James Howell Howard – Brigadier General, United States Air Force

A fighter pilot who wasawarded the Medal of Honor for aerial combat in WW II, died on Saturday (18 March 1995) at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines, Florida. He was 81 and lived in Belleair Bluffs, Florida. He had suffered a long illness, his family said.

He earned the nation's highest military honor in Janury 1944, when he became separated from his fighter squadron of P-51 Mustangs. Finding himself alone, he flew to the defense of B-17 bomber formations after a raid over central Germany. For more than 30 minutes he fought off some 30 German fighters attacking the Flying Fortresses. He was credited with shooting down at least 4 German craft before being forced to return to base in England. He dismissed the matter with a simple response, “I seen my duty and I done it.”

His parents were missionaries in Canton, and he spent his first 14 years in China. He studied at Pomona College in California, but left in 1937 to go to the US Navy's flying school in Pensacola, Florida. He became a flier with the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers, who helped to defend China against the Japanese. Its pilots were chosen by Colonel Claire L. Chennault.

In 13 months of action over Burma and China, beginning in December 1941, he flew 56 missions and credited with shooting down 6 Japanese planes. When the Flying Tigers disbanded, he returned to the US and was sworn into the Army Air Forces in 1943. The Mustang P-51 was new then, and he took command of a squadron assigned to protect bomber groups during raids over Europe. At the end of the war, he was in charge of Pinelias Army Air Field in Florida.

After leaving the military, he operated a systems-engineering company in Wash, DC. He retired in 1977.

He is survived by a step-daughter, Nancy Smith of Gainesville, Florida, and 2 sisters, Martha Johnson of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Margaret Steele of Hightstown, New Jersey. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34, Grave 2571) NC at 0830 hours, on Friday, 24 March 1995.

From a contemporary press report:

Retired Brigadier General James H. Howard, a Medal of Honor winner in air battles over Germany in WWII, will be buried on Fri, Mar 24, 1995, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

General Howard died on Saturday, March 18, 1995, in Belleair Bluffs near Ft Myers, Florida. He was 81.

In 1944, as Allied bombers droned over Germany, General Howard, then a fighter pilot, single-handedly took on 30 Nazi aircraft that were intent on stopping the bombing mission. He had become separated from his group of P-51 Mustang fighters in the confusion of combat and realized that he was the only pilot close enough to defend the heavy bombers. “It was up to me to do it,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice in a 1992 interview. “There were 10-men crews in those bombers and no one else to protect them.”

He destroyed at least four enemy airplanes and damaged others before being forced to return to England. For his part in the campaign he received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. He was the only fighter pilot in the European theater to receive the award.

“He was a real American hero,” said Ed Kelley, General Howard's aide for 12 years. “But he was also a very modest person. He was well-liked by everybody and well-received.”

A native of Canton, China, General Howard moved to the US when he was 12. He grad from the US Navy flight school at Pensacola in 1939. In 1941, he was released from the US Navy and joined the Flying Tigers, a group of volunteer fliers in Burma and China. Two years later, General Howard joined the US Army Air Corps and was sent to England, where he became an ace over Europe.

General Howard became commander of the Pinellas Army Air Field, now St Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, in 1945. Fighter pilots went to the airfield for specialized training in gunnery and dive-bombing before serving overseas.

HOWARD, JAMES H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944. Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China. G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany, on 11 January 1944. On that day Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard's group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy airplanes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some 30 minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/08/1913
  • DATE OF DEATH: 03/18/1995


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