Staff Sgt. Raymond Hook , radio operator on a B-24 Liberator called the “Hubba-Hubba,” and the other eight members of his crew were shot down on their sixth combat mission to destroy a German oil refinery during the final months of World War II.
They were members of the 450th Bomb Group, the “Cottontails,” flying out of the 15th Air Force base at Manduria, Italy in the country’s toe. It was Jan. 31, 1945, and all 144 B-24s in the group flew this mission.
The 86-year-old Lemon Bay Isles, Fla. resident, who has lived in Englewood for the past 27 years, picks up his story from there:
“Flak — heavy, intense and accurate — was fired at us. I never thought I’d have a chance to write about the mission that brought me closer to death than anything in my life.
“We were flying at 29,000 feet with all the bombers in our group when we lost our number three engine to flak at the IP (Initial Point). Fire was trailing out of the damaged engine until the pilot cut the gas,” Hook recalled more than six decades later.
“When we got on the bomb run we lost our number two engine to flak. Then we caught a burst of flak under our tail and down we went into the clouds.
“Our pilot tried to contact the lead ship but couldn’t. There we were with both inboard engines out, 800 miles from our base, flak bursting all around us and all nine of us aboard our B-24 were scared as hell,” Hook wrote.
“It was at this point our pilot told the navigator to give him a heading for the Russian lines as he tried to get us out of the clouds. By this time we had dropped down to 19,000 feet but we couldn’t find an opening in the clouds. He brought the plane down to 8,000 feet but still could see nothing. At this point the pilot told us to get our parachutes on and get ready to bail out.
“Just as we got down to 3,000 feet and he was about to give the order to jump, we broke out of the clouds. Right below us was a town and a snow-covered field where we could land our B-24.
“I was so happy I almost cried. We circled the field and all but the pilot and co-pilot got into our ditching position. With only two engines he set the bomber down as soft as silk.
“As we waited in the plane, a group of Yugoslav partisans surrounded our B-24. When they found out we were Americans they were hugging and kissing us. We were taken into the town, where we stayed in the home of the partisan commander. Every night they had a big party for us and we were treated like kings.”
Eventually they were taken by train to Bucharest, Romania, and stayed in the American mission until arrangements could be made to fly them back to their base in Italy.
“The ironic part of our misadventure is that we were gone for 28 days. If we had been away two more days we would have been eligible to go home. As it was we went back to base and flew another 16 combat missions.”
Sitting at his dining room table remembering the war, Hook said, “I’m Catholic, and I held a Miraculous Medal in my hand under my glove on every mission. I’m sure that medal kept us safe.”
This story first appeared in print in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, March 20, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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Raymond M. Hook
06 July 1922 – 23 August 2014
Raymond M. Hook, 92 of Englewood, Florida died August 23, 2014. He was born July 6, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York to Edward and Helen (Hart) Hook.
He moved to the Englewood area in 1982 from Long Island, New York. He was a retired Payroll Clerk for the New York City Department of Sanitation. He was a proud American and veteran of the Army Air Corp during World War II. He was a member of the Edgewater Club of Lemon Bay Isles and a member of V.F.W. Post #10476 and American Legion Post #113 both of Rotonda West.
He is survived by his daughter Maureen (Fred) Riebeling of Englewood and his son, Gary Hook of Long Island, New York; 8 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren, he was predeceased by his wife Emma, his sons, Raymond, Jr. and Dennis.
Lemon Bay Funeral Home and Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements.
A gathering of family and friends will be held on Wednesday from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at Lemon Bay Funeral Home. Funeral services will be private at the convenience of the family.