2nd Lieutenant William J. McLoughry (1919–1942)

William J. McLoughry in 1940 (Courtesy of the Davis family)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Pennsylvania, DelawareCollege student
BranchService Number
U.S. Army Air ForcesEnlisted 12012541 / Officer O-659149
TheaterUnit
Mediterranean 10th Troop Carrier Squadron, 60th Troop Carrier Group
Entered the Service FromCampaigns/Battles
Dover, DelawareOperation Torch, Tunisian campaign

Author’s note: This article incorporates some text about Operation Torch from my previous article about Staff Sergeant George Isadore.

Early Life & Family

William Joseph McLoughry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1919. He was the son of William Joseph McLoughry (1880–1926) and Martha Helen McLoughry (nicknamed Marte, née White, 1892–1959). The family was recorded (under the last name McLarry) on the census on January 7, 1920, living at 6509 Woodland Avenue in Philadelphia. The family was still living in Philadelphia when McLoughry’s father, a salesman, died on November 27, 1926.

It appears that McLoughry was recorded on the census on April 15, 1930, living with his maternal aunt and uncle, Elmer and Sarah Smithers, at 315 West Street in Milford, Delaware.

McLoughry in 1939 (Courtesy of the Davis family)

McLoughry was recorded on the census on April 5, 1940, living at 38 North Bradford Street in Dover, Delaware, along with his mother and stepfather, Arthur G. Livingston (1881–1965), a civil engineer for the State Highway Department.

McLoughry was a Boy Scout in the Dover No. 1 Boy Scout Troop (later Troop 78) and according to a newspaper article, was Dover’s first Eagle Scout.

McLoughry attended school in Milford, Dover (including Dover High School), and eventually at the Massanutten Military Academy, a boarding school in Woodstock, Virginia. By early 1938, he may have been dating his future wife, Doris Minerva Herdman (1920–2020), who lived a few blocks from McLoughry at 427 North Bradford in Dover. Journal-Every Evening reported on February 19, 1938, that Herdman had driven with McLoughry’s mother and stepfather to attend a military ball at the academy. (However, she did not attend the ball the following year.)

After graduating from Massanutten, McLoughry enrolled in Middlebury College in Vermont in 1939. The following year, he joined the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. On March 1, 1941, Journal-Every Evening reported that McLoughry “was among those selected from Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt., for flight training under provisions of the civil aeronautics airplane training course”—presumably the Civilian Pilot Training Program. After completing his sophomore year at Middlebury, McLoughry decided to drop out of college to join the military.


Military Training, Marriage, & Overseas Service

McLoughry volunteered to become an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Journal-Every Evening reported his acceptance on September 22, 1941, and he officially enlisted in Wilmington, Delaware, one week later. Aviation Cadet McLoughry began his primary pilot training at Parks Air College, Illinois, on October 1, 1941. According to his wife’s statement for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, he graduated from primary on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Journal-Every Evening reported that McLoughry briefly visited his family in Dover during December 12–17, 1941. During his leave, it is likely that McLoughry became engaged to Doris Herdman (by then a senior at the Women’s College of Delaware, an affiliate of the University of Delaware), an event announced by Journal-Every Evening on December 20, 1941.

Aviation Cadet McLoughry attended basic pilot training at Goodfellow Field, Texas, from December 16, 1941, to February 23, 1942. He then completed his advanced pilot training at Kelly Field, Texas (according to his wife’s statement, from February 24, 1942, to April 29, 1942).

At the completion of his advanced pilot training, McLoughry was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant on April 29, 1942, at Kelly Field, Texas, with his mother in attendance at the ceremony. Two days later, on May 1, 1942, they flew back to the East Coast. That night, Lieutenant McLoughry and his fiancée, Doris, wed at Dover Presbyterian Church.

The couple’s honeymoon was brief. McLoughry’s wife stated that her husband joined the 315th Transport Group on May 12, 1942, at Olmsted Field, Pennsylvania, but four days later he was transferred to the 60th Transport Group at Westover Field, Massachusetts. The 60th Transport Group had been activated at Olmsted Field on December 1, 1940, before moving to Westover Field in May 1941. Prior to June 2, 1942, McLoughry joined the group’s 10th Transport Squadron. At some point prior to entering combat, McLoughry became copilot in a Douglas C-47 Skytrain crew led by 1st Lieutenant George W. Vaughn (1919–1942). This was likely while they were still stateside, since unit records sometimes mention both men going on detached service at the same time.

