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WWII Bombardier Gives Up Parachute, Life for Injured Comrade

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity 

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor. 

Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. David Kingsley. Air Force photo

A few days from now, we’ll mark the 73rd anniversary of the heroic actions of Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. David Kingsley, a bombardier in World War II who knowingly traded his own life for that of an injured compatriot.

Kingsley was born in 1918 and grew up in Portland, Oregon, as the second-oldest of nine siblings. When his father died in 1928 and his older brother joined the Navy to help with finances, he very quickly became “man of the house” until his mother died in 1939.

Kingsley became a firefighter in the years that followed. But then the war began, and in April 1942, the 23-year-old enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He eventually became a bombardier and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in April 1943. A year later, he was sent to Europe with the 97th Bomb Group’s 341st Squadron.

On June 23, 1944, Kingsley was serving in his role as a bombardier in a B-17 Flying Fortress on a mission to Ploesti, Romania, in which he was tasked with dropping bombs on enemy oil refineries. The mission was a success, as Kingsley’s delivery skills severely damaged vital enemy installations.

But during the flight, his aircraft was damaged by German gunfire and forced to drop out of formation. As the plane was losing altitude, it was targeted by several Messerschmitt Bf-109 enemy aircraft, damaging the plan further and seriously injuring two of the plane’s gunners.

Kingsley jumped into action, helping tend to the wounds of the gunners, one of whom was stripped of some layers of clothes and his parachute harness so he could be covered in blankets.

Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. David Kingsley. Air Force photo

The plane continued to get hit by enemy fire, so the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Kingsley continued helping the gunners, getting them ready to jump. But no one could find the parachute harness of the man who had been stripped of it. It disappeared and was believed to be damaged, anyway.

So without hesitating, Kingsley took his own harness off and attached it to the injured man. He then helped them both bail out, knowing he would be left behind. All eight crew members who were able to bail out survived.

The crew said the last they saw of Kingsley, he was standing on the bomb bay catwalk. Minutes later, the plane crashed into a heap of fire in the small village of Suhozem, Bulgaria. The bombardier’s body was later found in the wreckage, along with seven casualties who were on the ground.

Records show Kingsley was initially buried in a makeshift grave by sympathetic Bulgarians, but his body was exhumed and later laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

For the incredibly selfless actions at the cost of his own life, Kingsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 9, 1945. It was presented to his oldest brother.

Kingsley is the first and only Medal of Honor recipient from the 97th Bombardment Group, now known as the 97th Air Mobility Wing. An Air Force airfield in Oregon was named Kingsley Field in his honor in the 1950s, and in 2004, a memorial near the site where his plane crashed was dedicated to him and the seven villagers who died.

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