MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS IN PANAMA                                                       [p4 of 8]  


Site Map

Site Index



Guest Book

Contact WHO











By WHO /By Others




Presented by the President in the Name of the Congress, it is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon any American.  The men who wear it call themselves "recipients" (not winners), for what they received it for was not a contest...it was a time of terror and death where their valor was tested, then recognized by a grateful Nation.  All of them feel that they didn't win The Medal...they RECEIVED it.  Frequently called "The Congressional Medal of Honor", its true title is simply:



The Medal of Honor was created in 1861.  Today there are three types of MOH:  Army, Air Force, and Navy.

Since the first award of the MOH made March 25, 1863, during the Civil War, through Operation Enduring Freedom (War in Iraq) there have been:  

3,467 Medals of Honor awarded to our nation's bravest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen and eight civilians

 For 3,461 separate acts of heroism

Performed by 3,448 individuals (including 9 “Unknowns”)  

(As of June 2, 2008) 


As of June 2008, there are 105 MOH recipients still with us: 30 - WWII, 14 - Korea, and 61 - Vietnam.






From a military monument at





Francis Edward Ormsbee, Jr.

[Source: Home of Heroes.com]





Francis Edward Ormsbee, Jr., 1922

[Source: Home of Heroes.com]
Francis (Frank or "Cappy") Edward Ormsbee, Jr, was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida as a Aviation Chief Machinist's Mate when he was awarded the Medal of Honor (Navy version) in 1918 (award citation below).  Two years later after aviation training, he received rating as a Naval Aviation Pilot.   

The Navy Department, once a policy was decided upon in late 1919 to designate selected enlisted men as Naval Aviation Pilots, started issuing certificates of qualification as Naval Aviation Pilots to some enlisted personnel who had qualified as pilots. Thus, in December 1919, the Navy directed that a class of twenty-five enlisted men (including Frank Ormsbee) take the Heavier-than-Air course at Naval Air Station Pensacola starting in February 1920 preliminary to appointment as Naval Aviation Pilots.  That was the third class of enlisted men to undergo flight training at Pensacola  but the first class whereby the graduates were identified as Naval Aviation Pilots and retained their enlisted status.  With NAP-25 as his Naval Aviation Number, Ormsbee became the 25th Naval aviator on October 8, 1920.  (Provisions of a law passed in July 1926 established a requirement that the number of enlisted pilots be not less than 30 percent of the total number of pilots on active duty in the Navy.  That was reduced to 20 percent in July 1932.)  [United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995 - Appendix 1, Naval Historical Center, pages 411-413]

Frank Ormsbee's qualifying as  a Naval Aviator came 13 months after his younger brother, Second Lieutenant Harry Selfridge Ormsbee, an Army Air Service pilot, was killed in an airplane crash (more below).    

After retiring from the Navy (as Chief Aviation Pilot, permanent) with 2,641 flight hours with the U.S. Naval Aviation Forces, he joined on February 10, 1929, the budding  Pan American Airways Air Mail service from U.S. to Latin America started in 1926 by Charles Lindbergh, another MOH recipient (1928).  It was considered a risky profession at that time. In March 1929, he was transferred by PanAm from its Miami Division to the Panama Canal Zone to help with the chronic shortage of experienced pilots and under the condition that he would be returned to Miami as soon as it would be possible.  He participated extensively  in establishing early Pan American routes in Central and South America. [Sources: For date Ormsbee joined Pan Am and transfer to Panama Canal Zone and flight time: Teresa E. Frontado in the Special Collections Division, University of Miami Richter Libraries -- information from the Pan American Airways Collection to WHO December 10, 2006.  ALso, Sally Savoia, Frank Ormsbee's niece, to WHO, who remembers Frank's mother (Sara Jane Griffiths Ormsbee who lived with Sally's family in her later years) talked often about Frank and Charles Lindbergh considering themselves trail blazers in the risky business of pioneering air mail service flights to the Caribbean and Latin America.]

In February 1929, Ormsbee piloted a mail flight from the Canal Zone to Managua, Nicaragua, accompanied by  Christian F. Schilt  (who had been awarded the Medal of Honor one year earlier for heroism in air evacuating several wounded personnel by several flights over three days under enemy fire in Nicaragua).  [Source: Julius Grigore, Jr., to WHO, Dec 2006]  (WHO's Note: That must have been one of only a few air mail flights by Schilt.  When his tour of duty in Nicaragua ended in 1928, Schilt was offered a flight home by another aviator who had achieved a certain degree of fame himself, Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh, then employed with Pan American Airways laying out planned trans-Atlantic commercial air routes for PanAm, was looking for a skilled pilot to do the same in the Caribbean and eventually the Pacific. He offered Schilt a job with PanAm paying $1,000 a month (phenomenal wages in 1928) with stock options. Schilt thought it over and elected to remain a Marine.  He continued with Marine Corps aviation winding up a stellar career including World War II assignments in the Pacific and retired from the Marine Corps as a four-star general. [Source: http://www.leatherneck.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-17178.html])

On July 16, 1929, Ormsbee inaugurated the Air Mail service from Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal Zone to Santiago, Chile, when he took off from nearby France Field in a Sikorsky S-38A airplane with registration  NC-8020 (photo below).  

