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World War II pilot receives the Knight of the Honorable Order of Saint Michael award

Brig. Gen. David Doran, Assistant Director, Army National Guard for Aviation, Intelligence and Information and Capt. Dick Nelms, World War II at the WANG Aviation Readiness Center, JBLM on March, 3, 2024. Photo credit: Joseph Siemandel

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Guard members from 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation took some time to honor World War II pilot Capt. Dick Nelms with the presentation of the Knight of the Honorable Order of Saint Michael award at the Washington Army National Guard Aviation Readiness Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord on March, 3, 2024.

Brig. Gen. David Doran, assistant director, Army National Guard for Aviation, Intelligence and Information came from National Guard Bureau to take part in the presentation.

"You come from a generation that many of us long revere, and we honestly are just so proud to call ourselves brothers and sisters in the long line of military aviators who joined the military to go fly the most amazing machines," said Doran. "We are just so thrilled and humbled to be here with you."

Nelms, a resident of Mercer Island, enlisted in the Army Air Forces (the direct predecessor of the U.S. Air Force) in 1942 and was accepted to Aviation Cadet and Pilot training for active duty in March 1943. After earning his wings that December, he was assigned to the 447th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, based in Rattlesden, England.

Nelms piloted the B-17 Flying Fortress, the iconic four-engine bomber that became a symbol of the United States' airpower in the war. Nelms flew 35 missions into Germany, France and other Nazi-occupied territories, sustaining battle damage in 25 of those missions. Nelms returned from his fourth mission, a 10-hour trip to Berlin, with more than 300 holes in his airplane, "Rowdy Rebel II." The aircraft was repaired, but the drag created from all the eighth-inch thick patches slowed the plane so much that it could never fly in combat again. Nelms and his crew were given a new plane, which they christened "Pandora's Box" and completed an additional 31 missions. He earned numerous valor awards for his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Air Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the French Legion of Honor Medal.

Following the end of the war, Nelms moved to the Seattle area and established himself in the commercial art business. In 1967 he was commissioned to create a new Washington state seal insignia, selecting a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington for the design, which was accepted and made the official state seal by the Legislature and is still used today.

"Captain Nelms is truly an incredible man, the men he flew with were incredibly brave. We wanted to take the time to thank him for his service," said Maj. Adam Hanisch, operations and administrative officer for 96th Aviation Troop Command. "The Knight of the Order of Saint Michael award is so rare, so it's a great experience to witness this."

The Order of Saint Michael award was established in 1990 as a venture between the Army Aviation Association of America and the U.S. Army Aviation Center. The award includes four categories - Bronze, Silver, Gold and Honorary Knight.

This award is designed to recognize an individual's long-term support and/or a legacy with significant and long lasting impact to Army aviation. While there is no specific time period for this award, it is not normally represented by a single assignment unless recognizing an enduring achievement in direct support of Army aviation soldiers and their families.

Nelms recently turned 101 years old and continues to stay active supporting the greater aviation community and share stories about his time flying. He travels around the country from his home in Mercer Island to talk about his service in World War II and volunteers at the Seattle Museum of Flight leading group discussions.

"This is overwhelming to hear all these words," said Nelms. "Thank you so much for this honor, I will never forget it."

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