2LT Gordon Herbert Sterling Jr.

2LT Gordon Herbert Sterling Jr.

Ilion, Herkimer County, New York, USA
Death 7 Dec 1941 (aged 22)
Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA
Memorial Site* Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA

* A structure erected in honor of someone whose remains lie elsewhere.

Plot Courts of the Missing
Memorial ID 56132608 · View Source
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He Didn't Expect To Make It Home

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Gordon Sterling knew what he had to do.

The young Army Air Corps lieutenant was stationed at Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu on that calm December morning in 1941, when the first wave of Japanese planes launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. During a brief lull, Sterling watched as other American pilots rushed into action.

Quietly watching the drama unfold on 7 December 1941 was Second Lieutenant Gordon H. Sterling Jr., the 46th PS assistant flight engineer. Gordon had passed his flight tests but had not progressed as rapidly as the other pilots had in formation and gunnery. He saw that other P-36s were beginning to taxi out and that the P-36 Norris intended to fly was going to be left behind. The immediate need for a complete formation spurred Sterling to action.

He climbed into the idling plane, determined to fight to the finish. He gave his watch to the crew chief, Staff Sergeant Turner, and said, "Give this to my mother! I'm not coming back!"

Sterling had scheduled an afternoon date with his fiancée, 2nd Lieutenant Ada M. "Peggy" Olsson, a nurse at nearby Schofield Barracks Station Hospital. The Japanese attack canceled it.

When Sanders broke away from Fujita after the initial attack, he gained 2,000 feet of altitude, turned back toward the combat and saw Sterling behind Okamoto, firing. Sanders immediately knew that Sterling was in serious trouble because Fujita was now on Sterling's tail and closing fast. With Fujita firing at him, Sterling forgot about Okamoto's Zero and increased the dive angle. Sanders had his throttle to the stop and latched onto Fujita's tail, but he was too far away and too late. Fujita got hits all over Sterling's airplane, and it began to smoke. Fire was streaming from the aircraft as it dived through the cloudbank straight into the bay. Sanders began to register hits on Fujita's airplane, which was badly damaged. Their race for the cloudbank saved both Okamoto and Fujita and ended the action.

Sanders recalled, "Just as I closed in, he [Fujita] got a burst at Sterling, whose plane burst into flames. Four of us then went into a dive: the Japanese in front [Okamoto]; then Sterling, firing at him; then another Japanese [Fujita], and then me. We plunged into the overcast that way. I was some distance behind, and when I came out, there was no sign of the other planes. The way they had been going, they couldn't have pulled out, so it was obvious that all three went into the sea." Later, Japanese records would show that only Sterling crashed. Not knowing that, Sanders gave Sterling a victory credit over Okamoto.

NOTE: A further records investigation by the USAAF reported on March 7, 1949, "In view of the negative results of efforts to correlate this case with unknowns recovered from the pertinent area, it appears that Lt. Sterling was lost at sea, off the Oahu coast, as a result of enemy action, and under such circumstances as to preclude the possibility of recovery of his remains."

Gravesite Details Entered the service from Connecticut.


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  • Maintained by: Travis Cott
  • Originally Created by: War Graves
  • Added: 6 Aug 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial 56132608
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for 2LT Gordon Herbert Sterling Jr. (30 Jun 1919–7 Dec 1941), Find a Grave Memorial no. 56132608, citing Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA ; Maintained by Travis Cott (contributor 47324817) .