Charles J. Croghan

The World War II B-24 tail gunner later worked as a supervisor for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone

March 20, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Charles Joseph "Jeff" Croghan, a World War II B-24 tail gunner who later became a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. supervisor, died Mondayof liver failure at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 84.

Mr. Croghan was born in Baltimore and raised on McElderry Street. He was a 1942 graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

He was drafted into the Army Air Forces in 1943, and after being trained as a gunner, he joined the 450th Bombardment Group of the 15th Air Force at Manduria, Italy.

He was a tail gunner aboard Satan's Gal, a B-24 Liberator bomber, whose crew consisted of four officers and six enlisted men, and he flew on 50 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe from the base in Manduria.

"You're back there all alone in a very confined space, but he was able to handle it," said Dr. Walter J. Kmen, who piloted Satan's Gal on 18 missions and is now a retired dentist living in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

"Jeff was a jolly person and always the life of the party," he said.

"From the first mission to the last, the fear never subsided. I was equally scared on every mission," Mr. Croghan told The Capital newspaper of Annapolis in a 1992 interview.

In the interview, Mr. Croghan recalled lifting off from Manduria at 7 a.m. and beginning the eight-hour round-trip journey to sites in Europe. The headphones he wore blocked out all noise from the plane's engines.

"There was almost complete silence when we were flying to a target," Mr. Croghan said, whose bombing destinations included Munich, Bucharest and Vienna.

Mr. Croghan had to be alert for German fighter planes that would roll out of the clouds. After the bombing run was complete, they turned toward home and again had to worry about enemy fighters.

"I was the last man to see everything, where we had been. And we could nail the fighters pretty good," he said.

William K. Haines, a retired Canton, Ohio, publisher, also piloted Satan's Gal and had been Mr. Croghan's commanding officer.

"He was a great guy, and we really depended on him, and his humor kept the crew together on those long missions," Mr. Haines said yesterday.

"And because he was our tail gunner and could see where we'd been, he was also the first guy to see the enemy Messerschmitts coming in from the rear," he said.

Vernon A. Wilk, a retired West End, Wis., car dealer, was the plane's bombardier.

"We saw lots of planes and took a lot of flak from the ground, but Charlie was always cool and calm," Mr. Wilk said. "He was a very good tail gunner and sometimes would come up to the turret guns in the middle of the ship."

On one mission, when one B-24's hydraulic system had been damaged by enemy fire, rendering its landing gear inoperative, Mr. Croghan bailed out with the rest of the plane's crew.

On another occasion, the B-24 he was aboard was forced to land at a smaller airstrip and came to a stop after crashing into rocks at the end of the runway.

In The Capital interview, Mr. Croghan said the crew returned to the air as soon as was practicable.

"My feeling was, if the other guys on the plane can handle it, so can I," he said. "It's not a macho thing. You do what you have to."

Mr. Croghan was awarded the Air Medal for bravery.

After the war, he returned to Baltimore and went to work as a lineman for C&P, where he was later promoted to supervisor. He retired in 1980.

The former longtime Nottingham resident had lived in Mays Chapel since 1998. He was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America and a member of the Bell Telephone Retirees Inc.

He was also a member of the Parkville American Legion Post, the 450th Bomb Group Association and the National World War II Memorial Foundation.

Mr. Croghan enjoyed attending annual reunions with his fellow crewmen from Satan's Gal.

He liked playing golf, thoroughbred horse racing and travel.

Mr. Croghan was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today in the chapel at Stella Maris, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road.

Surviving are his wife of 11 years, the former Lucy Harlow, a retired registered nurse; a stepson, Brian Harlow of Japan; a stepdaughter, Carolyn Tepper of Bernardsville, N.J.; and two sisters, Marcella Croghan of Timonium and Marion Croghan of Mays Chapel. His first wife of many years, the former Mary Krepner, died in 1995.

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