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The Heroic American Aviators Who Were Denied a Medal of Honor

During the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a handful of American pilots put up a spirited defense against the Japanese and became the first American heroes of World War II. George S. Welch and Kenneth Taylor, both second lieutenants in the U.S. Army Air Corps, were on their way home from a night out when machine-gun bullets from Japanese planes began kicking up dust around their car. They reached speeds of 100 mph during the dash to the base, where their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters were armed and fueled. Once in the air, they shot down several enemy planes before returning to the airfield for more fuel and ammunition. One of Welch’s machine guns had jammed, and Taylor had been wounded in the arm and leg and was advised not to get back in the air. Before Welch’s guns could be unlocked or Taylor’s wounds received first-aid, a second wave of 15 Japanese planes swept in, and Taylor and Welch took off again. The pair were credited with bringing down a total of 29 planes that day. They were recommended for the Medal of Honor for heroism, but they were denied because their commanding officer said they had taken off without orders. The pair went on to finish the war with 16 victories.