BURRILLVILLE – At 89, former World War II POW Raymond A. Noury’s health isn’t what it used to be and these days he spends more time sitting in his wheelchair than he does using the walker that carries his portable telephone and plastic bin of personal items.
Noury, the sole survivor of an 11-member B-24 bomber crew, also has to contend with arthritis that makes it difficult to use his hands or straighten out his back.
But on the 69th anniversary of the day his plane — the Miss Fortune — fell to German anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes, Noury was only thinking of his 10 fellow crew members who never experienced the full life he has enjoyed.
He does that every year on Feb. 22, 1944, and at many other times.
“It’s hard to figure that out. Maybe there was a reason for it, I don’t know,” Noury said Friday while sitting near a window of the home he and his wife, Therese, share overlooking a solidly frozen Pascoag Reservoir. “You have to figure there was a reason for it and it was my job to live life to the best that I could and have a family.”
What stands out for Noury even today about those long ago days of World War II was how young all his fellow crew members were and how much promise they had for their own futures.
Most of the men he flew with were between the ages of 18 to 24 and few were married or had families yet, Noury recalled. They were smart and good at their jobs, whether that was piloting the B-24, navigating to its destinations or manning its armaments such as the 50-caliber waist gun he commanded.
“A lot of them probably were college material,” Noury said.
He himself had joined the Army Air Corps just before the war broke out and gained experience as a radio operator working in planes patrolling the Atlantic seaboard for German U-boats in the days after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
A native of Central Falls and son of Marie and Joseph Noury, Raymond Noury was an 18-year-old working at an $11-a-week job in the Cadillac Mills in Valley Falls along with his mother when he decided to join the service and instead earn $21 per month in military pay.
U-boats were wreaking havoc with Allied shipping at the time and Noury and his pilot in the two-man aircraft would notify the Navy of the location of any submarines they found and let the Navy take care of them. Noury recalls seeing one U-boat on the surface during those patrols but never found out what happened to it.
He eventually transferred over to B-24s, a four-engine heavy bomber called a Liberator, and saw action in North Africa before his unit began flying missions to strike industrial targets in Germany.
Noury earned a Silver Star for bravery, and the Purple Heart and the Army Air Corps’ Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during 17 missions. He is credited with helping pull an injured fellow crewman, William Boyce, to safety after flak blew a large hole their plane, the Snow White. Noury was also injured by flak on that mission, and after recovering, was assigned to another B-24, the Miss Fortune.
His final air mission began on Feb. 22, 1944, with a few last-minute changes to Miss Fortune’s roster; Boyce had been replaced and another flyer, Rexford “Dusty” Rhodes, went along as the 11th crew member to finish out his required number of missions before going home.
Aboard when the Miss Fortune headed down the runway were the plane’s pilot, 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, Rhodes and Noury.
After striking a Messerschmidt 109 factory in Regensburg, Germany, the Miss Fortune took a hit to its outside engine on the right wing, forcing Goddard to make a try for Switzerland, according to Noury.
The damaged engine continued to burn as the plane made a turn toward safety with two other B-24s.
Noury remembers seeing Messerschmidts knock out one of the two planes and then other before he decided to try and get his plane’s ball gunner out. He couldn’t bring the exit around and had started to put on his parachute when the Miss Fortune exploded or broke apart.
“I remember waking up at just about 15,000 feet and my chute was all ripped up and the rip cord still there in place,” Noury said. He remembers reaching for his Crucifix and wondering what would happen to him. He ended up making a landing on a snowy slope and sliding to a stop, injured but alive.
Residents of a village below the high country, in what is the Czech Republic today, saw his plane fall and two went up on skis to check for survivors the next morning, Noury said. He was brought down to a small hospital in the Nepomuk area and treated for his injuries before the Germans came to take him off to the first of a series of prison camps he would be held in until just before the war ended.
Noury returned home to Central Falls and would eventually live off Cass Avenue in Woonsocket with Therese before moving next door to one his children at Pascoag Reservoir more recently.
He is a long-time member of American Legion Post 9 in Manville and remains concerned about the new crop of injured veterans arriving home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the soldiers fighting the war on terrorism have put in multiple tours of duty and suffered the impacts of that repeated service in addition to battle wounds, Noury pointed out.
“I would tell them to take it one day at a time,” Noury said. Today it is harder for a returning veteran to find a job when coming home than it had been in his day, but finding a post-war job can mean all the difference in keeping a family together, he said.
Noury himself has benefitted from the two trips he made back to Pradlo and Nepomuk with the nephews of Wayneworth Nelson, George and John Torrison, members of a Catholic religious order and other friends in 2004 and 2009. He cherishes the relationships he developed with the people of the now-free Czech Republic during those trips and spoke with some of the residents of Pradlo even on the 69th anniversary of his last mission.
The crash site of the Miss Fortune features a solemn monument to the 10 airmen found there in the plane’s wreckage; Noury holds that tribute very close to his heart.
“There is not a night that goes by that you don’t think about them,” he said. “But I was overwhelmed by what they did for them by erecting a stainless steel monument 20 feet high and the 10 stones for each member of the crew,” he said. “How much more could you ask of them.”