68 years ago: the 362nd FG’s mission of mercy

In a change of pace, the 379th Fighter Squadron flew a mission of mercy on December 9, 1944. The 90th Infantry Division had crossed the Moselle River, but had then been cut off by the Germans in a small woods shaped like a horseshoe, according to Lt. Robert Searl, and they were unable to move up supplies, most importantly much-needed blood plasma. Volunteers were requested from the 379th; four P-47s carried plasma and medical supplies in modified drop tanks, while a second flight provided cover. “The weather was lousy with barely enough visibility that our mercy mission leader, Capt. Charles Brokaw, could find the exact spot (for the drop) and we could keep each other in sight,” wrote Searl. “Brokaw led the blood plasma flight, which had to pinpoint their drops in the open end of the ‘U.’” Brokaw and his wingman, Lt. Brandon Nuttall, planned to go in first while Searl waited with his wingman, Lt. Charles Everett, just across the river with the cover flight. “The drop had to be made as close as possible to the tree line so that our infantrymen would have the least exposure while retrieving the medical supplies. Brokaw got his tanks right on target and (Nuttall’s) were just a little out from the forest edge.” After Red One and Two got back across the Moselle, the second element made its drop pass. “Obviously our infantrymen didn’t expect a second pass as my tanks almost hit some of them who had come out to get Red One and Two’s drop,” Searl said. “After release, we’d hug the ground and make a turn away. Luckily for us, the Germans did not have much anti-aircraft artillery to shoot at us. However, they began shooting up a barrage of mortar shells over the open field which we had to pass over on our way out of the drop zone. It looked like the field was a volcano erupting before us. My wingman’s tanks would not release when he pulled the lever, so we went back four or five times with no success. Brokaw and I knew from experience that it was almost certain they would never release, but (Lt. Everett) was so committed to getting those emergency supplies to the troops that we let him try at least 10 passes, still passing through mortar barrages, to no avail. The flight leaders were awarded distinguished flying crosses, and the wingmen the air medal for this mission.”

Officially, confusion remains about this mission. A commendation sent by Major General J.A. Fleet, commander of the 90th Infantry Division, and further endorsed by Headquarter, Third U.S. Army, the 100th Fighter Wing and the 362 FG, to the Commanding Officer of the 379th FS lists the participants as Capt. Brokaw, Lt. Dwayne Thwing, Everett and Lt. James W. Nance. Undoubtedly, some of these men were in the cover flight,

The 377th Fighter Squadron was unable to see targets because of the overcast, and they fired 12 rockets and dropped eight bombs blindly through the clouds near Zweibrucken.

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