The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest decoration to be awarded by the United States. It is awarded to an individual who, while engaged in conflict with an enemy force, distinguishes himself for valor at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty. It is usually presented to the recipient by the President in the name of Congress.

On May 27, 1979, the Royal Palm Memorial Gardens of West Palm Beach, Florida, held a special memorial service honoring six recipients of the award who live in Florida. The six were: Captain David McCampbell of Lake Worth, WWII; Fred W. Zabitosky of St. Petersburg, Vietnam; Samuel M. Sampler of Ft. Myers, France, WWI; Ronald E. Rosser of Royal Palm Beach, Korea; Captain Drew D. Dix of Tampa, Vietnam; and Sgt Maynard H. (Snuffy) Smith of St Petersburg, WWII. Smith was a B-17 gunner and the first Army Air Corps enlisted man to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

I met Maynard Smith and felt we had a lot in common as we were both gunners. He was gracious enough to give me a copy of his personal experience on his terrifying first combat mission which earned him the Medal of Honor. Smith, born in Caro, Michigan, was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 306th Bomb Group (H) as a B-17 combat gunner. Maynard Smith personally describes his experience on his first mission in his own words. Wayland Mayo, website historian


It was my first trip out. In those days the saying went " the first time out you were due back, the second time out you're not coming back". Why? Well, we were running about 50 percent losses then. It was May 1, 1943, and our mission was to bomb St. Nazaire, France. Thirty six B-17's went out. This was a major effort at the time.

We were hit by FW-190's prior to the target. Eighty-eight-mm flak hit our left wing . It cut the wing tank off. Gasoline poured into the airplane and caught fire. I was in the ball turret. At this point I had lost my electrical controls and I knew something was wrong. I manually cranked the thing around, opened the armored hatch and got back in the airplane when I saw it was on fire. The radioman became excited and jumped out the window without a parachute. At this point we dropped our bombs. It was minus 50 degrees outside.

After we made the drop, the pilot took the plane down real fast. They shot down probably eight or nine of our planes on their first attack. We lost our formation.

We got down to 2,000 feet when one of the waist gunners panicked and tried to bail out but got caught on a .50 caliber gun. He jumped high, the stabilizer hit him and he must have broke into a dozen pieces.

I took my oxygen mask off as the system was knocked out. All the radio equipment was on fire, wires were burning everywhere. I proceeded to put out the fire with fire extinguishers and water bottles. I did the best I could while being shot at. They were coming in at us from both sides. While not fighting fire, I manned the workable waist guns. Everytime they would make a swoop one or two more planes would go down. Eventually the fighters ran out of gas. In those days pursuit planes were limited to something like 25 minutes. We wound up with four B-17's out of the original 36.

The tail gunner came crawling out of the back. He was all shot up real bad. Blood was coming out of his mouth. He had been shot on the left side of the back. I remembered very distinctly from my classes on how to handle a situation like this. I laid him down, gave him a couple of shots of morphine which put him to sleep immediately. By doing this, he lived, I am very thankful for that.

In the meantime, the plane started to go down and up. I went forward to find the pilot and co-pilot pretty well shot up. I put some tourniquets on them so they could maintain control of the plane. I then went back to put the control cables together as we had no tail control. I remember I repaired the six wires. I then threw all the ammunition out. I didn't receive burns during all this time because I had wrapped a scarf around my face and hands for protection.

Somehow we got the plane back. The plane was riddled with about 3,500 bullet holes. It was all burned out in the center. There was nothing but the four main beams holding it together. Ten minutes after we landed--- The plane collapsed.

Story as told by Sgt. Maynard H. Smith

ctsy U.S. Army archives


SMITH, MAYNARD H. ( Air Mission)

Rank and organization. Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group. Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943. Entered service at: Caro, Mich. Born: 1911, Caro, Mich. G.O. No: 38, 12 July 1943. CITATION: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircrafts oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode. The radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then wrapped himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier's gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

COMMENT BY Wayland Mayo, website historian.

I was somewhat perplexed when Smith told me of his experience after his first mission. He said he flew four more missions, and was ordered before a medical board that found him to be suffering from "operational exhaustion". They removed him from flying status and assigned him to a non combat position and reduced his rank to private. I considered this to be highly unethical, although he did not seem concerned. After receiving the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions, to be demoted is still difficult for me to comprehend.

Maynard H. Smith, Sr. died on May 11, 1984, and is buried in section 66 of Arlington National Cemetery. May God rest his soul.
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