B24 Gunner Missing, Then Dead, Comes Home

On his 13th mission over Nazi occupied France, Sgt. Ned Daugherty's bomber was shot down. That was when Mr. and Mrs. Daugherty were first notified their son was missing. A few days later a message informed them their son had been killed. Actually Sgt. Daugherty was helped back to England by the French underground. Months later, he cabled his mother to say he was on his way home and was safe. His mother said "We were so certain he was safe that when the insurance man came around to pay us on his policy, we turned it down".

NED DAUGHERTY—A WWII VETERAN’S STORY

Interview by William Corso

 

William Corso was a junior at Roanoke College, majoring in Economics and History. He had an interest in World War II ever since his Grandfather told him war stories. This interview was done in May, 2013, to “...help me and future generations understand what it waslike to fight in the most horrific war in history, and to know how it felt to fight tyranny andinjustice around the world. It is important to document these discussions with Veterans as it gives us insight not only into questions about war, but also an understanding of the past.”

 

There are many great tales of heroism and valor from the Second World War. Lifting the American flag on Iwo Jima, protecting your comrades in arms atop aburning tank in France, and showing true mettle in urban combat in Stalingrad.Tales of sacrifice and duty allow American citizens to have great pride in their soldiers abroad. But meeting a hero in person and having them inspire you personally is an honor which can never be forgotten. Ned Daugherty told a story of valor, dedication,heroism, and a bit of luck in the skies over Europe.

 

A crewman in a B-24Liberator, Ned cheated death numerous times all while serving his country. Born and raised in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, on August 4, 1924, Ned Daughertylived a traditional life with his two brothers and two sisters up until the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 thrust the United States into the most costly conflict in history. Still in high school at the time, Ned knew he would end up fighting for his country. He graduated in June, 1942, and started working for an electric and manufacturing company with hopes of buying hisfirst car, dating his high school sweetheart, and saving for the future. But the war was certainly taking its toll on the American public. Fifteen million Americans were already part of the Armed Forces by the time Ned and five of his closest friends volunteered.

 

Fearing they would be drafted regardless of the decisions they would make, the five young men visited a recruiter and were promised service together, as well as a promotion to non-commissioned officer rank upon leaving training. The six recruits reported to Fort Mead to begin basic training on March 18, 1943. After basic, to their surprise, five of them were sent to Texas, while Ned was selected to attend gunnery school, leaving the rest of his friends behind. Ned was sent to gunnery school in Fort Myers, Florida, where he trained to be a waist gunner for bombers over Europe, which were in short supply at the time. The final part of his training consisted of air-to-air shooting. This was done out of an open cockpit of an AT-6 over the Gulf of Mexico.

 

For Ned, this was quite an excitingexperience due to the fact that he had never flown in an aircraft before. Ned graduated and, as promised, received the rank of Sergeant. He was then sent toSalt Lake City, Utah; then Idaho; then Iowa for crew training, where he joined up with the 703rd Bomb Squadron—445th Bomb Group eventually based at Tibenham, England. The crew trained on B-17’s at first, but then transitioned over to the new B-24 Liberator, which they would eventually use in combat. The crew consisted of people from all over the country: California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Georgia. Each had a story to tell and a vision for the future.

 

Eventually their training was finished and Ned received his promised rewards: silver flight wings and a promotion to Staff Sergeant. The bomber squadron was ordered to continue on to London and flight from the US to England consisted of a 30-day sightseeing tour. Stopping in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Morocco, and Casablanca, where an emergency landing took place late at night. The crew arrived in England early December, 1943.Their first mission together occurred on December 22, 1943, and targeted Osnabruck, Germany. The second was Bonnieres, France; then Kiel, Germany; then Mannheim, Germany. The latter mission proved to be quite difficult as there was an unexpected German presence in the area.

 

The mission called for a low levelbombing raid (11,000 feet); however, the bomber squadron missed their target. As the group attempted to compensate and swing back around, flak began to fill the sky and German fighters began to swarm the B-24’s. Ned could feel the aircraft shake and vibrate as shells exploded close to his aircraft and as German fighters made strafing runs. The co-pilot was struck by flak and was killed. Upon returning to Tibenham Air Base in England, a ceremony was held for the co-pilot and two other airmen in just 20 minutes. Their B-24 was so crippled by the flak and German fighters that it had to be scrapped. Crew gunners took turns staying behind every other day. On February 24, 1944, it was Ned’s turn; unfortunately, the rest of the crew did not make it back. It was the first day Ned missed a day with his crew since Boise, Idaho. A bond is formed while doing so many missions together, almost that of a family’s. Those men lost over Germany were more than friends; they were brothers in arms. But the war does not stop because of one tragedy.

 

Ned was put with a new crew the next day; mostly strangers. St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1944, the various crews met for a flight briefing for mission 12A (as it was taboo to call a 13th mission). Many of the airmen were stunned by the length of the mission: from England to Friedrichshafen, Germany, a 9-hour trek there and back. This also meant braving temperatures between 20-60 degrees below zero. The crews took off and tested their weapons over the English Channel. They were also informed that one of their superchargers gave out, but continued on anyway. About 100 miles inland to Germany, the second supercharger was lost, and the pilot had no choice but to turn around. The crew set off red flares in an attempt to establish contact with their allied fighters for an escort as radio silence was being held, but none came, leaving the crippled aircraft alone.

