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Henry Eugene "Red" Erwin, Sr
Birth: May 8, 1921
Adamsville
Jefferson County
Alabama, USA
Death: Jan. 16, 2002
Birmingham
Jefferson County
Alabama, USA

World War II Medal of Honor Recipient. He received the award in June 1945 at the US military hospital in Guam for his actions as a staff sergeant in the 52nd Bombardment Squadron, US Army Air Forces on April 12, 1945, on board a B-29 Superfortress bomber aircraft over Koriyama, Japan. Born into a poor family, his father died when he was young. Following the US entry into World War II on December 7, 1941, he joined the US Army Reserves. In February 1943 he was originally activated into the US Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet but transferred to a technical school at Keesler Airfield (now Keesler Air Force Base), followed by further training as a radio operator and mechanic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Madison, Wisconsin. In 1944 he was assigned to the 52nd Bombardment Squadron at Dalhart, Texas and in early 1945 he was sent with his unit to the Pacific Theater of Operations where he participated in combat air missions over Japan and was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. During a low-level bombing run over a chemical plant at Koriyama, Japan on April 12, 1945, he was dropping phosphorus smoke bombs when one of them malfunctioned and prematurely ignited the device, which flew up into his face and blinded him while filling the aircraft with smoke. He managed to carry the burning canister to the cockpit to throw out an open window and he was gravely burned during the process. The aircraft recovered and returned to its base in Iwo Jima, where he received initial medical treatment and was then evacuated to Guam for additional treatment. Amazingly, he survived. Following his medical treatment in Guam, he returned to the US and underwent an additional 41 surgeries over a 30-month period that eventually restored his eyesight and the use of one arm. In October 1947 he was medically discharged at the rank of master sergeant and worked as a benefits counselor at the Veterans Administration hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he received the Purple Heart, the Air Medal (with one oak leaf cluster), the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with two campaign stars), and the World War II Victory Medal. In 1997, the US Air Force established the Henry E. Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award in his honor. He died at the age of 80. His Medal of Honor citation reads: "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Henry Eugene "Red" Erwin, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in action as the radio operator of a B-29 airplane in the 52d Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group (VH), 314th Bombardment Wing, Twentieth Air Force, leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan, on 12 April 1945. Staff Sergeant Erwin was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphoresce smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the launching point was reached. Upon entering the assembly area, aircraft fire and enemy fighter opposition was encountered. Among the phosphoresce bombs launched by Staff Sergeant Erwin, one proved faulty, exploding in the launching chute, and shot back into the interior of the aircraft, striking him in the face. The burning phosphoresce obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. Staff Sergeant Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and feeling his way, instinctively, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot's window. He found the navigator's table obstructing his passage. Grasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unleashed the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot's compartment. Groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared, the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the plane out of its dive. Staff Sergeant Erwin's gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades." His story was included in the 1951 war film "The Wild Blue Yonder." (bio by: William Bjornstad) 
 
Inscription:
SSGT US ARMY AIR CORPS 52 BBSQD. 29TH BB GRP. 20TH AIR FORCE WORLD WAR II
 
Burial:
Elmwood Cemetery
Birmingham
Jefferson County
Alabama, USA
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Bobby
Record added: Jul 06, 2003
Find A Grave Memorial# 7658512
Henry Eugene Red Erwin, Sr
Added by: Historian
 
Henry Eugene Red Erwin, Sr
Added by: William Bjornstad
 
Henry Eugene Red Erwin, Sr
Added by: Anonymous
 
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- sjm
 Added: May. 8, 2016

- bob tarte
 Added: Jan. 16, 2016

- sjm
 Added: Jan. 16, 2016
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