Welcome to our memorial site for 2017 . . .

Find articles by clicking on the appropriate subject index above.

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Ahern Recalls Cold War Ditching of Flying Tiger 923

Cold War Casualties

by Garry Ahern, Dublin Ireland

    On a late-September Sunday afternoon, I was a member of a small crowd gathered at Galley Head Lighthouse in West Cork. We were there for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate an air-sea rescue operation, following the ditching of an airliner 500 miles off-shore, on another September day. Fifty years earlier, four of us now present had been focused on the sombre drama, unaware of each other, in our then young, separate, lives.

It’s just a few years ago now since the landing of an airliner on the Hudson River, New York, made headlines. In a successful landing on water, a rarity in itself, rescue craft sped to the scene and all 155 aboard were brought to safety. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, was rightly acclaimed for his exceptional skill and coolness under pressure. The subsequent vindication of the pilot has been dramatised in the film ‘Sully’, in which the lead role is played by Tom Hanks.

It was very different in 1962, when a Lockheed Super-Constellation, the premier airliner of its day, ditched at night in the Atlantic, in twenty-foot waves, far from immediate help. In a world then in the the frigid grip of Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis was only a month away. Tension was high also in Berlin, with its new and infamous wall. American troop-levels in Germany were being boosted. At McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, that Sunday, seventy-six boarded Flight 923 for Frankfurt.

Aboard were military personnel and some civilians, totalling seventy-six, including crew. Among the newly-trained paratroopers was twenty-year-old Private Fred Caruso.

Having re-fuelled at Gander, Newfoundland, another re-fuelling stop was due that night at Shannon Airport. In mid-flight, several mishaps conspired. A fire in one engine was followed by the loss of a second, through an error by the Flight Engineer. Fred Caruso began to write a ‘thank you and farewell’ letter to his parents back home, yet fearing it would never reach them. When a third engine failed, ditching became a certainty, sudden death a probability.

With skill which was later widely praised, the captain, in pitch darkness, brought the big Super-Constellation down on the water. For a time it floated, facilitating evacuation. However, on landing, the starboard wing had sheared off, with fatal consequences for many seated on that side

One life-raft, designed to hold twenty-five, remained. Almost fifty people clawed their way onto the raft, among them Private Caruso and the pilot, Captain Murray, who was last to leave the sinking plane.

As the rubber raft drifted in the dark, a huge multi-national rescue operation got under way, prompted by earlier distress signals. On Monday morning, those on the raft were lifted aboard a merchant ship en-route from Canada to Antwerp. This was the Swiss-registered ‘Celerina’, which had taken its name from a village in that country.

On Tuesday, the ship heaved to, off the Cork coast, awaiting two R.A.F. helicopters from Cornwall, so that fourteen of the worst-injured could be hospitalised.

On the ‘Celerina’, Caruso, wrapped in blankets, barely knew where he was- just that he was now safe.

Elsewhere on board, in addition to his normal duties, Pierre André, a nineteen-year-old Swiss deckhand, was busy coping with the shivering, traumatised, newcomers, and identifying the small number no longer alive.

Nearby was a fishing-trawler, commissioned by reporters and photographers to get as near as possible to the action. On the trawler, Paddy, part of the crew, was getting some pictures himself. I was at Cork Airport, fifty miles from Galley Head, where, on arrival, we would help transfer stretchers from incoming helicopters to waiting ambulances.

A lifetime later, the four of us met together for the first time, acquainting, recalling, reminiscing, comparing. A memorial of some kind was thought fit, action followed thought, and the site was chosen.

On the appointed day, precisely fifty years after the original event, we assembled in the shade of ancient Galley Head Lighthouse. Dignitaries were introduced, speeches were made, a poem composed for the occasion was read. With the flags of Ireland, Switzerland, the United States, and the Irish Lighthouse Service flying in the fresh Atlantic breeze, the Swiss Ambassador unveiled the plaque. Simply, it commemorated those twenty-eight lost on that September night in 1962, and also, the forty-eight who survived.

