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Bob Lind, Published December 05 2010

Lind: A bombardier’s diary

Pearl Harbor got the United States into World War II in 1941. Three years later, people like Richard “Dick” Gaffaney were fighting to end it.

“May 1, 1944 – (We were bombing) Brussels railroad yards. Good hits on target and flak not bad. Hit some very accurate flak coming back over enemy coast near Dunkirk. Oxygen supply was not working as it should. Navigator felt groggy and I felt the same and also had slight headache. I used some pure oxygen from time to time. Forgot about headache when flak started coming close. We had several flak holes in ship when we landed.”

This is an excerpt from the diary kept by Dick of Fargo who was a bombardier with the 8th Air Force in Europe.

Dick died in 1989 in Scottsdale, Ariz. When his wife died in 2003, the family found the diary in her possessions. Here are more excerpts from it:

“May 9 – Florennes Airfield, France. A long cold mission. Saw one B-24 make a steep dive for no apparent reason. No smoke or chutes. It blew up before reaching the ground. No doubt fighters were the cause.

“May 23 – Our target was an airfield nine miles north of Orleans (France). I rode the tail turret which has no door to lean back against. The flak suit seemed to weigh a ton. Our mission was a long one, so we had to sweat out our gasoline supply all the way back. We flew at 14,000 feet which was 3,000-4,000 feet lower than we have ever flown over a target.

“May 25 – Airfield nine miles south of Paris. We met some accurate flak on edge of Paris. Mission was badly bawled up. We took a short cut after dropping bombs and ran into several places where accurate flak was thrown up at us. We received about five flak holes in our ship, including one in a wing tank.”

All in the family

Dick was the second of the five children of James and Ruth Gaffaney, of Fargo.

Dick’s older brother Bob was an infantry officer in the Pacific Theater during the war. He died in Tempe, Ariz.

Paul, the third oldest, was drafted during the war, became a radio operator and was sent to Korea about the time Japan surrendered. He died in 2007 in Sun Lakes, Ariz.

The youngest brother, Jim, was in the infantry, landed in France shortly after D-Day and fought through France and Germany until the war ended. He died in 2002.

Dick, his brothers and his brother-in-law Carold McLaughlin all worked for the family business, Gaffaney’s Office Specialties, Fargo.

It was Dick’s son Jerry, Phoenix, Ariz., who supplied information for this story.

Flak, freezing

“June 6 – Two D-Day missions to coast of France. The water was black with all types of boats. The beach was cluttered with our equipment. McBroom remarked over the interphone, ‘It looks like Coney Island down there.’ C-47 towing gliders passed us; hundreds of them.

“June 18 – Stadt, Germany. I flew tail turret and do not recall ever being so cold (minus 34 degrees C.)

“June 27 – Oriel, France. I never saw flak keep after us so long and it was very accurate. One hole was made in window behind copilot.

“June 28 – Staarbrucken, Germany. (Dick passed out). Next thing I knew Kroger was holding me up and Leo was shooting pure oxygen into my mouth. They said I was all purple in the face. I guess I was out about 15 minutes.

“July 19 – Our 35th and last combat mission. Our target was near Munich, four hours over enemy territory. It was a comparably warm day (minus 15 C.) Our formation was excellent at 18,000 feet and we had a very good bomb pattern. (The only flak encountered was) an hour from the coast.”

For Dick Gaffaney, the combat part of war was over.

But not for the Gaffaney family. In 1968, Dick’s son and Jerry’s brother Richard J. Gaffaney Jr., was killed in Vietnam.

More connections

Today, Jerry’s sister, Karla Reagan, lives in Newport Beach, Calif.

Jerry’s wife, JoAnn, is the sister of North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Mary (Muehlen) Maring.

And one more item from the Gaffaney family history:

One of Dick’s bombing runs was over Paderborn, Germany.

Years later, in 1998-1999, Tobias Huber lived with Jerry and JoAnn as a foreign exchange student.

And Tobias is from Paderborn.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com