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World War II Veteran to Receive Silver Star

Contributed by the Office of Delegate Richard L. Anderson

~Ernest M. Hancock of Manassas to receive military decoration on floor of Virginia House of Delegates~

~Third highest U.S. military decoration recognizes gallantry in action on July 18, 1944~

RICHMOND – On Friday, March 7th at 11am, a World War II veteran will receive double honors from the Commonwealth in which he now lives and the country he served in the 1940s in a ceremony on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Manassas resident Ernest Merle Hancock, who goes by his middle name, will first be recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia with a joint House-Senate Commending Resolution presented by Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-50th), on behalf of the General Assembly.

Hancock will then receive the Silver Star for his World War II service as a B-17 top turret gunner. At the time, he held the rank of Technical Sergeant in the United States Army Air Forces, which was the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force that was created as a separate military service in 1947.

The Silver Star is the third highest award for gallantry in combat against an armed enemy of the United States and is only exceeded by the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross. The award will be presented by Maj. Gen. James N. Post III, director of operations at Air Combat Command headquarters at Langley AFB, Va., and Del. Richard L. Anderson (R-51st), a retired Air Force colonel who represents a portion of Prince William County and chairs the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus.

Notably, Sergeant Hancock never received, nor was he ever notified, that he had been approved for the Silver Star in 1944, a full 70 years before the medal will be pinned on his chest on Friday. During military demobilization that followed the cessation of armed conflict, a number of such military decorations went astray and were never presented to their recipients.

In September 2013, a military veteran who resides in Nokesville, retired Marine Lt. Col. Jerry Martin, shared his suspicions with Del. Rich Anderson that Sergeant Hancock had been nominated for the Silver Star for his actions in 1944, but had never received the award. Anderson in turn asked the Air Force, through U.S. Congressman Robert J. Wittman (R-1st), to research the matter. Cong. Wittman will be present for Friday’s ceremony on the House floor.

The Air Force later concluded that Hancock had been nominated for the Silver Star, but had never been notified of the award or received the medal. Last Sunday, Anderson formally notified Hancock of his award in a private meeting in Manassas with the World War II veteran and his family.  Friday’s ceremony will correct that inadvertent oversight.

The citation to accompany the Silver Star reads as follows:

“The President of the United States of America has awarded The Silver Star to Technical Sergeant Ernest M. Hancock, 815th Bomb Squadron, 483rd Bomb Group for Gallantry in Action as a gunner of a B-17 aircraft.  On 18 July 1944, Sergeant Hancock participated in a bombing mission against a vitally important enemy airdrome in Germany.  In the target area his group was attacked by approximately two hundred aggressive enemy fighters, and, in the ensuing engagement, his aircraft was severely damaged and set on fire, and Sergeant Hancock was seriously wounded about the legs.  Despite intense pain, shock, and loss of blood, Sergeant Hancock gallantly remained at his guns in the heroic defense of crippled aircraft against the overwhelming enemy attacks.  With outstanding skill he successfully destroyed three of the attacking aircraft.  Even when flames from the burning aircraft menaced his safety and inflicted severe burns to his legs and hips, Sergeant Hancock courageously remained at his post in the defense of his plane.  Only when ordered to abandon the burning aircraft did Sergeant Hancock leave his guns and bail out.  By his conspicuous gallantry, determination, and devotion to duty, Technical Sergeant Hancock has reflected great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

In announcing Friday’s ceremony, Anderson stated that “Sergeant Merle Hancock is an inspiration to us all.  Like others of his generation, he stepped forward to defend our country when the western democracies faced their hour of greatest peril in the 1940s. I wore an Air Force uniform for 30 years, but my own service fades in comparison to the gallant deeds performed by Sergeant Hancock and other American airmen in the skies over Europe.”

Today, Sergeant Hancock resides in Manassas near his daughter and grandchildren.

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