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    Purple Heart for Lieutenant Pax!

    Purple Heart for Lieutenant Pax!

    Courtesy Photo | August 7 is Purple Heart Day. The Purple Heart medal is presented to service members...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    142nd Wing

    Today is National Purple Heart Day, which is celebrated each August 7. It is a time to remember the cost of freedom and the service and sacrifice necessary to protect our land and people.

    From the Disabled Veterans National Foundation website, this description of the award and the day:


    George Washington awarded the original Purple Heart, designated as a Badge of Merit, in 1782. There was a lack of funds in the Continental Army at the time so the award was a way to honor enlisted and deserving people. The honor is presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” It was designed with a piece of silk bound through it with a thin edge of silver.

    Washington only gave out three of the badges himself, and instead authorized subordinates to issue the badges as they saw fit. The Badge of Merit faded from use but was revived and launched in 1932, this time as the Purple Heart. As well as honoring those wounded in combat, this iteration of the Purple Heart recognized commendable action. It was in 1944 that the policy was tweaked slightly and the Purple Heart was given the purpose we know it for today, specifically to honor those who have been wounded or died.

    The first service member to be given the modern Purple Heart was General Douglas MacArthur for his service in the Pacific theater during World War II. In total there have been 1.8 million Purple Hearts awarded over the years. Purple Heart Day was first observed in 2014 and has been observed every year since. It’s a chance to reflect on the bravery of those who have fought for the U.S. and to ensure that their courage is never forgotten.”

    Purple Hearts of the 142nd Wing we take time on this day to remember the personnel assigned to the 142nd Wing through its 80-year history who were awarded this medal. According to partial records in the wing history office, around 60 men were awarded the Purple Heart, almost all during World War II. See “The Wing’s First Purple Heart,” at:

    Most Purple Heart recipients are from when the wing was designated as the 371st Fighter Group, a P-47 Thunderbolt Group in the European Theater of Operations, but some are from the 123nd Fighter Squadron, mostly when it was designated as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron which saw service in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations.

    First Lieutenant Henry A. Pax
    This year we share some information on one of our Purple Heart recipients, First Lieutenant Henry A. Pax, assigned to the 371st Fighter Group’s 406th Fighter Squadron. Henry Pax was an original member of the 406th Fighter Squadron who shipped across the Atlantic with his squadron and group in late-February, 1944. By September, 1944, he had flown in combat for about six months and had seen much action.
    At this phase in the war, the 371st Fighter Group, part of XIX Tactical Air Command, was supporting General George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army, which was having a tough time against stiffening German resistance around Metz, France, after its epic dash across France after the breakout from Normandy.

    The group was still then based at Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-6 in Normandy, a.k.a. Beuzeville, Ste Mère Eglise or La Londe, a long way from Third Army which had reached eastern France after the Normandy breakout in late July, 1944. Due to this, the group utilized a forward operating base where it could refuel at, then attack the enemy, return to refuel, and rearm and strike the enemy again before heading back to A-6. Flying back-to-back combat missions made for a long day.

    Purple Heart Day
    On September 12, 1944, the group, including 12 P-47 Thunderbolt fighters from Lt Pax’s 406th Fighter Squadron, launched from A-6 at 0745 on a mission to support Third Army’s 7th Armored Division in the Metz area as part of the U.S. Army’s Northern France Campaign. Each Thunderbolt was armed with a single 500-lb bomb and eight .50-caliber machine guns loaded for action. The mission was led by the squadron commander, Maj. Philip E. Bacon, Jr. After refueling at ALG-76, at Athis, France, the P-47s took off at 1150, to target areas about 20 minutes flying time away, where they worked various targets from 1210 to 1320 hours. At the request of the controller “Gasket,” Lt. Pax’s squadron attacked three enemy gun positions with one flight of four P-47s (four bombs) hitting each position. Results were unobserved, perhaps due to the smoke and dust raised by the high explosive bombs and/or locations in wooded areas. Gasket then vectored the squadron to the town of Féy, just southwest of Metz, France where enemy tank concentrations were reported. The fighters found vehicles in Fey and strafed them, with columns of thick black smoke rising from some 10-plus vehicles scattered in the town. Although no tanks were observed, they may have been nearby as the Thunderbolts were given a warm reception with enemy anti-aircraft fire, flak, described as “Intense, accurate, light (caliber). (Note: The word ‘flak’ is an abbreviation for the German word ‘Fliegerabwehrkanone,’ which means 'aircraft-defense gun.'

