The 464th Bomb Group Short Rounds
From Air Force Magazine
WWII bomber crew members awarded Distinguished Flying Cross|
By Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
4/26/2007 - WASHINGTON (AFNEWS) — It was a
warm summer morning when the crew of the Flak Man, a B-24 Liberator, joined other
bombers and their escort fighters on a daring mission. They flew from Pantanella, Italy,
and played a key role in the bombing of oil refineries 700 miles away near Ploesti,
Romania. The location was of strategic importance -- Nazi Germany got 60 percent of
their petroleum from the plants there.
En route, there was heavy resistance from the Luftwaffe
in the air and from anti-aircraft fire on the ground. But despite heavy damage to the Flak
Man, the crew was able to successfully deliver their munitions and returned to Italy,
their mission complete and instrumental to halting the Nazi war machine.
Former Staff Sgt. Robert D. Speed salutes Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley
after receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the Ploesti, Italy, mission 63
years ago. Mr. Speed was a member of a B-24 Liberator Bomber crew who encountered
heavy anti-aircraft fire July 15, 1944, and as a result lost one engine. The crew still managed
to complete their mission of bombing oil refineries in Romania, but was shot down the
next day while participating in a raid over Austria; they were taken prisoner of war.
The next morning, the crew was sent out again, but
the Flak Man was too damaged to fly. The crew instead went out in the Black Fox, a B-24
so similar to their beloved Flak Man, they hardly noticed the difference. On the way to
their target in Austria, the Black Fox was shot down, killing one of the crew, Tech. Sgt.
William Magill. The others were held as prisoners until the end of the war.
In a ceremony on Capitol Hill April 24, the crew of the
Flak Man was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their role in the Ploesti mission
63 years ago. The three living members of the original crew were on hand for the event,
while representatives for the others accepted their medals. The honorees were: 1st Lt.
James E. Jatho, 1st Lt. Edward L. "Mac" McNally, 2nd Lt. Theodore D. Bell,
2nd Lt. George N. Croft, Tech. Sgt. Jay T. Fish, Tech. Sgt. William A. Magill, Staff Sgt.
Frank G. Celuck, Staff Sgt. Robert D. Speed and Staff Sgt. Daniel P. Toomey.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., awarded the DFCs and presented them all with American
flags that had been flown over the Capitol.
"This is the legacy of today's Air Force and a
sign of what young Americans are all about," General Moseley said. "They
walked in the footsteps of Airmen before them just as they paved the way for us. Today's
Airmen stand on the shoulders of giants and it's my honor to present these American
heroes with the Distinguished Flying Cross."
The flight to properly recognize the Flak Man crew
began at a reunion almost 10 years ago. Lieutenant Edward "Mac" McNally,
the crew's bombardier, had heard one member of the crew had possibly been awarded
But it was unknown if the award was for the entire
team, so Lieutenant McNally launched a campaign for his crew to find out one way or
another. He wrote letters to elected officials as well as Air Force leaders, but no records
could be found detailing the DFC being awarded to any member of the Flak Man.
The former lieutenant had all but given up. But his
family took up his plight, and his sons' requests finally reached the desks of General
Moseley and Congressman Young.
"They worked together and did the right thing in
honoring this crew," Lieutenant McNally said. "I can't tell you how grateful
we are in what they've done for us. We're veterans of another generation and when the
Air Force called to say we were being awarded the DFC, I was excited and nervous all
at once ... and very, very thankful."
Surrounded by more than 100 friends and family
members, the three living crew members, Lieutenant McNally, Tech. Sgt. Jay T. Fish
and Staff Sgt. Robert D. Speed as well as representatives for the deceased Airmen began
the day at the Air Force Memorial, which honors the sacrifices of Airmen past. Beneath
its three curved spires, the Air Force Honor Guard set a wreath of remembrance for the
Flak Man crew.
"It's an impressive site," said Sergeant
Fish, the flight engineer for the Flak Man. "So many people put their lives on the
line during wartime, and this is a great tribute to them."
Afterwards, the group went to the World War II
Memorial, where family members searched the records for names they knew. They then
visited House Armed Services Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill for the award
"Honoring our past reinforces today's warfighting
ethos," General Moseley told the crowd. "Today, for example, we have bombers
over Afghanistan 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help ground forces fight the
enemy, just like these Airmen did 63 years ago."
Humbled, yet proud, Mr. McNally also spoke to the
"Most Air Force members don't care if they
ever get a medal or not," he said. "But should the Air Force see fit to honor
me, I will not disdain it. I will cherish it."
This article was submitted by Nancy J. Rellihan and
reproduced with the written permission of the USAF, Air Force News Agency.
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