 

Twenty miles from the coast, ME-109’s were spotted off the front of the aircraft, and a few more were at their tail. Tracers began to pass between Ned and the other waist gunner, and ricochet off the inside of the aircraft and into the bomb bay, starting a fire. Each of the gunners was returning fire; however, the pilot ordered everyone to bail. Ned picked up his chute and decided it was time to go. He had no time to jump; at that moment an explosion from the bomb bay severed the wing of the B-24 and caused it to spin. Ned separated from the plane at about 8,500 feet above the earth. He remembered his training for bailing from a flaming wreck: “Free fall from a burning aircraft so that flames would not catch the parachute on fire.” He was falling on his back and had no sense of how fast he was going or when he would hit the ground. He pulled his ripcord when he deemed it safe, and landed violently in an open field. Other crew members began to land around him, some with broken limbs. Farmers and locals began to gather around the crash site, as well as German soldiers.

 

With no time to spare, Ned was forced to leave his comrades and flee towards German-occupied France about 20 miles to the west. In all the chaos, Ned did not have time to follow bailout procedures and bury his chute and gear. German soldiers found his discarded belongings and his serial number, then reported him Missing in Action (MIA). Beginning his journey, Ned fled the crash site and attempted to find help along the countryside in France. He was seeking civilian clothing, food, and shelter for the night. However, many turned him away saying it was too late, around six at the time. Staff Sergeant Daugherty took an energy pill and continued on his way west. He eventually found assistance the next day. A group of French farmers took him in, gave him new clothes, and allowed him to stay the night. Early the next morning, Daugherty was given instructions to follow a man to another farmer, further west.

 

This is how he spent the next few weeks, farm-hopping across German-occupied France and towards the Spanish border with the help of the underground. After a few weeks,Ned ended up at a medieval-era castle where he stayed for a week reading books, getting exercise, and laying low. He had his picture taken, which was used on a forged French passport, allowing him to more easily sneak past patrols and over borders. Eventually, Ned made it to the Spanish border and was grouped with various other refugees: some English pilots, and Jewish escapees. They started up the mountains that separated Spain and France, and were met along the way by a mother and her two sons who offered soup and wine. After climbing the mountains for about a day, they reached their highest point of 10,000 feet. Many of the refugees were arguing with Ned and the other military men to carry their bags and supplies, saying they were too tired. They refused and in doing so, drove a small wedge in the group between the civilians and military.

 

Regardless, they were in the venture together, and despite their difference they pushed on. On June 3, 1944, the group finally made it to neutral country. Their guides left them and returned to France. The refugees and airmen were told to continue inland and find a farm with a new group of guides to get them to Gibraltar. However, to their surprise, they came across two soldiers who brought them back to the town they were stationed in, took everything they had of value, and held them for the night. The following day, Ned and his fellow airmen were pointed towards the next town under guard. There, they registered with the police and were fed and washed. Finally, they arrived at a large bus terminal surrounded by armed police officers and had new papers of identification issued to them, along with fingerprints, name, rank, and serial numbers. The next day Ned and other American service members were sent to Gibraltar and, at the expense of the American government, spent about a week in a health resort where they received new suits, steak dinners, and a bit of spending money.

 

On June 14, 1944, Ned’s mother received a letter stating her son was no longer MIA but was killed on March 18, 1944, over German airspace. Usually the plane from Gibraltar back to England was a military grade C-47 with uncomfortable seats and quite the bumpy ride. However, Staff Sergeant Daugherty and his group missed their operations call and were replaced by a different crew of servicemen. Fortunate for Ned, they were allowed to ride in the Governor’s plane on their return to England: a 4-engine comfortable private aircraft. Upon returning to England, the airmen were allowed to tour around before heading to London.

 

Ned spent three days around the countryside before deciding to report to London. Upon his arrival, he was imprisoned until someone could identify him, which cost him another three days. During his confinement, he sent home a telegram which stated: “Dear Mother, well and happy enjoying a London holiday.” Little did he know, however, the U.S. Government censored “London” and upon arriving home his family believed the letter to be from before his “death.” Ned found out that he was the only one out of his whole airbase to escape captivity from the Axis and make it back to England. He also found out he was the first crew member of the original crew to finish the required 25 missions.

 

Upon being asked what should be done now that he made it back, he stated, “I would like my four months of pay and a promotion.” The brass accepted his request and also allowed him to return home in July. Ned flew to New York for debriefing and to confirm his leave. He arrived in New York and stayed in a downtown hotel for a night, awaiting debriefing. He was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where he could get home. During this time, Ned did not contact home, assuming his telegraph from London was received. Little did he know, a funeral service was being held for him the morning he was to arrive at the local church!

 

When he finally did arrive in Pittsburgh, he phoned home, to everyone’s surprise. He arrived early that day, went to the florist shop, and paid for the bill for his own memorial service — then showed up at the church!

Click on Ned's photos below to expand