Soon after lunch every day Wilhelmina McCandless began looking out her front window for the mailman. In warmer months she’d wait on the front porch watching for him to turn onto High Avenue off Midland. Maybe today there would be a letter from Buddy, she thought.
It had been a long time since she’d heard from her son and she was worried. His last letter mentioned his squadron was shipping out. She didn’t know where he was or even if he was okay. He was only twenty-three and off fighting a war. Wilhelmina carefully read the war news and dispatches in the Nyack Evening Journal. Reading about the exploits of young Americans all over the world, she hoped she might see his photo or read about his Army Air Force Squadron.
She read every story carefully. She would bring out her scrapbook and reread the stories about Buddy when he was Captain of Nyack High School’s Football team and all his baseball and basketball games. She smiled while rereading the stories of Buddy being awarded his Eagle Scout Badge from Boy Scout Troop No. 7 where his father was an assistant scoutmaster. She would look over at the front of her modest home; a blue star flag, that signifed someone in the house was serving in the war, hung in the window. It brought tears to her eyes. She wondered if Buddy was fighting.
George “Buddy” McCandless had found the war. Flying with 345th Bombing Squadron out of Bening Airfield in Libya, Buddy was the bombardier on a B-24 Liberator, “Aire Lobo,” a heavy bomber, under the command of 1st lieutenant John Thomas. The Squadron had seen action dropping bombs on the German and Italian Armies in Sicily, earning Buddy a Bronze Star for his bravery. The Squadron’s next assignment would be Operation Tidal Wave, an air raid on nine oil refineries around Ploiesti, Romania on August 1, 1943 as part of the “oil campaign” to deny fuel to the Germany Army. Romania was among the largest oil and gasoline producers in Europe and Ploiesti was a major part of that production. We now know this mission was one of the costliest for the Army Air Force, with fifty three aircraft and 660 air crewmen lost. It was the worst loss ever suffered on a single mission, and its date was later referred to as “Black Sunday.” Only eighty-eight B-24s returned to Libya, and fifty-five suffered battle damage. Forty-four planes were lost to air defenses and the additional B-24s ditched in the Mediterranean. One B-24 with 365 bullet holes in it landed in Libya 14 hours after departing.
It was a warm Tuesday, August 10, 1943 when Wilhelmina was again sitting on the front porch waiting for the mail. A brown sedan with the logo of Western Union on the side door pulled up in front of 216 High Avenue and a carrier got out. “Mrs. McCandless?” he asked walking up on the porch. Wilhelmina began to shake. She weakly answered: “Yes.” He handed her the telegram and whispered. “I’m sorry!” Her husband George walked out on the porch as she slowly tore open the envelope. He stood behind her his hand on her shoulder as she read: “I regret to inform you that the commanding general Middle Eastern area reports your son, 2nd Lt George McCandless Jr., missing in action since One August. If further details or other information of his status are received you will be promptly notified.”
She turned to her husband, tears streaming down her face. “Missing in Action? That doesn’t mean he is dead does it?” Wilhelmina refused to believe her son was gone.
During the remainder of the war she kept in contact with the War Department and the Red Cross in hopes she could save him from a prisoner of war camp. She pored over photographs sent to her of unidentified service members in hospitals. She refused to believe he was dead. Even as the war in Europe ended in 1945, Wilhelmina kept hoping. Finally, almost seven agonizing years after Buddy McCandless was reported missing, it was verified that his plane was shot down in the Ploiesti raid. His remains were finally brought home and interred in Oak Hill Cemetery on April 22, 1950 with full Military Honors, the sound of Taps echoing over the playing fields of his youth. Wilhelmina would still sit on her front porch holding Buddy’s Distinguished Flying Cross. Her boy was gone but not forgotten!
You may want to know more about Buddy McCandless. Well you can. 73 years later, you can experience the low altitude bombing of the Ploiesti Oil fields in Romania. You can see what he saw on the last day of his life: Enter the following link in your computer:
The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’