1st Lt. John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr.
A hero is finally laid to rest 75 years later
1st Lieutenant John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr. of the US Army Air Force is finally coming home after
being missing in action since June 28, 1944. He was born in Providence, September 4th, 1917, and
was the oldest of five boys who all served in WWII. Crouchley was the pilot of “MISS REBEL
YANKEE”, a B-24 bomber in the 828th Bombardment Squadron, 485th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force. He graduated from Hope High School in Providence and went to Rhode Island College, graduating in 1939. During college Dud learned to fly and obtained his civilian pilots license. He enlisted after
the events on December 7th, 1941, and was married to Dorothy Barber on July 12, 1943.
His original crew consisted of 2nd Lt. William J. Hays, co-pilot (Mansfield, Georgia), 2nd Lt.
Forrest J. Leveille, navigator (St. Paul, Minnesota), 2nd Lt. Allen G. Meister, Jr., bombardier, S/Sgt. Eugene A. LaScotte, nose gunner (St. Paul, Minnesota), S/Sgt. Donald R. Turner, gunner (Frankford, Missouri), S/Sgt. Edward G. Johnson, ball gunner (Delight, Arkansas), S/Sgt. Ralph F. Perillo, waist gunner (Wakefield, Massachusetts), S/Sgt. William J. Van Meer, radio operator/gunner (Beloit, Kansas), Sgt. Thomas A. Langstaff, tail gunner (Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania).
The story of 1st Lieutenant Crouchley’s fateful mission actually began after a separate but particularly difficult mission in which a number of the crew members suffered wounds landing them in a hospital stay. As a result, Crouchley and Leveille got a one-week vacation at a reserve in Italy. They were supposed to return to base on June 27th, 1944, but “MISS YANKEE REBEL” was being repaired, delaying their departure. Still, Crouchley was anxious to return because his wife, Dorothy, was pregnant with their first child and he knew there were letters waiting for him. He found another plane returning to Venosa, Italy that day and hitched a ride. Now back on base, Crouchley was available to fly the June 28th mission. With substitute navigator 2nd Lt. John F. Wilson (taking Leveille’s place) and bombardier 2nd Lt. Bill Hollowell (taking Meister’s place), the crew set out with the 485th Bomb Group to bomb the Titan Oil Refineries in Bucharest, Romania. A total of 38 bombers from the 485th Bomb Group were involved in the mission.
The formation ran into heavy resistance, including about 50 enemy fighters and robust anti-aircraft flak, but they hit their target nonetheless. Crouchley’s plane was severely damaged by fighter attacks over the target, starting fires in the #2 and #3 engines. Crouchley went into a 30-40-degree dive to try to put out the flames and was successful. However, they were losing altitude and were still under fighter attack. Crouchley and Hays knew things were bad. Crouchley turned the crippled bomber away from the fighters and away from the bomber formation. Assisted by co-pilot Hays, they managed to keep the bomber in the air for another hour, while the gunners repelled repeated fighter attacks. Finally, the severely damaged bomber started to go down and Crouchley knew he had to get his crew out. It was up to him to hold the B-24 steady since the automatic pilot was destroyed. The other crewmen bailed out at his command. Hays was the last to jump at 400 feet. All nine crew members
survived and ended up in a POW camp in Shumen, Bulgaria, but Crouchley gave his life, staying with the plane so the others had time to escape.
The plane crashed into a mountain outside of the remote village Churen, Bulgaria, with few witnesses. The location, combined with the general chaos of war, generated decades of confusion and many unanswered questions regarding 1st Lieutenant Crouchley’s crash site. For years, it was believed that the plane actually went down in Romania. Finally, in 1992, Crouchley’s nephew, Dan Crouchley (Omaha, Nebraska) began looking into the family’s military history, and Dud’s unsolved disappearance in particular. With the help of the internet, he tracked down some of the crew members or their descendants on his uncle’s fatal flight. Dan got in contact with Mark, the son of Eugene A. LaScotte, historian Jerry Whiting, and Bulgarian Colonel Stanimir Stanev. As a result of years of their persistence, collaboration and research, a US military recovery team eventually went in to excavate the suspected site in 2017. After months of hard work and follow-up DNA tests, the team confirmed the presence of Crouchley’s remains, and even uncovered his wedding band. After 75 years, the family mystery was solved.
1st Lieutenant John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr. is survived by two grandchildren, the son and
daughter of the late John D. “Sandy” Crouchley III, Autumn Williams (Bristol, RI) and John D.
Crouchley IV (Darien, CT). Calling hours are Friday, May 3rd, 1pm-5pm at Smith-Mason Funeral
home, 398 Willet Ave., Riverside, RI.
1st Lt. John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr. weds Dorothy H. Barber July 12, 1943.
November 1st, 1946, Colonel Thomas W. Steed of the 1st Air Force awards the Distinguished Flying Cross to 1st Lt. John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr.’s 2-year-old son, John Dudley “Sandy” Crouchley III. 1st Lt. John D. “Dud” Crouchley Jr. also received a Purple Heart October 21, 1949. Burial will be private.
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