No Airman left behind: The Archibald Mathies story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Reggie Manning
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part six of an eight-part series that highlights some of the men and women who have been influential in the early history of the United States Air Force. Part seven will feature Wiiliam H. Pitsenbarger.

Staff Sgt. Archibald Mathies was an airplane mechanic-gunner and flight engineer during World War ll, and also the last of four to receive the Medal of Honor in the European theater.

Born in Scotland in 1918, Mathies immigrated with his parents to Pittsburgh, Penn. Working as a coal miner, Mathies enlisted on Oct. 1, 1941, a few months before the U.S. officially entered the war.

Mathies experienced two years of training at several bases before departing for England Dec. 8, 1948. He was assigned to the 8th Air Force Replacement Depot Casual Pool, and subsequently attached to the 1st Replacement and Training Squadron. Essentially his job was to service the aircraft in air and on the ground, providing major support to the pilot and crewmembers.

During his second bombing mission on Feb. 20, 1944, it appeared as if fate was against him. On the run-way, a jeep recklessly swerved in front of the bomber causing it to veer off and become stuck in mud. Because of this delay, Mathies and his crew were forced into a back-up bomber and now in the rear end of the formation--better known as the 'The Rear-End Charlie.'

Mathies' aircraft was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters near Leipzig, Germany. With deadly forces creating rising havoc, the co-pilot dead, pilot and radio operator wounded unconscious, and the plane itself being held together by threads and a prayer, Mathies stepped up to render aid to his fallen crew.

Hurrying from manning his gun to the now bloody cockpit, Mathies used his limited piloting knowledge to take over the controls and save the aircraft from a fatal nose dive.

With the plane stabilized, Mathies and the remaining crew made it back to the airbase in Glatton, England, but there wasn't a soul on board that was experienced enough to land the aircraft safely. A commander on the ground observed the plane's condition and ordered everyone on board to parachute out and ditch the plane. Mathies refused to leave the pilot who was unconscious but still alive--no Airman left behind.

The rest of the crew jumped to safety as Mathies and Lt. Walter Truemper stayed on board with the wounded pilot, trying to figure out how to land. They attempted to land three times, but on the last go around, the plane bounced off the runway and crashed, killing all three men.

Both Mathies and Truemper were honored with the Medal of Honor for their heroic efforts.

As an aircraft mechanic and a gunner with little to no flying experience, Mathies stepped up and answered the call of duty. Thinking of everyone but himself and with ambition to save his wounded crewmember, Mathies paid the ultimate price for his country. Nobody remembers the names of the guys who jumped ship when they were ordered to, but the nation shall forever know the name of Archibald Mathies, the guy with a bloodstream of valor and gallantry who refused to leave an Airman behind.

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