Thursday, January 31, 2013

TFH 1/31: First Lieutenant Jefferson J. DeBlanc, USMCR

Jefferson Joseph DeBlanc was born on February 15, 1921 in Lockport, Louisiana. He enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve on July 29, 1941 and was accepted into the aviation cadet program to produce Naval Aviators. He was given a reserve commission as a United States Marine Corps Second Lieutenant on May 4, 1942 and became a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F4F Wildcat.

In October 1942, DeBlanc was assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 112 (VMF-112) and deployed for the Guadalcanal Campaign, arriving in theatre on November 2, 1942. He shot down his first enemy aircraft about two weeks later. On January 29, 1943, DeBlanc was forced to ditch his Wildcat in Ironbottom Sound, but was rescued by an American destroyer and was soon back with his squadron and flying.

Two days later - exactly 70 years ago - on January 31, 1943, now First Lieutenant DeBlanc led an escorting flight of six fighters that accompanied bomber aircraft. Despite the fact that his plane was leaking fuel and suffered battle damage, he refused to abandon the bombers to enemy action, stayed on station, and permitted them to hit their targets even though his own aircraft was assuredly doomed.

For his valor above and beyond the normal call of duty, Jefferson DeBlanc received our Nation's highest honor.

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


Rank and Organization: Captain, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Fighting Squadron 112. Place and date: Off Kolombangara Island in the Solomons group, 31 January 1943. Entered service at: Louisiana. Born: 15 February 1921, Lockport, La. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as leader of a section of 6 fighter planes in Marine Fighting Squadron 112, during aerial operations against enemy Japanese forces off Kolombangara Island in the Solomons group, 31 January 1943. Taking off with his section as escort for a strike force of dive bombers and torpedo planes ordered to attack Japanese surface vessels, 1st Lt. DeBlanc led his flight directly to the target area where, at 14,000 feet, our strike force encountered a large number of Japanese Zeros protecting the enemy's surface craft. In company with the other fighters, 1st Lt. DeBlanc instantly engaged the hostile planes and aggressively countered their repeated attempts to drive off our bombers, persevering in his efforts to protect the diving planes and waging fierce combat until, picking up a call for assistance from the dive bombers, under attack by enemy float planes at 1,000 feet, he broke off his engagement with the Zeros, plunged into the formation of float planes and disrupted the savage attack, enabling our dive bombers and torpedo planes to complete their runs on the Japanese surface disposition and withdraw without further incident. Although his escort mission was fulfilled upon the safe retirement of the bombers, 1st Lt. DeBlanc courageously remained on the scene despite a rapidly diminishing fuel supply and, boldly challenging the enemy's superior number of float planes, fought a valiant battle against terrific odds, seizing the tactical advantage and striking repeatedly to destroy 3 of the hostile aircraft and to disperse the remainder. Prepared to maneuver his damaged plane back to base, he had climbed aloft and set his course when he discovered 2 Zeros closing in behind. Undaunted, he opened fire and blasted both Zeros from the sky in a short, bitterly fought action which resulted in such hopeless damage to his own plane that he was forced to bail out at a perilously low altitude atop the trees on enemy-held Kolombangara. A gallant officer, a superb airman, and an indomitable fighter, 1st Lt. DeBlanc had rendered decisive assistance during a critical stage of operations, and his unwavering fortitude in the face of overwhelming opposition reflects the highest credit upon himself and adds new luster to the traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

DeBlanc wound up landing in his parachute in the water, and managed to get ashore despite wounds suffered from enemy fire. He evaded capture and was rescued eleven days later. DeBlanc (as the citation shows) was promoted to Captain before receiving the Medal of Honor and continued to fly Marine fighters for the remainder of the war.

Jefferson DeBlanc returned to civilian life on December 31, 1945 but remained as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve until he retired as a Colonel in 1972. He later earned two Master's degrees and a Ph. D. in Education. He taught both mathematics and science in public schools for many years, doubtlessly influencing the lives of hundreds by his example.

On Thanksgiving Day 2007, Jefferson DeBlanc succumbed to pneumonia at age 86. He rests in peace at Saint Michael's Cemetery in Saint Martinsville, Louisiana.

VMF-112 is today known as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112 (VMFA-112). It is a reserve unit and part of Marine Aircraft Group 41 and the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. They are stationed at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in Texas and fly the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.

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