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Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, pins the Silver Star on retired Maj. Jesse Foster more than 60 years after he earned it for gallantry in action during World War II.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, pins the Silver Star on retired Maj. Jesse Foster more than 60 years after he earned it for gallantry in action during World War II. (Ladonnis Crump / U.S. Air Force)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Retired U.S. Army Air Corps Maj. Jesse E. Foster never expected anyone to make a big deal of his accomplishments — especially six decades later.

The former B-17 bombardier, now 82, earned the Silver Star for gallantry in action over German-occupied northern Italy during World War II.

In 1950, Foster received the medal in the mail.

But like many veterans who quickly demobilized after the Allied victory, he never had an official ceremony in his honor.

That changed Oct. 14 when Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, presented Foster the original Silver Star and certificate signed by Stuart Symington — first Secretary of the Air Force — during a commanders conference at Yokota.

“I was overwhelmed, by the number of people and the things said by the general and others … feelings they had for my surviving what I went through,” said Foster, a Flushing, N.Y., native who’s lived in Tokyo since 1951.

Toward the end of his career he was assigned to Fuchu Air Station near Tokyo, former home of 5th Air Force Headquarters, where he managed base exchanges at 12 military installations.

“We wanted an official forum to recognize this hero,” Wright said.

“It’s unbelievable what he did during World War II. … Those enduring values are such a wonderful part of our nation and military.”

On March 18, 1944, Foster, then a second lieutenant, was on his first mission with the new 463rd Bomb Group, 772nd Bomb Squadron.

When anti-aircraft fire hit several planes in a formation headed for Villa Orba, Foster suffered shrapnel wounds to his right thigh and both legs about 20 minutes from the target area.

Despite increasing numbness in both limbs, he continued to operate his machine guns.

When the B-17 was over its target, he dragged himself into position and released his arsenal.

He then returned to his guns and continued firing until the aircraft was five minutes past the drop zone.

Only then did he apply a tourniquet and inject morphine into his arm to ease the pain.

Foster also garnered a Purple Heart and an Air War Medal.

After recuperating from his wounds, he returned to flight status and took part in five more successful bombing missions.

But on June 5, 1944, one day before D-Day, he was on another B-17 that was shot down during a raid near Bologna, Italy.

Germans captured him shortly after he parachuted to the ground.

In prison, he endured forced marches, starvation, freezing temperatures and infections.

But when U.S. forces advanced into Germany, he used a bluff to be among the first prisoners to gain freedom.

On April 18, 1945, his captors were marching prisoners out to evade U.S. and Russian soldiers closing in. Pretending to be immobile, Foster and another American were abandoned at the Nuremberg prison.

“I’m proud of myself, not necessarily for shortening my imprisonment, but fooling the Germans,” he said.

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