--The Story of a True Hero--



On the  morning of June 23, 1944, a force of Fifteenth Air Force B-17s  and B-24s set off for a strike against the oil refineries at Ploesti  and Giurgiu, Rumania. One of the planes that was detailed to strike  the oil facilities at Ploesti on this day, was the B-17 “OPISSONYA”  (42-5951) of the 341st Bomb Squadron of the 97th Bomb Group. The crew for the “OPISSONYA” for this mission was  lead by the pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Edwin Anderson and  co-pilot 2ndLieutenant William Symons. The rest of  the crew of the “OPISSONYA” was made up of the navigator, Lieutenant  Robert Newsom, the bombardier, 2ndLieutenant David  Kingsley, the engineer, Sergeant John Meyer, the radio operator,  Sergeant Lloyd Kane, the tail gunner, Sergeant Michael Sullivan,  the ball turret gunner, Sergeant Stanley Kmiec, and the waist gunners,  Sergeant Martin Hettinga and Sergeant Harold James.

 While Lieutenant Anderson’s crew had participated in  several missions prior to this, including ones that had taken them over  the heavily defended oil complexes at Ploesti, each time he had been  able to bring his crew back safely. However Lieutenant Anderson and  his crew’s luck on this mission would run out. On nearing Ploesti, the  B-17 formation that Lieutenant Anderson and his crew were flying in,  was set upon by  twenty Messerschmitt 109G's and Focke-Wulf  190A single engine fighters, which made determined attacks on the  bombers. In quick succession, two B-17s from the formation were  shot down by the fighters, which departed as the formation now reached the flak corridor or zone that surrounded Ploesti. On commencing  their bombing run, the “Opissonya” was hit in the left wing  by a burst of anti-aircraft fire, which left a twelve-inch hole  just behind the number one engine. A second anti-aircraft  shell exploded soon after at the tail of the aircraft, this time  damaging the vertical stabilizer and knocking out the oxygen system  on the “Opissonya”. Not aware of the loss of the oxygen system and with one engine knocked out, Lieutenant  Anderson to his credit was able to keep the “Opissonya” on course  until Kingsley had dropped their bombload on the refinery below.

 On coming out of the bombing run the “OPISSONYA”   re-entered the flak  zone which guarded Ploesti.  In the  new attacks, Lieutenant Anderson’s B-17 was now hit in the number  2 engine on the left wing, which now began to emit a cloud of white  smoke. The crew of the “Opissonya” was also now to experience  their first casualty of the mission when a 20mm cannon round exploded  in the tail section wounding Sergeant Sullivan in the right hand  and shoulder. More devastating than the wounds that Sergeant Sullivan  suffered, was the fact that the rounds that had hit the tail section  had shredded his parachute harness, making it unusable. Although  badly wounded, Sergeant Sullivan was able to crawl from the tail  section of the B-17 to the waist gun positions of Sergeant Hettinga  and Sergeant James who immediately began to administer first aid.  In finding that they were unable to stop the bleeding from Sergeant  Sullivan’s wound to his right shoulder, Lieutenant Kingsley was  called to their position to assist. On his arrival, Lieutenant  Kingsley was able to apply a tourniquet to the wound to Sergeant  Sullivan’s shoulder, which effectively checked the blood loss  from the wound. In addition to Sergeant Sullivan being wounded,  it was soon discovered that the ball turret gunner, Sergeant Kmiec,  had also been wounded. As with Sergeant Sullivan, Sergeant Kmiec had  been wounded by one of the attacking fighters as the “OPISSONYA” had  been clearing Ploesti.

With  the bombing run complete, Lieutenant Anderson steered the B-17  for home. On traveling southwest, the crew of the “Opissonya”  soon found itself in Bulgarian airspace. With the heavily damaged  B-17 losing altitude, Lieutenant Anderson gave the order for the  crew of the “Opissonya” to begin to throw everything possible  out of the aircraft in order to lighten it. A brief ray of hope  appeared for the “Opissonya” as two P-51D's seemingly out of  nowhere appeared and pulled along the side of the Lieutenant Anderson’s  battered B-17. However any hopes that may have been lifted up by  this welcome sight were soon dashed, as the P-51 pilots radioed  to advise Lieutenant Anderson and his crew that they were low on  gas and would be unable to escort the B-17 back to Italy. On the  P-51s flying off, Lieutenant Anderson and his crew once again found  themselves flying all alone with still close to 500 miles left  to travel to make their home airfield in Italy. As the battered  B-17 continued flying deeper into Bulgaria, its fate would be sealed  on nearing the town of Karlovo.