On June 8, 1942, Lieutenants McLoughry and Vaughn were among a group of men from the 10th Transport Squadron who went on detached service to Presque Isle, Maine. The squadron history explained:

The mission at Presque Isle was to ferry Air Corps personnel from Presque Isle, Maine to Goose Bay, Labrador, B. W. 1 [Bluie West One, Greenland] and B.W. 8 [Bluie West Eight, Greenland].  The flights were assisted by the civilian pilots, rotation trips. […] The weather was on the poor side and several times the airline pilots would refuse trips which were subsequently taken by our pilots.

McLoughry and Vaughn returned to Westover Field on the afternoon of June 23, 1942, but returned to Presque Isle three days later. The Wilmington Morning News reported that Doris McLoughry left Dover to join her husband at Presque Isle on June 21, 1942. When he went overseas, McLoughry’s wife was pregnant with a son that he never had the opportunity to meet.

The regular back and forth movements were extremely confusing to the members of McLoughry’s squadron. A July 2, 1942, entry in the squadron history stated: “We are becoming accustomed to those rapid changes in plan.  Rumors are rife and will have us going to India, Australia and South America.” In fact, unbeknownst to the air echelon, some of the 10th’s ground echelon had already sailed across the Atlantic on the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, and had been setting up at Chelveston, England.

The 60th’s movement overseas was an extremely drawn-out process, lasting 35 days from the departure of the first plane from the United States to the arrival of the last in England, though in the end 53 aircraft and their crews transited the Atlantic safely.

A 10th Troop Carrier Squadron crew in Italy c. 1944 (“Outline History of 10th T.C. Sq., 60th T.C. Gp. from Activation to 29 Feb. 1944,” courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency)

McLoughry, Vaughn, and some other members of the squadron went on detached service at Bangor, Maine, on June 26, 1942. The following day, Lieutenant Vaughn and some other pilots, likely including McLoughry, “flew from Bangor Maine to Presque Isle and thence to Goose Bay, Labrador.” Six planes continued to Bluie West One, Greenland, on July 1, 1942, landing in daylight at 2300 hours thanks to the summer midnight sun. It’s possible those crews included McLoughry’s, whose wife wrote that he arrived in Greenland on June 30, 1942, though squadron records are unclear and some documents suggest that McLoughry and Vaughn remained in Maine until late July.

At the beginning of July 1942, the squadron and group designations changed, from 10th Transportation Squadron, 60th Transportation Group, to 10th Troop Carrier Squadron, 60th Troop Carrier Group.

Even though the food was bad and alcohol hard to come by, the men made the most of their circumstances in Greenland. The unit history stated:

Men could be seen at 12 midnight reading or writing letters sitting on the steps of the barracks.  It was hard to determine when one should go to bed.  For entertainment a little pool and ping-pong was played; several went to the mountains and did a little mountain climbing.  Some even went fishing.  You can bet your boots there were a lot of tall fishing stories since many men went fishing.

If they were already in Greenland, McLoughry and Vaughan did not continue their journey with the rest of the 10th Troop Carrier Squadron’s air echelon. Most of the 10th arrived at Reykjavík, Iceland, on July 14, 1942, at Prestwick, Scotland, on July 18, and Chelveston, England, on July 20. Vaughn and McLoughry, along with 24 other men on detached service, rejoined the main body of the 10th Troop Carrier Squadron on the afternoon of July 28, 1942. On August 4, 1942, the 10th began moving to Aldermaston, England, where they remained until departing for North Africa that fall.

The 60th Troop Carrier Group was initially assigned to the Eighth Air Force upon arriving in England but was transferred to the Twelfth Air Force in September 1942.

During subsequent months, the 10th Troop Carrier Squadron’s men spent much of their time training. Topics included communications, infantry drill and small arms, gas warfare, navigation, and flights to familiarize the pilots with local landmarks as well as to practice navigation and night formation flying. The unit history stated that “25% of the personnel available are allowed on pass at any one time.  Liberty runs going into Reading and the nearby town of [Basingstoke] each evening.” Some men also took the train to London. The document added:

          Everyone is impressed more and more with the English country side and with the attitude of the people.  They are all very friendly with us and we are greatly impressed with their continued indifference even in the face of 3 years of war, entailing great personal sacrifice.

