Hardin Field McChesney, with his crew. Front: Joseph Sicard, Lewis Wilson, Robert Whitelaw, Streun. Back: Alfred Lubojacky, Leon Nahmias, Grank McDonough, James Standlee, and Hardin Field McChesney

2021 marks 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Public opinion was divided over America’s role in World War II before Imperial Japan launched a surprise attack against the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The lines at military recruiting offices across the country in the following days suggested that neutrality was no longer an option.

More than 350 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a devastating attack to destroy and damage the US Pacific Fleet, before it could respond to Japanese operations taking place on the same day against British, Dutch and US territories in southeast Asia. Within two hours, 18 US warships had been sunk or damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed and 2,403 American servicemen and women killed.

Many of these ships were repaired and fought in later battles. Crucially all three of the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and escaped damage to play a vital role in the coming Pacific Campaign.

Hardin Field McChesney

From College Student to POW

Twenty-year-old college student Hardin Field McChesney of Bowling Green, Kentucky, was among
the millions of Americans who volunteered to serve on the morning of December 8 1941. He was not among the first to ship out, however.

As Field explained: “On Monday after that Sunday, we went down to the recruiting office here in town to see about joining up. We were turned away. The sergeant said that he had instructions, as long as we were in college we were to stay there, and they would call us one day when they needed us.”

Field was called up into the Army in 1943 and began infantry training. He later transferred to the Army Air Forces where he trained as a radio operator. Upon completing his training in radio communication and aerial gunnery, he was assigned to a B-17 Flying Fortress crew and shipped out to the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh in Bedfordshire.

Field’s tenth mission, on February 14 1945, ended in a fiery crash after two German fighter planes jumped his B-17 over Dresden. While bailing out, Field stopped to save his waist gunner, even though the burning aircraft could explode at any time.

Upon landing he was greeted by a hostile crowd. “I sensed right away that they weren’t there to give me the key to the city,” Field recalled with wry humor. He was “saved” from the angry mob by a young German soldier who took him to a local jail before he was sent to an interrogation center in Frankfurt. That is where he met his pilot and other American airmen who had become prisoners of war.

Field was liberated in April 1945 when General George Patton’s American tanks arrived at his POW camp in Bavaria. Two weeks later, they were on their way back to the US. Field finished his college education, became a newspaper reporter, and then worked in public affairs before joining the Veterans Administration.

Hardin Field McChesney died in 2019 at the age of 98. His story is showcased in the museum and is one of thousands documented at americanairmuseum.com. Your support is crucial to maintaining that archive and enabling more proud families to add their own photos and memories.

The eight decades that have passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor have claimed nearly all the Americans who volunteered to serve in the subsequent days – including nearly 30,000 who died while flying from Britain during World War II, as well as those like Field who survived and returned to civilian life. All their legacies remain alive and well at the American Air Museum thanks to members like you. 

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