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866th Bomber Squadron Lead Aircraft, #980

The lead aircraft for the 866th Bomber Squadron on the 28 July, 1945, mission to bomb the Haruna was the unnamed B-24M A/C #44-50980, piloted  by 1st Lt. Emil Turek. The model "M" aircraft was delivered with radar to assist bombing. The bombing radar-equipped #980 was likely assigned to Crew #39 because of the men's experience as one of the original crews and their recent success in leading the 866th Bomb Squadron on unusually precise bombing raids. Some of Crew #39's mission experiences will be chronicled here. 

Just after noon on 28 July, Turek's Bombardier Vito A. Nacci released his bombs upon the Haruna, which signaled his squadron planes to release theirs, as well. Apparently, Nacci's bombs "bracketed" the Haruna, coming closest to the target, but left the Haruna afloat until she was sunk later that afternoon by US Navy aviators in torpedo bombers. Despite the prosaic but misleading narrative written in the book Enola Gay,   men who flew this mission reported that all three of the squadron planes that made it over the target were nearly immediately struck by anti-aircraft flak. The doomed crew aboard A/C #716 took several direct hits and fell abruptly––Taloa was on fire and out of control. Lt. Turek flew the flak-damaged A/C #980 along the struggling Lonesome Lady, which took at least one direct hit near the flight deck, was on fire, and increasingly losing altitude and flight controls.    

Lt. Turek stayed with Lonesome Lady for perhaps 15 minutes, until the Lady slowly descended, passed Hiroshima, and spiraled down through low cloud cover over the Yanai peninsula. Turek's damaged plane made it back to Okinawa, some 4 hours away, but damage to the plane was too severe to allow him to land there amongst the many planes crowding the runway. He was turned away and was able to land safely at Ie Shima. The flak damage left A/C #980 permanently grounded.

Turek felt the loss of three planes that day---#980, his Lonesome Lady, and the Taloa, which he had flown on a previous mission. The Missing Aircraft Reports (MACRs) for Lonesome Lady and Taloa included a statement signed by Nacci with concurrence from tail gunner Rex. E. Reeves.  That statement was used by the USAAF to inform the missing men's families that they were missing in action. Turek brought his men "home" from the ill-conceived and ill-fated mission #138.  His flight log shows that they completed several additional combat missions before the war ended just a few weeks later, reaching the coveted 40th (which qualified them to return stateside) just as the war ended. 

 Turek's Crew #39. Standing, left to right: Emil M. Turek, Francis "Fritz" Johnson, Rolf Slen, Vito "Dave" Nacci, and Lee Colvin  Kneeling, left to right: Gilbert W. Higgenbotham, Rex Reeves, Alfred "Al" Emery, Alton Holloway, and Richard "Dick" Bennett.

Turek's Crew #39. Standing, left to right: Emil M. Turek, Francis "Fritz" Johnson, Rolf Slen, Vito "Dave" Nacci, and Lee Colvin

Kneeling, left to right: Gilbert W. Higgenbotham, Rex Reeves, Alfred "Al" Emery, Alton Holloway, and Richard "Dick" Bennett.


Emil Turek earned his wings and a reputation as an excellent pilot. He commanded 40 combat missions, for 27 of them he was the officer  in command of the Lonesome Lady.

Emil Matthew Turek

Typical of men with similar war experiences, Turek spoke very little with his family about combat, or about much of his accomplishments as a B-24 pilot. For the rest of his life, he described his 40 combat missions in the war as "doing what needed to be done at the time". He did not boast about being among the first 7th Army Air Force B-24 pilots to bomb an airfield in China as well as targets on the mainland islands of Japan. His children did not know that he and his men were one of the very few B-24 crews––possibly the only––with those achievements as well as enough combat missions to qualify them for rotation back to the United States.  But the job he said he was proudest of came with the title "grandfather".

Like Lt. Cartwright of the downed Lonesome Lady and the other pilots of the 494th Bombardment Group who were briefed on combat mission #138 on 28 July, 1945, Turek, flying his 36th combat mission, well understood what they were being asked to do. Decades later, Emil Turek continued his correspondence with crew members, historians, and others, recalling the Haruna bombing mission with strong, but rather quiet and restrained regret, and with great sadness. 