Unbeknown  to the crew of the “OPISSONYA”, Karlovo at the time was a major  fighter field for the Bulgarian Air Force. Karlovo Airfield was  also the temporary home for a schwarm (flight) of LuftwaffeMesserschmitt  109s and their pilots, which had been stationed there to assist  with the training of Bulgarian fighter pilots. On finding the “Opissonya”  flying directly over the airfield at Karlovo, Major Helmut Kühle  who was the head of the Luftwaffe training mission, gave the  order for fighters to be scrambled to intercept the crippled B-17. Lieutenant  Anderson and his crew were soon set upon by the four Bulgarian and four Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BFG-109-6 fighters that had been  scrambled from Karlovo. On locating the “Opissonya”, the Luftwaffepilots  had the Bulgarian fliers under their command attack the B-17. On making  their passes from the rear of the “Opissonya”, the four Bulgarian  Messerschmitts raked the already crippled B-17 with deadly cannon  and machine gun fire, sealing its fate.





With the left inboard engine of the B-17 smoking and  pieces of the aircraft literally being shot away, and two members of  his crew already wounded, Lieutenant Anderson sounded the alarm  to abandon the aircraft. As the crew of the “Opissonya” began  bailing out of the stricken aircraft, Lieutenant Kingsley who had  been administering first aid to Sergeant Sullivan’s wounds, began  helping him to the bomb bay doors so that he could bail out of  the aircraft. It was at this point that Lieutenant Kingsley, with total disregard for his own safety, removed his parachute and placed  it on the chute-less Sergeant Sullivan and assisted him out of the B-17 via the open bomb bay doors, reminding him to wait to clear the tail section before pulling his ripcord.

 For a short time it appeared to the parachuting survivors that perhaps Kingsley was attempting to fly and crash-land the plane. But a short  time later, the “OPISSONYA” crashed into the ground below,  taking the life of Lieutenant Kingsley, who had remained onboard  the B-17 and who had sacrificed his own life to save that of a  fellow crew member. An action that would later earn Lieutenant  Kingsley the United States Military’s highest award posthumously,  the Medal of Honor. Tragically a Bulgarian family of three that  had been "picnicking" was also killed, when the out of control “Opissonya”  crashed into the tree that they had been under.

Kingsley was awarded the Medal posthumously in 1945 and the Medal was presented to his brother in London.

The Russians captured the area in November of 1944 and freed the captured Air Force personnel from the Stalag Luft at Karlova. Kingsley's body, which was found in the plane was returned to the States and is buried at Arlington in DC.

An interesting aside to this story is Bulgarian Major Marinopolski whose picture will appear on the Reunion Web Site. The Mjor is  the Bulgarian officer who first interviewed the Oppisonya survivors at Karlova Field. Sargeant Hettinga, the waist gunner, was so impressed with the treatment they received at the hands of this Major that Sgt Hettinga wrote his name and "Vicksburg Tennesee) on the foil wrapper of a cigarette pack and gave it to the Major with the direction to "Look me up after the war".

In the mid 80's, Hettiga, then living in Fairbanks Alaska, received a phone call one evening from a gentleman with a heavy accent. The Major from Karlova had tracked the Sargeant down as promised. Seems that the Major had made himself rather unpopular in the now Communist run Bulgarian Air Force and was accused of helping two pilots fly their Mig-15's to Greece. He left Bulgaria as quickly as possible after that and made his way stateside, going first to Vicksburg and finding members of Hettinga's family who pointed him towards Fairbanks.


The above was derived from three different but quite similar sources, with one exception. One was a Russian language site, originally discussing the film "Memphis Belle" and a person signing in as "Russian Ivan" ("Russkij Ivan") said the the movie while interesting was too melodramatic and the special effects were not that good, and it had a happy ending, but if you wanted a story of real heroes... and "Ivan" proceeded to tell the story of the "OPISSONYA". The detail added, including model numbers of the German and Bulgarian planes and the detail of the wounds inflicted as well as the accounting of the deaths of three Bulgarian "picnikers" could only have come from Bulgarian records, which presumably were captured by the Russians in 1944. Which leaves the mystery...

Who the hell is "Russian Ivan"? Since the Bulgarian Major returned to Bulgaria after the fall of Communism, probably spoke excellent Russian and would have known the detail, is he the source?   Since the link is now broken, we will just keep searching.

from: which is no longer linkable.   My scribbled upon copy is. 



