Clarence Elmer Cyford

Age 89 Security guard was a decorated World War II veteran.

August 21, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Clarence Elmer "Cy" Cyford, a highly decorated World War II B-26 gunner and retired security guard, died Mondayof Parkinson's disease at a son's Union Bridge home. The former Howard Park resident was 89.

Mr. Cyford, who was born in Baltimore and raised on Mortimer Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, was a graduate of Baltimore public schools.

Mr. Cyford was working at Montgomery Ward & Co. on Washington Boulevard when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940.

"Dad knew the U.S. was going to war,and he wanted to be a part of it," said a son, Larry K. Cyford of Union Bridge.

Initially trained as an aircraft mechanic, Mr. Cyford took his first flight ever as a student engineer aboard a plane flying eight hours from Puerto Rico to Chicago.

"What a great feeling that was to be up there in the wild blue yonder. Knew that was the place for me and I would start working on how to become a regular flier," he wrote in an unpublished memoir.

Mr. Cyford was a spotter on anti-submarine planes that searched for German U-boats in the Caribbean before transferring to England, where he joined the 386th Bombardment Group - "The Crusaders" - serving with its 555th Bomb Squadron, which was known as the "Red Devil Squadron."

He flew aboard a Martin B-26 Marauder bomber that had been built at the Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River, serving as a mechanic and top-turret .50-caliber machine gunner.

Mr. Cyford, who later became a longtime acquaintance of Loretta Young, asked the Hollywood star to sign their B-26 during a morale tour in Michigan, and she obliged.

She signed the plane in large chalk letters that a crew member later traced in yellow paint before the plane flew back across the Atlantic to return to combat.

After a mission over Holland that included four groups of B-26s whose target was a German airfield, Mr. Cyford wrote, "The flak was being fired at the formation ahead of us. We went on taking evasive action and a few miles from the airfield, they put their sights on us and let go with everything they had."

Only one plane was lost.

"This mission was the one which I felt sure I was going to get it," he wrote.

Of the 18 planes from his squadron that returned to England that day, five made single-engine landings, two crash-landed and 10 were out of commission for a week from damage.

"I honestly believe no other plane could have come through such a barrage of fire with such a low loss," he wrote. "I feel I owe the lives of the crew and myself to the ability of the B-26 to take such terrific punishment and still keep flying back over the sea."

On Sept. 19, 1943, on a mission over an area of France Mr. Cyford described as "Purple Heart Corner," he was wounded in an attack from a German Focke Wulf 190, a fighter plane labeled a "Butcher Bird" by pilots.

An exploding shell knocked off his turret, and Mr. Cyford was wounded in the left leg and waist.

For a few terrifying seconds, the German pilot remained in back of Mr. Cyford's B-26. "I saw him and he was an easy target. The guns were pointing very close to him at the right height," he wrote.

But because of the damage to the turret, Mr. Cyford was unable to swing his machine guns into position, and after firing briefly, the enemy pilot turned away.

"Guess you could say we both looked each other over and I won. Both of us were very lucky in not losing our lives," he wrote. "I'd say it was a very close encounter with the enemy. I don't think you could get any closer without one of us being killed."

Mr. Cyford, who flew 72 combat missions, was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal and seven Oak Leaf Clusters.

Mr. Cyford attended reunions of the 386th Bombardment Group and kept in touch with Ms. Young until her death in 2000.

Discharged with the rank of staff sergeant, he returned to Baltimore and worked as a vending machine mechanic.

He later took a job as a security guard at Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. in Halethorpe, where he worked for more than 20 years before retiring in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Cyford enjoyed going to the races at Pimlico Race Course and listening to the Orioles on the radio.

He was a communicant of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 65 Sacred Heart Lane, Glyndon, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today.

Also surviving are his wife of 61 years, the former Ann Tomlinson; another son, Lance D. Cyford of Reisterstown; a daughter, Sister Cecilia Cyford of Glyndon; two grandchildren; five step-grandchildren; and several step great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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