October 29, 2010

Raymond Larry Knight

Raymond L. Knight, Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Timpson, Texas, on July 15, 1922. His family later moved to Houston, where he graduated from John Reagan High School in 1940. He entered the United States Army Air Corps at Houston in October 1942 and received his pilot's wings and commission at Harding Field, Louisiana, in April 1944. After further training in the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber, 2d Lt. Knight was assigned to the 350th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in Northern Italy, where he completed eighty-two combat missions. During his first year of combat he won the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts, and the Air Medal with five oak-leaf clusters.

His most notable exploits, however, came in action against heavily defended German airdromes at Ghedi and Bergamo, Italy, in April 1945. On the morning of April 24 he led two other pilots, each flying a single-engine P-47 Thunderbolt, against the heavily defended airdrome at Ghedi. He ordered the other aircraft to stay aloft while he descended to low altitude through heavy antiaircraft fire and located eight German aircraft under heavy camouflage. After rejoining his flight, Knight led the attack and destroyed five of the enemy aircraft, while his teammates shot down two others. After returning to base he volunteered to lead a reconnaissance mission of three other aircraft to the airbase at Bergamo. He ordered his flight to remain out of range of enemy guns while he flew through the fire at low level. Although his Thunderbolt was badly damaged by intense ground fire he observed a squadron of enemy aircraft, heavily camouflaged, and led his flight to the attack. After this strafing, he made ten more passes over the field, and although hit by enemy fire twice more he destroyed six heavily loaded twin-engine aircraft and enemy fighters. He safely returned his damaged aircraft to base. He returned to Bergamo the next morning, April 25, 1945, with a flight of three and attacked an aircraft on the runway. Three more twin-engine aircraft were destroyed. His plane was heavily damaged and virtually unflyable, but he chose to attempt to return the valuable equipment to base for repair. He crashed in the Appennini Mountains and was killed. His gallant action eliminated enemy aircraft that were set to attack the Allied forces in their attempt to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River. He personally destroyed fourteen grounded enemy aircraft and led attacks that wrecked ten others.

The Medal of Honor was presented to his widow, Johnnie Lee Knight, and his 2½-year-old-son on the stage at Reagan High School, where Raymond and Johnnie had graduated five years earlier. His remains were buried in Woodlawn Garden of Memories in 1949 and reburied in the Houston National Cemetery in a special section for Medal of Honor recipients on April 25, 1992.

Citation
He piloted a fighter-bomber aircraft in a series of low-level strafing missions, destroying 14 grounded enemy aircraft and leading attacks which wrecked 10 others during a critical period of the Allied drive in northern Italy. On the morning of 24 April, he volunteered to lead 2 other aircraft against the strongly defended enemy airdrome at Ghedi. Ordering his fellow pilots to remain aloft, he skimmed the ground through a deadly curtain of antiaircraft fire to reconnoiter the field, locating 8 German aircraft hidden beneath heavy camouflage. He rejoined his flight, briefed them by radio, and then led them with consummate skill through the hail of enemy fire in a low-level attack, destroying 5 aircraft, while his flight accounted for 2 others. Returning to his base, he volunteered to lead 3 other aircraft in reconnaissance of Bergamo airfield, an enemy base near Ghedi and 1 known to be equally well defended. Again ordering his flight to remain out of range of antiaircraft fire, 1st Lt. Knight flew through an exceptionally intense barrage, which heavily damaged his Thunderbolt, to observe the field at minimum altitude. He discovered a squadron of enemy aircraft under heavy camouflage and led his flight to the assault. Returning alone after this strafing, he made 10 deliberate passes against the field despite being hit by antiaircraft fire twice more, destroying 6 fully loaded enemy twin-engine aircraft and 2 fighters. His skillfully led attack enabled his flight to destroy 4 other twin-engine aircraft and a fighter plane. He then returned to his base in his seriously damaged plane. Early the next morning, when he again attacked Bergamo, he sighted an enemy plane on the runway. Again he led 3 other American pilots in a blistering low-level sweep through vicious antiaircraft fire that damaged his plane so severely that it was virtually nonflyable. Three of the few remaining enemy twin-engine aircraft at that base were destroyed. Realizing the critical need for aircraft in his unit, he declined to parachute to safety over friendly territory and unhesitatingly attempted to return his shattered plane to his home field. With great skill and strength, he flew homeward until caught by treacherous air conditions in the Appennines Mountains, where he crashed and was killed. The gallant action of 1st Lt. Knight eliminated the German aircraft which were poised to wreak havoc on Allied forces pressing to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River; his fearless daring and voluntary self-sacrifice averted possible heavy casualties among ground forces and the resultant slowing on the German drive culminated in the collapse of enemy resistance in Italy.


GPS Coordinates
29° 55.831, -095° 27.041

Section Hb
Houston National Cemetery
Houston
 

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