Henry Erwin joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps as a private on July 27, 1942, at Birmingham, Ala. He tried pilot training but failed and then went to radio and mechanic technical schools at Keesler Field, Miss., and Sioux Falls, S.D. He received further technical training at Truax Field in Wisc., where he successfully completed the Radio Mechanic and Operator Course in April 1944.
He was assigned to the 52nd Bomb Group at Dalhart, Texas, and promoted to corporal in August and to sergeant in October 1944. He went to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater the following February and flew in B-29 strikes against Japan as a radio operator.
He earned two Air Medals and promotion to staff sergeant in March 1945, for these missions. He was seriously wounded in action on Apr. 12, 1945, while on a B-29 combat mission to Koriyama, Japan. Besides being radio operator on the lead plane of the group, he had the additional duty of dropping phosphorous smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the rendezvous point was reached. One of the smoke bombs, which Sergeant Erwin launched was faulty, exploded in the launching chute shot back into the aircraft, and seriously wounded and blinded him. The smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. Erwin managed to throw the bomb from the plane and, for this gallant and heroic act, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The citation reads, in part: "...Sergeant Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and, instinctively felt his way ...crawling around the gun turret and heading for the co-pilot's window. He found the navigator's table obstructing his passage. Clasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unlatched the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage, he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot's compartment. groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared and the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the airplane out of its dive. Sergeant Erwin's gallantry and heroism, above and beyond the call of duty, saved the lives of his comrades."
Erwin was promoted to master sergeant in October 1945, and was honorably discharged at Valley Forge General Hospital, Phoenixville, Pa., on Oct. 8, 1947
See the full citation at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.