some time since a first hand story has been included here, therefore I planned one for #36.  Obviously on the same wave length as I, fellow blogger/Korean War correspondent Rafe Steinberg at: http://nightowlsnotebook.wordpress.com  sent me this story from the New York Times:

Kenneth A. Schechter, 83, Dies; With Help, He Flew Blind 

by Bruce Weber (condensed by gpcox)

On 22 March 1952, Navy pilot, Ensign Schechter, 22, a member of Fighter Squadron 194 (“Yellow Devils”), while flying over Wongsang-ni, North Korea in what was his 27th mission was at the heart of one of the most electrifying air rescues in American history.  An enemy antiaircraft shell exploded in the cockpit of his A-1 Skyraider.  “Instinctively, I pulled back on the stick to gain altitude.  Then I passed out.  When I came to a short time later, I couldn’t see a thing.  There was stinging agony in my face and throbbing in my head.  I felt for my upper lip.  It was almost severed from the rest of my face.  I called out over the radio through my lip mike, ‘I’m blind!  For God’s sake, help me!  I’m blind!”

Naval aviator wings

Naval aviator wings

He was headed for a cloud bank at 10,000 feet that would obscure him from view of his squadron.  By coincidence, his scream for help was heard by fellow pilot, Lt. Howard Thayer, Schechter’s roommate on the Valley Forge, “Put your nose down!  Put your nose down!  Push over.  I’m coming up,” Thayer yelled back.  Schechter, fading in and out of consciousness, refused to eject from the plane as Thayer flew alongside.  They were headed for the Marine airfield K-18 about 30 miles away.

Korean air fields

Korean air fields

“I continued to follow Thayer’s directions, but he could see that my head kept flopping down from time to time and he doubted that I could make it to K-18, so he decided to get me down right away.”  Thayer spotted a deserted airstrip not far beyond the battle line, but due to the ruggedness and brevity of the strip (or due to the blindness he was unable to locate the controls), he had to make a belly landing.

“From his plane, flying 25 feet away from mine and duplicating my maneuvers, Howard’s voice was cool and confident,” Schechter said.

“We’re heading straight.  Flaps down.  Hundred yards to the runway.  You’re 50 feet off the ground.  Pull back a little.  Easy.  Easy.  That’s good.  You’re level.  You’re O.K.  You’re O.K.  Thirty feet off the ground.  You’re O.K.  You’re over the runway.  Twenty feet.  Kill it a little.  You’re settling down.  O.K., O.K., O.K.  Cut!”  A short while late, “You’re on the ground, Ken.”

“No fire.  No pain.  No strain.  The best landing I ever made,” Schechter said.

Kenneth Schechter and Howard Thayer

Kenneth Schechter and Howard Thayer

Ken Schechter was taken to a Naval hospital and only regained sight in his left eye.  He went on to graduate from Stanford and Harvard Business School.

Howard Thayer made the Navy his career and was later killed in 1961, when on a night mission, he flew into the water returning to a carrier in the Mediterranean Sea.

Distinguished Flying Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross

In 1995, Mr. Schechter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and addressed Mr. Thayer’s 3 children, by then adults, “I hope you will see this ceremony as your ceremony, because that’s exactly the way I feel about it.”  Fourteen years later, in 2009, Thayer received the same award, posthumously.

Click on images to enlarge.

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This event was reported in The Associated Press.  Later, an article by Cmdr. Harry Burns, in the Saturday Evening Post & an article written by James Michener were used as the basis for the 1954 movie “Men of the Fighting Lady” which starred Van Johnson as Lt. Thayer and Dewey Martin as Ensign Schechter.  Mr. Schechter recounted his story for the book “Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul” and the Naval Aviation News nearly 50 years later.

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Thanks to the research of Kevin Brent, we have the legacy of the AK-47 for a WWII update; please follow the links –

http://jkbrent.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/kalaschnikov-russias-imprint-on-global-terror/

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Farewell Salutes – 

The Missing Man formation

The Missing Man formation

Desmond Andrewes – Mt. Eden, New Zealand; RNZAF, WWII Flight Lt. No. 427174

Raymond Beaulieu – Coral Springs, FL; US Navy, WWII

Albert “Bud” Campbell – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII PTO, Capt. 33rd Infantry Div./Company H/123rd infantry Reg.

William Currier, Jr. – Delray Beach, FL; US Army Air Corps/Air Force, Lt. Colonel, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cuban Missile Crisis

John Eddleman – Fairfax, VA & Missoula, Montana; US Air Force Colonel, (Ret.)

Vincent Faga – Warren, PA & W.Palm Beach, FL; US Air Force, Vietnam

Franklin Lewis – Rosebud, TX & WA; US Army, Sgt., WWII PTO,

Nick Soffos – Alexandria, VA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 11th A/B Div.

Glen Stalker – Bethesda, MD; US Air Force, pilot, WWII & Korea

Elston VabSlyke – Seattle, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Co. E/511th

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on January 5, 2014, in Korean War and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 103 Comments.

  1. Wonderful post, thank you for putting it out. It is well written, a great read. As I was reading this post, just like all of your other posts that I have read, they flow well and I am able to see the stories very plainly in minds eye.

