Seven adopted or native Floridians
received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for heroism. They were Army Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Robert E. Femoyer of Jacksonville; Army 2nd Lieutenant Alexander "Sandy" Nininger of Fort Lauderdale; Navy pilot Commander David McCampbell of West Palm Beach; Army Air Force Major Thomas B. McGuire of Sebring; Marine Private Robert M. McTureous of Altoona; Army Private James H. Mills of Fort Meade; and Crawfordville native Army 1st Lieutenant Cecil H. Bolton. Of the seven men listed above, only Bolton, McCampbell and Mills survived the war.
Two other Florida heroes deserve particular attention. Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., of Madison, Florida, who died just three days after the American entry into World War II, became a symbol of American resistance during the early days of the conflict. A B-17 bomber pilot in the Philippines, Kelly and his crew bombed a ship they mistakenly believed to be the battleship Haruna. A Japanese fighter subsequently damaged Kelly's plane. He ordered his crew to bail out, but was unable to exit the plane before it crashed. Kelly posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross based on the belief that he damaged or destroyed the Haruna, and also because he stayed with his plane until his crew could bail out.
Monticello resident and U.S. Marine Sergeant Ernest "Boots" Thomas led the patrol that planted the first American flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi during the ferocious battle of early 1945. This achievement was overshadowed by a second, highly-publicized flag raising later the same day. In the vicious fighting that followed on Iwo Jima, Thomas was killed in action. His family later received the Navy Cross awarded for his service.
Casualties of the War:
By war's end, over 4,600 Floridians had died in military service, with battle deaths numbering 3,086. Thousands more were wounded in action or captured by enemy forces, with many of the seriously wounded suffering permanent disabilities. Army dead from Florida numbered 3,540 of all causes, with 1,971 killed in action or died of wounds. Naval combat fatalities numbered 1,115. Nationally, wartime deaths totaled 405,399 servicemen and servicewomen from all causes, with 291,557 battle deaths. These figures made World War II the second deadliest conflict (after the Civil War) in American history.