NO. 17778 • 5 June 1927 – 8 January 1952
Killed in Action January 8, 1952 in Korea, aged 24 Years.
For those of us who knew Don, there is nothing that might be said which could tell us more; and for those who did not know him, these words can never express our sorrow at his passing nor give any measure to the depth of his friendship.
Don was born 5 June 1927, in New York City. His childhood and elementary school days were spent in Johnson City, Tennessee; then for high school, Don first put on a military uniform at Tennessee Military Institute. In 1945 he graduated from Castle Heights Military Academy and became a member of the Army Air Force. When he received his appointment to the Military Academy, Don was transferred to the USMA Preparatory School, then at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts. On 1 July 1946, Don put on his grays and was sworn in at Battle Monument with the Class of 1950.
The military aspects of his life as a cadet were nothing new to Don - and he fast became a friend in need and in deed to those of us who found the rigid beast barracks life difficult. Plebe Russian and the other academic pitfalls gave Don his share of late Iights--but, somehow he managed to find time for trips with the varsity boxing team - as its lightest contender. For four years Don represented West Point in the Eastern Inter-Collegiates only to be out-pointed late in the eliminations on each occasion. In his "cow" year, he was a corporal; and in his First Class year Don carried the Supply Sergeant's saber and shouldered the additional job of being the Duty Committee Representative for Company E-2.
We had a fine company when Don was a First Classman, and it was due in no small measure to Don's hard work, level head, friendly smile, and common sense. Don's exemplary character and devotion to duty left a lasting mark on his classmates, upperclassmen, and underclassmen. In four years of close association at school, during times when nerves were especially on edge, never was there ever anything said of Don which was less than complimentary . . . Don was a standard of fine American manhood.
Upon graduation Don chose the Air Force and was assigned to Goodfellow Air Force Buse, San Angelo, Texas, for basic flying school. Basic was completed in January of 1951, and Don elected to become a conventional engine fighter pilot. For the next six months flying the F-51 Mustang, and hazing our classmates in the multi-engine and jet aircraft were Don's primary considerations. On 4 August 1951, at Craig Air Force Base, Selina, Alabama, Don received his wings and orders to Korea. There was a pleasant leave at home in Johnson City; then a happy three months in Combat Crew Training School at Luke Air Force Base, Phoenix, Arizona. Another visit at home preceded the trip to Camp Stoneman, Hawaii, Wake Island, Tokyo, and Korea.
Once in the Far East Air Force, Don was assigned to the famed 18th Fighter Bomber Group ... the last operational fighter group flying F-51's. He was among friends in Korea, for seventeen of his USMA classmates and most of his flying school classmates were also assigned to the Mustang group at WonJu, Korea. Combat check-out and missions came slowly because of the lack of airplanes and the presence of bad weather.
The 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron, to which Don was assigned, had a streak of heavy losses; and prior to his fifteenth mission Don saw two of his classmates and four of his friends from flying school killed or taken prisoner by the Communists. On 8 January 1952, Don was on his 15th mission, a dual purpose, two target, fighter strike in North Korea. Don dropped his bombs on the railroad deep in enemy territory; then on the return trip to his base, hit an important secondary target of supplies and personnel near the front lines, with his rockets and machine gun fire. As he broke away from the target after firing his first rocket, he and his aircraft were hit by enemy automatic weapons antiaircraft fire. Because he was hit personally and was at a low altitude, he was unable to abandon his burning aircraft and crashed into the target area.
Don, like his older brother, Conrad, who was killed in World War II in Germany, in 1945, found a "soldier's resting place beneath a soldier's blow" . . . part of the heavy price we have paid for our participation in two recent wars. As a soldier, Don would have been the last to expect combat without casualties; and as a Christian, he would be the last to have us mourn his death . No finer soldier has graduated from West Point; and Don was as fine a Christian as a soldier. He was never one to parade his beliefs, but no one was ever more sincere or devout. To know him was to realize that he was a sound Christian with the deepest kind of practical religion.
Medon Armin Bitzer, First Lieutenant, United States Air Force, Purple Heart, Air Medal, is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Bitzer of Johnson City, Tennessee; his sister, Edith; and brother, Carl Wilfrid.
No words can express how deep is our sorrow or how great our loss at the death of this young soldier - airman . . . a soldier by even Kipling's rugged standards; but our personal loss cannot compare with the loss to the United States and to the Christian world of so promising a leader and citizen as Don.
- W.H.B and R.W.S.