These stories are always weighted with a complex set of emotions. There is the surprise and wonder of those who remain and who are now 78 years and two or three generations distant from ever having known the one being returned home. And there is the lingering sadness of loss mixed with the pride of a hero finally coming home.
Those who knew 2nd Lt. Anel Shay, Jr., who loved him and who worried about him while he was gone to war, and who longed for his return even though they knew he might not come home after they heard of his plane being shot down, are all gone. When his remains came home to Seattle, only a grand step-nephew and a grand-nephew were there to receive him.
The Seattle Times newspaper, in a story written by Erik Lacitis, gave some details about this local man who was born and raised in Seattle, along with information about his service and what happened to him on August 1st, 1943, over the Ploesti Oil Fields of Romania.
Shay was a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle. He went on to the University of Washington, where studied architecture. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the age of 25 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.
On August 1st, 1943, he was a bombardier with the 345th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force. It was a Sunday when he and his fellow crew members took off in their B-24, nicknamed “Semper Felix” (Always Happy) to participate in the massive attempt to take out the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania that supplied 60% of the German oil needs.
With typical American style, “Semper Felix” was decorated with a pair of dice, two playing cards, both of which added up to the lucky number 7, along with a four-leaf clover. Unfortunately, Lady Luck would not be with them on this mission.
The mission was called Operation Tidal Wave. And it was intended to be a massive tidal-wave-like attack on that important target. The mission included 178 B-24s and a combined total of 1,726 crew members. When the day was over, it would be called Black Sunday, or Bloody Sunday, by those who returned.
When they got over Ploesti, somehow the Germans knew they were coming, and they were met by over 40 batteries of German anti-aircraft flak guns and some 259 Luftwaffe fighter planes. The anti-aircraft fire was so thick as to be almost impenetrable. By the end of the day, 51 of the B-24s were shot down, and some 500 men were listed as KIA, POW, or MIA. That was about 30% of the mission’s planes and crew lost. It was the most costly bombing mission of the war.
Those who were killed there at Ploesti were buried in graves there or in surrounding villages. After the war, the bodies were recovered, and after several decades, they would finally make their way to the POW/MIA labs at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, where the latest technologies are applied, especially DNA, to help identify those remains. Lt. Shay’s remains were finally matched through a DNA swab given to the labs by his grand-nephew, Dylan Shay, of Edmonds, Washington.
Lt. Anel Shay, Jr’s remains will be buried this week at Acacia Memorial Park in Lake Forest, Washington. As is the custom as well, when remains of the missing during WWII are identified, a rosette is placed next to their name on the Tablets of the Missing at the American cemetery in Florence, Italy.
We wish Lt. Anel Shay, Jr., a “Welcome Home,” and we send our deepest condolences to his remaining family members.Whizzco