TRIBUTE TO THE AMERICAN COMBAT GLIDER PILOTS OF WORLD WAR II

                                                         

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DEDICATION

 

This site is dedicated to all the American and Allied Combat Glider Pilots of World War II 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glider Pilot Wings

 

I have fought a good fight,

I have finished my course

I have kept the faith.

           -- Timothy 2:4:7

 

The decorations appearing on these dedication pages were earned by the American Combat Glider Pilots of WWII.  Link to Pentagon webpage with descriptions of combat decorations:  Medals.

 

        The American Combat Glider Pilots of World War II numbered less than 6,000.  They fought in Europe, the Pacific, the China/Burma/India Theater and they flew many special missions that remained classified for decades following the war.  Their contribution to victory was far in excess of what their numbers suggest and they received less recognition than they deserved for the dangerous service they performed.  The military high command at the time considered them a "necessary nuisance," in the words of one Glider Pilot, and their brave actions were often lost in the after-action shuffle amongst the much larger numbers of the paratroopers alongside whom they fought as infantry once on the ground.  

 

The Silver Star

The highest combat decoration awarded to any Glider Pilot for bravery in combat.  The only decorations higher are the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.   The Silver Star was established by an Act of Congress on July 9, 1918. It is awarded to a person serving in any capacity with the Army who is cited for gallantry in action with marked distinction against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.

 

 

        Unlike their British counterparts who were fully-integrated members of the airborne units they took into combat, the American Glider Pilots were organized into separate units.  Once they landed, the American pilots' original orders were to make their way back to the rear immediately because their numbers would have become significantly depleted from death and injury during each mission and their specialized training and scarcity made them too valuable to risk in additional combat.  These orders were usually impossible to follow since their insertion points (also known as drop zones) were often behind enemy lines.  Their only choice was to remain and fight, as did the British Glider Pilots, with the infantry until the main Allied units established contact.  

 

The Distinguished Flying Cross

Earned by many Glider Pilots.  This award is for actions of exceptional courage in completing a combat mission in the face of enemy fire.

 

        

        Their fragile craft made of wood, canvas and metal tubing (often built under government contract by furniture companies and, ironically, by a casket company) performed duties that today are handled by helicopters.  They carried troops, vehicles, artillery, ammunition and supplies.  The British had a larger glider, the "Hamilcar," so big that it could carry a light tank.  They flew into combat at low altitude through skies filled with anti-aircraft fire before they released from their tow planes.  As they were towed in, they flew so close to the ground that they were easy targets even for small arms fire from enemy troops trained to shoot at low-flying aircraft.    

 

The Air Medal

Awarded for exceptional performance of an aviation

 mission under hazardous circumstances.

 

       Besides being fragile and completely vulnerable aircraft, gliders "had to be flown all the time," in the words of one Glider  Pilot.  Their air performance characteristics made them unforgiving aircraft, especially as they flew through the often violent prop wash of their tow planes.  Unlike recreational soaring gliders, these gliders could gain no altitude and their air speed dropped off considerably after their release making them even easier targets for ground fire.  These brave pilots suffered casualties far in excess of those of most other combat specialties.  When they lifted off on their one-way combat missions, they knew that at least one in every five of their number would probably be killed or wounded.  

 

The Bronze Star

Established by Executive Order 9419 on February 4, 1944 and is awarded to a person serving in any capacity with the United States Army after December 6, 1941 who distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement while engaged in military operations involving conflict against an armed enemy.

 

 

The Presidential Unit Citation  

Awarded to units of the United States Army and their allies for exhibiting extraordinary heroism as a unit in such a way as to set the unit apart from other units.  Known as "The Distinguished Unit Citation" during WWII, it was later renamed "The Presidential Unit Citation."

 

        The following Troop Carrier Groups earned the Presidential Unit Citation:   61st, 64th, 313th, 314th, 315th, 316th, 317th, 434th, 435th, 436th, 437th, 438th, 439th, 440th, 441st, 442nd, and 443rd. 

 

 


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