    It was likely at this point in the mission when Lt. Pax reported over the radio “I’ve been hit, I’m on our side of the Moselle River heading home.” The guns on the ground that damaged his aircraft and wounded him may well have been defending something more than 10-plus scattered vehicles in town – tanks may have been in the area to warrant such a stinging defense.

    In any event, Lt. Pax was fortunate to survive the flak and be able to nurse his stricken aircraft back toward friendly territory. He got it back about 30 miles and crash-landed seven miles northwest of Commercy, France, around 70 miles short of A-76.

    As for what happened next, Lt. Pax’ granddaughter Rachel Pax Mingea fondly recalls how her “Papaw” shared a remembrance about the incident: “Once during the war, Henry was told to strafe Germans in France in his single-pilot plane and when he came across a convoy at a road and shot at them, they shot his wing. He could not bail out and came down in some woods. He said that there was a beekeeper there with a wagon and that the beekeeper used the knife that he was using on his hives to remove frames from the hive and used them to cut the straps on Henry's seat so he could haul him out of the plane. Henry had hit his head on the gun sites (he said). When the guy took him in his cart to a place where there was some kind of army base Henry said that he was looking around at the uniforms and they were not Germans! He spent maybe a month there with time to recover and said it was OK because there was wine at least.“

    In gratitude to his rescuer, Pax gave his wristwatch to the French farmer. Aftermath Flak was the nemesis of the P-47 Thunderbolts tasked with air-to-ground missions. P-47 Historian Jon Bernstein ‘s book, P-47 Thunderbolt -vs- German Flak Defenses (Osprey, 2021)
    states that P-47 losses in the E.T.O. were three times higher from flak compared to fighters. The most common light flak weapon P-47 pilots faced was the 20mm Flak 38 which came in a single barrel and also a four-barrel (vierling) version. This weapon could fire a high-explosive tracer shell (Sprenggranatepatrone) out to an effective range of about 2,000 yards, or one nautical mile, at a rate of 700-800 rounds per minute. Such weapons never really prevented a massed fighter-bomber attack, as seen on September 12 in and near Fey, but the guns did make it costly in men and machines. One other P-47 of the 371st Fighter Group made it back to home base that day with severe battle damage and was written off.

    The 371st Fighter Group’s Operations Report (OpRep A) for 12 September noted “Lt Pax seriously wounded by flak in todays (sic) action…now in 39th Evacuation Hospital with facial cuts and possible concussion.”

    Pax was one of over 91,000 US Army casualties admitted and treated by the 39th Evacuation Hospital during World War II. He was at the hospital during its September stay at a road intersection near Vertusey, France. The 406th Fighter Squadron history for September, 1944 shows that Lt. Pax’s duty status changed to absent, at the 39th Evacuation Hospital after being seriously wounded in action on September 12. The same history stated he returned to duty in the 406th Fighter Squadron on September 21, 1944.

    As one of the original members of the squadron, it wasn’t too long before Lt. Pax earned his ticket back Stateside, probably having accumulated sufficient combat hours to warrant rotation back to the Zone of the Interior (USA). The squadron’s history report for November, 1944 states that Capt. (Donald) Ross, Lts. (Charles C.) Borden, (George) Gallow (Jr.) and (Henry A.) Pax transferred to the 127th Replacement Battalion on November 23, 1944. Mention of their imminent transfer was first stated on November 17. Not many of the original pilots of the squadron were left by then in the war, though ample numbers of replacements were assigned to replace them.

    So ended Lt. Henry A. Pax’s combat tour in the E.T.O. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a combat mission he flew on July 27, 1944 (in which his aircraft was heavily damaged by flak) and the Air Medal with multiple Oak Leaf Clusters. He eventually returned to farming and lived a full life without any apparent long-term ill-effects from his wounds over France on that September day in 1944. He passed away on October 10, 2001 at the age of 81. On this Purple Heart Day, 2023, we salute Purple Heart recipient 1st Lt. Henry A. Pax, the other Purple Heart recipients of the 142nd Wing and all the men and women who were awarded this medal. We should remember them all with gratitude for what they did to protect our community, state and nation. A special thank you to Mrs. Rachel Pax Mingea, Lt. Pax’s granddaughter, for her help with details and images of the story and to Mr. John Berstein for additional information about the P- 47 Thunderbolt, details from 406th Fighter Squadron records and about German flak capabilities.



    Date Taken: 08.07.2023
    Date Posted: 08.07.2023 10:54
    Story ID: 450829

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