The combat paratroopers on this flight were not regular passengers. They were all fresh graduates from jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. They were being sent to Germany by air on an emergency basis immediately upon graduation. It was in response to a cold war Berlin crisis. The soviets were sealing the 866 mile long border between East and West Germany with what was called the “death fence.”
These troops were not allowed leave to go home before going overseas to a minimum two year assignment. In fact were not allowed off the base. They were “on duty” and on call at a moment’s notice and held together while in transit. Green paratroopers in 1962 were typically not sent to overseas assignments. When sent overseas, green soldiers went by troop ship. Of course they were not told these things. A crisis was in the making. Here are some of their stories:
> Out of Body Experience Guides Trooper > Art Gilbreth was a fresh combat paratrooper from Bear Lake, California. He nearly lost his leg in the disaster. He offers a lot of insight into Flying Tiger 923, including his own “out of body” experience which he feels saved his life. He now lives in Sun River, Oregon.
> Acevedo Tells of Crash Aftermath > Raul Acevedo-Cambero’s family lived in Mexico. His father had a heart attack when he heard the news of the crash. Raul wanted a brief medical leave to give the family a chance to see that he was indeed whole. After his repeated requests through his company commander were ignored long enough, he skipped a few levels of command and wrote to the big, BIG BOSS. He got his leave plus a little spending money!
> Free ticket to Germany ! > Tom Koltak is celebrating two 50th anniversaries this year: his 50th wedding anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of Flying Tiger 923. By late September 1962, the new paratrooper from Morgantown, West Virginia knew he was to become a new “dad.” The overseas assignment was totally unexpected and a “jolt” to the parents to be, but that’s Army life. He got a new assignment plus a free airline ticket to Germany on Flight 923.
> Big Bang Blacks-Out Trooper > Sammy Vasquez of Phoenix perhaps holds some of the most vivid memories of that dreadful night. He can list off names and events as if they were yesterday. After an initial “black out,” he bounced back to play a major role in pulling others into the raft to safety.
> A Dream Fulfilled > Pvt. Harold Lesane, 18, of Philadelphia, reaches a life-long dream.
> Mac Johnson Will Not Be Forgotten > Mac Johnson of Phoenix, Arizona was only 19 years old. His family of 13 brothers and sisters were proud of him earning his parachute wings. His family was stunned to learn he was missing at sea. He came from a proud family with a long history of service. That family would not forget him.
> Oshkosh Trooper safe, but injured > George Brown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin was injured severely enough to be airlifted from the Celerina to the air craft carrier Bonaventure in the midst of the raging storm. What mattered most to his family was the fact that he was safe.
> Tuminello stays steady through crash! > Dominic Tuminello of Mohnton, Pennsylvania, a signal corps man, seems to have a clear and calm view of the experience. He must have adjusted well to the military because he stayed in the service for 12 years, serving much of that time in Viet Nam. When he had enough war, he returned to his home town of Mohnton where he still lives today.
> Frank Bazell survives the crash to die another day for his country > Frank Bazell made it through the crash, but didn’t make it through Viet Nam.
> Thank God I’m alive! > Fred Caruso was Italian by birth, but claims to have been “born again” as an Irishman named “O’Caruso.” This non-religious “rebirth” occurred when he was airlifted from the deck of the Celerina and delivered to Mercy Hospital in Cork.
He will readily admit that he was severely traumatized and wrote about the trauma extensively in his book. But there is a silver lining to it all. He says the Flying Tiger Crash drove him his entire life through a career in journalism and through a long series of coincidences that lead to his marriage to an Irish cowgirl, his becoming an Irish citizen.
> Pvt. Ed Apanel, Palisades Park, NJ > Ed Apanel was one of the lucky ones to be sent to New York City to testify at the Civil Aeronautics Board hearing. His family lived only 15 miles away in New Jersey. He told his story. After the military, he left the east coast and settled in Colorado.
> Sitting in the right seat at the right time? > John Toole was one of the first out of the plane, one of the first in the raft and virtually escaped injury or trauma. What might have he done different?
> One light – One raft – 51 people > Capt. Murray remembers a flashlight and returns to the cockpit to retrieve it. Good thing! That light turns out to be the only light that could be used as a signal. The life raft was upside down and the rim lights were facing down into the water.
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These articles are important to a better understanding of this and other indexed subjects:
> Not your typical airplane crash > If asked, most people say that there is no such thing as a “typical” airplane crash. There are a number of reasons why, however, Flying Tiger Flight 923 stands out as NOT typical at all.
> CAB Report Available for Free Download > This official report totals only 37 pages. Investigations didn’t go into as much detail as they do today. In any event, it is something and an important document to have.
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> O’CARUSO > About Fred Caruso, the Irish O’Caruso and the developer, editor and writer and of this site. This article tells of his roll as a survivor and author of a book centered around the crash and its impact on his life. The book, Born Again Irish, tells how Flying Tiger 923 drove his life into a career of journalism and the adoption of Ireland as home.