Sunday, June 3, 2018

WW2 Fallen - Medal of Honor hero and B-17 gunner Archibald Mathies

Ball turret gunner Sgt. Archibald Mathies successfully flew his bomber back to England  but despite guidance of another bomber (depicted in this painting by David Poole) was not able to land safely.
Archibald Mathies never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.

He was born on June 3, 1918 in Scotland. His parents William (who was his stepfather) and Mary were also both born in Scotland and came to America in 1921. They found a home in Pennsylvania coal country. His father worked as a coal mine foreman. Archibald had an older sister, younger sister and younger brother (who served in the Army Air Forces during WW2). By 1940 Archibald had completed four years of high school and worked as an outside laborer for the same coal mine as his father.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces on December 30, 1940. He was trained as an airplane mechanic in 1941. He wanted to fly so he volunteered for gunnery school which he completed in March 1943. He got to England in December 1944 and waited to be assigned as a replacement. He was sent to serve as a gunner in the 510th Bombardment Squadron, 351st Bombardment Group in mid-January 1944. Shortly thereafter he was promoted to staff sergeant.

He only flew two missions. On February 20, 1944, the 351st BG flew its 81st mission to bomb Leipzig. Sgt. Mathies was the engineer/ball gunner on B-17 Ten Horsepower. The bomber was attacked head on by two Me 109s as it was approaching the target. A canon shell exploded in the cockpit, killing the co-pilot and knocking out the pilot. The bomber fell into a spiraling dive, pinning the other men to the sides of the plane with centrifugal force. After a drop of 15,000 feet, the top turret gunner dragged himself into the cockpit and, standing between the slumped pilots, managed to pull back the yokes and level out the plane.

Navigator Walter Truemper took over the flying and was soon joined by ball turret gunner Mathies, who had a few hours of flying experience. The bombardier had bailed, but despite the gaping hole in the cockpit, the plane was otherwise undamaged. The pilot-less crew decided to fly back to England. Sgt. Mathies did most of the flying, but with the freezing cold wind coming from head on, Lt Truemper spelled him off. They had to fly standing between the pilot seats because the co-pilot seat was directly in the path of the wind and the pilot could not be moved due to his grave injuries.

Ten Horsepower made it back to base and radioed for help in landing. The first attempt went poorly as the inexperienced Sgt. Mathies, further impaired by fatigue and wind exposure, was waived off for being too erratic. The tower ordered the crew to jump so the other five bailed out before Mathies came in for his second attempt. The base sent up a bomber to help guide his landing. His second attempt was no better than the first so the tower told Mathies to point the plane to the sea, put the plane on autopilot, and then jump. Mathies and Truemper would not leave their wounded skipper so they tried one last attempt to land the plane. It was not successful. They were both killed and the pilot only survived the crash for an hour before expiring.

Mathies and Truemper were both awarded the Medal of Honor. Walter Truemper will be profiled on his 100th birthday which is this October 31.

Here is Sgt. Mathies citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. 

The aircraft on which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. 

Sgt. Mathies and the navigator volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Sgt. Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Sgt. Mathies’ commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. 

Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts, the plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator, and the wounded pilot were killed.

His grave is at Finleyville Cemetery in Finleyville, Pennsylvania.

Thank you Archibald and Walter for your sacrifice. Let's Earn It for Archibald and Mathies.

Last year on this date I profiled Melvin Nordlund who fought at the Battle of Attu. You can read about Melvin here.

On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!

I created this video to explain why I started this project:

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WW2 Fallen 100 is supported by

The Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation

“Where Every Day is Memorial Day”

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