The tragic story of WWII aircraft Lady Be Good

Mysteries

MYSTERY WIRE (LAKE LINDEN, Mich. – WJMN) – Outside the Lake Linden Village Hall and Fire Station is one of the propellers from Lady Be Good, an American B-24 Liberator plane used during World War II. The tragic story behind this piece of metal was not only a mystery for years, but it also took the lives of nine men, including one man from Lake Linden.

On April 4, 1943, U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte and eight other members of the 514th Squadron took off from an airstrip near Benghazi, Libya. This would be Lady Be Good’s first and final mission.

Steve Dummitt, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a self-proclaimed “aircraft history nut”, tells the story of Lady Be Good and her men’s demise:

“What happened was they went to go bomb Naples, Italy during the war. They flew across the Mediterranean sea. And just as they took off, a large sand storm ensued that would last over eight hours. Eight of the aircrafts turned back because the weather got so bad. But the Lady Be Good wanted to go on, being their first mission they wanted to do their very best.

So they flew onto the target and they were one of two airplanes that bombed the target in Naples, Italy. What they didn’t realize was there was a tremendous tailwind. Because as they turned around and came back, darkness fell upon them. They flew and they lost what they call their radio detection finder. So, as they began flying home they didn’t realize they flew across the Mediterranean at night. They had actually crossed over the coast. And they didn’t know exactly where they were.

They flew for two hours past their base into the middle of the Sahara Desert. And as they began to run out of fuel, they still believed they were over the water. The pilot ordered the men to bail out. And when they bailed out then, what they didn’t realize was that the Lady Be Good would continue to fly. She actually flew for another 16 miles on one engine. And she landed, belly up in the sand.”

Courtesy of the National Archives.

Lady Be Good flew 400 miles past its base. The crew, however, never made it back to the aircraft. They walked 85 miles from where they landed after parachuting out of Lady Be Good. All of them died in the middle of the desert. For sixteen years, Lady Be Good and its crew were thought to have been lost at sea.

British geologists in 1959 who were working for D’Arcy Oil Company found the plane crash site.
By 1960, eight of the nine men’s remains were found in the Sahara Desert, including LaMotte’s.
The mystery of Lady Be Good was no longer a mystery, and her men were finally able to be laid to rest.

Photograph of Lt. Toner’s diary. Courtesy of National Archives.

The nine airmen lost:

  • 1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, Pilot
  • 2d Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, Copilot
  • 2d Lieutenant Dp Hays, Navigator
  • 2d Lieutenant John S. Woravka, Bombardier
  • Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, Flight Engineer
  • Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, Radio Operator
  • Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelley, Gunner/Asst Flight Engineer
  • Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, Gunner/Asst Radio Operator
  • Staff Sergeant Samuel E. Adams, Gunner

The remains of Sgt. Vernon Moore have never been found.

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