Thursday, November 08, 2012

TFH 11/8 Edition One: Colonel Demas T. Crew & Major Pierpont M. Hamilton, USAAC

Seventy years ago today, American and British land forces began offensive operations against Nazi Germany and their Vichy French collaborators with the assault of North Africa codenamed Operation Torch.

At first light on November 8, 1942, American forces began to go ashore at Port Lyautey, Morocco. The Allies sought to have the Vichy French forces surrender without hostilities or a minimum of bloodshed, and two officers volunteered to take a message under a flag of truce to the French commanders and authorities. The two volunteers were US Army Air Corps/US Army Air Forces officers Colonel Demas T. Craw and Major Pierpont M. Hamilton.

Demas Thurlow "Nick" Craw was born on April 4, 1900 in Traverse City, Michigan. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1918, too late to see any service in World War I. He remained in the Army, received an officer's commission, and transitioned to the Air Corps in the late 1920s. Before the United States' entry into World War II, Craw was positioned as an observer with the Royal Air Force during which he flew on over 100 combat missions.

Pierpont Morgan Hamilton was born in Tuxedo Park, New York on August 3, 1898. He joined the United States Army on August 7, 1917 and became an aviation cadet in the Flying Service (as the Air Corps was then known). Illness prevented him from serving during World War I in France, and he left the Army on December 31, 1918. He applied for, and was appointed as a Major in the Air Corps, after the United States' entry in World War II on March 2, 1942.

Both of these men, one of whom was killed in action, received the Medal of Honor for their mission.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):


Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date. Near Port Lyautey, French Morocco, 8 November 1942. Entered service at: Michigan. Born: 9 April 1900, Traverse City, Mich. G.O. No.: 11, 4 March 1943. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 8 November 1942, near Port Lyautey, French Morocco, Col. Craw volunteered to accompany the leading wave of assault boats to the shore and pass through the enemy lines to locate the French commander with a view to suspending hostilities. This request was first refused as being too dangerous but upon the officer's ins1stence that he was qualified to undertake and accomplish the mission he was allowed to go. Encountering heavy fire while in the landing boat and unable to dock in the river because of shell fire from shore batteries, Col. Craw, accompanied by 1 officer and 1 soldier, succeeded in landing on the beach at Mehdia Plage under constant low-level strafing from 3 enemy planes. Riding in a bantam truck toward French headquarters, progress of the party was hindered by fire from our own naval guns. Nearing Port Lyautey, Col. Craw was instantly killed by a sustained burst of machinegun fire at pointblank range from a concealed position near the road.

Colonel Craw's remains were cremated and, I am assuming after the war, had his ashes scattered near Wiesbaden, Germany. At one time, there was a memorial marker to him in Morocco. It is not known if the marker is still extant.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):


Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Near Port Lyautey, French Morocco, 8 November 1942. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 3 August 1898, Tuxedo Park, N.Y. G.O. No.: 4, 23 January 1943. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 8 November 1942, near Port Lyautey, French Morocco, Lt. Col. Hamilton volunteered to accompany Col. Demas Craw on a dangerous mission to the French commander, designed to bring about a cessation of hostilities. Driven away from the mouth of the Sebou River by heavy shelling from all sides, the landing boat was finally beached at Mehdia Plage despite continuous machinegun fire from 3 low-flying hostile planes. Driven in a light truck toward French headquarters, this courageous mission encountered intermittent firing, and as it neared Port Lyautey a heavy burst of machinegun fire was delivered upon the truck from pointblank range, killing Col. Craw instantly. Although captured immediately, after this incident, Lt. Col. Hamilton completed the mission.

Hamilton was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in December, 1942. He served throughout World War II and in peacetime both with the post-1947 United States Air Force and Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of Major General by his retirement in 1957. He passed away at age 83 on March 4, 1982 and rests in peace in the Santa Barbara Cemetery, Santa Barbara, CA.

These two officers are the only USAAC/USAAF members to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II for non-flying actions.

A third officer, Colonel William H. Wilbur, also received the Medal of Honor in part for a similar mission of peace on the same day, November 8, 1942.

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