Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Ernest Merle Hancock was the top turret gunner in a B-17 bomber flying into Nazi Germany from Italy in the third of three American bomber groups. The German forces at the target offered some resistance to the first two bomber groups, but they held the real fireworks for the third group.
The B-17s had no fighter cover when 200 German fighters, some of which were the feared Focke Wulf-190, rose up to attack the mere 27 B-17s in the American formation.
Staff Sgt. Maynard Smith mans a machine gun in a B-17 in a promotional photo during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
Despite the long odds, Hancock and the other gunners opened up with everything they had. Hancock's plane was struck by Messerschmitt 109 and Fw-190 fire and Hancock himself suffered injuries from the enemy guns.
Still, Hancock fought on, firing into the fighter formations. He managed to down three, at least one of which was a Fw-190. The tail gunner on the plane knocked out a fourth.
This Boeing B-17F had its left wing blown off by an Me-262 over Crantenburg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A fire spread through the bomber, but Hancock stayed at his post until ordered to bail out. He finally exited the burning plane as it flew near the German border with France. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a POW.
A Silver Star was approved for him in 1945, but Hancock didn't learn of the award until 2015.
You can watch Hancock tell his own story in the video below: