BBM: When did you realize the pilot and co-pilot needed to be honored?
Horn: I always believed that any pilot who ditched a plane and saved lives should be awarded a medal. Years ago, our tail gunner Sergeant Louis Brown, asked me to put in a medal for the crew. I replied, “Why? We didn’t do anything. John and Lorin should be awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for what they did to save our lives.” I also told him that I wasn’t high enough in the chain of command. Only John, who had passed away by then, or Lorin could have initiated the application. By then, Lorin was about 88. He had no interest in pursuing this claim.
BBM: Then why did you feel responsible to start the process?
Horn: Simply, they were my heroes. Then on Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger magnificently landed his U.S. Airways jet into the Hudson River. I said to my wife that my guys did the same thing but in a B17, under fire, that had a ball turret sticking out of the bottom. Then and there, I made up my mind to apply for the DFC for John and Lorin.
BBM: Was it difficult to make the application?
Horn: First, I was told that the cut-off date for WWII commendations was May 1951, and I almost quit; I then learned the rule was rescinded in 1996 to a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, I started by writing to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, then to the senators and congressmen from my state of New York, and then Ohio and California, Lorin and John’s home states. One of my roadblocks was that someone of higher rank than I needed to have first-hand knowledge of the ditching. As it turned out, the only eye witnesses I had were two local kids in Fiume, Italy.
BBM: How did you learn this?
Horn: In 2007, my wife and I visited Rijeka. Incredibly, the travel agent had a cousin, Stelio Vranicich, who was nine years old at the time and saw the crash landing. Also, there was a 12-year old boy, Ivo Simonic, who was standing next to two SS officers. One of the officers said to Ivo, “The pilot must be very efficient and competent and have great skill.” They remembered that day with great accuracy. Stelio Vranicich, now 74, wrote a letter on behalf of the pilots that I submitted as part of the application.
BBM: Was anyone else helpful to you during the process?
Horn: The offices of New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan were particularly helpful. They wrote letters of support. The real breakthrough came when I called the Air Force Review Board and spoke with former Sgt. Raymond Diaz, chief of intake analysis. He helped me fill out all the proper forms. I also gave Ray information on contacts for John and Lorin’s families. I pleaded for the process to be expedited as Lorin was dying of cancer. (Lorin died July 9, 2011.)
BBM: Despite your hard work, the first application was rejected.
Horn: They said my story had inconsistencies. They said we weren’t hit by flak, but that the engines were pulling too much power, an engine malfunction. Incredibly, the tail gunner was awarded the Purple Heart from being hit by a piece of flak on that same mission. Sergeant Stover, the radio operator, wrote that they were hit by flak in his story for the 772nd Bomber Group history book. Then the review board said I wasn’t under John’s command. That was obviously incorrect. Nevertheless, it was rejected.
BBM: But then it was reversed?
Horn: Yes, a letter submitted by Louis Brown, my fellow crewmember who had been hit by flak, was not previously considered by the Air Force Review Board. Therefore, the board reviewed the entire application process. Surprisingly, on March 16, 2012, Ray called and said the board reversed its findings. John and Lorin would be awarded the medal. I was literally brought to tears and walking on air. John Lincoln’s family declined a presentation and had the medal sent to them. The Millard family was informed the presentation could be made at Wright Patterson Air Field in Dayton, Ohio.
BBM: How many crewmen remain from Pretty Baby’s Boys?
Horn: I believe I am the last.
BBM: You told me that you were the only Jewish airman on the crew. We are taught tikkun olam, to help heal the world. Do you feel you performed such an act?
Horn: In a way, yes. These two men made a difference for all of us. I would not have lived my life; none of us would have lived our lives. I’m persistent. I believe that if something is doable, I find a way to do it. I stayed with it.