World War II veteran Tom Daley, right, is pictured with local history buff Rob Tong and his wife, Michelle, inside Daley’s Findlay garage. The 93-year-old served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and helped paint a B-17 bomber named “Carioca Joe.” Through his involvement in a “nose art” Facebook group, Tong tracked down a photo of the plane for Daley. (Photo by Randy Roberts)


Staff Writer

One of Tom Daley’s regrets was not having a picture of the plane he flew on during World War II. Now, more than seven decades later, he has one.

Daley, now of Findlay, grew up in Lima and was just 18 when he enlisted, after graduating high school in 1943. He grew up in a time when boys would meet girls at dances. The main dance was the jitterbug, and if a boy didn’t know how to jitterbug, the girls would ignore him. But Daley had a friend who was an expert dancer.

“Everything was exciting” he said, and teenagers were “desperate to get in the war.”

It became much scarier once he was actually there. Daley trained in the United States for a year and a half before going overseas. Then they sailed to England. It took nine days, “and I was sick every damn day.”

On the ship were ground forces as well as U.S. Army Air Force members. He said the ground forces resented the Air Force, who wore leather jackets and walked around “like we were kings.”

“We all loved these jackets,” Daley said.

About 10 years ago, his children gave him a replica of the jacket. He has the Eighth Air Force emblem on it.

‘Carioca Joe’

Daley’s unit arrived in England in early February 1945. In their leisure time, Daley said, the servicemen would teach English girls how to jitterbug.

A few weeks later, on Feb. 26, they were greeted at 3 a.m. with “Get your butts up! … You’re going on a mission!” It was their first.

The mission was Berlin, which they had been warned was the worst.

“I’m only 19 years old,” Daley recalled thinking.

Berlin had thousands of anti-aircraft guns. In the top turret, Daley could see everything as they came in toward the target.

He’d see what looked like black puffs — shots of steel which, if they hit the plane, would bring it down.

He kept seeing other planes go down — one then another.

“There’s eight to 10 guys in each plane,” and he wondered if any of them bailed out. Most couldn’t, he said, because of the centrifugal force.

The B-17 bomber “Carioca Joe” was flown by local veteran Tom Daley and his crew during World War II. The 4 on the plane’s tail section stands for the year of production (1944), and the other is the serial number. (Photo courtesy of Charles T. Mignery)

“I always wondered, what was in their mind?”

After that first mission, the crew counted 32 holes in the plane from flak. One had gone right above their tail gunner’s head. If it had been a few inches lower, Daley would have been killed.

There were 1,500 other planes with them, Daley said, asking if one could imagine 1,500 bombers over Findlay.

The object most of the time was to destroy German cities. Sometimes they’d attack railroads, bridges and airports.

Daley was on a total of 19 missions, leading up to the war’s end. Typically, the plane would do 25 missions.

The lives of his crew — and those on the ground — were “measured in seconds.”

But they had a job to do.

“I think our age helped us a lot,” he said, noting that he was 19, and the oldest in their crew was 22.

Daley likes to sing, and so did the man on the ball turret. He recalled that when they took off they would sing “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.”

On his second-to-last mission, they were in a clear sky and facing no flak. Daley was dozing off when all of the sudden, the tail gunner said something was going on. A plane was coming in. Soon 15 jets approached.

“All of the sudden the sky was full of tracers. … Everybody was just shooting wherever they could,” he said.

He said the ME 262 jets only had enough fuel to fly above them briefly, before they had to land.

Daley’s plane flew at a height where the temperature was 40 to 50 degrees below zero. They wore heated suits to keep warm, but it was so cold that their breath created ice particles inside their masks. To keep it from blocking his airway, Daley would have to take the mask off and hit it against the metal of the plane to knock off the ice chips.

And if some flak knocked the oxygen off, “you might have time to say the Hail Mary.”

Daley’s friend and local history buff Rob Tong said B-17s are known for taking lots and lots of damage from flak.

Service members famously painted pictures on their planes — “mostly girls,” Daley said.

The Walt Disney movie “The Three Caballeros” had come out in 1944, and one character was a parrot named Jose Carioca.

So when crewmen were determining what to name the plane, someone suggested “Carioca Joe.” Daley lettered the painting.

A few years ago, Tong was giving a program at the Hancock Historical Museum. There he met Daley, and learned had been on a bomber in the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Daley told Tong that he regretted having never gotten a picture of his plane.

So Tong started looking.

He found a picture this year through a Facebook group focused on what’s called “nose art.” The son of a man who had also flown on Carioca Joe had the picture. They matched the number to confirm it was indeed the same bomber Daley flew on, and Tong shared the picture with the veteran.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Daley said.

He said they did treat the plane like a person.

“We really thought a lot of our planes. … We just felt real close to them,” he said.

But, he said, he didn’t miss the plane after the war. He was glad to leave it.

But if he heard a plane like this was on exhibit or display, he’d go see it. “‘Cause it did bring back memories.”

‘How many guys are left?’

After the war, Daley worked as a state trooper and a U.S. marshal. He met his wife of 67 years after first briefly dating her sister.

She was going through nursing training in Lima, and there were other guys interested in her, but they started dancing. Daley memorized songs from the Big Band era, and when they went on dates, “I’d sing to her.” Slowly the other guys dropped off.

“What a girl — I’m telling you,” he said.

They married in January 1949, on a rare 60-some-degree day. She was, he noted, a beautiful bride.

They went on to have two sons and “a lot” of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But Daley is now a widower. He misses his wife.

“You take too many things for granted during your lifetime,” he said.

He has had other experiences that made him think on the brevity of life.

While in the highway patrol, he once investigated a fatal accident that killed several people, among them a child.

“A couple minutes ago, they were alive — talking, laughing,” he said.

Now 93, Daley thinks back to what he was doing at 18 or 19, and how “the years went like this — blink of an eye.”

These days he enjoys painting. And he has talked to area students about the war, and wants to do more of this, as he said he’s one of the last World War II veterans still willing and able to share his experiences.

“How many guys are left?” he said.

A lot of veterans don’t want to talk about their time in the war. But “I said, ‘I’m going to tell people'” so they don’t forget.

“I want them to know about it,” he said.

Daley said he has told the funeral home that, when the time comes, he wants to be holding his wife’s picture — and wearing that leather jacket.

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