Memorial Day 2015: Remembering the Last Flight of Harry W. Norton, Jr.

A fighter strike it was. In the waning days of the Pacific War, though no one knew it at the time.

Born in 1922, Harry W. Norton, Jr. became a fighter pilot in World War II. He was assigned to the 21st Fighter Group’s 72nd Fighter Squadron, based on Iwo Jima, the place that will remain forever in the memory of the US Marine Corps.

Iwo was a stiff purchase, more than 6,000 Americans lost their lives for it, and more than 18,000 Japanese in defending it. But Iwo offered several advantages to US forces. Japanese loss of it meant elimination of a radar site and early warning against B-29 raids on the Home Islands, as well as loss of airfields from which the B-29 bases in the Marianas Islands could be attacked.

For the US, additional advantage accrued, as Iwo offered a refuge for damaged B-29s and wounded aircrews. It also served as a base for rescue aircraft and for fighter aircraft that escorted the B-29’s to Japan on daylight raids. These fighters also used Iwo as, in the case of 1st Lt. Harry W. Norton Jr on 30 July 1945, a place from which to make independent fighter operations over the Home Islands of the ever-shrinking Japanese Empire.

A North American P-51D Mustang of the 72nd Fighter Squadron at rest on Iwo Jima.  The 72nd was one of three fighter squadrons in the 21st Fighter Group. The three Squadrons of the Group (46th, 72nd, and 531st) all had the same pattern of unit markings but in different colors.  Light blue for the 46th; yellow for the 72nd and white for the 531st.  Each squadron used a series of three-digit numbers on individual aircraft in the following number ranges: 200-249 for the 46th, 250-299 for the 72nd, and 300-349 for the 531st.  All squadron color markings were edged in black.
A North American P-51D Mustang of the 72nd Fighter Squadron at rest on Iwo Jima. The 72nd was one of three fighter squadrons in the 21st Fighter Group. The three Squadrons of the Group (46th, 72nd, and 531st) all had the same pattern of unit markings but in different colors. Light blue for the 46th; yellow for the 72nd and white for the 531st. Each squadron used a series of three-digit numbers on individual aircraft in the following number ranges: 200-249 for the 46th, 250-299 for the 72nd, and 300-349 for the 531st. All squadron color markings were edged in black.

Harry had proven himself in aerial combat just days earlier, when on 22 July 1945 he shot down an enemy aircraft. On 30 July 1945, as he departed Airfield Number Two on Iwo, he probably had hopes of another aerial encounter as his squadron conducted a clockwise sweep around the Osaka Bay area heading for their target. They flew over the Kii Suido approaching the region, over the Harima Nada before making landfall west of Kobe. They then turned right and went around Kobe, passing it off their right wings. They wheeled around and made a beeline for their primary objective, Itami Airfield, an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force field and home of defending IJAAF fighters. It was at Itami where things began to happen to Lt. Norton.

Fighter pilots of the 56th Sentai based at Itami Field,
Fighter pilots of the 56th Sentai based at Itami Field, “scramble” to board their “Tony” fighter planes. (Courtesy )

According to squadron member 1st Lt. H. H. Phipps, “The flight went down together on Itami. As we came off the target Norton called “I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.” Apparently, enemy anti-aircraft fire had hit him over the airfield as he flew North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, serial number 44-63409.

Phipps said Norton made a climbing turn to the right and headed for the center of Osaka city. Another witness, 2nd Lt. John D. Wray reported that the squadron hit Itami at either 1315 or 1415 hours (depending on source) and that “He released his canopy at approximately 500 feet altitude and was still observed going up at high speed. It is my belief that Lt. Norton was hot and not his plane, because no smoke, oil, or coolant was observed.”
And that is where his squadron-mates last saw Harry Norton, over Osaka, in trouble, looking like he was going to bail out. The flak in the area was awful as pilot maneuvered to avoid being tracked and hit. Lt. Phipps reported “About at 300 feet the flak was bursting all around me. The concussion knocked my left wing down so I just hit the deck.”

