On April 12, 1945 Staff Sgt. Henry R. Erwin was a radio operator aboard a B29 flying a bombing run over Japan.
Upon reaching the target area, a white phosphorus canister ignited inside the bomb bay of the aircraft. As the billowing white smoke filled the aircraft, Erwin immediately crawled to his hands and knees, dropped inside the bomb bay, and cradled the 1300 degrees burning white phosphorus canister.
With his hair on fire, melting nose, arms and entire upper body, he crawled towards the cockpit, open the cockpit window and threw it out of the plane. With his clothing on fire and face charred beyond recognition, he was barely still alive when the plane made its way back.
Upon landing back in base, his body was so stiff, they had to dismantle the side of the plane to get him out. He was transferred to a hospital in Guam where the doctors were sure he was a goner.
Erwin was immediately recommended for the Medal of Honor and authorities in D.C. expedited the process so that it could be presented to him before he died. But there was only one Medal in the Pacific, on display in a locked glass case in Hawaii. An officer there, unable to find the key, smashed the glass case and personally flew it to Guam.
One week from the bombing run, Erwin was presented the Medal of Honor.
Erwin survived the war, his injuries and lived a full life until he was 81.