The following is apparently written by one of the crew of the B-17, possibly the tail gunner,  from:

The raid on Ploesti of June 23 included all six groups of B-17s from the 5th Bomb Wing [15th Air Force]. The defenses were put into action promptly. Forty-plus single engine fighters hit the Fortress formation before they arrived at the target area. When the bombers did get to the complex, it was covered with smoke and the flak barrage was hot and heavy. A 97th Bomb Group Fortress flown by Lt. Edwin O. Anderson took a direct hit in the right wing while on the bomb run, shattering the control surfaces and ripping a fuel tank loose. The bomb run was completed with one engine out. As the B-17 emerged from flak, it was immediately pounced on by enemy fighters. The tail gunner Sgt. Michael J. Sullivan, was wounded by a 20mm shell that ripped through his position. Sullivan's intercom was out, so he crawled up to the waist where the gunners picked him up and took him into the radio room. There Lt. David R. Kingsley, the bombardier, administered first aid. As Sullivan recalled: "I was pretty banged up, and my chute harness was ripped off by 20mm cannon shells, and as I was in a daze and shocked, I couldn't see what was going on in the ship. I crawled out of the tail after I was hit. My waist gunners gave me a first aid but couldn't stop the flow of blood that was coming from my right shoulder. They called up Lieutenant Kingsley and he game me a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood. "Finally the blood was stopped, but I was pretty weak. So then Kingsley saw that my parachute harness was ripped, so he took his off and put it on me. As I was laying in the radio room, he told me that everything was going to be all right as we had two P-51s escorting us back to our base. We were still about 500 miles from home and the ship was pretty badly shot up. Finally, our escorts, the P-51s, were running low on fuel, so they told our pilot that they would have to leave and asked if we could make it. Our pilot thought he could and they left. "As soon as they were gone, we were then attacked by eight Bf 109s who came out of the sun and started making passes at us. Finally, after about a fifteen minute flight, we were told by the pilot to get ready to bail out as our ship was pretty well shaking apart in the air and most of our guns were knocked out. You see, that was the third group of enemy fighters to his us that day. "As soon as the bail-out bell was given, the rest of the gunners bailed out. Lieutenant Kingsley then took me in his arms and struggled to the bomb bay where he told me to keep my hand on the ripcord and said to pull it when I was clear of the ship. Then he told me to bail out. I watched the ground go by for a few seconds and then I jumped. Before I jumped, I looked up at him and the look he had on his face was firm and solemn. He must have known what was coming because there was no fear in his eyes at all. That was the last time I saw Kingsley, standing in the bomb bay." Kingsley ran into copilot Lieutenant Symons as he went forward in the bomb bay. He asked where the pilot was, and went forward to the flight deck. As Symons bailed out he almost hit Lieutenant Anderson, who had just bailed out the nose hatch. Perhaps Kingsley was searching for a spare parachute that should have been aboard. The men parachuting downward then noted the weird maneuvers of their Fortress. Anderson thinks that Kingsley did his best to try to crash-land the B-17, but with only one engine going it proved to be too much for him. At last, it corkscrewed into the earth. For his self-sacrifice. Lieutenant Kingsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. 


The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the military, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.


The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.


Extracted from: Chapter 3-6, Army Regulation 600-8-22 (Military Awards) dated 25 February 1995.


KINGSLEY, DAVID R. (Air Mission)


Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 97th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force. Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 23 June 1944. Entered service at. Portland, Oreg. Birth: Oregon. G.O. No.: 26, 9 April 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, 23 June 1944 near Ploesti, Rumania, while flying as bombardier of a B17 type aircraft. On the bomb run 2d Lt. Kingsley's aircraft was severely damaged by intense flak and forced to drop out of formation but the pilot proceeded over the target and 2d Lt. Kingsley successfully dropped his bombs, causing severe damage to vital installations. The damaged aircraft, forced to lose altitude and to lag behind the formation, was aggressively attacked by 3 ME-109 aircraft, causing more damage to the aircraft and severely wounding the tail gunner in the upper arm. The radio operator and engineer notified 2d Lt. Kingsley that the tail gunner had been wounded and that assistance was needed to check the bleeding. 2d Lt. Kingsley made his way back to the radio room, skillfully applied first aid to the wound, and succeeded in checking the bleeding. The tail gunner's parachute harness and heavy clothes were removed and he was covered with blankets, making him as comfortable as possible. Eight ME-109 aircraft again aggressively attacked 2d Lt. Kingsley's aircraft and the ball turret gunner was wounded by 20mm. shell fragments. He went forward to the radio room to have 2d Lt. Kingsley administer first aid. A few minutes later when the pilot gave the order to prepare to bail out, 2d Lt. Kingsley immediately began to assist the wounded gunners in putting on their parachute harness. In the confusion the tail gunner's harness, believed to have been damaged, could not be located in the bundle of blankets and flying clothes which had been removed from the wounded men. With utter disregard for his own means of escape, 2d Lt. Kingsley unhesitatingly removed his parachute harness and adjusted it to the wounded tail gunner. Due to the extensive damage caused by the accurate and concentrated 20mm. fire by the enemy aircraft the pilot gave the order to bail out, as it appeared that the aircraft would disintegrate at any moment. 2d Lt. Kingsley aided the wounded men in bailing out and when last seen by the crew members he was standing on the bomb bay catwalk. The aircraft continued to fly on automatic pilot for a short distance, then crashed and burned. His body was later found in the wreckage. 2d Lt. Kingsley by his gallant heroic action was directly responsible for saving the life of the wounded gunner.