PACAF honors Air Force hero of Pearl Harbor attack

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Wilson
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, a base operations officer on Hickam Field showed great courage and bravery during the Japanese attack on the island.

During those chaotic moments, with the base coming under heavy bombing and gunfire, then-Maj. Gordon Aylesworth Blake directed a dozen arriving B-17 Flying Fortresses to safety.

 “We put some of them down at Bellows, and one of them at Kahuku Golf Course,” recalled Blake. “I don’t remember where all of them landed, but we lost only one.”  

Blake was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

82 years later, on Dec. 7, 2023, Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander, hosted an unveiling ceremony at Hickam’s Base Operations Center for a new display honoring Lt. Gen. Blake’s action that day, as well as his contributions to the Air Force over the course of his 34-year career. The display hangs proudly in the distinguished visitors’ lounge that bears his name.

Blake passed away in 1997 at the age of 87.  Blake’s grandson, Jerry Browning, along with Jerry’s wife, Pam; son, Matthew; and daughter, Jaclyn, attended the unveiling event.

“Thank you to Lt. Gen. Blake's family for donating his medals and helping us preserve his heritage and legacy,” Wilsbach said. “Your grandfather, who 80-plus years ago today, was upstairs while the attacks were happening, saved those aircraft.”

As he discussed Blake’s accomplishments, Wilsbach continued to describe how the Silver Star was only the beginning.

“He went on to have an incredible career,” said Wilsbach to Blake’s family, with a smile.  “What a legacy your family has, and we’re so thankful for you to help us remember his dedicated service and heroism to our country.”

Retired Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, former Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, awarded then-Col. Blake the Legion of Merit for his selfless service during his tour in the Pacific in World War II.  

Beginning in 1959, then-Maj. Gen. Blake served as both the PACAF vice commander in chief and the PACAF chief of staff for two years before receiving a promotion to lieutenant general in 1961 and serving as the commander of Continental Air Command from 1961 to 1962. He completed his career as director of the National Security Agency, retiring in 1965.

Following the unveiling of the new memorial display, Wilsbach and Chief Master Sgt. David Wolfe, PACAF command chief, presented the Blake family with coins.

“I'm in awe, standing here where everybody defended the country,” said Jerry Browning.  “And I think specifically about the people who will pass through this room and see this display of the medals.  I think about my grandmother, who was instrumental in saving the medals. She would have absolutely loved this display.”

Pam Browning added some of her most fond memories of her grandfather in-law as a leader in the family.

“Even though he had reached a high status and position in his career and life, he didn't think he was better than anyone,” Pam explained.  “He would help anybody, do any job and do anything.”

Pam described Blake’s love for volunteering at local animal shelters.

“He would be right there working with the volunteers cleaning out cages and walking the dogs,” Pam said. “He was an everyday man, as well as a leader.”

Jerry and Pam Browning described how Blake was always down-to-earth, humble and never raised his voice to his children or grandchildren.

 “He was a quiet leader,” Jerry said.

 “If you watched how he treated people, you’d see how he'd be quiet, he'd listen to ideas, and make sure he included people in what he was doing.”Jerry Browning

Active listening was a key tenet of his grandfather’s leadership style. 

“If he's not listening to the people around him, he may not be making the right decisions,” explained Jerry. “The things I picked up from him were taking the time to listen and treat everybody the same.”

Jerry also described how his grandfather never ran away from a difficult task.

“He was a doer,” Jerry said. “He made things happen.  But again, not by demanding it from people, but by leading them, doing it himself and showing them how to do it.”

Blake’s actions on that fateful day in 1941 exemplified the courage and bravery that defines American Airmen and their core values.

“Lt. Gen. Blake's humility, compassion, and strong leadership qualities extended far beyond the attacks on Hickam Field,” Wilsbach said. “His contributions to the Air Force and his country will continue to inspire future generations.”

Blake’s other awards include a second Legion of Merit; the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster; Air Force Cross; Air Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with battle stars for his participation in the Central Pacific, Eastern Mandates, New Guinea, North Solomons, Guadalcanal, Papua, the South Philippines, Luzon, and the Western Pacific campaigns; American Defense Service Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Philippine Liberation Medal; and Philippine Independence Medal.