Valley News -

By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

Hemet's Sgt. William Becker presented the Congressional Gold Medal

 

Last updated 8/10/2018 at 8:02pm

Tony Ault

Congressman Raul Ruiz, R-CA 36, presents retired Sgt. William Becker the Congressional Gold Medal at the American Legion Post 53 in Hemet Aug. 1, for his service to the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, flying nighttime clandestine missions into Nazi-held countries.

Sgt. William Becker was just 18 in 1945 when he was firing his twin 50-caliber machine guns in the turret atop his B-24 Liberator bomber trying to hit the German fighter firing tracers at the American plane. The pilot quickly dropped the bomber down to a very low altitude above the North Sea, in a violent evasive action.

A wall of trees and a steep rock face in a fiord loomed just ahead of the World War II bomber, flying a clandestine mission for the Office of Strategic Services into Nazi-occupied Norway. The aircraft was coming closer and closer to the rock face as Becker kept firing the guns. Just seconds before a certain collision, the pilot pulled the aircraft up, skimming the treetops, evading the enemy fighter and a series of German barrage balloons, continuing their secret mission to parachute OSS operatives, weapons, explosives and supplies to the Norwegian resistance fighters below.

The limping Liberator bomber managed to return to a safe Scottish air base to refuel. There Becker and the shaken crew learned there were tree branches sticking out of the bomber belly – that's how close they had come to death.

It was a true tale that Becker could not tell any of his family until many years later because of the Army Air Force 492nd Bombardment Group's top-secret mission for the OSS called "Carpetbagger." It was a mission that is considered one of the major turning points of World War II, leading to the collapse Nazi Germany and the end of the war.

Becker, now 92 and living in Hemet, surrounded by his significant other Gene Shelton, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren received the Congressional Gold Medal from Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D., R-CA 36. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow. Congress passed legislation Dec. 14, 2016, awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the Office of Strategic Services for their superior service and major contributions during World War II. Becker is one of last surviving members of the 13,000 people who served with the Office of Strategic Services in 1944-1945.

Ruiz in presenting the medal to Sgt. Becker at Hemet American Legions Post 53 Wednesday, Aug. 1, said, "Sgt. Becker is a true American hero who went above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect our nation. Our district is fortunate to have such an inspiring role model living right here in Hemet, and I am honored to recognize Sgt. Becker for his historical service to our nation by presenting him with the Congressional Gold Medal. Our country is forever indebted to you for your service and courage."

City officials from Indio, Banning, Beaumont, Hemet, San Jacinto, a representative for state Sen. Mike Morrell, American Legion Post 53 commanders and members and many other officials stood to applaud and cheer Sgt. Becker for his outstanding service to the nation.

"I'm not a good speaker. I was a good shot," Sgt. Becker said as he took the podium. He told the audience a story not previously told about how he and his bomber group were taken into a closed room and told of the mission. He said they were told they could walk away if they wished, but if anything was said about the mission, "You would be brought back and shot." From that point he could not tell his family anything as he was sworn to secrecy until 1985.

Later he enlarged upon his earlier statement about taking the mission. He said before his crew joined the Carpetbaggers, they were told to take a vote if they wanted to join.

"We did. The pilot decided we would," Becker said. There was no choice after that. The training for the Carpetbaggers with the 492nd Bombardment Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in their all-black painted B-24s began at Harrington Airfield where the crews learned to fly their clandestine missions. Mission after mission the bomber group helped the OSS and resistance fighters across Europe to destabilize the Nazi war machine.

Tony Ault

Hemet Mayor Michael Perciful, left, talks with Congressional Gold Medal winner Sgt. William Becker who flew clandestine Office of Strategic Services missions during the latter part of World War II. Sitting is Sgt. Becker's companion Gene Shelton. Becker was awarded the medal Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Hemet American Legion Post 53.

Recently, the U.S. Air Force reactivated the 492nd Bombardment Group and invited Becker to attend. It was there the group was given permission to be called the new "Carpetbaggers." The OSS from World War II, was the beginning of today's United States Strategic Command with groups like the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marine Expeditionary Forces and others.

Becker continues to be the leader of the remaining OSS comrades to keep their heritage alive as reunion director, treasurer and newsletter editor of the 801st and 492nd Bombardment Group Veterans Association.

The Gold Medal presentation to Becker was opened by Hemet Mayor Michael Perciful with the presentation of colors by the March Air Reserve Base Blue Eagles Honor Guard. Darla Fox sang the national anthem with the invocation given by American Legion District 21 Chaplin Russ Mills. Blake Weller gave the military history of Becker.

The Congressional Gold Medal presented to Becker, the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow, was first given to George Washington after the Revolutionary War. Other honorees include the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and the American Red Cross.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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