Valor: Sacrifice at Sniper Ridge

Jan. 1, 1991

The “Valor’ series has told the stories of several Air Force men who made conscious and unequivocal decisions to sacrifice their lives for some moral or martial imperative that to them was more valued than life itself. Precisely what inspired such acts of heroism will never be known. Among such men was Maj. Charles Loring, one of only four airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. All those awards were posthumous.

Charles Loring was no neophyte when he joined the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea in June 1952. On completing flying training in February 1943, he had spent several months with the 36th Fighter Squadron patrolling the Caribbean in P-39s and P-40s. The squadron then returned to the States, converted to P-47s, and was sent to the European Theater in the spring of 1944. From its base at Kingsnorth, England, the squadron, part of Ninth Air Force, primarily flew interdiction missions in preparation for Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. A month after D-Day, the 36th moved to a series of bases on the Continent, flying close support and interdiction, paving the way for ground forces in their drive toward Germany.

On every mission, the fighter-bombers faced ground fire ranging from heavy antiaircraft artillery to rifles. Loss rates for Ninth Air Force fighter-bomber’s were high compared to the escort groups of Eighth Air Force. Early in his tour, Lieutenant Loring was wounded on a close support mission, but soon he was out of the hospital and back to the war. On his 55th mission, Dec. 24, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, Loring’s luck ran out. Hit by ground fire, he crash-landed in Belgium and spent the next four months as a POW.

Charles Loring decided to make the Air Force a career. He spent six years in nonflying positions, including two years as an instructor at the Army Information School at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Then the Korean War broke out. Loring, now a major, requested assignment to a combat unit and waited impatiently for two years until his request was granted.

When Major Loring reported to the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing, it had been in combat for two years, first with F-51s, then in F-80s. Initially he was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron in charge of training and indoctrinating replacement pilots. But Loring had come to Korea to fight. A month later he began flying combat missions and was made a squadron operations officer. The combat environment was in most ways a replay of his World War II experience, except that now he was flying a jet fighter. Ground fire was there as always, but the chance of escape or evasion if shot down in an Oriental land was practically nil. The prospect of becoming a POW of the Chinese was not attractive.

The Chinese Communists had, as we know, entered the war with massive forces in December 1950, driving United Nations troops back to positions near the Demarcation Line. For the next 18 months fighting was sporadic, interrupted or slowed by fruitless peace negotiations. During the late summer and fall of 1952, the war heated up. With enormous sacrifice of their troops, the Communists recaptured Triangle Hill in early November and were threatening US ground forces at Sniper Ridge.

On the morning of Nov. 22, 1952, Major Loring, on his 51st mission, led a flight of four F-80s in a close support strike against enemy formations in North Korea. He was directed by an airborne controller to dive-bomb gun emplacements that were pinning down UN forces near Sniper Ridge. Ground fire, as usual, was heavy.

After locating his target, Loring rolled into his bomb run. Enemy fire concentrated on his F-80. Other members of his flight saw Loring’s plane take severe hits. They expected he would pull out of his dive and attempt to reach friendly territory. Instead, he continued the attack, altering his course some 45 degrees in a deliberate, controlled maneuver and dove directly into active enemy gun positions, destroying them at the cost of his own life. There was no indication that Loring had been mortally wounded when his aircraft was hit or that it could not have been flown to safety. What impelled Major Loring’s calculated act of self-sacrifice that “exemplified valor of the highest degree”? No one could say.

Today Loring AFB in Maine commemorates the extraordinary heroism of this honored son.

Published January 1991. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.