Local Congress members aim to get Medal of Honor for Korean War pilot nicknamed the ‘original Top Gun’

Seventy years ago this fall in the skies over North Korea, U.S. Navy fighter pilot Royce Williams did what many experts say is one of the greatest feats in aviation history. For 35 minutes, he engaged alone in an air battle with seven Soviet MiG-15 pilots, crashing at least four aircraft before fleeing to land his badly damaged F9F-5 Panther aircraft on a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Captain Williams’s air heroism has been a legend for decades among pilots coming from the Navy’s Top Gun school, and the incident was recorded in Soviet Union military history. But no trace of Williams’s bold flight on November 18, 1952, exists in the US military archives.

Instead of acknowledging an air battle that might have had the effect of withdrawing the Soviets to the Korean War, the U.S. Navy and National Security Agency deleted the dogfight from its records, and Williams swore to secrecy for longer. more than 50 years. As a result, when the nation awarded 146 Medals of Honor to the U.S. military for extraordinary bravery in the Korean War, Williams did not enter the list.

But last week, all five members of the U.S. Congressional delegation in San Diego joined forces to bring not only Williams’s heroism to the public’s attention, but also to correct what they see as a historic mistake. Members of Congress Darrell Issa, Scott Peters, Sara Jacobs, Juan Vargas and Mike Levin are preparing an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to include the Williams Medal of Honor.

A print signed by prominent military aviation artist Stan Stokes, displayed on a wall in veteran Royce Williams’s home, depicts a US Navy F9F-5 Panther fighter jet, which was the aircraft Williams flew in a seven-fight battle. Soviet MiG-15 fighter jets, seen at the top.

(Charlie Neuman / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Now 97 years old and long retired, Williams lives in a picturesque mountain home in the Escondido’s Hidden Meadows community. Spinal cord injuries from a plane crash long ago in El Centro make it difficult for Williams to maneuver around his home, but his memory of 1952 dog fighting remains as fresh today as it was seven decades ago. first. Asked how it would feel to be awarded the Medal of Honor now, Williams takes a few seconds to consider his answer.

“If it happened, I would be horrified,” Williams said Monday. “I wish my father knew. It meant even more to my friends to know that I finally got it. ”

Over the past eight years, retired administrator Doniphan “Don” Shelton of Del Mar repeatedly tried to get Marina and the Department of Defense to award Williams the medal, but Shelton died last October. The effort of the newly assembled delegation, nicknamed “Operation Reward Only”, is now seen as the last chance to take the Williams medal before he dies.

A trophy box with military decorations hangs on the wall of E. Royce Williams's house in Escondido.

A trophy box with military decorations hangs on the wall of E. Royce Williams’s house in Escondido. The only honor Williams has escaped is the Medal of Honor.

(Charlie Neuman / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Royce Williams is a hero like no other, and his extraordinary courage and bravery in battle is a story that everyone should know,” Issa said in a statement. “His acquaintance with the Congressional Medal of Honor is overdue and we will do it.”

But even with the support of the bipartisan delegation, awarding the medal is not something certain. Steve Lewandowski, a Navy veteran from Del Mar who helped Shelton’s efforts for three years, said he believes Williams’ chances of winning the medal are only about 75 percent. But he hopes that will be enough.

“This is it … ‘once again to the point of violation.’ It’s a tough effort, with zero resources, but it’s the right thing to do. This old man should have been known for this incredible brawl, when honestly someone else would have run to the other side. He is the real Top Gun, “said Lewandowski, a former commander of the American Legion Post 416 in Encinitas.

On a warm day in Escondido, 97-year-old war veteran Royce Williams, left, sits down with friend Steve Lewandowski.

On a warm afternoon, 97-year-old war veteran Royce Williams, left, listens as U.S. Legion member and friend Steve Lewandowski talks about trying to give Royce the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism as a Navy pilot during residence in Korea. War.

(Charlie Neuman / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Meeting 7v1

Since early childhood in South Dakota, Williams said he and his brother dreamed of growing up to fly airplanes. They got their wish after enrolling for combat duty after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Williams was still in flight training when World War II ended, but he stayed in the Navy and while finishing a college degree in Minnesota, Korea. the conflict began. After training to fly the F9F-5 Panther, Williams flew overseas and was eventually assigned to provide air support for a fleet of carriers outside the North Korean coastal city of Chongjin, about 100 miles south of the Russian city of Vladivostok.

On November 18, 1952, Williams said he and three other Panther pilots had been assigned to conduct combat air patrols along the Yalu River, which divided North and Soviet Korean territories. At the time, the Soviets were not involved in the war and were not seen as a threat, but they had sent more planes into the sky to protect their airspace.

As he climbed through the snow clouds below 12,000 feet, Williams said he and his patrol team learned that seven unidentified planes were approaching at a high altitude. Meanwhile, the captain of the American patrol with four planes had a problem with the engine, so he and his arm returned to the ship, leaving behind Williams and his arm. As unidentified aircraft flew overhead, Williams recognized them as Soviet MiG-15s.

He and his wing were instructed to turn in the direction of the fleet and erect an air barricade to protect the ships, but Williams and his fellow pilot quickly found themselves “trapped” at 26,000 feet by MiGs and four of them. started firing in the direction of the ships. two navy aircraft. Williams’ wing broke away and returned safely to the fleet, but Williams was blocked.

Suddenly, Williams found himself facing incomprehensibly long-term chances of surviving a “7v1” encounter, meaning seven planes against one. He describes the next 35 minutes as an endless battle of strategy and constant maneuvering to avoid hitting from behind, while taking He said he was so busy thinking he had no time to be afraid.

Royce Williams, 97, holds a model of the F9F-5 Panther Navy aircraft with which he flew in an air combat in the Korean War.

Royce Williams, 97, from Escondido holds a model of the F9F-5 Panther navy aircraft, with which he flew in an air battle in the Korean War.

(Charlie Neuman / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I was mentally engaged at the time. For the most part it was the awareness of where they were and how I had to maneuver to avoid them. They took turns. I decided if I was going to focus on knocking them down, then I would become an easy target. “So my initial goal was to look for defensive opportunities when they made mistakes,” he said.

Lewandowski said the Williams air battle is now known as the longest fight in Navy history.

“Before that, the longest was five minutes,” Lewandowski said. “Even in the most extreme circumstances, pilots know that if you can run, you run. And you only train for 3 to 1. Walking 7 to 1 is beyond imagination. ”

Eventually, Williams ran out of ammunition and cannon fire from a MiG took control of his steering wheel and hydraulics. By that time, only one of the seven original Soviet aircraft was still in the air with him. He managed to escape by playing cat with mouse in the cloud with MiG up to fleet defense. After landing, he counted 263 holes in his plane, but was not injured.

The story of his clash closed immediately, but a few weeks later Williams was invited to have a private meeting with President-elect Dwight Eisenhower in Seoul, South Korea. Williams said he shared a cocktail with Eisenhower – who had come to visit the troops to fulfill a campaign promise – but they never discussed dog fighting as “officially, it never happened”.

The forgotten hero

Williams continued to serve in the Navy for another 23 years, including flying 110 missions in the Vietnam War. He retired in 1975 with a showcase full of medals including the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Legion of Merit with the “V” fight. According to him, he never told anyone about dog fighting – not even his wife, Camilla, or his pilot brother – until the early 2000s, when Korean War records were officially declassified.

Although declassified U.S. documents on the Korean War have no record of dog fighting, the air battle was written in detail in Soviet documents. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, those records were published.

Russian military historian Igor Seidov wrote about dog fighting in his 2014 book “Red Devils on Yalu: A Chronicle of Soviet Air Operations in the Korean War.” He wrote that of the seven MiGs that left Vladivostik that morning, only one returned to base. Four were shot down by a single American plane, one plane was shot down and crashed on the way back, and the seventh plane was never found.

After reading Seidov’s book, adm. Shelton began his campaign for Williams to receive the Medal of Honor. Lewandowski said Shelton collected signatures of support from nearly 100 Navy, Navy and Army flag officers, as well as resolutions from the U.S. Legion and the Outstanding Flying Cross Association. But by not involving members of Congress early enough in the process of receiving a medal awarded by Congress, Shelton’s efforts ultimately failed.

Lewandowski said there are still obstacles to overcome, as Marina and the Department of Defense have already twice rejected the application. But Lewandowski said he hopes the battle for the medal can now take place in the court of public opinion and the support of the bipartisan coalition will turn the tide.

“What we are conveying is that this should happen not now, but now,” Lewandowski said. “He is the real deal and our country is thirsty for heroes. “We have to get his price for it before it’s too late.”

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Local Congress members aim to get Medal of Honor for Korean War pilot nicknamed the ‘original Top Gun’ Source link Local Congress members aim to get Medal of Honor for Korean War pilot nicknamed the ‘original Top Gun’

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