CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — More than seven decades after surviving a plane crash during World War II, a 90-year-old Missouri veteran finally has his medals.
"These medals were all for my crew," Heinrich said after the program.
Heinrich, a 19-year-old Air Corps tail gunner, was the only survivor on Dec. 23, 1944 when his 10-member crew's B-17 crashed over southwest England while returning from a bombing mission. Heinrich suffered a fractured skull and severe injury to his foot. He spent 14 months in a hospital.
He can't recall the crash because of the head injury.
His medals never reached him after his convalescence. Dave Hitt, a Cape Girardeau veteran, arranged for the medal bestowment through U.S. Sen Roy Blunt's office.
Just before Christmas 1944, orders were issued to bomb the small town of Gemund, Germany. The Nazis were using the town as a transportation and communications hub. The American plane crashed while returning to a Royal Air Force base in England.
Severe weather may have contributed to the plane crash, but the exact cause remains unknown, said James Bass, another World War II veteran who spoke at the program. The crash occurred in dense fog.
A nurse named Lt. Megan Lewis saw and heard the plane go down. She raised an alarm, and by the time she and other first responders found the wreckage, several crew members already were dead or dying, said her daughter, Diane Gomersall, who traveled from England to attend Heinrich's medal bestowment.
Lewis was the one who pulled Heinrich from the plane and helped stabilize him at the hospital.