First Air Mail service from Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone to Santiago, Chile, prior to takeoff from France Field. Ormsbee (pilot of NC-8020) on the right. (Photo and note with Ormsbee's signature provided to WHO by Julius Grigore, Jr., with his permission to use on WHO's website. See note under Sources below for permission required for any further use of this or similar photos)


S-38 A airplane -- Only nine A models of the S-38 were built of a total of 79 S-38 all models.  The NC-8020 Ormsbee piloted at least in 1929 was the fourth one of the A models built. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Holcomb from Holcomb's Aerodrome website at www.airminded.net.)  (For the complete production line go to: www.airminded.net/sikorsky1/s38prod.html For more photos of the S-38 go to  www.airminded.net/sikorsky1/s38.html )


Ormsbee was involved in a plane accident in Barranquilla, Colombia, on November 6, 1929, carrying U.S. Airmail between Cristobal (C.Z.) and Curacao.  He was piloting a Sikorsky S-38-B Amphibion (registration NC 9137) when a bird hit the windshield and caused the plane to crash. He sustained body bruises, nose cut and bruises and cuts in the left eye and forehead as a result of the incident.  He had logged 791 flight hours with Pan American Airways until the accident (in addition to his previous Navy flying time), covering 78,653 miles for the airline since February 1929. The investigation committee investigating that accident found him at fault for the accident in Colombia and ordered him to be grounded for 30 days. Nevertheless, due to his "excellent previous record"  they ask that his request  to be transferred back to Miami (which was part of his condition for accepting employment with PanAm and again had requested Nov. 10, 1929) be granted.  [WHO's notes:  (1) Perhaps the bird hitting the windshield of the plane had previously filed a flight plan.  (2)  The 791 flight hours logged by Ormsbee while with PanAm until the accident equates to an average of 88 per month; likewise, the 78,653 miles flown was an average of 8,739 miles per month.]   (Source: Teresa E. Frontado in the Special Collections Division, University of Miami Richter Libraries -- information from the Pan American Airways Collection to WHO December 10, 2006)

Ormsbee died October 24, 1936 at age 44 when his airplane struck the top of a mountain northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma, as he was trying to land in Oklahoma in murky weather to wait out a severe storm. At that time he was an inspector/patrol pilot for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce, stationed in Fort Worth, Texas (as reported by Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct 26, 1936 per Sally Savoia and by an Albuquerque newspaper, Oct 26, 1936, copy provided to WHO by Mike Stowe with www.accident-report.com Sept 2006).

Frank was buried alongside his younger brother Harry and later also his mother Sarah Jane Griffiths Ormsbee (who died in 1950) at the St. Francis Catholic Cemetery at Pawtucket, R.I.  

Second Lieutenant Harry Selfridge Ormsbee (born in 1894) was a pilot in the Army Air Service assigned to the 147th Aero Squadron June 22, 1919, when the unit was stationed at Selfridge Field in  Michigan, shortly after the unit had returned from World War I duty in France. (Source: 1st Pursuit Group History - 1919, 1st Fighter Association website)  He died in an airplane crash August 22, 1919, in the vicinity of Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, when attempting to land his SPAD airplane he was piloting.  From testimony of spectators, Ormsbee either overshot the field or flew low to inspect it and the airplane apparently lost airspeed when he banked sharply about 100 feet above the ground; the wing slipped and the airplane crashed.  (Source: Mike Stowe, Accident-Report.com to WHO September 20 and December 4, 2006)  The crash site was probably about 140 miles roughly northeast of Selfridge Field (now Selfridge Air National Guard Base).


Resting place for the two Ormsbee pilots and their mother Sarah Jane Griffiths Ormsbee in St. Francis Cemetery at Pawtucket, Rhode Island



medal of honor park sebring fl

francis edward ormsbee

Francis Edward Ormsbee, Jr., one of 21 MOH recipients accredited to the State of Florida honored at Sebring's Medal of Honor Park in central Florida. America's premier sports car race takes place at the historic Sebring International Raceway. More than 130 different marques have raced at Sebring, with drivers and teams from over 40 different countries entering the event over six decades. That site was originally a World War II B-17 training base known as Hendrick's Field.

