LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Nathan Green Gordon, a former Arkansas lieutenant governor who won the Medal of Honor for rescuing downed airmen during World War II, died early this week. He was 92.
Born in 1916 in Morrilton, Ark., Gordon graduated from the University of Arkansas law school in 1939 and began practicing law in his hometown. He learned to fly after enlisting in the Navy in 1941.
During the war, Gordon flew a Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat, a large plane no faster than a high-powered automobile. On Feb. 15, 1944, he received orders to search for downed pilots after a raid on the Japanese position in Kavieng along the Bismarck Sea near Papua New Guinea.
Under fire in rough seas, Gordon piloted the unwieldy aircraft to make three landings to pick up nine men. On the way back, he saw a life raft 600 yards from the enemy shoreline. Gordon landed yet again, pulling six more airmen aboard while taking on heavy fire.
"His plane was seriously overweight by the time he finished," said Stephan McAteer, executive director of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock. "He just did not want to leave anyone there because if they had been captured, they would have faced almost certain death."
Gordon flew his aircraft to Finschhafen, a port in northern New Guinea.
"I hadn’t thought about what I was doing," Gordon told the Kansas City Star in 2005. "I did what I had to do. And I was lucky to get out of it."
In nominating him for the nation’s highest military honor, his superiors cited Gordon for "exceptional daring, personal valor and incomparable airmanship under most perilous conditions."
Gordon also received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the Pacific.
Gordon, a Democrat, served as lieutenant governor from 1947 through 1967.