Then, we dispersed, to again occupy our separate worlds, Fred to Colorado, Pierre André to Switzerland, Paddy and I to Dublin. Flags were lowered and dusk descended. The automated lighthouse commenced its nightly flashes, sending welcome and warning to all who approach this coast.

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Garry Ahern has contributed to this site as well as participating in the actual rescue effort in 1962. All readers are encouraged to read (or re-read) his memorial poem, Ode to Big Bird.  Simply click on the link. Read the poem and biographical information on this important participant in the rescue of survivors in Ireland.

 

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Others Have Experienced Flying Tiger #923

Other readers who were not directly involved in the fatal crash of September 23, have experienced Flying Tiger Lines. All of them, of course, had the experience of flying and landing safely**.

Following are reports of flights on the same aircraft over basically the same route. These are stories told by real life passengers in their own words:

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From Jan Bonner…

It was September of 1962. I was 9 years old. My father was in the USAF. We started our trip at McGuire AFB and landed at Prestwick, Scotland, to begin my father’s three-year assignment at Kirknewton AFB. I remember, even at that early age, how unusual our plane looked, with its big three piece tail, and how scared I was to first board it at McGuire and how relieved I was to get off of that plane in Scotland.

It was the Flying Tiger 923! How close we came to being part of a disastrous event. My heart goes out to everyone aboard that ill-fated flight. Today is the first time I have read about what actually happened those many years ago. I hope you have had a good life sir. Bless you always.

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From Rena Shepherd, 11/24/16…

I was on Flying Tiger 923 also, in 1962, but my story is different. Coming from Germany, getting on in Frankfurt, my husband and I and our then one-year-old-baby-girl were traveling together. We got into a very bad storm over the ocean and the plane was bouncing, going up and down and made me terribly airsick. We had to emergency land at Gander in Newfoundland, where we were told there was a problem with the plane. We were given blankets to keep warm while we waited for them to repair whatever it was. Several hours later we took off again en route to McGuire Air Force Base.

I looked down into the turbulent, ice-cold water and prayed to please let us make it to my new home in America. We made it by hook or by crook. It was the worst flight I have ever been on. Still airsick when we got off the plane, we made our way to the Greyhound Bus to take us to West Virginia where my husband was from and to meet his family. In the excitement of the horrible flight, I left a suitcase sitting behind. It eventually caught up with me.

Soon after arriving in Logan, West Virginia, while sitting in front of the TV, we heard an announcer saying that the Flying Tiger 923 that had just arrived from Germany was on its return trip to Germany and had crashed into the ocean. Chills went up & down my spine (that was the one you were on as a young Private.)

Well you know the rest of the story. I wished I knew the name of the nice lady across from me. She came over and hugged and comforted me and joked about my sickness. She said, “That’s why they have these paper bags here.” God bless her.

The year 1962 was when I started my new life in this country. I became a U.S. Citizen and always try to contribute in every way I can to repay what I have gotten from this country. I can’t help but think that I could have been on the bottom of the ocean. It was so long ago Fred, I know, but it never will be forgotten.

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A young fellow flew to Europe with his family on a Flying Tiger Super Constellation chartered by the Military Air Transport System (MATS).  He is certain is was the very same plane featured in this site, Flying Tiger #923.  Here is his story:

From Paul Feldman, posted  July 18, 2013

I was 5 years old flying from McGuire to Paris in 1962 on this very plane. My father was a sergeant in the Air Force, being transferred to Chalmount AFB. I remember several things about the flight.

  1. We stopped in Newfoundland and then made another stop in the Azores.
  2. I remember seeing the exhaust flaming all night. I had a window seat.
  3. When we were approaching Paris, the left #2 engine was shut down. I distinctly remember me and my brothers saying something to my father. To assure us, he told us something which was not true. He said “the pilot always shuts down engines when landing.”
  4. I remember my father telling us a short time later the plane crashed on a similar trip.

