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A sunken plane, a diver's find, and the push for recognition of a 97-year-old veteran

Posted at 5:09 PM, May 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-17 20:05:09-04

DENVER -- It was Valentine’s Day 1944 when bombardier Armand Sedgeley’s B-17 bomber was attacked by enemy fighters in the skies over the Mediterranean Sea. His actions likely saved the lives of six other people on that plane, and now 74 years later, a complete stranger is leading a crusade to get him the military medals he deserves. 

Sedgeley was only 24 years old, serving in the U.S. Army, when German planes began firing at his “Flying Fortress.” Three of the American crew members inside were killed from gunfire, but the bombardier and the plane’s navigator manned front machine guns and fired back. 

“We shot the fighter down,” Sedgeley remembers. 

But the plane had sustained heavy damage. They flew to the nearest runway in Corsica, but it was too short.

“We had to land,” Sedgeley told Denver7. “The pilot ditched the plane in the sea.”

Seven of the crew members survived, including Sedgeley, who sustained broken ribs. The crew was rescued by Allied forces on the Mediterranean. The plane sank nearly immediately. 

Sedgeley was awarded several medals for his service, including the Purple Heart. Three other members of the B-17 crew received the nation’s third highest military honor: the Silver Star. The bombardier never did. 

Fast forward to diver John Christopher Fine exploring the sunken plane in the mid '90s. He found a dog tag of one of the crew members in that wreckage that connects Sedgeley to the day the plane went down. Fine hopes that will help the vet earn that Silver Star. 

“When I found that dog tag I immediately realized our nation - as a nation - must honor not only Armand Sedgeley for his bravery and his courage but all of those men of his crew,” Fine told Denver7.

He’s contacted representatives from the military and U.S. government, trying to move the medal process along. He says it’s been a slow road, but it’s worth it. 

“(Sedgeley) rendered aid to the dead and to the dying rendering first aid. He helped the others evacuate when the plane crash-landed in the sea. If that’s not heroism in the face of combat, I don’t know what is,” Fine said. 

And if that mission is successful, and Fine is able to help award the 97-year-old with the third highest military honor in the country, that vet says he’d be happy. 

“I’d be honored,” Sedgeley said.