CMSGT Gerald C. Freligh, Sr.

CMSGT Gerald C. Freligh, Sr. had a long career with the United States Air Force that began in November of 1941 and was the first enlisted man of the 97th Bomb Group when it was formed along with the first officer which was Col. Paul W. Tibbetts (Tibbetts flew the "Red Gremlin" with the 97th and later was pilot of the "Enola Gay" of Hiroshima fame--509th)...and the squadron they were in was the 340th (the first of the 97th). CMSGT Freligh was not only on the very first daylight raid of the war and the first person to shoot down a German aircraft from Pennsylvania, he flew along-side Tibbetts on many important missions of which Operation Torch--bringing Eisenhower there and the follow-ups and the Polesti raid are but a few. CMSGT Freligh (specifically) did his 50 missions over Europe in the 340th Bombardment Squadron (H), as a ball-turrett gunner in the underside of the "Flying Flitgun" B-17. The "Flying Flitgun" was named by Margaret Bourke-White (the famous Life photographer who actually flew a bombing mission with the group--the first female allowed to do so--and who devoted a whole chapter in her autobiography--Portrait of Myself--to the plane and even mentions CMSGT Freligh in it but unfortunately spelled his name somewhat wrong). (Chapter 17 page 199-202) After having reached his 50 mission limit (and being the only non-casualty of the original 22 ball-turrett/tail gunners of the 340th--even though he had his watch and oxygen mask shot off), CMSGT Freligh came back to the States and trained other new recruit gunners. After only 2 or 3 months of training, he decided to go back, and then went on and flew another 75 missions with the 81st Bombardment Squadron (M), 12th Bombardment Group over India in the Pacific theater in B-25s as a tail-gunner. At the war's end, CMSGT Freligh continued to serve the United States Air Force in a variety of capacities and assignments with other units/groups of the USAF (mostly personnel and the IG's office) until retirement in July of 1974 from Eaker AFB in Bytheville Ar (which at that time housed the 97th Bomb Group--and is credited with being the only person of the 97th who began with the group at its founding and ended with it that many years later). In all of that time, CMSGT Freligh served in and through 3 wars (one of only 7,000 men in US History to have done that through those 3 wars and recieved 59 awards and medals during his terms of service with the United States Army Air-Corps/Air Force, among which include the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal (w/oak leaf cluster), and the Air Force Commendation Medal and is credited with 5 aircraft shot down over Europe. Upon his death in Feb. 2009, CMSGT Freligh was provided a color guard from the Air Force JROTC from his local high school at his funeral (which he instrumentally fought to get started for that high school and also provided college scholarships to worthy participants in that JROTC for many years). CMSGT Freligh was then buried at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetary in Sherwood, Ar with full military honors from the United States Air Force honor guard of Jacksonville AFB.

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