MK 269

 

Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

I know what you may be thinking.  Just what is that title all about?  It is not the serial number of the C-124 picture here.  It is an address of sorts, but you can’t find it on Google maps or with your GPS system.  It also represents a destination, of sorts, for myself and my family.  It took over 61 years to get this address and on last Monday, March 26th, 2012, my family took possession of this address for the first time.

On Good Friday, March 23rd, 1951, an Air Force C-124 took off from Maine on its way to an airfield in England.  The plane was carrying 53 airmen as passengers and crew.  The passengers were all assigned to the Strategic Air Command and were accompanying Brig. Gen. Paul Cullen to establish a new SAC Air Wing in England.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, the plane reported that a fire had broken out on board and the Mayday signal went out.  Approximately 6oo miles West of Ireland the plane ditched in the ocean and  according to the official accident report, all hands exited the plane safely and made it into the life rafts.  Shortly after the men were in the life rafts, a B-29 pilot out of Ireland spotted the rafts and the flares that the men had ignited.  Their location was reported and the pilot left the scene when his fuel was getting low.  This should have been the beginning of a great rescue story, but no other United States or Allied planes or ships made it to the ditch site for over 19 hours.

When ships accompanying the USS Coral Sea finally made it to the scene some 19-24 hours later,  the life rafts and the men were nowhere to be found. The official accident report that was fully classified for some 50 years, states that there was some debris found in the area, but there was no sign of the crew or the passengers. The search went on for several days and Western Union telegrams were sent to the families of the men on board detailing the extent of the search activities and efforts.  But the searches were unable to turn up any evidence of what happened to the 53 souls on board. The only evidence that the men were there was a valise that was found that had the name of one of the passengers on it.  The valise belonged to my father, Captain Lawrence E. Rafferty, who had also been a veteran B-24 pilot in World War II with 50 bombing missions to his credit.

Over the last 61 plus years, the families of the men aboard searched for answers, but the Air Force kept the report completely classified for half a century.  Parts of it are still classified to this very day.  The family was originally told that the plane had crashed into the sea and no one survived.  Unfortunately, when the report was partially declassified the families were able to learn that the men were safely in rafts and the plane landed in one piece in the sea.  Our family and the surviving family members of the other patriots on board the ill-fated C-124 flight are still searching for answers.  There is now circumstantial evidence that the airmen may have been “snatched” by our Cold War foes in the Soviet Union for their intelligence value, but their fate remains a sad mystery.

The purpose of this story is not to rehash the unanswered questions from the accident, but to highlight the wonderful experience that we had on March 26th, 2012.  As I mentioned above, we took possession of a special address noted in the title.  That address is the location of a memorial stone that now stands on a green hillside in the Arlington National Cemetery.  After finding out that my Father had never received a memorial from the Air Force, I learned from family members of other victims on board the C-124 that he was entitled to an Air Force memorial service with full military honors.  Upon looking into the matter and after contacting a wonderful Mortuary Affairs Specialist at Dover Air Force Base, our memorial was set up and reserved with Arlington National Cemetery.

Last Monday, on a sunny and breezy Washington, DC day, my Father received his honors.  We followed the caisson and the marching band in our procession to the memorial site and witnessed the 21 gun salute.  My Mother who turns 89 next month was able to see Washington, DC for the first time accompanied by 60 members of our family and friends.  My Father’s sister, my Aunt who is 93 also made it to the ceremony and the sight of her and my Mom sitting at the memorial site and receiving the folded flag from members of the Air Force Honor team will forever remain with me.

Although we do not yet have all the answers to our questions, our family’s patriarch is now forever memorialized.  From this day forward, my Dad’s legacy will be forever etched in our hearts and now in stone.  It may have taken us 61 years to get it done, but on Monday, March 26th, 2012; he made his final flight home.  Welcome Home Dad.

(My thanks to Professor Turley for allowing me to include this very personal story.  Writing it was a rewarding experience for me. )

 

51 thoughts on “MK 269”

  1. Rafflaw – Couldn’t find the site on the ANC website. If the spirit of your dad gets antsy, he can stroll on down to Sec. 64 Site 5837… Ask for my dad, Lester Wall.

