Throughout WWII, military personnel displayed uncommon valor and courage. Our record collections contain countless stories of ordinary men and women who serve in extraordinary ways. Here are two remarkable stories of survival.
Eugene P. Moran enlisted in the US Army Air Corps on October 21, 1942. The Wisconsin native served as a Staff Sergeant in the 339th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. On November 29, 1943, while serving as a tail gunner in a bombing mission over Bremen, Germany, Moran’s B-17 Flying Fortress was hit by German flak. The B-17 was cut in two, sending Moran hurtling toward earth in the tail section. A bail-out was impossible because Moran was wounded in both arms, and his parachute was riddled with bullets. The damaged vertical fin and horizontal stabilizers fluttered and flapped, helping to slow his fall. After falling 24,000 feet (more than four miles), one of the tail’s stabilizers stabbed into a tree, and Moran abruptly stopped. He was severely injured, suffering wounds, back injuries, and head injuries.
Out of the crew of ten, Moran was one of two survivors. He was captured by German soldiers and taken POW. His captors denied him medical attention, but a Serbian doctor, also a POW, rendered aid and likely saved his life. Over the next 17 months, Moran was held prisoner at POW camps in Germany, Prussia, and Poland. He spent time on a “hell ship” on the Baltic (so-called for the horrific conditions Allied prisoners endured while on board). He also survived a forced 600-mile march. Moran endured his time as a POW and was liberated on April 26, 1945, by the 104th Infantry Division. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, an Air Medal with Gold Leaf Cluster, the European Theater Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. In 2007, Moran became the first recipient of the Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award in Wisconsin. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 89.
Sgt. James A. Raley of Henderson, KY, served as a tail gunner in the 353rd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group, Fifteenth Air Force. He was on a bombing mission to Piraeus, Greece, on January 11, 1944, when his aircraft collided mid-air with another B-17 in heavy cloud cover. The tail section was severed, and Raley was caught in the wreckage. In a 1944 newspaper interview, Raley said, “When the crash occurred 19,000 feet in the air, there was a terrific impact, and I was thrown face down on the floor toward the rear of the fort. I had an immediate sensation of falling as the plane spiraled downward, twisting to the right in a tight circle. My first thought was to grab my parachute and get out of the plane, but the spinning made it impossible for me to move.”
Raley recited prayers during the descent. “I must have been spiraling downward for 10 to 15 minutes,” he said. The tail came to rest in a clump of treetops. Raley realized he had just survived a fall from 19,000 feet. He was worried the aircraft might catch fire or explode and was anxious to clear the wreckage. He made his way to the bulkhead door, but the rest of the aircraft was gone when he opened it. Eight members of the crew died in the tragic accident.
Raley suffered back injuries and a small cut on the chin but miraculously survived. He was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster. Despite his near-death experience, Raley continued to serve in the military. He served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of Lt. Col. in the US Air Force. Raley passed away in 1999.
There are many more stories of survival in our archives. If you would like to explore our collections for more amazing but true stories, search Fold3® today.