For Gallantry

On the 8th of May, 1944, 1st Lt. Ray Sparks Jr. was shot down by a gaggle of FW 190s, bailed out, and landed in a POW camp. The Germans told him that was the first time that had happened! He spent the next year in Luftwaffe prison camps, under the death threat for awhile, as a spy, but was released at the end of the war.

Eight days before this event, Sparks had engaged in an action which was to result in the award, to him, of a Silver Star, the 3rd highest U.S. decoration.

It was 30 April, 1944 and Colonel Don Graham led the group to targets around Claremont, France. Twenty Enemy fighters were engaged and nine were shot down. First Lt. Charles J. Schreiber however, was having engine problems and headed home escorted by his element leader, Ray Sparks, who takes up the story: "As we came to the French coast line his aircraft burst into flames. He made two attempts to roll over and fall and by that time we were about a quarter of a mile off shore and the shore batteries opened up on his parachute and my aircraft. I would dive toward the shore and the tracers would stop, but would start again when I pulled up to circle the parachute and later the dinghy in the water. I went through" the "May Day" procedure and Air Sea Rescue answered me immediately and took a fix on me. They instructed me to continue circling the pilot at an altitude of about 2,500 feet. At this altitude I could keep the dinghy in sight, and spot German rescue units coming from shore, and the British rescue units could spot me. "The Germans twice sent boats out from shore but both times I was able to send them back. I didn't sink either one of them, but they gave up and did not return. It seemed only a few minutes before I spotted two Spitfires coming in low and strafing the shore line. Then I saw the Walrus, which landed and picked up Schreiber. It was a very short time before the sea plane was in the air and the Spitfires were escorting it back across the Channel." In this case, RAF records provide further information. The Walrus, (serial number L2289) and the Spitfires were from 277 Squadron and had come from their base at Hawkinge. This is located just SW of Dover and about 30 miles from Schreiber's position in the water, which allowed them to be on the scene in a very short time. The Walrus and the Spitfires arrived in short order. Sparks' efforts to draw fire and his and the Spitfire pilots successful effort to suppress the flak and drive the German boats away. The man "in the drink" being so close to the ASR base did not hurt either! The citation for Sparks' Silver Star sums it up: "Lieutenant Spark's gallantry and disregard for his own safety in the face of heavy enemy fire were undoubtedly responsible for the safe return of a fellow flyer."

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