Luckily, when we returned to McGuire in 1966 we were on a Pan Am 707.

Just thought I would share this.

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Below, a photo of the real Flying Tiger#923, courtesy of a Swedish friend, Ragnor Domstead, who was an engineering student at the time and was responsible for chartering the aircraft for a trip he took with his engineering class in June 1961.

N6923C Gothenburg, Sweden

Super Constellation #N6923C – Photo by Ragnor Domstad, June 1961, on the tarmac of Gothenburg (Sweden) Torslanda airport.Comments by Ragnar Domstad, July 18, 2012

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Comments by Ragnar Domstad, posted July 18, 2012

I am the photographer of the N6923C, Flying Tiger 923, that you see here. As Peter Frey (a freelance journalist) mentioned, I don´t claim any copyright, but I ask to be mentioned as photographer.

It is a strange feeling to know that “our” Super Connie ditched a year later. After refueling at Shannon, Ireland, we continued our 1962 journey, but had to land at Gander, Newfoundland to wait out the weather. The whole Eastern seaboard was closed due to fog. Somewhat delayed, we arrived at Idlewild.

As our study tour was a success, I was asked to arrange some more tours the following years. We had another Super Connie chartered in 1962 and a year later also. When I first heard of the Flying Tiger Line, it was in a small notice in a newspaper. It said that the Flying Tiger Line was open to passengers from the US to Europe in the beginning of the summer and vice versa at the end of the summer. They also offered cheap charter flights from Europe in the beginning of the summer and back at the end of the summer to fill otherwise empty planes.

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**(Foot note: The number “923” does not identify the flight route. The number “923” designates the last three digits of the aircraft’s registration number as it comes off the assembly line. This is why someone could say they flew Flying Tiger 923 in a totally different part of the world. The fact that it flew (and crashed) on September 23 (or 9/23) was simply a coincidence.  

Please visit  “Unlucky Year for Flying Tigers”    for more detail on aircraft identification.

Also, regarding Flight 923 survivor Art Gilbreth’s suggestion to avoid any flight with a flight number matching the day’s date may well be worth keeping in mind. In his words, “I’m sure everyone noticed, but just incase you didn’t, Flight # 923 took off on Sept (9) 23! I don’t even get close to a plane that has the same flight number as the date.”

See his story on this site. And while studying the numerical identification of aircraft, take note of the origin and purpose of this reference.)

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81,814 Views Give Meaning to FT923

 

Galley Head Plaque

Dedicated 23 September 2012.

Memories . . .
Readers have asked why the mid-Atlantic ditching of Flying Tiger 923 on Sept. 23, 1962, is virtually unknown? Publicity at the time of the crash was very minimal and what there was disappeared very quickly. So little is known about the crash that the story, as a simple matter of “historic fact,” just recently made it to the pages of the online encyclopedia “Wikipedia.” Just about anything in the world makes it to that site! In this case, it only took 50 years.

I am happy to say that this site has given a degree of meaning and recognition to the event. As of Memorial Day 2017, this site has clocked a total of 81,814 views from throughout the world. The site has some 98 posts and 11 special pages, and a total of 109 separate stories.

Galley Head Lighthouse

Lighthouse on September 23, 2012, showing four flags: Irish for the Irish role in the Fling Tiger 923 rescue effort, the official flag of Commissioners of Irish Lights, US flag for those on the aircraft, and Swiss, for the Celerina rescue.

Why did the ditching get so little attention? Because the Army did not want attention, especially to the small contingent brand new combat paratroopers on board.

The ditching occurred at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis in September of 1962.The American and Soviet Union leaders were hurling threats of the use of nuclear weapons if either did not get their way. That also happened to be an especially tense period in the “Cold War” with the Soviets building an 850-mile fence between the East and West.

