WWII aviator finally home after 67 years

Claude Tyler
Claude Tyler (Xxx)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Claude G. Tyler never saw World War II end. He never came home to greet his parents, Crawford and Florence, never married his sweetheart, Ruthie, never had kids, grew old, retired or passed with the rest of his generation through the cycles of long life.

He died 67 years ago with 11 other aviators aboard a B-24 Liberator named Shack Rat that crashed in the mountains of New Guinea, thousands of miles from his home in Landover, where he used to play the harmonica on the back porch.

He was 25.

On Wednesday, after resting with his comrades for decades in the fastness of a place called the Huon Peninsula, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Seven soldiers fired three rifle volleys in his honor as about 30 relatives gathered in the rain-sodden cemetery. A white-gloved chaplain prayed over his coffin. And as the sun broke through the clouds and an orange butterfly flitted among the tombstones, a bugler played taps.

Much of the world Tyler knew is gone. The closest relatives present were his nephews, Russell and Richard Wayne Gordy of Calvert County, now both in their 70s.

Russell Gordy, a retired truck driver, turned 7 on Oct. 27, 1943, the day Shack Rat fell off the radar during a recon mission to the Bismarck Sea.

But he still remembers his uncle playing the harmonica on the back steps of the family homestead, and his grandmother refusing to accept that her "baby boy" was dead.

And he still has a letter Tyler wrote his mother saying he planned to wed his girl, Ruthie, after the war.

All these years later, her last name has been forgotten, and Tyler's family does not know what became of her. "All I know is Ruthie," Russell Gordy said Wednesday after the funeral.

Tyler's parents and siblings are dead. "Everybody's gone but me and my brother," Russell Gordy said.

Tyler was a staff sergeant serving in the southwest Pacific with the 5th Air Force's 90th Bombardment Group, the Jolly Rogers. His 320th squadron, with its Moby Dick angry whale insignia, flew long-range, four-engine B-24Ds.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company