On July 2, 1944, my great-uncle, Francis (Frank) O. Rutherford, pilot of a B-24H in the 15th Air Force, 376th Bombardment Group, 513th Squadron, took off from the makeshift airfield at San Pancrazio, Italy, heading toward Vecses Aerodrome near Budapest, Hungary. The mission was to bomb the buildings and aircraft there as it was suspected (correctly) as a central repair location for German fighter aircraft. During the mission, his B-24 suffered a catastrophic direct hit from a high-caliber (88 mm) anti-aircraft gun. The impact to the aircraft’s midsection/bomb bay area killed the plane’s engineer instantly. With flames coming out its bomb bay, the plane flew another 30 seconds. This allowed some crew members the time to bail out before the aircraft exploded with my great-uncle still at the controls. Frank fell toward earth unconscious, but he regained consciousness in time to pull the emergency chute ripcord that he was wearing at the time of the explosion.
He spent the remainder of the war at Stalag Luft III, where he endured the hardships of life as a POW. Four of the ten aircrew died in the crash; three could not get out before the explosion and remained in the tail section until impact.
(The picture shows Frank (far right) and his crew after a crash landing on return from the Ploesti oil fields June 24, 1944. The complete crew roster follows: 2nd. Lts. Frank O. Rutherford, pilot, Roger S. Bullard, co-pilot, Earl M. Kesler, navigator, and Harry Chernik, bombardier; Staff Sgts. James M. Huey, engineer, and James W. VanBibber, waist gunner/radio operator; Sgts. M. Frank Oberling, nose gunner, Clifford P. Fenn, ball turret gunner, Glenn R. Doshier, waist gunner, and Lawrence V. Davis, tail gunner.)