The men also enjoyed visiting British pubs and occasionally holding dances. They were less impressed with the food initially served in the messes, which was sourced locally and affected by wartime deprivation: “The meals consisting of a meat abo[u]t once a day, [porridge], puddings and tasteless vegetables.  Eggs are unknown.  There is a lot of criticism directed at the mess officer and we are getting rather bored with the monotony.” That fall, the messes began serving food supplied by the Quartermaster Corps and imported from the United States. The squadron history reported that the change was popular not only with the American airmen, but also noted that the Royal Air Force “personnel here immensely enjoy[ed]” the new food.

The squadron history stated that on August 14, 1942, “Our airplanes flew locally today in preparation for t[r]aining to convey paratroops.  This is one of our first definite tactical assignments over here.” Four days later, a portion of the unit began training at Ramsbury with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment (later redesignated 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment on November 2, 1942), the unit that the 10th would carry into combat.


Service in North Africa

Immediately after the U.S. entry into World War II, the Americans and British leadership agreed to prioritize victory in Europe over the Pacific. It soon became clear that it would be impossible to build up enough forces and amphibious capacity to launch a direct attack on Nazi-occupied Europe in 1942. Even so, there was intense pressure to get American forces into the fight and to relieve pressure against the Soviet Union by forcing the Axis to commit resources to other fronts. During the summer of 1942, Allied planners began preparing for Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa.

Ironically, the first American offensive in the Mediterranean Theater would strike not the German or Italian armies, but the nominally neutral forces of America’s “oldest ally.” France’s colonies in North Africa were under the control of Vichy France, essentially an Axis-aligned rump state established after the defeat of France in 1940. Secret negotiations between the Americans and French to avoid fighting when the invasion went forward proved fruitless. Vichy French soldiers stationed in North Africa varied widely in their sympathies. Some were pro-fascist, while others favored the Allies. The latter found themselves in a difficult position when the invasion began, since they were duty-bound to obey their superiors.

Most of the Allied forces involved in Operation Torch were landed by sea, but there was a small airborne component. The plan called for 39 planes from the 60th Troop Carrier Group to carry 2nd Battalion, 509rd Parachute Infantry from England to Algeria. In his book, US Airborne Units in the Mediterranean Theater 1942–44, Gordon L. Rottman wrote: “This was not only the first US combat jump, but would be the longest flight to deliver an airborne unit during the war.”

The plan was that aircraft would take off from England, fly through the night across neutral Spain, cross the Mediterranean Sea, and locate an airfield in Algeria. Navigational assistance was supposed to be provided by a British ship and an American operative in Algeria. To make things even more complicated, two versions of the plan were prepared. If Vichy French Forces were expected to resist, the paratroopers would jump on the airfield at Tafaraoui and take it by force. If not, they would simply land at La Sénia, another airfield near Oran. Though overly optimistic, the latter was considered a likely enough outcome that the 10th Troop Carrier Squadron history stated that officers were ordered to bring their “pinks and greens” with them “so that if necessary they could step off the ship at their African destination in class A uniform.”

Excerpt from a 60th Troop Carrier Group flight roster for Operation Torch (“History of 60th Troop Carrier Group, 1942,” courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency)

Squadron records officially placed Vaughn, McLoughry, and the most of their crew on detached service for a secret mission at 0820 hours on November 7, 1942. That night, they took off from R.A.F. Predanneck. McLoughry’s crew was assigned to D Flight, flying C-47 41-7855. The crew consisted of 1st Lieutenant Vaughn (pilot), 2nd Lieutenant McLoughry (copilot), 2nd Lieutenant Paul W. Ayers (navigator), Technical Sergeant Harry E. Keener (engineer), and Sergeant Austin E. O’Toole (radioman). Group records stated that “D flight will transport the F company and certain supplies of the [509th] Parachute Infantry.”

Before takeoff, the 60th Trooper Carrier Group was ordered to execute the peace plan. En route, Allied Force Headquarters decided to implement the war plan instead, but the change in orders by radio did not reach any of the American C-47s in the air. Bad weather broke up the American formations. The ship that was supposed to provide navigational assistance transmitted on the wrong frequency. The ground beacon was prematurely demolished by the operative due to confusion over the pair of plans. Rottman wrote: “Small groups or single aircraft arrived scattered over Algeria. Others landed in Gibraltar, and French and Spanish Morocco. Insufficient charts had been provided, some crews were inadequately briefed, and winds hampered dead reckoning navigation.”