The closing of a letter from Emil Turek to friends, written December, 1984, La Habra, California. Courtesy of the Turek family.

Turek was born on 6 Aug, 1920, exactly 25 years before the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. He succumbed to cancer on 25 July, 1993, just a few days short of the 48th anniversary of the loss of the Lonesome Lady.  Although they did not seem to speak much of it to each other, both Turek, and his navigator, Rolf Slen, questioned the wisdom of the assigned mission that they led–––and unlike others, carried out, despite the "most horrific" box of anti-aircraft flak and despite being trained to never fly over an enemy battleship. Veteran pilots Turek and Dubinsky, and replacement pilot Cartwright followed orders (that they privately questioned) and bombed the target. Navigator Rolf Slen wondered which squadron bombed a Japanese cruiser instead of the Haruna that day, as relayed to him by Radio Operator and Gunner on his plane, Dick Bennett. 

Lts. Turek, Nacci, and Slen are shown here in the territory of Hawaii.  Photo courtesy of Barbara English. 


 

Francis "Fritz" Johnson, Co-pilot

A proud member of the flight crew (co-pilot Johnson?), posing beneath the artfully depicted missions completed by the Lonesome Lady. The bombs painted on her port side indicate 35 completed combat missions. She would not return from the 36th. Photo courtesy of L. Cadiz.

One of the harrowing experiences of Johnson and several other crew members of Crew #39 was the crash of their squadron B-24  'Til Then when they flew on a check-out ride for Joe Dubinsky's co-pilot (Flanagin) in May, 1945.


 
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One of the last two men from Turek's crew still living, Rolf Slen has written four manuscripts about his war experience. He submitted these memoirs to a military records archive at Florida State University.  In 2009, he wrote A Second Memoir of World War II for his family. He dedicated the memoir to his fellow crewmen, for whom he feels the incomparable bond that fellow servicemen share, and for whom he feels a lifelong brotherly love. 

One of the last two men from Turek's crew still living, Rolf Slen has written four manuscripts about his war experience. He submitted these memoirs to a military records archive at Florida State University.  In 2009, he wrote A Second Memoir of World War II for his family. He dedicated the memoir to his fellow crewmen, for whom he feels the incomparable bond that fellow servicemen share, and for whom he feels a lifelong brotherly love. 

 Rolf Slen's dedication of A Second Memoir of World War II, 2009, to his crew. When serving in the war, he always referred to these men by their last name. 

Rolf Slen's dedication of A Second Memoir of World War II, 2009, to his crew. When serving in the war, he always referred to these men by their last name. 


 

Lt. Vito "Lil Davey" Nacci, Bombardier – 5 Aug., 1988

There was never a question that Dave Nacci had the high regard of his pilot, Emil Turek, and had the attention of the Group Staff of the 494th because of his exceptionally accurate bombing record. Nacci, with concurrence from Rex Reeves, provided an eyewitness statement that was attached to the Missing Aircraft Reports (MACRs) that were filed for the Taloa and Lonesome Lady

Lee Colvin – 10 Jan., 2005

Gilbert Higginbotham – 11 Oct, 1985

Rex Reeves – 13 April, 1989

Alfred "Al" Emery – 

 

Alton Holloway – 15 Dec., 2000

 An excerpt about the lasting influence of the  Haruna  mission; from a letter received by Emil Turek 6 January, 1983, from one of his crewmembers, Alton Holloway.

An excerpt about the lasting influence of the Haruna mission; from a letter received by Emil Turek 6 January, 1983, from one of his crewmembers, Alton Holloway.

Technical Sgt. Richard "Dick" Bennett, Radio Operator and Gunner – deceased

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Dick Bennett meticulously chronicled his combat missions in a log that he shared with his crew mates and referred to as his "little black book". 

 

 

 

Archive

More photographs and information about Crew #39's training, missions, and post-war correspondence....