Richard C. Werner (lower far left) and crew that remain missing in action from WWII. Photo courtesy of Medfield Historical Society.
By Richard DeSorgher
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Both Memorial Day and May 22 will always be a day of remembrance for the Werner family. On May 22, 1944, Staff Sergeant Richard C. Werner, U.S. Army Air Corps, was reported as missing in action over Italy during World War II. The B24G bomber and crew, including Richard Werner, were never found.
Richard Werner grew up on Harding Street and was the son of Grayce and Chester Werner. As a child he was the victim of polio, but with the loving care of his parents, he was able to defeat the disease. He was left with one leg shorter than the other and with numbness in his toes. In 1941 Richard graduated from Medfield High School. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the Medfield unit of the Massachusetts State Guard. On February 5, 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. When the Army doctors discovered the damage that polio had done to his feet, they were hesitant about accepting him. Richard convinced them that he did not need two good feet to fly. By May of 1944 he was a staff sergeant aboard a B-24 Liberator and was a turret gunner.
With the help of military records later received by the Werner family, we find that records of Richard’s squadron during the month of May, 1944 stated that “the first mission that month was a bombing run over Parma, Italy but due to adverse weather not all planes were able to hit their targets.” On the fifth of May, they reported “a good bombing run severely damaging the Marchalling Yards at Ploesti, Romania. There was heavy anti-aircraft fire and all returned with holes in all the planes.” The report stated that “after that successful bombing run the officers celebrated with a party in their club and the music was supplied by a local GI band. On May 8 one of the planes caught fire on the runway and blew up with 900-pound bombs on it. Fortunately, all the men on the line had enough time to get out of the way and no one was hurt, but parts of the plane were scattered around the field for half a mile. The plane itself was left unrecognizable. On the 10th of May after the bombers returned from a tough mission to Austria, one of the planes blew a tire on landing and the pilot lost control ending up in the field next to the runway, with two engines burning. A nearby airman climbed inside the burning plane and was able to get one of the crew members out who was pinned beneath the command deck.”
On May 22, 1944 the bombardment squadron, including Werner’s plane, departed from Torretta Airfield in Southern Italy on a bombing mission to Piombino, Italy. Richard’s plane developed mechanical problems and was last seen over the Mediterranean Sea heading towards Corsica, after it signaled that it was leaving the formation
The plane closest to Werner’s reported that “Five minutes out, Werner’s plane seemed to lose its number one engine. The plane started losing altitude. The next thing that happened was the plane started to fish-tail violently. A few seconds later the plane dropped its gear and dove out of the formation, apparently still under control of the pilots.” Richard and his crew were never seen again. Air and sea rescue workers tried for two days to find some trace of the missing plane but were unsuccessful
On June 3, 1944 the Werner family received a Western Union telegram at their 67 Harding Street home telling them that their son was missing in action. A year later, the War Department notified the family that: “In view of the fact that a full 12 months have expired without any evidence of survival, the War Department must issue an official finding of death.”
On Memorial Day, 1994 the intersection of West Mill and Harding Streets was named the “Richard C. Werner Honor Square.” Over 150 veterans, family members, neighbors and friends, including Congressman John Joseph Moakley, attended. Werner family members said the ceremony was very special to them as it finally brought closure to the life of their brother; there had never been a wake, a funeral or burial, as they were always in hope that he somehow would be found and would return home.
His brother, Doug Werner, at the time said: “We hope the citizens of Medfield will always keep my brother in their thoughts and prayers and never forget what he and so many others did in sacrificing their lives for our country.”
This Memorial Day will be the 77th since Medfield’s 22-year-old Richard C. Werner was last seen.