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crew

October 30, 1943 - The Crew of Ten Horsepower, in front of a B-17 at Alexandria, Louisiana. Kneeling, L - R: Lt. C. Richard Nelson, Flight Officer Ronald Bartley, Lt. Walter Truemper, Lt. Joe Martin. Standing, L - R: Sgt. Archie Mathies, Sgt. Joe Rex, Sgt. Carl Moore, Sgt. Russell Robinson, Sgt. Thomas Sowell, Sgt. Magnus "Mac" Hagbo.


German fighters had been attacking for more than an hour. In the bright sunlight at 20,000 feet, the B-17s of the American 351st Bomb Group had nowhere to hide. Several of the bombers had been hit. Some carried wounded crewmen.


The young men in the bombers were too busy to feel the cold. The intercoms were alive with excited voices urgently calling out fighter positions. Gun turrets spun around to face the enemy as each new attack came in. The bombers shuddered from the recoil as their guns lashed out in self-defense. Anxious gunners watched each foe, hoping to see it smoke or explode, but little time could be spared to confirm a kill. The next wave of attackers was already upon them as the previous group dove away.


Without warning, 20mm cannon shells smashed into a plane named Ten Horsepower, the number three ship of the low squadron. The copilot was killed instantly. The pilot was knocked unconscious. The crippled plane wavered unsteadily and witnesses saw the bomb bay doors open. The bombs were dropped, then a man jumped from the escape hatch below the cockpit. Finally, the bomber nosed down and fell into a steep, spiraling dive. In seconds it had fallen from view. No one in the other planes expected to see Ten Horsepower again, nor could they make any effort to help. The 351st Bomb Group continued toward the target.


From the instant the cannon shells tore open the cockpit, the lives of the men in Ten Horsepower were irrevocably altered. One was already dead; another, nearly so. In the minutes and hours to follow, these young airmen would hold their fate in their hands as they struggled to survive. Some would bail out. Others would stay with the aircraft and try to land to save their pilot. Their efforts would be humble and heroic, but by nightfall half of them would be gone. In recognition of their determination and sacrifice, these ten young men would become the most decorated crew in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.