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Liberandos - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

  • Published
  • By Dr. Roy Heidicker
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Historian
Our present-day 376th Air Expeditionary Wing's roots date from the activation of the 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) during World War II, known as the "Liberandos." The 376th Heavy Bombardment Group flew the B-24 Liberator bomber, not the more famous B-17 Flying Fortresses or the dynamic B-29 Super Fortresses. By comparison, the Liberators were awkward looking, designed for function and not for style.

The Liberandos shot down 220 enemy aircraft, but their fame does not lie there. The most famous single aircraft mission of the 376th in World War II, or of any B-24 in any group, was the last flight of the Lady Be Good. On April 4, 1943, the new B-24 Lady Be Good took off on a mission with a brand new crew. The mission was to bomb Naples and return to Benina Airfield in Libya.

The Lady Be Good and her crew were not seen again until 1959 when the wreckage was discovered. The crew had gotten lost on the way to Naples and overshot their airfield by hundreds of miles. Crashing in the harsh desert they had no chance. Some of the crew had walked more than a hundred miles without food or water, but ultimately they perished.

On the other hand, the group's most famous mission was the Ploesti raid of Aug. 1, 1943. The 376th led the raid and the 165 B-24 bombers that took part in it. Flying perilously low, the Liberator bombers had to deal with merciless flak trains and machine gun fire. More than three hundred enemy fighters joined in, resulting in 73 lost B-24s and another 55 heavily damaged. Almost 500 aircrew members were killed or wounded, and another 100 became prisoners of war.

The Liberandos helped destroy 60 percent of Ploesti's oil production but had paid a heavy price in doing so. Dedication and sacrifice had become the heritage of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group. By the end of World War II, the Liberandos had lost 1,479 officers and enlisted personnel and 169 aircraft.

In 1951, the wing was reactivated as a medium bombardment wing. Until its deactivation in 1965, the wing focused more on electronic counter measure operations than bombing. In 1970, the wing was reactivated and flew B-52 Stratofortess and KC-135 Stratotankers over Vietnam. In 1991, the 376th helped refuel coalition aircraft for Desert Storm before being deactivated again. Following 9/11, the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing stood up operations at what is now called Transit Center at Manas in December 2001.

This organization, once known for disrupting fuel production at Ploesti, is now known for fueling the fight in Afghanistan. Young Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines get to return safely home to their families because of the air supremacy fueled by the Liberandos. The dedication demonstrated by our predecessors in World War II is evidenced today by the extraordinary Airmen of the Transit Center.

This week we were reminded that dedication is accompanied by sacrifice. Capt. Mark "Tyler" Voss, Capt. Victoria "Tori" Pinckney, and Tech. Sgt. Herman "Tre" Mackey III joined the ranks of our fallen Airmen of World War II. The long blue line of Liberandos lost in action got a little longer this week. I believe that this young crew has been united with the B-24 crews of long ago. There in the heavenly equivalent of Pete's, there is no maximum on drinks as well as unlimited fellowship. And the conversation revolves around the fact that Liberandos deliver - bombs, fuel and freedom.

God bless them and God bless you all as we continue the fight.