Bromore Cliffs Memorial Plaque

Bromore Cliffs Memorial Plaque

The details are pretty complicated and were highly classified at the time. The Army worked hard at keeping publicity to a minimum, especially about its quietly shipping combat troopers over to Frankfurt on planes usually reserved to transport military families and career military personnel. The surviving combat troops were not provided post medical leaves, except in very rare cases, got “free” uniform and clothing replacement and a small amount of pocket change. The combat troops who did not survive were basically forgotten. There was no official memorial or ceremony commemorating the disaster. None, not anywhere!

Today the Flying Tiger 923 disaster is on the historic map, but it took more than 50 years to get it there. This is due to the interest and loyalty of followers of this blog site as demonstrated by 81,814 views from around the world. While there are no “official” memorials, we can report that in the Republic of Ireland, there is now a small memorial plaque at the Galley Head lighthouse and another small, but beautiful memorial on the Bromore Cliffs near Ballybunion golf course. These were placed by private citizens unrelated to the Army.

To learn more about these private memorials, follow these links:

https://flyingtiger923.com/galley-head-lighthouse-memorial/
https://flyingtiger923.com/2013/06/18/memorial-dedicated-at-browmore-cliffs/
https://flyingtiger923.com/2012/09/10/events-commemorate-fifty-years/

If you have not yet explored this site, please be sure to do so. All 109 stories are accessible by clicking on the categories posted under the masthead above.

 

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New Book About Flying Tiger 923 Under Contract! Release Anticipated in 2018!

The late Capt. Murray’s son-in-law, Eric Lindner, has just signed a book contract with Lyons Press to expand on the history of Flying Tiger 923.

Eric has been close to the subject of the demise of Flying Tiger 923 for
some time as he is married to Capt. Murray’s daughter Ellen Murray. They live very near
Ellen’s brother, John, in Virginia.

You may read about the book as it develops at the following link:

Release is anticipated in 2018 and the book’s title is yet to be determined.
Eric Linder is an experienced writer and author. His
debut book was very well received. Information can be found by clicking
on the following link:
He has already conducted hundreds of interviews with Flight 923 survivors,
and other involved parties, but he’d love to hear from anyone else who
might have some knowledge of or insight into the events of Sept. 23,1962 and
what preceded the events of the disaster the aftermath.
Eric will also greatly appreciate access to any photos or other memorabilia such
as Western Union telegrams and letters, of anyone on-board, or involved in the
rescue in any way.  He will copy and return them and credit the owner of the material
in the book.
Please note that materials presented for inclusion in the book must be originals, his publisher says.  Unfortunately copies of copies won’t pass editorial muster, quality
wise. However the material itself may provide valuable insights or information.
Please feel free to contact the author, Eric, directly, via his private email:
ericlindnerprivate@rcn.com
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It is time for Thanksgiving and this is my thanks!

This is a reawakening of our Flying Tiger 923 memorial site, some two years since my last posting. It happens to be Thanksgiving Day 2016, November 24, and in large measure because of this memorial website, I can say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank You,” to the hundreds of folks who have contributed to my being here today.

When I say hundreds of folks, I feel I am making an understatement as I have met so many of you since launching “Flying Tiger 923” in 2009. Everyone has been wonderful, including those whom I have met, those whom I have spoken to by phone and those whom I know were distant from the event but feel a part of the disaster. This includes the 1,500 Canadian sailors aboard the silently trailing, protective aircraft carrier, the Bonaventure and several hundred more serving on the five battleships that escorted the carrier.

When I started my personal investigation of the crash some 35 years after September 23, 1962, I knew practically nothing about the event or the people involved. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an aircraft carrier that was following and searching for us! The research resulted in my book, “Born Again Irish,” a story about Flying Tiger 923 and how it drove me into an interesting and diverse life.

