His heroism was ignored for 60 years

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by syscom3, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Getting thanked, 60 years later | huston, says, ferris, one, right - Life - OCRegister.com

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    His heroism was ignored for 60 years

    MORNING READ: Dan Huston rescued two downed airmen under fire but his story is just now being told
    By TOM BERG
    The Orange County Register

    LAGUNA BEACH In those days, they ignited 75 pounds of gunpowder to fire the catapult.

    Dan Huston sat inside a Kingfisher seaplane, waiting to be flung off the deck of the USS Colorado. In February, 1944, he was the battleship's eyes and ears.

    Three months earlier he helped sink a Japanese submarine. Now he needed to direct the battleship's 16-inch gun batteries toward Kwajalein Island – to soften Japanese defenses for a Marine assault.

    He throttled up. The catapult officer leaned down. The gunnery officer triggered the explosion. Wham.In 70 feet, Huston was airborne at 60 mph.

    What he did next has been called heroic. But it would be 60 years before anyone noticed.

    FATE

    Three city blocks. That's how long the line stretched outside the Navy enlistment office in Long Beach one day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor

    "You would've thought they were giving money away," says Huston, 87, of Laguna Beach, who was there.

    He saw his first beach assault Nov. 20, 1943, at Tarawa – the second stop in America's march across the Pacific.

    "I flew over that afternoon as a rookie pilot," he says, "and the water was red with American blood. I was so mad I would've done anything."

    He quickly got his chance. While on patrol, a Japanese sub surfaced beneath him.

    "This is Dan,"he radioed the ship. "We have a bandit on the surface and I'm attacking!"

    He loosed a 400-pound depth charge, disabling the sub in her tracks. A U.S. destroyer finished her off, sinking the sub and crew.

    Huston takes no credit for the rare achievement.

    Right place, right time, he says. Fate.

    "All these things just happened to me."

    As evidence, he offers up another story: Leyte Gulf. 1944. Two Japanese kamikaze planes roar toward the USS Colorado.

    "Next to me, elbow-to-elbow, Jessie Lee Crozier was dead before he hit the deck," Huston says. "Shrapnel from a suicide plane. And I hardly got scratched."

    It wasn't fate, however, that put Huston in harm's way Jan. 30, 1944 – one day before the invasion of Kwajalein.

    18 INCHES OF WATER

    Fighter planes get the glory. Bombers get the glory. Scout planes? They get the grunt work.

    Neither fast nor sleek. Nor heavily armed. They fly alone, scouring the ocean for enemy ships and subs – protecting the fleet. On this day, Huston was sent just off-shore to direct fire from the USS Colorado.

    "We learned to get out of the way quickly," he says.

    And that's what he did when he saw 30 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers – the backbone of the U.S. fleet – swarm in to light up the Japanese-held island.

    "Here they come when an anti-aircraft shell hit smack in the engine of this dive bomber," he says. "Direct hit. It stalled out. And luckily, blessedly, out blossoms two chutes – one for the pilot and one for the radioman."

    If the wind blew them to shore, they'd be shot. Huston watched the chutes drift. Closer. Closer. Fifty feet from shore – within rifle range– the men splashed down.

    "We can taxi in 18 inches of water," he says of the old pontoon planes. "I spun around for a rescue."

    END AROUND

    Huston put his Kingfisher down in the shallow water. His radioman jumped out and, under fire, helped the dive bomber's radioman first. Together, they grabbed the badly burned pilot, who was too injured to remove his own parachute.

    "We were taking hits," Huston says. "I wanted to get out of there."

    With three men hanging onto his pontoon, he taxied all the way out to a destroyer escort and delivered the crew.

    For 60 years, that was the end of the story. Then one day airman Jack Ferris, now 85, of Laguna Hills, heard about it at a meeting of old airmen.

    "I thought it was one of the most heroic things I ever heard of," says Ferris, who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) as a B-24 navigator. "This guy flew right into the old Japs to rescue these guys and it wasn't something he really had to do. I thought, geesh, he should have something for that."

    Ferris asked two Congressmen for help, but was turned down: Too long ago. The witnesses have all died. Sorry.

    By now, Ferris trusted Huston's story. His facts were accurate. His dates matched. And there was no hint of self-aggrandizement in the telling.

    So Ferris did what any good navigator would do. He pulled the old end-around.

    7 FEET TALL

    If the Feds wouldn't honor Dan Huston for rescuing two men under fire, then his peers would do it themselves.

    Ferris went back to his buddies at the Orange County Chapter of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society and told them what happened.

    "We all felt ashamed that he didn't receive adequate recognition," says Ben Williams, of Laguna Beach, who earned three DFCs while flying helicopters in Vietnam.

    Williams wrote to the DFC's national board of directors asking for a certificate of recognition. The board reviewed Huston's case and last summer approved.

    Shortly after, the local chapter invited Huston out to dinner.

    Maybe it's his age. Or the stroke he's suffered. Maybe it's just the custom of his generation. But Dan Huston doesn't get overly sentimental about medals.

    "I have things hanging on the wall," he says, waving an arm – air medals and others whose names he can't recall.

    He pushes a walker past them all and returns from his bedroom carrying something else. Something closer to his heart. It's the certificate from his buddies.

    Ask him how it feels to get such recognition 60 years later, and Huston launches into talk about fate. About being at the right place at the right time.

    But ask him again and he'll level with you:

    "I felt 7 feet tall," he says. "And very grateful."

    To contact the Orange County chapter of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society, call Art Overman at 949-361-8445 or Ben Williams at 949-499-2299.

    Want to see cool stories about weird stuff? Click here to go to our new blog, offbeatoc.

    Contact the writer: 714-796-6979 [email protected]
     

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  2. Micdrow

    Micdrow “Archive”
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    Many thanks for sharing the story Syscom3. To bad it took 60 years though to be reconized.
     
  3. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Great story! That took guts and glad he recieved something for it.
     
  4. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Pretty cool story. Thanks for posting.
     
  5. Messy1

    Messy1 Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like it is well deserved!
     
  6. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Too bad it took so long for the recognition. Thanks for sharing sys.

    :salute:
     
  7. Heinz

    Heinz Active Member

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  8. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Great to hear he got just recognition; he should have had it, and the medal, 64 years ago. Thanks for sharing, Syscom3.
     
  9. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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  10. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing the story. Seems like the two pilots he rescued would have said something. He should have received this a long time ago, I guess it's better late than never.:salute:
     
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