Century Collection: Ploesti Raid signed by Utah Man pilot Walter Stewart
Signed by Utah Man pilot Walter Stewart
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Walter T. Stewart was a B-24 pilot, flying 236 hours of combat. Of the 32 combat missions he flew, the most historic was the low-level bombing mission to the oil refineries of Ploesti, Romania, on August 1, 1943. Operation -Tidal Wave was Lt. Stewart's 31st combat mission. He was assigned as Deputy Lead of the 93rd Bombardment Group because of his reputation and experience. Five groups took off from Libya for the 2,000-mile round trip to their target, which was supplying nearly one-third of all oil used by Nazi Germany. During the ingress, Lt. Stewart assumed the lead and continued on, guiding the 93rd through the intense flak to deliver the first bombs on the target. The attack turned to chaos with bombers from the different groups attacking from all quadrants, but the oil refineries were severly damaged. The B-24s were under heavy attack from flak and fighters on their egress and return flight as well. Of the 178 aircraft that took off on the most decorated mission of World War II, 54 were shot down; 532 of 1,726 men did not return. Lt. Stewart's plane, named "Utah Man", came back with 365 holes in it. The damage the aircraft suffered was so severe that they had to reduce airspeed and nearly ran out of fuel. The plane landed two hours after most of the other aircraft had returned to base. Walter T. Stewart retired as a Colonel after thirty-six years of service. Among his many decorations are the Distinguished Service Cross, which was not awarded until 1995 due to clerical errors; the Silver Star; Distinguished Flying Cross; and Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters. Black-and-white photograph is hand-signed by Stewart, matted and framed in wood under glass. Certificate of authenticity included.