Capt. Lawrence E. Rafferty, USAF, MIA 23 March 1951

click here for Capt. Lawrence E. Rafferty Tribute in Forums

Service: USAF, 509th BWng 715th BSqd, Pilot
Service #:
Date of Death: MIA 23 March 1951 aboard C-124 49-0244 enroute to Mildenhall RAFB, U.K.
Hometown: Highland Park, IL
Awards: Air Medal

Rafferty, Capt. Lawrence E.

Born June 13, 1921 in Highland Park, IL., Captain Rafferty was captain of a bombing crew in Europe during World War II. He served with the 759th Bomb Squadron during that war. From Great Lakes, Illinois, he was recalled to service in March 1951. He had a wife Frances and four children between the ages of two and five at the time the Globemaster crew and passengers disappeared.

Captain Rafferty had completed 50 missions in three months in World War II starting on D-Day and received a medal of bravery for one of those missions. His wife Frances was coloring Easter eggs on Good Friday with her four children when servicemen came to her home to deliver the telegram that her husband’s plane has disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. Captain Rafferty was only 29 and a passenger on a plane going to the British Isles.

Wife = Thecla Frances Fortman Rafferty. Children = Sandra L., Minna Elizabeth, Stephen, Linda M., and Lawrence Rafferty. Parents = Alexander Andrew & Minna Johanna Elizabeth Christine Gensch Rafferty.

10 March 1951 Walker AFB New Mexico, Area 51, SAC – Capt Lawrence Rafferty, Pilot, is reactivated during the Korean War as General Curtis LeMay expands Strategic Air Command capabilities. Larry is assigned to the 715th Weapons Squadron, Medium, of the 509th Bomb Wing. Larry was going to be checked out in the B-50D Medium Bomber, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This Bomb Wing delivered “Fat Man”, the 1st nuclear weapon against Japan. The 509th was the core of SAC. Capt. Rafferty, who is currently non-qualified, will be upgraded to Pilot current, after training missions at Lakenheath & Mildenhall RAFB. His orders have been cut and direct that, he will be unaccompanied. (Upon completion of training his pregnant wife Frannie and children may come later.)

26 March 2012, 3:15PM Arlington National Cemetery Washington D.C. Capt. Lawrence E. Raferty is memorialized in a service attended by his widow, Francis Fortman Rafferty, his children, grandchildren, two Fortman families, his sister, Rosemary Rafferty Beckman, age 93 and four Rafferty nieces and nephews. May he Rest in Peace wherever this Warrior lies.

26 Mar 2012 Grave-Side….. Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC. 3:15 PM Monday, the Funeral Cortage, with its Military Casson, carrying the flag draped coffin in memory of Capt. Larry Rafferty and pulled by 4 Air Force horses winds its way through the tombstone surrounded pathways of Arlington. A Color Guard leads the way with an Air Force Band following in front of the Casson. A crowd of some 63 people follow the coffin to a hillside grave site. There is Larry’s tombstone. Two Chaplains read the service in front of widow Frannie Fortman Rafferty. From the crest of the hill three volleys of gunfire ring out in salute to Larry. The crowd is mournful in the breezy afternoon sun. The flag presentation is finished and the AF Colonel Chaplain presents the flag to Frannie. “On behalf of the President and people of the United States, please accept our deepest sorrow at your loss and let me present you …………”

On 23 March 1951, a C-124 49-0244 flying from Limestone AFB Loring for a transatlantic flight to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base, Lakenheath, UK, reported a fire in the cargo crates, signaling Mayday. They began jettisoning the crates and announced they were ditching. The C-124 ditched southwest of Ireland.

The last message received by Shannon Aeradio was a revised Estimated Time of Arrival for the destination, which was passed at 01:06. A rescue operation was started when the crew did not make their next routine position report.

The aircraft was intact when it touched down on the ocean. All hands exited the aircraft wearing life preservers and climbed into the inflated 5 man life rafts. The rafts were equipped with cold weather gear, food, water, flares, and Gibson Girl hand crank emergency radios. Shortly after the men were in the life rafts, a B-29 pilot out of Ireland spotted the rafts and the flares that the men had ignited. Their location was reported and the pilot left the scene when his fuel was getting low.

No other United States or Allied planes or ships made it to the ditch site for over 19 hours, until Sunday, March 25, 1951. When the ships arrived, all they found were some charred crates and a partially deflated life raft. Only a few small pieces of wreckage were found 450 miles off the west coast of Ireland. Ships and planes continued searching for the next several days, but not a single body was found. The men of C-124 #49-0244 had disappeared. There is circumstantial evidence that the airmen may have been “snatched” by the Soviet Union for their intelligence value, but their fate remains a mystery. It is a fact that Soviet submarines and surface vessels were active in this area and that the Soviets had no qualms about capturing and holding American servicemen, particularly aviators.

Click here for the USAF Crash Cards and investigation report:


Below is the Memorial Marker at Arlington National Cemetery for Capt. Rafferty Section MK Grave 269