When I say how little I knew about what happened is probably the same for most survivors. No one knew much of anything. An airplane crash happening at night during a terrible storm in the North Atlantic at that time in 1962 was simply one of many events dominated by the world-wide drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought it was related to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the 880-mile-long “Death Fence” that separated East Germany from the West. Those two global dramas were related as “Cold War Events” that captured the media attention.

After the Flying Tiger crash, the rescue of the survivors occurred in two separate and dramatic phases; the first at Cork, Ireland of only 19 people (which I was lucky to be a part of) and the second at Antwerp, Netherlands for the remainder of the survivors.

Since I was one of the 19 combat paratroopers on board, I was of course first concerned about my Army buddies. I did not know a single non-combat passenger who made up the majority of the survivors. Considering our extremely close physical contact during those long hours in the lone rescue raft, and several days in the Swiss rescue ship, the Celerina, very little social interaction occurred, in part due to the extreme physical and emotional shock we had all undergone. For most survivors, when it was over, it was thankfully over. There had never been a memorial for the event or a reunion prior to our celebrations in Ireland in 2012, 50 years later.

So now, even more years later, I say thank you. Thank you to all of you, even those who didn’t make the flight and those who lost loved ones. All the passengers on Flying Tiger 923 shared a tiny bit of time in human history. It was just a little bit of time in human history, but it was a major factor in our own timelines. I appreciate sharing a bit of it with you and thankful that I am here, at this moment in Eagle, Colorado, to say with heartfelt feelings, “Thank You All,” for being here wherever you are.

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About this memorial website

By Fred Caruso, aka “O’Caruso”

Fred Caruso 2012

Fred Caruso 2012

I was there on September 23, 1962, a young paratrooper, headed for Germany and wishing I didn’t have to go. I wanted to stay in the states. I was barely 21. The crash of Flying Tiger 923 was a horror. It has  affected my family and me far more, and for many years longer, than I could have ever imagined.

The drama of the crash stretched on for hours and then into days. I was taken from the rescue ship by helicopter three days later to Mercy Hospital in Cork, Ireland, where I claim to have been “born again as an Irishman.” It was my second chance at life, beginning with my rebirth at Mercy, even though I never got to see if there was a maternity ward at that hospital.

The notion of being “Born Again Irish” has driven me my entire life. It led to my ultimately becoming a legal Irishman, nicknamed “O’Caruso.” My wife and I have a home in Glengarriff, West County Cork. I wrote a book entitled  “Born Again Irish”” about the experience and that book woke me up to the fact that I hardly knew anything about

Fresh Out of Jump School

Pvt. Caruso, fresh out of jump school.

the crash, other than what I believe I saw and experienced. I realized that I could hardly remember another person, no faces at all. I could remember very, very few of the details of the crash and aftermath with any degree of accuracy. And even worse, I realized that I couldn’t even expand my mind to accept the details by reading about others. I could read, but I could not see. Others hardly existed. When it came to Flying Tiger 923, it was MY plane crash and mine alone, at least inside my mind.

But after all of these years, I have been waking up. While gathering information for my book and this web site, I have become aware of how many people were involved and how many and who contributed to our survival and recovery. How could I not have known? Why has it taken so long? Was I asleep for the past half century? Maybe I have finally grown up and I am ready to learn all of the facts that I can, all of the little bits and pieces I didn’t see before.

Caruso as Army Journalist

As a result of a story about Flying Tiger 923, Caruso became a reporter and photographer, for the Army and Stars and Stripes

This site is intended to be a commemoration to all:  the crew, the rescue teams, those who survived and those who didn’t, and all of the families and friends who prayed, rejoiced or grieved their loss. This is an interactive web site. Readers can comment and contribute photos and information. This is a way of gathering stories and experiences and sharing it with who ever might have an interest.

Born Again Irish - The book

Book Cover

Please be aware that some of the posts may contradict details in others. This is because people’s recollection of events do not always comprise the whole story. It is human nature. Even newspaper reports contain major inaccuracies. By piecing together as much as possible, we may have a comprehensive view of the event which is much larger than any one of the participant’s view.

