The 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the United States Army Air Forces (forerunner of today’s United States Air Force) was no stranger to attacking the Ploesti, Romania area and its oil refineries. Its Consolidated B-24 Liberators first struck there on August 1, 1943 during Operation TIDAL WAVE. The 98th’s commander at the time, Colonel John R. “Killer” Kane, received the Medal of Honor for his courageous flying that day.
Not quite one year later, seventy years ago today, the 98th set off to bomb Ploesti again. Kane was no longer in command of the group, but flying with its 343rd Bombardment Squadron was a 28-year-old pilot named Donald Dale Pucket.
Donald Pucket was born in Longmont, Colorado on December 15, 1915. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on June 12, 1942 and was later commissioned as an officer and earned his pilot’s wings.
On July 9, 1944 right after Pucket and his crew unloaded their ordnance on target, their B-24 was devastated by anti-aircraft fires. He quickly rendered aid to his wounded crew, after turning over control of the aircraft to his co-pilot. It quickly became clear that the aircraft was doomed and he ordered his men to bail out.
Three of the crew were either too scared or too injured to jump. Rather than leaving them to certain death, Donald Pucket stayed with his plane and his crew in an ultimately vain attempt to save them all, earning for himself his own Medal of Honor.
*PUCKET, DONALD D. (Air Mission)
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 98th , Bombardment Group. Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 9 July 1944. Entered service at: Boulder, Colo. G.O. No.: 48, 23 June 1945
Citation: He took part in a highly effective attack against vital oil installation in Ploesti, Rumania, on 9 July 1944. Just after “bombs away,” the plane received heavy and direct hits from antiaircraft fire. One crewmember was instantly killed and 6 others severely wounded. The airplane was badly damaged, 2 engines were knocked out, the control cables cut, the oxygen system on fire, and the bomb bay flooded with gas and hydraulic fluid. Regaining control of his crippled plane, 1st Lt. Pucket turned its direction over to the copilot. He calmed the crew, administered first aid, and surveyed the damage. Finding the bomb bay doors jammed, he used the hand crank to open them to allow the gas to escape. He jettisoned all guns and equipment but the plane continued to lose altitude rapidly. Realizing that it would be impossible to reach friendly territory he ordered the crew to abandon ship. Three of the crew, uncontrollable from fright or shock, would not leave. 1st Lt. Pucket urged the others to jump. Ignoring their entreaties to follow, he refused to abandon the 3 hysterical men and was last seen fighting to regain control of the plane. A few moments later the flaming bomber crashed on a mountainside. 1st Lt. Pucket, unhesitatingly and with supreme sacrifice, gave his life in his courageous attempt to save the lives of 3 others.