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U.S. Pilot Sacrifices Life to Save Korean War Ground Troops

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As if being a prisoner of war in World War II wasn't enough of a sacrifice, Medal of Honor recipient Air Force Maj. Charles Loring Jr. earned the nation's highest military award through deliberate actions that ended his life — but saved many others — in Korea.

Charles Loring grew up in Portland, Maine. In March 1942, at the age of 23, he enlisted as an aviation cadet in what was then known as the Army Air Forces (since the modern-day Air Force wasn't created until 1947, after the war).

A black and white photograph of an Air Force officer.
Air Force Maj. Charles Loring Jr.
Air Force Maj. Charles Loring Jr.
Photo By: Air Force photo
VIRIN: 190607-D-ZZ999-003A

Loring was commissioned as a pilot about nine months later. He was stationed at a few places in the U.S. before he deployed to Europe in March 1944 as part of the 36th Fighter Group's 22nd Squadron.

Within months, he had performed 55 combat missions and was promoted to first lieutenant.

He faced a huge test on Christmas Eve that year. As he flew over Belgium on a strafing mission, Loring was shot down. He was held captive until Nazi Germany surrendered in May 1945, and he was promoted to captain upon his release. Loring continued to serve at several duty stations until he was once again called up for combat duty in May 1952.

Loring's mission was to train replacement jet pilots for the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group during the Korean War. He also flew and acted as squadron operations officer for the 36th and 80th squadrons. By the fall of 1952, he had been promoted to major.

Four airmen pose for a picture on an air base.
Bomber Squadron
Major Charles J. Loring Jr.,second from left, poses for a photo with other airmen of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Suwon Air Base, South Korea in 1952.
Photo By: Photo courtesy Kunsan Air Base, South Korea
VIRIN: 190607-D-ZZ999-004

On Nov. 22, 1952, Loring was the lead pilot in a flight of four F-80 jets on a close-air support mission near Sniper Ridge in North Korea, where United Nations troops were pinned down by enemy artillery.

The mission of the four planes was to dive-bomb those enemy positions to relieve the outnumbered ground troops below. But as Loring was getting into position, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire several times. Instead of pulling up and fleeing to friendly territory, he altered his course and aimed his plane directly at the gun positions, crashing into and destroying them. His remains were never recovered.

For giving his life in that manner, Loring was awarded the Medal of Honor — an award given to only four airmen who served in Korea. He also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 12 air medals during his two-war career.

The former Loring Air Force Base in Maine, which closed in 1994, was named in his honor.