[Source:  Snob Hollow Designs website http://www.snobhollow.com/ - Owner: Paul E. Giroux]

The large Building 631 (Ormsbee Hall) housing the central school for enlisted personnel on the Naval Station Pensacola was named for Frank Ormsbee with a memorial display in the foyer.  Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which did considerable damage to the Naval Station, destroyed Ormsbee Hall and was subsequently demolished.  (From Lee Ormsbee and Sally Savoia to WHO and email from NAS Pensacola Public Affairs Officer Harry White to WHO)  Because of its proximity to the waterfront, a
new building will not be built in its place.  Several new construction projects are underway at NAS Pensacola, but names of the buildings have not been determined (as of 2006). 

Frank's son, John (Jack) Edward Ormsbee, carried on the aviation tradition via a career with the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), the eventual successor agency to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce which was  Frank Ormsbee's last employer . John headed the FAA's D.C. area for several years and was head of the New England FAA in the early 1970s. ( Sally Savoia to WHO)

WHO's Observations:  It may not be a far stretch to think that Frank's two-year younger brother Harry's fatal airplane accident had a strong impact on his decision to become a pilot himself just one year after Harry's accident.  Also, perhaps a twist of irony that Harry's middle name was the name of his last assignment (Selfridge Field). 


Home of Heroes.com (at www.homeofheroes.com) for  MOH citation and photos of Francis E. Ormsbee, Jr.

Louise (Lee) Ormsbee (Frank Ormsbee's daughter in law - married to John (Jack) Ormsbee) -- email correspondence with WHO. 

Sally Savoia (Frank Ormsbee's niece - daughter of Sally Ormsbee Wall, Frank's younger sister) -- e-mail correspondence with WHO. 

Julius Grigore, Jr. (U.S. Navy Captain, Retired), who is writing a book on the Air Mail Service in the Panama Canal Zone.  His question to WHO if he is any relation to Francis E. Ormsbee, a Medal of Honor recipient, sparked WHO's efforts to determine if it is so.  Nothing definitive yet, but still an interesting story and it dispelled WHO's long-held thought that he was the first Ormsbee in Panama (living there since 1974).  Grigore also provided WHO the names of other MOH recipients who were Air Mail Service pilots. 

Above annotated photo of Frank Ormsbee on the first Air Mail service flight from Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone to Santiago, Chile July 16, 1929, used on this site with Grigore's permission.  (Any desired use elsewhere would need his expressed permission (scadta@comcast.net) as the entire Air Mail Service collection is in trust to his daughter.) 

New York Times, "WINS NAVY HEROISM MEDAL.; F.E. Ormsbee, Jr., Saved Man Drowning in Airplane," December 8, 1918 at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=

9C00E1D81E3BE03ABC4053DFB4678383609EDE .

Harry White, Naval Air Station Pensacola Public Affairs Officer, and Cathy Whitney, his Community Relations Officer, provided WHO some details on the Ormsbee Hall building at NAS Pensacola in addition to the information provided WHO by Louise Ormsbee and Sally Savoia. 

United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995 - Appendix 1, Naval Historical Center, pages 411-413; available at http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/usna1910.htm )

1st Fighter Association, including history of the 147th Aero Squadron, part of the 1st Pursuit Group at  http://www.1stfighter.org/history/1919.html 

Holcomb's Aerodrome, including Sikorsky S-38 Airplane Production History at http://www.airminded.net/sikorsky1/s38prod.html This website also has an extensive list of links to websites on aviation history covering a wide variety of aircraft, aviation museums, etc.

Mike Stowe with Accident-Report.Com (www.accident-report.com/) which maintains and provides military aviation incident reports.

P.S.  WHO thanks Peter Hershfield, whom he has known in Panama (and previously assigned to U.S. Southern Command at Quarry Heights) since the 1980s, for putting WHO in touch with Louise Ormsbee whom he knows.  Little information on Frank Ormsbee appears to be readily available.  At least, this page adds some dimension on Frank Ormsbee that complements his Medal of Honor award citation available on the Home Of Heroes.com and related websites.




The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor



Rank and organization: Chief Machinist's Mate, U.S. Navy. 

Place and Date:  Pensacola, Fla., 25 September 1918.  

Born: 30 April 1892, Providence, R.l. 

Accredited to: Florida. G.O. No.: 436, 1918.



For extraordinary heroism while attached to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., on 25 September 1918. While flying with Ens. J. A. Jova, Ormsbee saw a plane go into a tailspin and crash about three-quarters of a mile to the right. Having landed near by, Ormsbee lost no time in going overboard and made for the wreck, which was all under water except the 2 wing tips. He succeeded in partially extricating the gunner so that his head was out of water, and held him in this position until the speedboat arrived. Ormsbee then made a number of desperate attempts to rescue the pilot, diving into the midst of the tangled wreckage although cut about the hands, but was too late to save his life.


Citation and photos courtesy of Home Of Heroes.com




This page last updated:  Feb. 3, 2009 
Site developed, owned and maintained by 
William H. Ormsbee, Jr. 1999-2001 / 2005-2008
(Including WHO's IN RETROSPECT site 1999-2001)