Please add your comments. Tell us of your experiences, your memories and your questions. What is on your mind?A fifty-year anniversary is a good reason for taking a new look at this tragic and historic event which, for many, was the most significant event in their lives.

If you have not yet done so, read my book and consider how this event might affect others compared to the way it affected me. This book describes how I was driven to become Irish, which was a lifelong journey, however, the first half of the book delves into the details of the horror of the crash and its immediate aftermath. It is currently out of print. but it is available on Amazon.com.

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A look at the web site record

As this Flying Tiger 923 Memorial Web Site meets the end of three full years of public posting of 106 stories, we take pride in the fact that we have enjoyed some 61,000 public views world-wide.

Of course, the majority of those 61,000 views originate from the United States, (29,916). Other countries show a keen interest in the event as well especially when considering the ratio of views compared to their population. Among those with a high number of visits are:

USA, 29, 916
Germany, 8,047
Switzerland, 7,333
Ireland, 3,377
Canada, 2,363
United Kingdom, 1,152

At least one person from every country on earth has viewed the legacy of Flying Tiger 923.

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STORY POPULARITY:

It is curious to note the popularity of stories in terms of their views. Here is a summary of the top five postings of the 106 stories written:

1 – John Murray: Fate of 76 lives in Captain’s hands, 1,129 views, of which 185 were on the second posting of the same story.

2 – Pierre Andre Raymond: The Celerina’s role in rescuing a Super-Constellation at sea, 1,044 views.

3 – Carol Ann Gould: Flight attendant on her day off, 947 views. Carol Ann actually had three different stories posted separately with quite different themes. They were not added together for the purpose of this summary.

4 – A photo of Super Connie #N6923C – RIP, 923 views. This was the actual Flying Tiger 923 on the tarmac of Gothenburg Torslanda airport in Sweden one year prior to the crash. The photo was provided by Ragnar Domstad who was then a junior at Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg. He was an engineering student arranged chartered flights to the U.S. on the Flying Tiger Line.

5 – Who is in the photo?,  846 views. This was a group photo of random survivors and ship crew members on board the Celerina in the days after the rescue.

6 – Flying Tiger 923 and the Raging North Atlantic. While this is not a story, but rather a video related to the story, it has been very popular with internet viewers. To date, the video clip has had more than 2,000 viewings! Pierre Andre Raymond was a 19-year-old crew member on the Celerina who happened to have an old 8 millimeter movie camera with him on ship. He took three minutes of video of the raging seas just 12 hours before the crash, not knowing what excitement was to come. He gave us that film strip for public posting.

Since the beginning of the project, many early viewers were satisfied with what they read and dropped off the radar. At the same time, many new viewers have discovered the site and have taken to viewing its contents. Therefore we will continue with the site in hopes of finding still more who were on board or the families of both those who died and those who survived.

In summary, over the course of the past three years, the story of Flying Tiger 923 has risen from being virtually unknown to the world, to a site for thousands of people who were affected by the crash or who have an interest in airlines and air tragedies.

Thank you for your interest and best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year! We look forward to 2015 and another year of spreading the story and hopefully picking up more stories related to the tragedy.

Here’s a lovely Flying Tiger 923 memorial poem by our friend Garret Ahern, Dublin, Ireland:

‘Big Bird’

Out from New Jersey,
Big bird spreading wings,
Trundling east-ward, in
War-cold nineteen-sixty-two.

Three-score souls and ten-
And more aboard,
Service by the
Rhine in mind.

Far beneath lies rolling
Equinoctial ocean,
Unfriendly to the stricken
Super-Constellation.

Big bird descending,
Inevitable ditching.
Frantic prayers implore –
Then impact, devastation.

Plucked from the inverted,
Overcrowded, life-raft,
The lucky greet new
Friends and shipmates.

In time, diverted,
The good ship “Celerina”
Nears its rendezvous.
Green fields plain to see.