    Thanks for your dad’s service!

  2. iskraagent,
    There is more evidence that I did not put in the article and it is for another time. It is more likely than not that they were snatched as two russian subs were in the vicinity.

  3. Mespo,
    I am glad that you and your wife were able to join us. It was great to meet you. We will have to do it again sometime.

  4. chimene,
    The article was based upon information that another family member of one of the victims had uncovered. The mystery civilian does not seem to be an issue anymore.

  5. 1. The Air Force, some think, has a terrible rep. for “classifying” embarrassing incidents, and a 19hr gap in the rescue op.s certainly sounds embarrassing to us.

    2. Was there someone responsible for the rescue-gap who was too big a name to have “embarrassed”?

    3. For some reason there was a big article about Gen. Cullen, about a year ago, see http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/99999999/NEWS10/103230325/60-years-later-mystery-lingers-over-general-s-loss

    Lots of VERY interesting info in this article: the entire complement were considered “nuclear” specialists; flight originated at Walters AFB, ROSWELL NM (we about choked at that one); there was a mystery civilian who got on the plane somewhere and off in Maine (the last stop on land before the over-water leg of the flight).

  6. What a wonderful family story, raf. I know how much your mother and aunt appreciated it. My mother and aunts except for one are deceased but I remember how much they loved family events. You gave everyone a wonderful memorable gift and a place to visit.

  7. Good for you and your family that you received belated recognition for your father from the Air Force mortuary at Dover. You should feel fortunate, indeed. Many American families of deceased servicemen have had appalling experiences with the same facility and its “waste management” subcontractor. Leaving our “cold war” adversaries out of the picture for lack of any evidence of wrongdoing on their part, I would say that the U.S. Air Force at Dover has more than enough egg all over its own bureaucratic face to last a lifetime:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2059169/Air-Force-morgue-Delaware-dumped-body-parts-dead-soldiers-landfill.html

    Again, what good luck you had attaining some overdue satisfaction for your father. May more families of deceased veterans receive the same.

  8. Wonderful recounting of a dignified and touching day. Suzanne and I were very grateful to be included. Best to all,

    Mark

  9. I’m glad your family has been able to bring your father home in spirit and get some measure of closure. Such and incredible mystery, I hope one day it can be solved.

  10. A great tribute! Sorry to hear of a man in the prime of his life meeting such an untimely fate.

    I think, however, there is lots more hard evidence than circumstantial that cold war adversaries had nothing to do with this tragic incident by the simple fact that none of the post-cold war archives or KGB survivors/defectors ever documented such a fantastic theory.

  11. What a lovely tribute to your father, rafflaw. I hope the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

    While I can’t presume to know what your father would think or feel, I would imagine that no father — or mother — could be prouder.

  12. rafflaw,

    I’m glad the sun shone done on the day of your father’s memorial service. And I’m glad your mother and aunt were alive to attend it. I’m sure it was a bittersweet time for you and your family. I’m happy you were able to share your father’s story with us.

  13. What a wonderful experience. Thank you for allowing us to share it with you and your family. The next time I am in D C I will make a special effort to visit your father’s memorial and offer a prayer of gratitude for his service and his sacrifice.

  14. I can’t figure out why that should be a classified state secret to be kept from the families, or anyone else for that matter.

    Except perhaps for the secrecy cult that evolves naturally in governments.

  15. I am sorry I was not able to be there at the service. Such services are both gut wrenching and satisfying at the same time, providing some closure for the family. May the ball stay centered, the glide slope never waver and there be no turbulence for him and his crew mates as we wish Capt. Rafferty Godspeed on his journey to forever…

    Flowers of the Forest was written by a member of our family five hundred years ago. It is a lament for the ten thousand who fell at the Battle of Flodden Hill in 1513. This ancient lament was piped for my own son when he was interred in the National Cemetery. Now we play it for Captain Rafferty.

  16. Welcome home, indeed, Capt. Rafferty. I’m glad your family finally received the closure and your father the recognition due for his service to our country. Again Larry, I’m most sorry that circumstances prevented me from attending the ceremony, but I was honored by the invitation nonetheless.

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