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WOONSOCKET -- He's 87 years old now and the war he fought lies almost a lifetime away in the past. But to Raymond A. Noury the day over the skies of Europe when his damaged B-24 succumbed to a final attack by German fighters is still just a moment behind him.
Anyone would have trouble forgetting what Noury went through on Feb. 22, 1944, when the break-up of his plane left him falling through the sky harnessed to a tattered parachute.
Of the 11 Army Air Corps flyers on the "Miss Fortune" B-24 Liberator, Noury, a Central Falls native and longtime city resident, is the only one to have survived the attack.
Noury remembers waking up as he fell through the sky and praying to God that he would survive. Somehow he landed in the snowfields near the village of Pradlo and was rescued by a farmer from the village.
The residents of Pradlo and nearby Nepomuk wanted to help Noury and gave him needed medical care, but German soldiers were in the area and took him prisoner. He ended up finishing out the war in German prison camps.
Late last month, Noury spent his war anniversary at home with his wife, Therese, touching base with a few friends and old acquaintances who know his story or have ties to it themselves.
"You know itâ€™s been 67 years already," Noury said while talking about his memories on Tuesday. John Torrison and his wife, Crystal, had driven up from Connecticut to see him once again, and this year there was a special call from Grace Miller, 91, from her home in Florida.
Miller was the wife of the plane's navigator, 2nd Lt. Joseph F. Altemus, back during the war and had sent him off to Europe not long after the couple graduated college together, Noury said.
"When we left to go overseas, that was the last she saw of him," he said. Noury has made a point of writing or calling relatives of his late crew members where possible and was happy to hear from Grace this year.
"It was nice to hear from her. She has kept in touch with us all these years even though she remarried," he said. "We spent the afternoon reminiscing on different things."
John Torrison is the nephew of the Miss Fortune's tail-gunner, Wayneworth Nelson, and got to know Noury personally after researching his uncle's fate in the war and learning there had been a survivor of his plane's downing.
The Miss Fortune's last flight, a bombing mission for the 15th Air Force's 98th Bombardment Group to a Messerschmidt 109 factory in Regensburg, Germany, earned Noury, the plane's radioman, a Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions that day, and a Purple Heart for his wounds.
Torrison and his uncle, George, of Denver, Colo., made arrangements to meet Noury and ended up going with him to the Czech Republic in February 2004 for the 60th Anniversary of his arrival in Pradlo and Nepomuk. The towns have created a monument to the airmen that died that day and have also honored Noury as a local hero.
His crewmembers on the monument are Lt. George M. Goddard, Jr., Haig Kandarian, Joseph E. Altemus, Charles F. Spickard, Oscar W. Houser, Harold C. Carter, John A. Goldbach, Roy E. Hughes, Wayneworth E. Nelson, and Rexford R. Rhodes. The group also a returned a second time in 2009 to see improvements to the tribute.
Noury learned much about the Czech people himself on the trips and through his new friends also became aware of the difficult times the Czech people faced under their Nazi occupiers. One friend, Noury made, sent him information on the Massacre in Lidice, where a Nazi reprisal for a resistance act killed most of the villagers and sent 82 children to die in the concentration camps.
Noury hopes those horrors of the war will not be forgotten by a new generation of Americans who seem consumed with video games, the internet and other entertainment.
"They are too occupied with material things today," Noury said. "They are too busy with games to find themselves," he said.
Noury was able to return home from the war, marry, have a family, earn a living, and share good times with friends. But he hasn't forgotten what can happen when the major challenges surface in life.
His own generation faced great challenges and many did not survive them. "Some of them live though it and some of them don't," Noury said. That is always the face of war, then and even today, according to Noury.
Noury has worked with newer veterans through his affiliation with American Legion Post 9 in Manville and knows younger men that have face the trials of war just as he did.
He also knew many of his own generation who came home and lived good lives as he has done.
"There are not many of us left," Noury said while thinking of his fellow World War II vets back home. "Many don't participate in veterans events anymore. They are too old or not capable," he said. "Many are in rest homes now."
For himself, Noury plans to keep going as long as he can. He will keep remembering his old crew and keep adding to the time he was given because he made it to safety.
"I'd say that every day there is a miracle somewhere. It's not just what God brings, it's the ones that people do, too," he said.