DAYTON, Ohio – Veterans of a daring and costly World War II low-flying raid on Axis oil fields are gathering in Ohio this week for a 70th anniversary reunion.
Those participating in the Ploesti Raid reunion at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton will arrive Tuesday, gathering for dinner followed by private events Wednesday. On the raid anniversary Thursday, there will be a public memorial service at the museum and a chance to meet veterans.
One of the reunion coordinators is Air Force history buff Mark Copeland of Lakeville, Minn. He says organizers expect nearly a dozen raid veterans to take part. He says organizers are pleased with the response, given the men's ages and travel challenges.
Among others expected is a sister of Maj. John Jerstad, a pilot who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. With his plane heavily damaged and still taking fire from anti-aircraft guns, Jerstad's plane released its bombs before crashing into the target area. His was among five Medals of Honor awarded for the raid.
Dubbed "Operation Tidal Wave," the Aug. 1, 1943, raid targeted heavily defended oil fields in occupied Romania. The B-24 bombers that flew from bases in North Africa attacked in daylight, some flying only yards above ground while in fierce air-ground fighting with German forces.
Nearly a third of the 177 planes were shot down, and about a third of 1,758 participants were killed, captured or missing in action. The 44th Bomb Group received the Distinguished Unit Citation.
Copeland said the last reunion was in Salt Lake City 10 years ago and drew 85 veterans. He says fewer than 70 are alive today, so it's likely this will be the last reunion of what's known as the most highly decorated U.S. military mission.
"We're just very passionate about honoring this raid," said Copeland about the reunion event organizers.
He said participants are expected from as far away as California.
Among private events for the participants will be a museum tour and special viewing of a fully restored B-24.