Remarkably, a handful of aircraft managed to locate La Sénia, only to be driven off by French antiaircraft fire. Others were attacked by French aircraft. In the meantime, Tafaraoui was taken by ground. Given the hazards of the mission and French resistance, casualties were light. Two aircrew and eight paratroopers killed, a mere fraction of the casualties that future airborne operations in Sicily, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Germany would entail. Rottman’s assessment of the operation was blunt: “The mission accomplished nothing and even if successful would have contributed little. It would have been better to fly the battalion in after the area had been secured by ground forces, preserving it to aid the advance eastward.”

A C-47, presumably from the 60th Troop Carrier Group, in flight (“Medical History 60th Troop Carrier Group AAF,” Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.)

Vaughn and McLoughry’s aircraft ended up separated from the rest of their group, making landfall over Morocco rather than Algeria. Buffeted by turbulence and alarmed by wing icing, they were low on fuel when a break appeared in the clouds, revealing a mountain valley. Vaughn later wrote in his report:   

Both east and west ends of the valley were socked in. As my gas was nearly exhausted I was looking for a place to set down when I discovered an airport. The surrounding terrain was pretty rough and I noticed a French flag flying so I landed. We burned all important papers and I was able to im[m]obilize the ship before we got out. We later discovered that the place was named Kear el Souk and the field was used by a Dutch airline KLM as an auxilliary [sic] field.

The French gave us a friendly enough welcome, but on receiving instructions from the Vichy French headquarters we were detained under armed guard. The Commanding Officer of the post, Colonel Astier de Vallette, sent a message to the American Consul and later one to the American Forces, both at Casablanca. We were released on November 13, on order from the American forces.

By then, the Allies and Vichy French forces in North Africa had established a ceasefire. Many of the French soldiers who had fought against the Allies during Operation Torch later fought alongside them. Vaughn, McLoughry, and their crew refueled their C-47 and took off. Vaughn continued:

          Landed at Casablanca the afternoon of November 13, and reported to General [John K.] Cannon. As we were the first transport to land at this field, General Cannon attached us to the fighter group stationed there, and we carried ammunition, gas and oil from Port Syanter [sic] to Rabat and Casablanca.

On November 20, 1942, the Vaughn crew was released from its temporary assignment and rejoined the 10th Troop Carrier Squadron at Tafaraoui. An entry in the squadron history on November 23, 1942, stated:

          The squadron has its usual routine duties and in addition efforts were made to house all the men in a repaired hanger.  The group is doing a marvelous job for the Army in hauling much needed supplies and personnel to the fighting front. Everyone is working extremely hard, particularly the combat crews, but everyone is in good spirits because they realize their work is vital.

At 1450 hours on November 29, 1942, Vaughn and McLoughry took off from Blida, Algeria, to return to Tafaraoui. Their aircraft and crew were the same as they had flown with during Operation Torch. About three hours into the flight, the C-47 crashed near Mocta Douz, Algeria. The investigation committee concluded “that this accident was caused by the left wing of the aircraft striking an Eucalyptus tree severing the wing 10 ft. from the tip.”

The committee could only speculate about why Vaughn and McLoughry were flying so low: “Airplane was returning to its base without pursuit [fighter] escort and was apparently flying low for protection.” A potential contributing factor may have been glare from the afternoon sun “Causing Pilot to misjudge the height of the trees.” The committee also suggested that a bird strike could have injured a pilot, writing that “Several instances of this nature have occurred recently in this Group.”

The crew were initially buried side-by-side at the U.S. military cemetery in Oran. Comrades from the 60th Troop Carrier Group flew in to attend the funerals on December 3, 1942.

Funeral for McLoughry and his crew at the U.S. military cemetery in Oran on December 3, 1942, with members of their unit in attendance (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-172587, National Archives)

According to his interment record form, McLoughry was decorated with the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

Two months after her husband’s death, Doris McLoughry gave birth to their son, William Joseph McLoughry, III. Journal-Every Evening reported on March 10, 1943, that McLoughery’s newborn son “became the first member of the Sons of the American Legion of Walter L. Fox Post, No. 2, American Legion[.]”