By Galley Head, the
Helicopter’s clatter
Stampedes a flock of sheep,
Away west, wave-battered
Big bird settles,
Low in the briny deep.

© 2012, Garry Ahern

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Peter Foley tells the world of the demise of Flying Tiger 923

By Teresa Foley

At the time of the Flying Tiger ditching in the North Atlantic, Peter Foley was in the Air Force and had reached the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. He was assigned to the Stars and Stripes and was returning to his family in Germany after having completed a special reporting assignment in the United States.

Peter Foley

Peter Foley only days after the ditching and rescue.

He managed to survive the disaster and was able tell the world about it. It was a shocking, violent, and grueling experience that lasted for days for everyone involved. As a news reporter, he bounced back nearly immediately to fulfill his mission.

As Peter Foley’s daughter, I got to know him as a man with a long and colorful career and a loving dedicated family man. I am using this web site as a means of telling his story.

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Pete Foley was a cheerful and vibrant man who loved life and had strong survival instincts. Those instincts were severely tested a number of times.

As a very young man with a love of excitement, he joined the Merchant Marines soon after getting out of school in the late 1930s. After a brief stint of service, Peter returned to his hometown of Butte, Montana went to work in the copper mines that dominated city and its surroundings.

He was a “motorman” and it was his responsibility to drive the ore cars in and out of the vast maize of dangerous tunnels being mined.  He tells us that one day, a tunnel caved in, trapping many men inside. It was the “worst and the hottest” of tunnels in the mine. He escaped the disaster. Luckily, the trapped miners found an airway to crawl through until they reached a spot where rescuers could drop metal cages and pulled them out.

Pete later enlisted in the US Army Air Forces. During World War II, he worked as an airplane mechanic.  He wasn’t in combat but again escaped death in 1945.

At the age of 28, he was on a cargo plane that got lost and ran low on fuel.  According to Pete, “I was on leave, going to visit somewhere.  I happened to pick the wrong plane.”

Everyone on board was able to parachute out of the plane before it crashed.  Pete described his free-fall through clouds and with birds, as a thrill – not a fright, and an experience that ended too soon.  His parachute landing was smooth and something he “thoroughly enjoyed”.

He served in Korea from May 1950 through June 1953. His decorations included the Bronze Star, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

After Korea, Pete attended and was graduate of the Armed Forces Information School and the Strategic Air Command NCO Academy.

In 1951, Pete married Mary Wallace of Helena, Montana in Yakahoma, Japan. Like many military families, the Foley’s had duty stations throughout the United States and the world.

In 1962, after completing an assignment in Nevada for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper in Europe, he boarded Flying Tiger Flight 923 to return home to his pregnant wife and five children in Darmstadt, Germany.

As problems began to unfold, another passenger asked him if one of the four engines quit running, how the plane would fare.  Pete’s response was to  “stop worrying, this plane could fly forever”.

Then the second engine failed. After the third engine failed he, and everyone else, knew the plane was in trouble, but there was no time to panic. Following is how Pete described his experience:

“Another soldier and I yanked out the escape hatch next to us and dropped into the water.  I tried to get my life vest inflated, but I couldn’t.  I was carried by waves toward the rear of the plane.  It had sunk so deep that my head was level with the top of the fuselage.  I decided not to waste any more time on the life jacket and began to swim.  The waves buried me a couple of times.  People were all around me.  There were cries of ‘Where are the boats?’ But no rafts were in sight.  It was dark and windy, and giant waves were pitching us around.”

“I thought I felt a wing under my feet.  It was the tail.  Then a wave slammed me against the antenna.  It’s strung from the top of the forward cabin to the top of the tail.  I threw my left arm over it.  I scraped the arm and it hurt.  I thought it was a good time to rest for a moment.  I kept telling myself not to panic.  Once you panic, you’ve had it. ”

“After a few moments I realized it was calm.  I kept waiting for a wave to break over me.  Then I realized the plane was sinking and I was under water,  I let go and swam slowly to the surface.”

