Nebraska newspaper publisher Carroll Stewart never forgot the airmen he served with who flew B-24 Liberators during World War II — especially the ones who flew on the harrowing and historic “Black Sunday” raid against the Ploesti oil refineries.
He spent the last 45 years of his life telling their stories, not least the ones who hailed from his home state.
“Nebraska had a big and heroic part in this strike,” Stewart told The World-Herald in 1962, when his book, “Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943,” was published.
Twenty-nine residents of the Cornhusker State flew to Ploesti that day. Five of them died.
One of those who returned safely from the mission was 1st Lt. Robert Storz, the son of a prominent family of Omaha brewmasters. He usually flew a B-24 called Brewery Wagon, which crashed during the raid. On that day, though, he was flying a different aircraft, which returned safely to Benghazi. After the war, he served as an executive in Storz Brewing Co.
Another was Staff Sgt. Ben Kuroki, a young Japanese American from Hershey. Kuroki fought to serve in the Army during World War II even as many other Japanese immigrants and their children were interned in camps because the government questioned their loyalty.
Kuroki flew 58 combat missions during the war, earned numerous decorations, and was the subject of a 1946 book “The Boy from Nebraska” and a 2007 documentary film “The Honorable Son” — which was adapted from a short book that Stewart wrote.
Stewart spent his last years working to gain recognition for Kuroki’s extraordinary service. A week before his death in 2007, at age 89, Stewart attended the premiere in Lincoln of “The Honorable Son.” Kuroki, 98, died in 2015.
First Lt. Samuel Neeley of Scottsbluff piloted a B-24 called “Raunchy.” His plane hit an anti-aircraft balloon near the White Four target and exploded, killing him and all but two of his crewmates.
Tech. Sgt. Charles Bennett of Plattsmouth volunteered for the mission even though he had completed his tour of duty because he wanted to help shorten the war. He was also killed.
Following is a list of the 29 Nebraskans who participated in the Ploesti raid, as well as seven more from western Iowa.
Cal Stewart’s son, Scott Stewart of Lincoln, who has carried on his father’s publishing business, said he doesn’t think any of the Ploesti veterans are still living.
The war planners called it Operation Tidal Wave. Today, it is considered by many historians the most spectacular air raid of the war: dozens of bombers flying hundreds of miles just above the treetops, to rain 35 minutes of hellfire on a critical cog in the Nazi war machine. Historians also called it "Black Sunday." It was the Army Air Corps' worst single-day loss of the war.
BECKER, Robert H., Staff Sgt., Friend, Nebraska/Lincoln, waist gunner. POW in Italy.
BENNETT, Charles E., Tech. Sgt., Plattsmouth, flight engineer/top turret gunner. Killed in Ploesti raid.
BILBY, Bedford Bruce, 2nd Lt., Omaha, co-pilot
BINDER, Glenn W., 1st Lt., Table Rock, co-pilot
CAVEY, Max C., Staff Sgt., Lincoln, top turret gunner
CHAMBERLAIN, Donald M., Staff Sgt., Superior, waist gunner
CRIPPEN, Richard M., Staff Sgt., Atkinson, waist gunner
DeBAETS, Emiel F., Staff Sgt., Shelby, waist gunner
DeCAMP, Marcus A., Tech. Sgt. Clearwater, flight engineer/top turret gunner
DUFFY, Edward A., Staff Sgt., Omaha, waist gunner
EGLE, Ralph W., 2nd Lt., Palisade, co-pilot. Killed in Ploesti raid.
HURD, Earl C., 1st Lt., Omaha, pilot
IRWIN, John F., Tech Sgt., Albion, flight engineer. Killed in action Oct. 1, 1943.
KELLY, Fay L., Tech Sgt., Omaha, flight engineer
KENSIT, Arthur C., Staff Sgt., Omaha, waist gunner. POW in Romania.
KRAUSE, Harry C., Tech. Sgt., Ravenna, waist gunner
KUROKI, Ben, Staff Sgt., Hershey, top turret gunner. Highly decorated Japanese American veteran, only man to serve in four theaters of combat.
LANG, Jack E., Tech. Sgt., Omaha, radio operator. Killed in action Nov. 13, 1943, at Bremen, Germany.
LEE, David V., Staff Sgt., Bradish, waist gunner
LIPPS, Richard, Staff Sgt., Omaha, waist gunner
LONGNECKER, Russell D., 2nd Lt., Broken Bow, pilot
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MICHAELS, Willard L., 2nd Lt., Omaha, co-pilot
NEELEY, Samuel R., 1st Lt., Scottsbluff, pilot. Killed in Ploesti raid.
NOSAL, John A., Staff Sgt., Omaha, waist gunner
PICCOLO, Anthony J., 2nd Lt., Omaha, navigator
SMITH, Richard B., 1st Lt., Weeping Water, pilot
STORZ, Robert H., 1st Lt., Omaha, pilot. Later served with Strategic Air Command and as vice president of Storz Brewing Co.
WARD, Robert G., 2nd Lt,. Omaha, bombardier. Killed in Ploesti raid.
WENRICH, Vaun D., Tech. Sgt., Lincoln, flight engineer/top turret gunner. Killed in Ploesti raid.
From western Iowa
GRETT, Gerald L., Staff Sgt., Harlan, waist gunner. Killed Aug. 16, 1943.
HANSEN, Kermit P., 1st Lt., Hartley, bombardier. POW in Italy, August 1943.
KUHLMANN, Gerald H., 2nd Lt., Charter Oak, co-pilot
MITCHELL, Edward R., 1st Lt., Sioux City, pilot. Killed Nov. 13, 1943, on agent-dropping mission to Norway.
PACE, Harold L., Staff Sgt., Manilla and Glidden, tail gunner
SCHOER, Walter B., Staff Sgt., Holstein, flight engineer/top turret gunner. Killed in Ploesti raid.
SPARKS, Robert O., Staff Sgt., Oakland, tail gunner. Later POW after being shot down at Osnabruck, Germany.