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First Name: Fred

Last Name: Oettel

Birthplace: USA

Gender: Male

Branch: U.S. Army Air Forces (1941 - 1947)

Home of Record: CA
Middle Name: W.

Date of Birth: 1919

Date of Death: 12 December 1945 (Official)

MIA Date: 07 August 1942

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
Fred W. Oettel

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Fred W. Oettel
Sergeant, U.S. Army

In August 1942, Sergeant Fred W. Oettel was serving as Gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber in the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifth Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces.

During a mission on 6 August, SGT Oettel’s unit was in action during a bombing mission against Japanese forces at Lae, New Guinea. But, when one of the engines on the B-17 failed, the pilot, CPT Harl Pease, was forced to return to his base in Australia. The 19th Bomb Group was scheduled to deploy to Papua, New Guinea, on 7 August to support a maximum effort mission that would require all available aircraft. With their aircraft out of commission, CPT Pease and his crew were scrubbed for the mission. Determined not to "miss the big show," the crew voluntarily selected and worked-over B-17E SN 41-2439 (nicknamed "Why Don't We Do This More Often," at the base that was deemed to have weak engines and had aborted several missions, but it could still fly. The crew rejoined the Group at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea at 0100 after having flown almost continuously (flew 19 of 22 hours) since early the preceding morning. With only 3 hours rest, CPT Pease and his crew took off with the Group to bomb targets at Rabaul, New Britain on 7 August. Forty to fifty miles from the target, the Group was attacked by more than 30 Japanese A6M2 Zero fighters. SGT Oettel and his crew shot down several of the fighters, fought their way to the target, and successfully dropped their bombs. Upon leaving the target, SGT Oettel’s crippled B-17 fell behind the rest of the formation. Once again attacked by over 30 Japanese fighters, the bomber was seen to drop a bomb bay gasoline tank that was aflame, and it is believed that the B-17 and its crew were subsequently shot down in flames. SGT Oettel’s courageous actions and extraordinary heroism that day earned him, at the cost of his life, the U.S. Army's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.

However, as his aircraft lost altitude, CPT Pease [Honoree Record ID 1589] and another crew member, SGT Chester M. Czechowski [Honoree Record ID 132154] bailed out. They were both captured and taken to a POW camp in Rabaul. CPT Pease languished there until 8 October 1942. On that date, CPT Pease, along with three other Americans and two Australians, were forced to dig their own grave; they were then beheaded. CPT Pease was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on 6-7 August 1942.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Distinguished Service Cross
Purple Heart
Army Good Conduct Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Presidential Unit Citation with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Aerial Gunner Badge

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Fred W. Oettel (ASN: 19048522), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Gunner on a B-17 Heavy Bomber in the 93d Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group (H), FIFTH Air Force, in action between Queensland, Australia and Rabaul, New Britain, on 6 - 7 August 1942. When the airplane, in which he was gunner, returned to its base in Queensland, Australia, from a bombing mission at Lae, New Guinea, because of a disabled engine, Sergeant Oettel, knowing that his group was to execute on the following day an important mission in which the participation of every available airplane was essential, volunteered to accompany his airplane commander on this mission in an airplane which had been declared unserviceable for combat duty. Rejoining his squadron at Port Moresby, New Guinea, after having flown almost continuously during the preceding nineteen hours, he took off, after only three hours rest, in a mass attack by his group on an enemy-occupied airdrome near Rabaul, New Britain. Despite interception by about thirty enemy fighters as the target was approached, the group made a highly successful bombing attack. During the hostile fighter action, the airplane in which Sergeant Oettel was a crew member, was on the wing which bore the brunt of the enemy attack lasting for twenty-five minutes. It was observed to drop a blazing bomb-bay tank and fall behind the formation. The personal courage and zealous devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Oettel on this occasion, at the cost of his life, have upheld the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 5th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.


The remains of Sergeant Fred W. Oettel were never recovered. He is memorialized by having his name inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, Capital District, National Capital Region, Philippines.


Honoree ID: 154811   Created by: MHOH




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