The following letter was written by Retired Lt. Colonel John F. Barrett, the pilot of the aircraft which was shot down on 31 May 1944.
On 31 May 1944, I was the pilot of a B-24 J bomber involved in a mission to bomb the
oil refineries of Ploesti, Romania. Upon leaving the immediate target area, my aircraft was
bracketed by 88 millimeter anti-aircraft fire and seriously damaged, Control of the aircraft
became very difficult and a rapid loss of altitude due to power loss was experienced. A
fragment of an anti-aircraft shell (flack) pierced the bombay and severed the four fuel tank drain
lines in the bombay. Fumes from the pouring gasoline soon filled the aircraft. My flight
engineer, Ralph L Poffinberger left his top turret position and entered the fume saturated open
bombay at an altitude of about 19,000 feet and using pliers pinched off the copper lines that had
We came under enemy fighter (FW-190) fire before Poffinberger was able to return to his
top turret position. My tail gunner was hit by fire from the fighters and his turret became
inoperable. Without return fire from either the tail turret or the top turret the enemy pilots
mistakenly thought that our aircraft was defenseless from the attacks from above and behind.
Following his heroic work in the bombay, Poffinberger returned to his top turret and immediately
caught two enemy fighters closing in on us. They were so close that Poffinberger did not have to
use his gunsight. He saw his fifty caliber fire hit one fighter after the other destroying them both.
He also fired at the third fighter with unknown results It was then that we discovered fire in our
left wing and I ordered the crew to bailout. There was no chance that we could reach friendly
territory. I have always considered your performance that fateful day as being the reason we all survived.
Following the bail out, the crew were captured and held as POW's for ninety-two days.