Exactly 70 years on... daughters of Spitfire pilot who cheated death visit crash site
Seventy years to the day, the daughters of an American pilot stood on the wild and windy Donegal bogland where their father's Second World War Spitfire crashed as he was making his way back to base in Northern Ireland.
Rowland ‘Bud' Wolfe was a 23-year-old pilot from Nebraska flying over Gleneely on November 30 1942 when his plane developed engine trouble.
He was forced to parachute to safety at the spot in a peat bog on the Inishowen peninsula, where 14 members of his family gathered yesterday to pray and pay their respects.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Bud's daughter, Betty, who travelled across the Atlantic, said they were deeply touched by the occasion.
“To be standing on the very spot where my dad's plane came down 70 years ago almost to the very hour was certainly poignant,” she said. “Looking around us at the rugged countryside and viewing the surrounding hills, especially on such a windy day, gave me a real understanding of the strength my dad would have needed to survive.
“We said a prayer for him and for all those servicemen and women who played their part in World War II. It is something we were all so happy to be able to take part in, but we thought too of my dad's sister, who at 95 is too old to travel, but she is very much a part of this.
“We were also able to hold some of dad's equipment that went down with the plane and it was especially moving for me to be able to hold his helmet.
“In his last days, dad was very sick and all we were able to do was touch him and touching the helmet reminded me of those final moments with him so that was quiet poignant for me as well.”
The visit to the site where the plane crashed was also the location of a major excavation project, which unearthed many of Bud's personal items.
Also discovered were five Browning .303 machine guns and a case of ammunition, as well as sizeable parts of the aircraft, including the tail.
These will all form part of a new exhibition, which will be opened today at Londonderry’s Tower Museum by Betty and her sister Barbara Kucharczyk.
“The response and reaction from people here to my dad's story has left us so proud,” said Betty.
“It is a comfort to us that this legacy to his time here will be available for all to see both at the City of Derry Airport and the Tower Museum.”
The plane was discovered by Jonny McNee, an aviation archaeologist enthusiast who spearheaded the visit by the Wolfe family.
Mr McNee was also able to pass on copies of letters written by Bud Wolfe to his daughters. Because Wolfe joined the British war effort while the US was still neutral, he was stripped of his US citizenship. The RAF pilot was interned at the Curragh army camp in the south, but escaped twice.
“During his time in the camp as a young man of 23, he wrote letters to his father asking if he could send some clothes to him and we were able to give copies of these letters to his two daughters,” said Mr McNee.
The Spitfire ‘Bud’ Wolfe was flying in 1942 was part of 133 Eagle Squadron based at RAF Eglinton — now City of Derry Airport. In 1943, Wolfe transferred from the RAF to the 78th Fighter Group (USAAF) and flew for the remainder of the war, recording four aircraft kills to his name — one short of an ace. After WWII, he later flew jets in the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring with 12,000 flying hours logged and approximately 900 combat missions to his credit in all three wars. He passed away in Florida in 1994.