Frank Rutherford

 Frank Rutherford (far right) and his crew after a crash landing on return from the Ploesti oil fields June 24, 1944

“Frank did not talk about his war experiences, and I did not get to know him very well as he died when I was five years old (1979). What we now know of his war experiences was uncovered via the belongings he passed down to his children, records kept by the Library of Congress in the Veterans History Project, and photographs taken and stories told by those he served with in WWII.

Interestingly, we also found historians in Budapest who were able to share images of the B-24 crash site that same day in 1944. Earl Kesler, the bomber’s navigator, visited the airfield in 2000 where he had narrowly escaped death 66 years earlier.”

- Andrew Willis, Associate Professor, William States Lee College of Engineering
Frank Rutherford, remembered by his great-nephew, Andrew Willis
He was a bomber pilot shot down over Hungary in 1944. Captured by the enemy, he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

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.)