“I was tired, dead tired.  How easy it would be to quit fighting the sea and get it all over with.  It would be so easy to die.  Just stop fighting for half a minute. I shook my head, realizing this was a hell of a way to go.”  I also knew how mad Mary would be if I didn’t return home.

“Then I spotted a raft.  It was just a shadow and it seemed a long way off.  I managed to swim over to it and held on to a rope.  I got my head up far enough to see inside, but I couldn’t get in.  I asked for help.  Someone said he didn’t have the strength.  Then he grabbed my arms and somebody else pulled me in by the seat of my pants.”

The Celerina arrived when “it was early morning, but still dark. . . A sailor pulled me onto the deck.  I said I was all right, then fell on my face.  Somebody caught me and helped me into the crew’s mess, where I was given warm clothes and a jolt of whiskey. I couldn’t pick it up. A sailor poured it down my throat.  It felt wonderful.”

While on the Celerina, Pete did what he could to help, all-the-while thinking, “How do I get this story back?” to his boss at the Stars and Stripes. He found a way to radio stories each day. “I don’t  think I even thought about dying.  Time passed so quickly, it seemed like the next thing I knew I was waving at Mary.  All I knew was I was back where I belonged.”

Whenever Pete talked about this plane crash, he would sadly mention the children; he never saw the girls after the plane hit the water.  His family had to fly from Germany to New York, when he was transferred to Travis AFB in 1963. After his family boarded the plane, Pete went to airmen in the plane and made them promise to help his kids in case anything happen.  He then introduced each airman to the child he was responsible for.  Mary said she was sure most of the people thought he was a crazy old sergeant.

Peter Foley waving to onlookers at Antwerp, Belgium.

Peter Foley, 2nd from the left, waving to the gathering crowd as the rescue settles into port at Antwerp, Belgium. To his right is a fellow ditching survivor, air hostess Carol Ann Gould. To both edges of the photo are unidentified Celerina crew members who took part in the rescue of the lone life raft.

Pete retired from the Air Force in 1965 and moved his family to Citrus Heights, California (a suburb of Sacramento).

He was a smart person, loyal to family and friends, an enthusiastic supporter of his family activities, an adventurer, a teacher, a hard worker and a wonderful example of how to get a job done. He and his family were very active in community and school activities. They loved to travel, camp, boat, water and snow ski, ocean dive and always enjoyed a good party.

In 1981, Pete and Mary bought a struggling business that supplies beneficial insects for pest control and turned it into one of the large supplier of ladybugs in the US.  In 2001, Pete and Mary celebrated their 50th anniversary.  Later that year, Pete lost his battle with melanoma and died in November.

People often say they would die for someone they love. Pete’s character, however, was to focus his strength and energy on living for the people he loved and helping them to have a good life.  Pete Foley lived a very good life.

*     *     *     *     *

This story was first published on July 5, 2013, as written by his daughter, Teresa. She discovered this web site and soon thereafter discovered her father’s military career keepsake box. That gave her the material and incentive to submit this story. 

Site Editor’s Note: I became a news reporter while in the Army and while serving at Mainz, Germany as a paratrooper-infantryman. As a fledgling reporter (and still a paratrooper-infantryman, but on special assignment),  I had come to see Peter Foley as a role model, even though he was no longer at The Stripes. He had been reassigned to other duty.

In 1964, much by virtue of very good fortune, I was assigned to the Stars and Stripes news desk in Darmstadt. I was one of only four military staffers. The rest of the newspaper staff was civilian.  At that point, Foley rose from “role model” to “hero” in my mind and remained that way though out my working career. I never had any personal contact with him or his family. I only had news clippings of his work. I had no way of ever knowing him as compete person. His daughter, Teresa, has given me that opportunity. I am honored to be the person to pass that story to you. — Fred Caruso

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