    Like

  2. Thanks for the fantastic story. It is a perfect example of what our men are made of.

    Like

  3. Wow, that made every inch of the skin on my arms stand up in goosebumps! Such a story…told so well. Awesome.

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  4. Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. What an incredible story!

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  6. An absolutely amazing story. It’s like reading a book you can’t put down. No wonder the story was snatched up and repeated. You could have given me a kleenex alert, though!! 🙂

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  7. An incredible story of bravery and camaraderie. Good to see that both pilots were honoured, eventually.

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  8. I can hardly even process this. Amazing! God sure lined up the right guy to help him at the right time.

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  9. There is no end to the unbelievably brave things these men did.

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  10. That’s a hell of a way to land a plane. And, thanks again for the link inclusion!

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  11. Wow, what an amazing story!

    Like

  12. Reblogged this on USNA or Bust! and commented:
    Here’s what’s in your future when you graduate from USNA

    Like

  13. That is an amazing story. The result of believing in the impossible. I’ve reblogged to my USNA candidate blog–let them see what they’re in for.

    Like

  14. What a heart-wrenching story… Somebody call me an eye plumber cuz something busted loose.

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  15. What a great story. You have a wonderful site and I’m glad to have found it, we need to know how much had been done for us. Thanks for visiting my blog. I look forward to reading your posts!

    Like

  16. Oh my, that is an amazing story!!!

    Like

  17. Also this was in our paper yesterday MILLIGAN, James William (Jim) Service Number 172486, Brigade Band (BCOF) 2NZEF (Japan) – 3/1/2014
    at Christchurch Hospital, aged 92 years.

    Like

  18. Ye gods …

    (A now horribly dated short novel that I rediscovered when having a tidy-out over Christmas, Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The Shepherd’. I still like it, one plane shepherding another in …)

    Like

  19. Just watched the movie trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxhvK4ABoVU Amazing story. I wonder how many of your followers remember watching the movie. I used to love reading Michener.

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  20. Now that is a great flying story of skill and courage. Never read this before so happy that you published this.

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  21. Oh what an emotional experience that was… Firstly I had shivers all over and then burst into tears as Mr Thayer was landing his buddy… : cry: A beautiful and heart warming story… Many thanks.

    Like

  22. Not every blogger likes to fool with awards, but I’m giving you the ABC AWARD. You already have a bunch of followers, I know you don’t need it, but I want to encourage my new followers to come read your blog and see what a great job you do. If you are an award free blog, just know I think you and your blog are top notch.

    Like

    • Yes, I am award free because I feel this site is owned by the veterans for the veterans, and dedicated to my father. I am simply supplying facts – they supplied the courage, blood and guts! I thank you very much for the honor and sincerely hope you do NOT take my refusal personally. Tell your followers to come see if there is anything they like here, your interests should be their interests, don’t you think?

      Like

  23. I love your blog, this was such a compelling read. Well written, always so informative. Keep up the fantastic work, you do a great job.

    Like

  24. Wonderful story. Inbcredible skill on the part of both pilots – the one giving directions as well as the one receiving them. Talk about coolness in a crisis! A special breed of men.

    Like

  25. I don’t think I could ever be that brave! I’d never make it as a soldier, which is why I so admire the men and women who do!

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    • Military service isn’t for everyone, but sometimes we never know just how much we can become unless we try. I don’t think everyone in the service during these Pacific Wars really thought of themselves as soldier material – but look what they accomplished!!

      Like

  26. What a heroic tale! Just shows how much can be accomplished by working together.

    Like

  27. I read about these guys recently . The escort pilot told the blinded pilot to lower his landing gear . The blinded guy told him , no , he’d have a better chance landing on his belly . Amazing story of optimism and good luck , loyalty and courage .

    Like

  28. Amazing story, and think of how many we don’t know, and we’ll never know.

    It’s a little sad to contemplate we lost a lot of first person account, but we take some consolation in the fact the people to whom these acts intimately mattered knew and remembered.

    Like

  29. Great story and the kind that makes me cry!

    Like

  30. It doesn’t appear that the video is available anymore. It was apparently available on VHS at one point.

    Like

  31. Now you’ve done it. I’m going to have to find out if that movie is still available and watch it!

    Like

  32. That’s amazing. You would think a blinded pilot was done for!

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  33. Inspirational and what a classy comment when Schechter received his medal and wonder what the politics were behind Thayer’s family not receiving his for another 14 years…

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    • That does seem odd to me too, but we still have men receiving their due medals now that earned them in WWII! So, maybe his case just fell thru the cracks (like they say).

      Like

  34. What a grand account of terror, mate-ship, camaraderie, strength – not a single war movie I see from now on will make me say “It’s just acting, pretend…” – unbelievable this actually do happen, have happened.

    Like

  35. Fact can be so strange – if Hollywood scripted this, who would believe. Both men were heroes – keeping so calm throughout. That takes steel nerves, absolute confidence in their airmanship and so much more.

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring tale.

    Like

  36. A great story. Thanks for blogging it.

    Like

  37. A great story and tribute to both pilots, thanks of sharing this.

    Like

  38. Yay it let me like something at last! Fascunating story, I love how you are educating me 🙂

    Like

  39. An amazing story – thank you for sharing.
    Lillian

    Like

  40. Pierre Lagacé

    Great story.

    Like

  41. Where is that exactly??

    Like

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