Flying from RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England, navigator 2nd Lt. Robert E. Femoyer earned the Medal of Honour for action whilst on a mission to Merseburg. During this operation, he showed the highest level of dedication to his crew, performing a selfless act of bravery whilst being severely and fatally wounded.
Born October 31st 1921, Huntington, West Virginia, USA, he was the eldest child of Edward and Mary Femoyer. and attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia.
On 11th November 1942 Robert Femoyer enlisted and joined the Reserve Corps. He didn’t take up active duty until the following February when he began his basic training at Miami Beach, Florida. He joined the Army Air Corps in that same month and became a cadet at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his commission at the AAF Navigation School at Selman Field, Louisiana in 1943 and graduated, without gaining his wings, in 1944.
With his second lieutenant bars firmly under his belt, Femoyer received his first posting; and in September 1944 he left with the 711th Bomb Squadron as part of the 447th Bomb Group, Eighth Airforce. As a navigator he would determine routes and ensure the safe flight of his aircraft and other crew members to the bomb target and home.
On his fifth and final mission , and only a few days after his 23rd birthday, on November 2, 1944, the 711th attacked an oil refinery at Merseburg, near Leipzig, Germany. The B-17 he was in, was battered, hit several times by flak, and had two of the four engines damaged. The aircraft was difficult to fly and the navigational instruments were left almost useless. Femoyer himself had received shrapnel wounds to his side and back, was bleeding heavily and in a great deal of pain.
The B-17 quickly lost both height and speed and was forced to leave the formation, making it more vulnerable to attack from fighters, but Femoyer was not going let his compatriots down.
Deciding to turn for home the pilot asked for a route. In response, Femoyer, determined to keep a clear head, refused all medical assistance before planning their escape route home. He insisted he was propped up so he could read his maps, the injury to his body making sitting extremely difficult. Guiding the pilot safely around heavy flak zones, they eventually reached the safety of the English coast, where then, and only then, did Femoyer allow morphine and other medical aid to be administered. The pilot managed to guide the stricken aircraft home where upon landing at RAF Rattlesden, Femoyer was removed from his post, weak and having lost of lot of blood, and taken to hospital where he sadly died about an hour later.
For his valour and courage he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour, and his citation read:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on Nov. 2, 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by three enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2 1/2 hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the 447th Bomb Group and the U.S. Army Air Corps.”
The body of 2nd Lt. Robert Edward Femoyer was returned to the United States to his adopted Florida home, and was buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida, Section 8, Lot 2. Florida historical resources list him as one of their own war heroes. His college, Virginia Tech, named a building the ‘Femoyer Hall’ in his honor in 1949 and in 2001, a stretch of West Virginia Route 152 from the Fifth Street crossing with Interstate 64 to the Huntington city limits, was officially designated Robert Femoyer Boulevard. Numerous air force bases have also named streets in his honour.
Robert Femoyer was the only American navigator to have received the Medal of Honour during service in World War Two and remains a Florida hero to this day.
For other heroic tales click here.
Notes and Further Reading.
Source compiled from U.S. Air Force Office of History.
Few, if any, photos survive of Femoyer, but others of his squadron are at: http://www.447bg.com/Contacts.htm