Twenty-five B24 Liberator Bombers flew from Soluch Field in Libya, Africa. The target was Naples, Italy. Blinding sandstorms caused most of the bombers to return to the base. A few planes continued on. In the night sky, we became the lone B24 bomber.
As the four engines roared through the night, my thoughts drifted back to my first tour with the Canadian Air Force. Earning an officer's commission, I transferred to the US Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant.
On my second tour, this time in Africa.
Recalling our arrival in Lybia on the 27th of March. Quickly, we made friends. Our new crew members hailed from various states. Before the war, another member of our crew lived on a farm in New York that was within fifty miles of my hometown in Massachusetts.
It was our first mission. The ominous sandstorm swirled its omen powers.
With our payload, the B24 proved difficult to control. The weather conditions didn't help. Yet, we were able to stay in fair to good spirits. Missing our first target, we managed to hit our second target in Naples. Italy. Adrenalin coursed through our veins. For a few minutes, we breathed easier.
Then, becoming lost on our return to base, caused concern, and morale waned.
Everyone referred to the B24 Liberator as the flying boxcar. Flying the B24 was exhausting and grueling. The 1st Lieutenant sat to my left. Darkness surrounded us. Inside the bomber, instead of a steady hum from the engines, there was an acoustic sound. The engines always sounded out of sync. Bouncing around like ragdolls, the damp chill pierced through our bones.
Unfortunately, the 4th of April was a moonless night. The Mediterranean Sea wasn't distinguishable. The sky was pitch-black. The smell of leaking aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid wafted through the plane. Always in the back of our minds, we worried about the plane catching fire.
Realizing that the navigation system wasn't operational, the pilot, Hatton, requested our radio man, LaMotte, to contact the base to inform them that we were flying blind. Shivering inside the cold B24, the radio man informed the base that the automatic direction finder wasn't working. Requesting a bearing to the base, they informed him that the plane was flying on the correct path.
Perhaps, we received inaccurate and inadequate information. LaMotte relayed that they would light fires around the landing strip. While the crew looked, no sign of the base could be seen. Nobody spotted fires signaling the location of the landing strip.
Before running out of fuel and crashing, Hatton along with the crew decided that we should jump out of the plane. With life jackets on, we prepared for water. We thought we were over the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally, amazed and shocked to find that we landed in the desert sands.
In the desert, there was nothing as far as our eyes could see. We survived. But, we landed in a hostile arid desert. When the winds blew, grains of sand shifted and moved blowing sand in our faces.
Each crew member set off flares, and eight of us rendezvoused together. Woravka was missing. Waiting for his signal, nothing went off in an hour's time. Before we started walking Northwest, we waited another hour.
Dividing our resources between the eight of us, we shared a pint of water. With a cap of water for each, we had very little rations. Day or nite, sleeping on the fine brown grains of sand was problematic and impossible. With the hot blazing sun beating down on the sand, each step was arduous.
Leaving boots and other articles along the way, we marked our path in hopes that it would help or lead to our being rescued.
During the day, the occasional breeze from the Northwest helped. The fine loose bottomless sand slowed us down to a steady turtle's pace. Heading Northwest, we struggled and continued walking.
When the hot sun goes down, the desert temperatures drop dramatically. At least, we could walk longer than fifteen minutes stretches before resting for a few. Rested but no one slept.
The fire-hot sand, the hot temperatures, and the fiery sun replaced our former concerns regarding the plane. During the blazing daylight hours, we burned in hell. Without a breeze, the noonday sun hung overhead. We waited until 5 P.M. to start walking again. Trudging through the deep fine sand, we walked and rested. We walked all nite.
When the sandstorm threatened to envelop us, we huddled together using a parachute to cover us and protect us from the stirring sandstorm. Once the storm was over, blue skies and brown sand stretched as far as our eyes could see.
With each passing day, we weakened. Watched for rescue planes. We walked when the sun went down. We prayed. No one slept, we were too sore from lying on the sand.
When we hit the dunes, the blowing sand blinded us. Our eyes took a beating, damaged by the wind, sun, and sand. We continued walking Northwest.
On the fifth day, while three continued on, together five stayed behind. My eyes are bad. Others' eyes are completely gone. I'm too weak to walk. We pray. No signs of help.
Continuing to pray, we spotted a bird. No plane or water in sight. Weaker, we remained hopeful.
If only, we had water. There was no water to wet our tongues. Praying for help, we are in pain. We can't walk or sleep.
Almost freezing, tired beyond belief. My feet are numb and so are my hands. Can hardly write, "Cold nite."
Drifting off to sleep, my thoughts meander back. To the nite, we jumped into a desert prison. Walking back to the plane, the radio could have saved us. It's late, there is only silence.
Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
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Author's notes: At age eleven, the mystery of The Lady Be Good intrigued me. Seeing Vocal's Arid Challenge, the lost bomber in the desert came to mind. The story is fictionalized and is voiced through Toner one of two airmen who keep a diary of their heroic efforts to survive eight days in the unsurvivable environment and a testament to their willpower and training.
Now, in 2023, this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the lost bomber and crew in the Lybian Desert.
About the Creator
Barbara J Iversen, also known as Babs Iverson, lives in Texas and loves her grandkids to the moon and back. After writing one story, she found that writing has many benefits especially during a pandemic and a Texas-size Arctic Blast.
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