The Eighth Air Force continued its sustained assault on Bremen, Germany, on Dec. 20, 1943. On that day, 20-year-old SSgt. Forrest L. Vosler was serving as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard Jersey Bounce Jr., a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 303d Bomb Group’s 358th Bomb Squadron.
Vosler had been in England since October, and was on only his fourth combat mission.
Coming off the target, Jersey Bounce Jr. was heavily damaged by antiaircraft fire and drifted out of formation to become of immediate interest to predatory enemy fighters.
In the attacks that followed, a 20-mm cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, wounding Vosler in the legs and thighs. The radio was damaged and rendered inoperative. At about the same time, the tail gunner was seriously wounded by a direct hit on the tail of the plane, and his guns were put out of commission.
Vosler, realizing the need to protect the vulnerable tail of the bomber, began a steady stream of fire to take up the slack. As enemy fighters continued to swarm about the crippled bomber, a determined Vosler fought back.
A short time later, another shell exploded in the plane, hitting the sergeant in the chest and face. Refusing first aid, and with metal fragments in his eyes blurring his vision, he kept firing his guns.
Jersey Bounce Jr. survived the ordeal over the North Sea until off Cromer, England. It was there that the pilot announced his decision to ditch the limping bomber. Though blinded, Vosler managed to repair the aircraft’s battle-damaged radio entirely by touch. With the set now operating, Vosler sent out distress calls in between periods of unconsciousness.
The plane slammed into the water. Vosler groped his way, without assistance, onto a wing. There he held the severely wounded tail gunner from slipping under until the other crew members could help them both into a dinghy.
They were subsequently taken aboard a Norwegian coaster. A short time later a fast motor patrol boat directed to the vessel by air/sea rescue took the two wounded men to England.
“I don’t know what happened to the others,” Mr. Vosler said in a recent interview. “I was confined to hospitals in England until my return to the United States in March 1944.”
On his return to the US, Vosler was presented the Medal of Honor for his bravery by President Roosevelt at a White House ceremony. Vosler is one of only three Eighth Air Force enlisted men to receive the nation’s highest award during World War II.
Vosler continued to receive treatment at various hospitals until he was discharged from service in October 1944, with the rank of technical sergeant (his promotion came through two weeks after he was wounded).
Employed by a radio station while earning a college degree, in 1946 Vosler became one of the charter members of the fledgling Air Force Association’s board of national directors.
Today, he lives in Baldwinsville, N.Y.
Published March 1983. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.