In 1943, authorities considered a proposal to name the new airfield in Dover (now Dover Air Force Base) after McLoughry, though that did not come to pass. That same year, Gilbert Byron, a poet and Dover High School teacher, eulogized McLoughry in a poem:

When he was in the seventh grade / Bill was interested in many things, / And I remember how he made / An aeroplane with tissue wings.

He was a Boy Scout, very soon / A Sea Scout, then an Eagle, / He knew the why of each downy cocoon / And the cry of the passing seagull.

Then he sat in my history class, / Sometimes I fear he even slept, / Perhaps he dreamed of our heroes past, / Their greatest promise he has kept.

Last November a meteor flashed / Across a desert sky, Bill’s gone, / His flying transport crashed, / We, who are left, stumble on.

On September 19, 1945, Doris McLoughry remarried to Beverly Early Davis, Jr. (1921–2001), who had been Lieutenant McLoughry’s classmate at Massanutten Military Academy and a B-17 pilot during World War II. The couple had two children of their own. Davis, a career U.S. Air Force officer, eventually adopted Lieutenant McLoughry’s son, whose name changed to William McLoughry Davis.

Journal-Every Evening reported on November 16, 1945:

An Eagle Scout award as a memorial to Lieut. William J. McLoughry, Dover flier, killed in North Africa in November, 1942, and first Dover boy to become an Eagle Scout, has been established by Albert Maag, finance officer of Walter L. Fox Post, No. 2, American Legion.

          In conformity with the plan, Mr. Maag has presented Eagle Scouts William Mitten, Arthur Lewis, and G. Daniel Enterline, Jr., with $5 and Eagle Scout rings.

          Mr. Maag explained that when young McLoughry received his first badge toward an Eagle Scout rating he promised to give him, and did give him, a cash present when he ultimately reached the Eagle grade, and now, as a memorial to the flier hero and his intense interest in scouting, he devised the plan to reward new Eagle Scouts here.

After the war, in 1947, Lieutenant McLoughry’s mother requested that his body be interred in a permanent cemetery overseas. McLoughry, Vaughn, and Keener were reburied at the American military cemetery in Tunis (Carthage), Tunisia, and now known as the North Africa American Cemetery.

McLoughry is honored on memorials in Dover and at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.


Crew Aboard C-47 41-7855 on November 29, 1942

The following list was adopted from “Technical Report of Aircraft Accident Classification Committee, 43-11-29-502” with grade, name, and position. Service numbers were obtained from casualty lists.

1st Lieutenant George W. Vaughn, O-424581 (pilot)

2nd Lieutenant William J. McLoughry, O-659149 (copilot)

2nd Lieutenant Paul W. Ayres, O-725838 (navigator)

Technical Sergeant Harry E. Keener, 6892503 (aerial engineer)

Sergeant Austin E. O’Toole, 12035088 (radio operator)


Notes

Name

Both father and son were named William Joseph McLoughry. According to the younger McLoughry’s daughter-in-law, his legal name was William Joseph McLoughry, Jr., but he did not use the suffix since his father died when he was so young. Since his military records, marriage certificate, and headstone omit the suffix, this article does as well. Curiously, many squadron records as well as the accident report refer to him as William A. McLoughry.

Aunt

Oddly enough, on the 1930 census, his aunt, Sarah Smithers, was recorded as Helen Smithers. Elmer and Sarah Smithers had a daughter named Helen, and Helen was also Martha McLoughlin’s middle name. One possibility is that McLoughlin’s cousin or mother was also living there and the census taker was confused (or received inaccurate information from neighbors), but there is no evidence to support that.

503rd Parachute Infantry

Contemporary 10th Troop Carrier Squadron and 60th Troop Carrier Group unit records do not reflect the change in designation from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment to 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and continue to refer to them as the 503rd.

Kear el Souk

The location Vaughn referred to as Kear el Soukis unclear but may refer to Ksar es-Souk.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Lieutenant McLoughry’s daughter-in-law, Judy Davis, and the Davis family, for contributing photos and information.


Bibliography

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“To Take Pilots Course.” Wilmington Morning News, September 23, 1941. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/115571092/mcloughry-aviation-cadet/

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William J. McLoughry Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

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“World War II Victim’s Child Is Youngest of Legion Sons.” Journal-Every Evening, March 22, 1943. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/115571048/mcloughry-son-youngest-in-american/

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Vermont, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_06_00005-01316


Last updated on January 17, 2023

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