—Adam J. Hebert
April 25, 2007— The Air Force issued long-overdue Distinguished Flying Crosses to nine Army Air Forces airmen in a Capitol Hill ceremony Tuesday. Gen. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff, presented the medals for the aircrew’s actions during the July 15, 1944 attack on the Nazi-controlled oil refineries around Ploesti, Romania.
Although eight of the honorees survived the war, only six lived long enough to receive their awards—63 years after the fact. Present at the ceremony were TSgt. Jay T. Fish, 1st Lt. Edward L. McNally, and SSgt. Robert O. Speed. Represented by family members were 2nd Lt. Theodore D. Bell, SSgt. Frank G. Celuck Jr., 2nd Lt. George N. Croft, 1st Lt. James E. Jatho, TSgt. William A. Magill, and SSgt. Daniel P. Toomey.
These nine and one other comprised the crew of one of the B-24 bombers that made up a strike force of 605 bombers and 334 fighters that attacked the Ploesti refineries—heavily defended with smoke screens, anti-aircraft artillery, and enemy fighters—on July 15, 1944. In his remarks, Moseley said that even though the crew’s Liberator had an engine shot out and lost contact with the rest of the squadron, the airmen pressed on, successfully attacked the target and made it back to base in Italy.
The very next day, Moseley said, nine of the airmen—one was sick with malaria—flew another mission—this time against a target in Austria. On this mission, the B-24 was shot down near Vienna. Bombardier McNally said that radio operator Magill was found dead on the ground. The rest of the crew was taken prisoner, and they remained in Nazi custody until they were liberated by the Soviet Union at the end of the war.
The airman who remained behind received his DFC for the Ploesti raid, but awards for the “missing” crewmembers were overlooked.
The awards ceremony capped a 15-year effort by the surviving crewmembers and their families to secure the DFCs the airmen had earned on the Ploesti mission. McNally praised the efforts of Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who, McNally said, was a longtime champion of their effort.
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