What happened to Lt. Norton over Osaka is a mystery to the writer of this web log. Did he ever bail out, or did he come down with his ship? And what after either of those possibilities? Maybe someone, somewhere, knows.

Burial plaque for 1 st Lt Harry W. Norton, Jr., in Winter Haven, Florida.(Courtesy Find a Grave website)
Burial plaque for 1 st Lt Harry W. Norton, Jr., in Winter Haven, Florida.(Courtesy Find a Grave website)

What can be found, however, is the grave of 1st Lt. Norton, at the Oak Lawn Cemetery, in Winter Haven, Polk County, Florida. So on this Memorial Day, 2015, we remember First Lieutenant Harry W Norton, Jr., who paid the ultimate price in service to the nation, on 30 July 1945. Hand Salute!
Reference

“Iwo Jima,” Wikipedia article, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Iwo_Jima

USAAF Missing Air Crew Report Number 14183

Joe Baughers USAAF serial numbers, 1944, at http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1944_4.html

Harry W. Norton Jr grave marker at Find A Grave, at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=68451951

“72nd Fighter Squadron,” Wikipedia page, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/72d_Fighter_Squadron

Itami Airfield info at “Osaka International Airport,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osaka_International_Airport

Itami Ki-61 image, at: http://www.cooksontributeb29.com/junichi-ogata-of-the-56th-sentai-capt-fighter-pilot.html

Camouflage and markings of North American P-51 Mustang, Part 1, at: http://www.ipmsstockholm.se/home/camouflage-and-markings-of-north-american-p-51-mustang-part-1/

On Memorial Day

Monday, 25 May 2015. Memorial Day. Not just a holiday, but Memorial Day. It is a time to remember those men and women of the armed forces who died while on duty in service to our nation.

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Too many people confuse it with Veterans Day and think it is for honoring all veterans. And probably vice versa too.

Far too many American citizens think Memorial Day is about a day off, or the start of summer, BBQ grilling, picnics, sales extravaganzas, etc. Those who think so shallowly of the freedom they enjoy ignorantly trample on the graves and memories of our fallen heroes. Is it too much to ask for a remembrance of those who gave their all for the rest of us?

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Do you ever wonder what people really mean when they say “Happy Memorial Day!”? Have they, have we, really thought that through? For another veteran’s perspective on that, read Jennie Heskamp’s viewpoint published in the Washington Post on 22 May 2015, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/05/22/im-a-veteran-and-i-hate-happy-memorial-day-heres-why/

Memorial Day should not to be confused with any other holiday. It is to remember those who were lost in service to our country. They paid the ultimate price to help ensure the freedom and liberty which we enjoy today. And for which so many take for granted.

How can we remember such patriots? There are many ways to do so. The only thing they require is some initiative, some small effort.

Remember a family member or friend who was lost in the service. Speak their name. Share a memory about them.

Look around you at your family, friends and community, and appreciate all of what they mean to you, that you are able to do that because someone else laid their life on the line to defend it.

Visit a veteran’s cemetery and read the names, units and dates on the headstones. Find some for a unit you served in or a conflict you fought in.

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Participate in a Memorial Day ceremony or event in your community, or create one of your own.
Pray for the fallen, their families and loved ones.

Fly Old Glory in their honor.

Take an active role as a citizen of the country and your community, and express yourself to your elected representatives – too many of who have no idea of what they are doing getting us into some of the foreign messes they have. Too many of these scoundrels have been elected, and even re-elected by ignorant citizens.

There are consequences to any involvements, no matter how worthy (or not) the cause. Some of our men and women in uniform don’t walk away from them; forever more they don’t walk away.

Citizens should not be silent or indolent lest they lose what freedom and liberty they enjoy. For freedom isn’t free, as we all should remember, on Memorial Day…

With one wing gone, a B-29 falls in flames after a direct hit by enemy flak over Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)
With one wing gone, a B-29 falls in flames after a direct hit by enemy flak over Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

B-29 image from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_raids_on_Japan