By Russell Hood The Webster Progress-Times
Americans will honor the nation’s war dead on Monday, which is Memorial Day. One of those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces was Lt. Lee N. Minor — the first serviceman from Webster County killed in World War II.
Minor, who was killed in action 70 years ago this August, also holds the distinction of being the first U.S. Army Air Forces pilot killed in China.
Raised by the late E.B. and Alto Embry, he was the foster brother of the late Ralph and Russell Embry of Eupora. Minor graduated from Eupora High School, where he played football with the “Yahoos.” He went on to attend the University of Tennessee in Memphis and graduated with a pharmacy degree.
Soon after graduation and following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Minor enlisted in the military in December 1941. At the time of his death, he was serving with the American forces in China, specifically with Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault’s successors to the famed “Flying Tigers.”
Chennault’s official citation that follows, and the order awarding Minor the Purple Heart posthumously, give details of his death. The document, dated Aug. 30, 1942, states that Minor was a second lieutenant in the Air Corps, 75th Fighter Squadron of the 23rd Fighter Group.
Citation “On Aug. 5, 1942, Lt. Minor lost his life when his flight of five planes courageously attacked a force of 15 enemy fighters, near Leiyang, China. After the initial attack the section broke up into a number of individual fights in which the enemy had superior numbers.
“Without thought of personal danger and the great odds against him Lt. Minor continued to force the attack and to deliver fire against an enemy of the U.S.
“During the action his plane was hit and crashed. This aggressive attack against superior numbers, when his life was in grave danger, exemplifies those qualities of courage, fidelity and devotion to duty worthy of the best traditions of the service. Lt. Minor’s actions in the engagement in which he met his death, were and will be, an inspiration to both officers and men.” Other Details
Leading up to his death, the Japanese had massed fighter and bomber squadrons in late July 1942 as they were preparing to mount a major effort to wipe out the China Air Task Force, according to a history of the unit.
On July 31 (following other attacks), the badly outnumbered CATF P-40 pilots shot down 17 Japanese bombers and fighters, losing three P-40s in combat. The Japanese dispatched 30 Ki.43 Oscar fighters on Aug. 5 in an effort to smash Hengyang field and were intercepted by eight P-40s.
During the ensuing dogfight, CATF pilots downed four Oscars, losing one P-40, flown by Minor — the first USAAF pilot killed in China.
An article about Minor’s death in the Aug. 20, 1942, issue of The Webster Progress said he was the “first Webster County son who has given his life for his service in foreign combat (during World War II).”
Another article published later in the newspaper about the citation and Purple Heart awarded Minor concludes, “The brave action of this splendid young man in the cause of liberty for mankind all over the world will long be a shining monument in the hearts and the minds of his homefolk here in Webster County.”
Editor’s Note: Emmy Embry Long of Eupora provided the Progress-Times with source material and background information about Lee Minor, who is buried in Memphis. She is his niece and daughter of the late Russell Long.