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WWII airman’s remains identified and returning to Charles City area, 81 years later

WWII airman's remains identified and returning to Charles City area, 81 years later
This photo, supplied by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), shows 2nd Lt. Max Dailey and the rest of the crew of the Jose Cerioca. Submitted photo
By Bob Steenson,

A young Army Air Force navigator who was killed in a daring World War II bombing mission in Romania will be coming back to his family in Iowa, with his remains finally identified last year, 80 years after his death.

Bill Mead of Charles City is the nephew of Second Lt. Max Eugene Dailey, who lost his life on Aug. 1, 1943, in Ploesti, Romania.

Elaine Mead, Bill’s wife, has gathered extensive materials about her husband’s uncle and on the Romanian raid that has been described as ambitious, daring, foolhardy, disastrous and heroic.

WWII airman's remains identified and returning to Charles City area, 81 years later
Elaine Mead, whose husband, Bill, is the nephew of a WWII aviator whose remains were just identified last year, talks about the route the U.S. air crews took from Africa to bomb fuel facilities in Romania. Press photo by Bob Steenson

Elaine talked with the Press about Max Dailey, and about the Charles City visitation and service that will be held next month in his honor before the airman’s remains are buried in the rural Riverton Cemetery, between Charles City and Nashua.

Mead said the process that the U.S. government went through to identify remains from the bombing raid, including Dailey’s, was amazing, and she credited the successful effort to “an incredible number of dedicated agencies working together.”

More than 200 American airmen lost their lives in the raid. The Romanian government recovered what it thought were the remains of 216 Americans, 27 of them identified and buried in marked graves.

The rest were interred as “unknown” and they remained that way for decades, until science and government efforts advanced to the point where they could be identified through DNA samples from family members, including Bill Mead and other of Dailey’s nephews and a niece.

Max Dailey was born in Cherokee in 1921, Elaine said. His family lived in several locations in Iowa including Waterloo and Des Moines. Dailey enrolled in the Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI) before enlisting in the Army Air Force.

Dailey was one of 1,455 servicemen participating in Operation Tidal Wave to receive awards for his service. His father, Merle W. Dailey, accepted two posthumous awards for his son: the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart.

After the war ended, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) had searched for missing service members and exhumed the remains of those buried in the Bolovan Cemetery in Ploesti (now spelled Ploiesti), moving them to an American cemetery in Belgium.

In 2013 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) began work identifying and returning the remains of the servicemen in the Tidal Wave mission, and several years later they received approval to disinter Operation Tidal Wave “unknowns.”

It was at that time that Dailey’s nephews and niece, Bill Mead, Jim and John Ambler, and Sue Scott, were contacted for DNA samples to try to find a familial match, Elaine said.

Dailey’s remains, still unidentified at that time, were among those sent to the DPAA lab at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 2017. Dailey was officially identified June 22, 2023.

Max Dailey will be honored on Wednesday, June 12, with a visitation beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the First Congregational Church in Charles City, followed by a service at 11 a.m. with Pastor John Tunnicliff officiating. The public is invited.

Burial with full military honors will follow at Riverton Cemetery, 2474 Midway Road, in rural Floyd County. The government is paying the expenses to return Dailey’s remains and for the services, Elaine said.

WWII airman's remains identified and returning to Charles City area, 81 years later
This synopsis of the Operation Tidal Wave mission was part of the report put together by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). Graphic submitted

Elaine Mead put together this narrative about the Romanian bombing raid, pulling information from a variety of sources:

Second Lt. Max Dailey, and his nine crewmates, members of the 8th Army Air Force, assigned to the 9th Army Air Force, 409th Bomb Squadron, 93rd Bomb Group, were on a bombing mission to help destroy nine oil refineries surrounding the city of Ploesti, Romania. At the time Romania produced 60 percent of the Axis’ crude oil and 27 to 35 percent of refined or synthetic oil.

The success of this mission would seriously reduce the availability of fuel for Hitler’s campaign, planners said. Dailey’s plane, dubbed “Jose Carioca,” was one of 177 B-24 Liberators that flew in formation from Benghazi, Libya, to Ploesti that day.

Known as “Tidal Wave,” many believe that the mission went down in history as one of the war’s worst failures.

WWII airman's remains identified and returning to Charles City area, 81 years later
2nd Lt. Max Dailey, uncle of Charles City resident Bill Mead, was shot down on a bombing raid in Romania in World War II. His remains were just identified last year, and a memorial service will take place June 12 in Charles City with burial in the rural Riverton Cemetery. Submitted photo

Early-on, the planners argued the pros and cons of flying high altitude planes on a low-level attack. It was no secret that flying low in the heavy, slow aircraft made the planes more vulnerable, and made parachutes useless if the planes were shot down.

Many were opposed to the tactic, but those with more convincing arguments won out, believing that flying low would be more precise and minimize civilian casualties.

Flying at tree-top level to avoid German radar, the mission was to become the first large-scale low altitude bombing mission flown by U.S. heavy bomber aircraft.

Early on a Sunday morning, five bombardment groups carrying 1,725 American airmen departed from five separate Libyan airfields, taking almost an hour to form up in their positions on the 1,200 mile, 6½ hour hour flight to Ploesti.

After crossing the Mediterranean Sea and the Pindus Mountain Range, two of the five groups approached the city. With radios silent, the lead group, believing they were on course, lost sight of their target due to a serious navigational error, the second group following along.

They were also not aware that the other three groups were about 20 minutes behind. The entire mission was off course with flight crews missing navigational points, flying wrong flight paths, and confusing other flights.

After realizing their mistake, a radio message was issued advising to disregard assigned targets and bomb any “target of opportunity.” The last groups arrived to total chaos, finding some of their targets already bombed, experiencing heavy anti-aircraft fire and attacks by fighter planes, and moving through heavy smoke and flames.

One eyewitness described the Jose Carioca, having been shot up by a Romanian fighter plane, fly into a brick women’s prison, resulting in the death of the 10-man crew and many of the prison’s occupants.

The officers planning the mission had stressed its importance to the flight crews, saying that if they could destroy much of the fuel storage and refinement facilities it could shorten the war by several years.

One flyer who survived said they had been told that even if none of them made it back alive, the mission would be worth it.

The mission was far from a success, causing only a temporary delay in fuel production, and enacting a heavy toll on the U.S. crews. Of the 177 planes involved, 51 were lost. Many returned to Libya damaged.

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