When Roger Landry was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Libya during the late 1950s, he and his buddies managed to stay out of serious trouble during their many adventures. But perhaps the most historically significant adventure they took was to see the recently recovered Lady Be Good.
The Lady Be Good had been one of many bomber planes sent from Libya to Naples on April 4, 1943, but it's the only one that never came back. Its nine-man crew was lost with it. With little fuel left, the men decided to bail out.
Varying accounts, however, make the plane itself seem doomed from the start. According to a U.S. Air Force press release from 1968, the plane had sucked in lots of sand, causing engine problems early on. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force even reports planes that later repurposed parts from the Lady Be Good had “unexpected difficulties.”
In the late 1950s, some British oil men spotted the plane from the air, and it was later confirmed to be the Lady Be Good. As the press release from 1968 describes the area where the plane was found: “There are areas on earth that seem to have been wasted by the Creator. Nothing moves, nothing changes and nothing lives.”
The men weren't in the plane. The remains of eight of the Army Air Corps vets were found later. One of them died due to a parachute malfunction. The other seven trekked through the desert for days.
The ninth man’s body has never been found.
Landry had just landed in Africa and arrived at Wheelus while this mystery was cracking open, after years of quiet. He served as a member of Army Topographic Survey Unit 329. The mystery of the Lady Be Good and its men's fates captivated him.
"When I was assigned a barracks, there was a 50-caliber machine gun sitting on a wall over there," he said. The gun was someone's souvenir, proof they'd been to the wreck and back. "The 50-caliber machine gun had my interest."
For entertainment, soldiers would listen to the radio. They heard about the morgue crew coming to search for the bodies, the hunt.
When word came that the search was over, Landry found himself with his friends camped on Blockhouse Rock, an inactive volcano. He and the others decided to make a trip out to see the Lady Be Good and get some photos.
Landry got one taken with the word art behind him.
The team's trucks would have trouble on the way back to the base. They'd make more memories - getting stuck in the desert with little water, getting lost with an anxious medic. Landry would learn a word of Arabic a day, which would later earn him a spot with the Peace Corps. The soldiers knew each other so well, Landry said he knew their very steps.
"I knew these guys. I could have a guy walk by my tent and I knew who he was."
The desert setting put them in life-or-death situations. It banded them together.
"We were so far away, there was no 911. You made a mistake out there you died. But we were all young kids, so we didn’t care. ... We all raised Cain and did everything we were supposed to do."
It wasn't until much later, though, that the Lady Be Good would once again spark Landry's interests, and he did lots of research on the plane, on the people.
Now he wants to connect with those who share interest in Lady Be Good's history and to reconnect with his old friends from Wheelus. If you want to reach out or have information, his email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.