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Jack Warren Mathis

Military

Assigned to 359BS, 303BG, 8AF USAAF. As lead Bombardier aboard 'The Duchess', released bombs accurately on target Vegesack after being mortally wounded in B-17 41-24561 18-Mar-43. Killed in Action (KIA).

Was killed in action over a submarine marshalling dock in Vegesack. Was mortally wounded by AA fire against 'The Duchess' but continued a completed mission, dying from his injuries shortly after. Was awarded the Medal of Honour for bravery and dedication to duty.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy over Vegesack, Germany, on 18 March 1943. 1st Lt. Mathis, as leading bombardier of his squadron, flying through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire, was just starting his bomb run, upon which the entire squadron depended for accurate bombing, when he was hit by the enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, a large wound was torn in his side and abdomen, and he was knocked from his bomb sight to the rear of the bombardier’s compartment. Realizing that the success of the mission depended upon him, 1st Lt. Mathis, by sheer determination and willpower, though mortally wounded, dragged himself back to his sights, released his bombs, then died at his post of duty. As the result of this action the airplanes of his bombardment squadron placed their bombs directly upon the assigned target for a perfect attack against the enemy. 1st Lt. Mathis’ undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit.

Jack Warren Mathis was born 10:30 p.m., 25 September 1921, at San Angelo, Texas. He was the second of three children of Rhude Mark Mathis, a salesman, and Avis Cannon Mathis.

Mathis enlisted as a private in the United States Army, 12 June 1940, at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After six months service, he was transferred to the Air Corps as an aviation cadet and sent to Goodfellow Field, southeast of his hometown of San Angelo. He trained as a bombardier, as did his older brother, Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr.

Jack Mathis was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 4 July 1942. He deployed to Europe in September 1942. Mathis was promoted to first lieutenant in January 1943.

Lieutenant Mathis was assigned to the combat crew of a Boeing B-17 41-24561, of the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303d Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Molesworth. The ship, named The Duchess, was under the command of Captain Harold L. Stouse. It carried fuselage identification markings BN T.

Because of the severe effect that German submarines were having against transatlantic merchant convoys, U-boat pens and construction yards were a high-priority target for bombers of the 8th Air Force.

On 18 March 1943, the 8th launched Mission No. 24 against the Bremer-Vulkan-Vegesacker Werft submarine construction yard on the River Weser at Bremen-Vegesack, Germany. The attack force consisted of 76 B-17s and 27 B-24 Liberators. Each bomber was loaded with six 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) M44 high-explosive bombs. The plan called for bombers to drop from 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). Each squadron would release their bombs simultaneously.

Mission No. 24 was Jack Mathis’ fourteenth combat mission. He was the lead bombardier of the 359th, the second element of seven B-17s of the 303d Group. The bombardier controlled the heading of the B-17 through adjustments to his Norden bomb sight. The squadron’s bombing accuracy was dependent on the skill of the lead bombardier.

As the American bombers approached the target, Mathis took careful aim at the target 24,000 feet below and opened the bomb bay doors. With his eye pressed to the Norden bombsight, Mathis was less than one minute away from releasing his bombs when an antiaircraft shell exploded near the right nose of his B-17, named 'The Duchess'. Fragments from the shell shattered the Plexiglas nose, nearly severed his right arm above the elbow, and caused deep wounds in his side and abdomen. The concussion threw him to the rear of the nose section. Nevertheless, Mathis went back to his bombsight and accurately dropped his bombs before collapsing dead over his bombsight.

—Excerpted from A Test of Courage: 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis, an article from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 1 May 2015

Reconnaissance photographs later revealed that seven enemy submarines and two-thirds of the shipyard had been destroyed in the attack. For his extraordinary effort, 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis posthumously received the Medal of Honour, the first awarded to an 8th Air Force Airman.

Jack Mathis’ older brother, Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., was at RAF Molesworth awaiting his brother’s return from the mission. He was present when 'The Duchess' landed. Mark Mathis requested a transfer to the Captain Stouse’s crew with 359th to take his brother’s place. Tragically, on his fourth mission, he too, was killed.

First Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis was buried at Fairmount Cemetery, San Angeleo, Texas. His brother, First Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., is buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Netherlands.

Mathis Field (San Angelo Regional Airport, or SJT) was named after the two Mathis brothers.

Lieutenant Jack W. Mathis’ Medal of Honour is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

'The Duchess' survived 59 combat missions. It was returned to the United States after the war in Europe came to an end. It was scrapped in August 1945.

Service

People

  • Kenneth Elsden

    Civilian | Construction worker | 303rd Bomb Group
    Kenneth Elsden worked for the construction company William Sindall. The company were based in Cambridge, and worked on the construction of USAAF bases including Molesworth, Chelveston and Grafton Underwood. ...

  • Rhude Mathis

    Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 14 May 1943 in B-17 #42-5243 'FDR's Potato Peeler Kids'. Plane crashed into North Sea. Killed in Action (KIA). Was brother to Jack W. Mathis, the Medal of Honor recipient with the same group. Mark joined up with the 303rd at his brother's...

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Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force


    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 303rd Bomb Group

    303rd Bomb Group

    Group
    The 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on 3-Feb-1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon. They assembled at Gowen Field, Idaho on 11-February 1942 where it conducted flight training until 12-Jun-1942. The Group then moved to Alamogordo Field, New...

  • 359th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 41-24561 The Duchess, "Sure Stuff"

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned 359BS/303BG [BN-T] Bangor 10/9/42; Molesworth 16/10/42; 59m transferred 1 Base Air Depot (sic),* Burtonwood 7/7/44; Returned to the USA Altus 18/8/44; Reconstruction Finance Corporation (sold for scrap metal in USA) Altus 14/8/45. Over...

Associated Place

  • Molesworth

    Military site : airfield
    Molesworth was one of the early stations used by the Eighth Air Force in the UK, first occupied by the 15th Bomb Squadron’s Douglas Bostons in June 1942. Built in 1940 and extended and improved in 1942, Molesworth is most associated with the 303rd...

Events

Event Location Date
Born San Angelo, Texas 25 September 1921

Son of Rhude Mark and Ava [Cannon] Mathis.

Enlisted Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX 12 June 1940

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas

Based Molesworth 1943 – 18 March 1943

Assigned to 359BS, 303BG, 8AF USAAF.

Killed in Action (KIA) Bremen-Vegesack, Bremen, Germany 18 March 1943

Killed in action over Vegesack, Germany during bombing raid.

Buried Fairmount Cemetery San Angelo, Tom Green County, TX 1948

Re-Interred
Fairmount Cemetery
San Angelo, Tom Green County, Texas
Block 86, Lot 10, Row 1, Plot A

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
26 February 2021 10:16:55 Al_Skiff Changes to biography and events
Sources

Removed # from A/C serial No. to aid clarity and consistency

Date Contributor Update
25 February 2021 19:41:11 jmoore43 Changes to biography
Sources

Added punctuation to the "Summary biography" to aid clarity.

Date Contributor Update
15 October 2020 14:41:07 Al_Skiff Changes to service number, biography, events and unit associations
Sources

https://www.fold3.com/image/310953012
https://www.fold3.com/image/310761848
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7869612/jack-warren-mathis

Date Contributor Update
01 July 2020 20:32:40 jmoore43 Changes to middlename
Sources

Added his middle name per info in the "Summary biography".

Date Contributor Update
29 February 2020 22:12:08 jmoore43 Changes to biography and events
Sources

Added a "-" to the A/C serial number in the "Summary biography" to aid clarity.
Updated the location to the Enlisted event per data in the "Summary biography".

Date Contributor Update
16 October 2019 10:20:48 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography and events
Sources

Merged with duplicate entry to include details from:
- https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/359th-bombardment-squadron-heavy/;
- JCook Photo Collection & Archives

Date Contributor Update
15 July 2015 15:06:17 jrugman Changes to biography, awards and events
Sources

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=14318

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:13:56 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / Freeman, Dunnigan, Roll of Honor, Losses of the 8th & 9th AFs Vol. I by Bishop & Hey p, 497

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