Harl Pease Jr.
Published July 29, 2008
Pease Air National Guard Base, formerly part of Pease Air Force Base, takes pride in preserving the name and heritage of Captain Harl Pease, Jr. His gallantry, devotion to duty, and contempt for personal danger as a B-17 pilot during World War 11 earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. His actions represent the true spirit of New Hampshire's patriots.
Captain Pease, born and raised in Plymouth, N.H., enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant a year later and awarded a pilot rating upon completion of flight training at Kelly Field, Texas. He was immediately called to active duty and participated in B-17 bombing missions in the Pacific theater.
It was during one of these missions, on August 5, 1942, that one engine of Captain Pease's B-17 failed and he was forced to return to his base in Australia. His unit, the 19th Bomb Group, was scheduled to deploy to Papua, New Guinea, to support a maximum effort mission on August 7 that would require all available aircraft.
Captain Pease and his crew, with their aircraft out of commission, were not scheduled for the mission. Determined not to "miss the big show," the crew voluntarily selected and worked over one of several unserviceable B-17s at the base. They rejoined the 19th at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea at 1 a.m. after having flown almost continuously since early the preceding morning.
On only three hour's rest, Captain Pease took off with the group to bomb targets at Rabaul, New Britain. Forty to 50 miles from the Vunakanua airfield target, the group was attacked by more than 30 Japanese fighters. Captain Pease and his crew shot down several of the enemy, fought their way to the target, and bombed successfully.
After leaving the target, Captain Pease's crippled B-17 fell behind the rest of the formation. Once again attacked by Japanese fighters, he was seen to drop a flaming bomb bay tank, and it was originally believed that no one survived when the aircraft went down.
Information pieced together after the war from two Catholic priests who had been at the Rabaul prisoner of war camp indicates that Captain Pease and another crew member did survive the crash. They were subsequently held at the camp for several weeks, and on October 8, 1942, they were executed by the Japanese.
On December 2, 1942, the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously to Captain Pease for his heroism in combat, was presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the hero's parents.
In formal dedication ceremonies, Portsmouth Air Force Base was dedicated to Captain Pease on September 7, 1957. That tradition continued 40 years later, as Pease Air National Guard Base was formally rededicated on September 19, 1997.