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Harry Gilbert Deem Jr.
Young American Patriots

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Harry Gilbert Deem Jr.

"I saw your sons and your husbands, your brothers and your sweethearts. I saw how they worked, played, fought, and lived. I saw some of them die. I saw more courage, more good humor in the face of discomfort, more love in an era of hate, and more devotion to duty than could exist under tyranny."

Bob Hope

Harry Gilbert Deem Jr. was born on September 10, 1917, in Clarksburg, West Virginia, to Harry Deem Sr. and Mayme Bush Deem. According to 1930 Federal Census records, Mr. Deem was a heater working for a steel company, confirmed to be Weirton Steel in Mr. Deem's obituary. In 1940, according to the census records for that year, Harry Gilbert Deem Jr. was no longer living with his parents but as a lodger with relatives of his mother in Clarksburg. Harry was known as Gilbert in some references, perhaps to distinguish him from his father. To the family, two more sons were born. Their names were Robert and Paul.

Harry Deem Jr. registered for military service in Clarksburg on October 16, 1940. At the time of his military service registration, he was an employee of Reed's Auto Service Center. A marriage certificate was found, indicating that he was wed in Danville, Virginia, on November 15, 1941, to Sara Louise Riley. Mrs. Harry Deem Jr. was not mentioned again, neither in his death notice nor in Harry Deem’s entry in the book Young American Patriots.

Harry Gilbert Deem Jr. entered service on April 9, 1942, and trained at Barksdale Field in Louisiana. A member of the 343rd Bomb Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, Heavy, he was listed as a radio operator/gunner and trained for those duties on B-24 Liberators. In the fifteen months he served overseas, he served in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean theater and participated in the bombing of Rome as a member of the Army Air Corps.

Operation Tidal Wave began with a 1200-mile flight in B-24 Liberators. The mission was to fly 178 planes from Benghazi, Libya, to Ploesti, Romania, and drop bombs on the oil refinery there from a height of only 200-800 feet. The purpose in so doing was to destroy the refinery and disrupt fuel supplies to the Germans. According to Sean Miskimins in "Enlisted Airmen in the Air Attacks on Ploesti," the Ploesti facilities were producing 20 million tons of oil for the enemy. Eliminating this source would take one third of the high-octane fuel available to Germany offline. (Operation Tidal Wave, Airmen Heritage Series, 2016, accessed 28 April 2021,

Jason Dawsey's article "Over the Cauldron of Ploesti: The American Air War in Romania" notes that the Germans had broken the code with which the Americans communicated. Despite secrecy and a flight plan designed for a surprise attack, the Germans knew the planes were coming and prepared by placing anti-aircraft guns around the complex. In addition, barrage balloons were placed around valued targets and smoke generators were used to obscure the pilots' vision. The barrage balloons held aloft steel cables, which were strong enough to clip the wings of the planes.

The remaining hazards were created by the raid itself. When the storage tanks were hit, the explosions filled the air with a thick black smoke and flames that, according to a survivor, rose "50 feet higher than our plane." (The National WWII Museum, 12 August 2019, accessed 28 April 2021,

Dawsey references historian Donald Miller's Masters of the Air to summarize the cost of the attack. He writes that "310 American airmen died during the assault, 130 were wounded, and over 100 captured." Fifty-two aircraft were shot down. It would take another year to finally end the production of oil from the Ploesti refineries.

Among those killed in action was Harry Gilbert Deem Jr. during the August 1, 1943, raid. The Missing Air Crew Reports include one for the crew of the Liberator on which Harry Deem was an assistant radio operator. The plane was lost over its target. Just as the articles on this historic event describe, the plane was flying very low and caught fire at 200 feet. The height was too low for the crew to parachute from the plane, but the MACR does not describe how the flight ended. There were two survivors of the ten-man crew, both of whom were captured and held prisoner.

On the next day, according to a statement from Captain Thomas Bennett Jr., an Air Corps pilot, a flight was conducted to look for survivors, but none were found.

The next year, in the Clarksburg Telegram, November 5, 1944, a death notice appeared entitled "Corp. Deem Is Killed Aug. 1." The announcement states that Corporal Deem had been listed as missing in action since that date but was now confirmed dead. A survivor of the crash, Lt. Savaria, reported to Harry Deem's mother that the plane caught fire and "they were forced to leave her, and since they were flying at less than 200 feet, parachuting was extremely doubtful." Cpl. Deem was awarded an Air Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Purple Heart. Surviving were his parents; his brother, Robert, serving in the Navy and stationed in the Pacific; and another brother, Paul, a student at Central Junior High School.
Lithograph of the Florence American Cemetery, which is the final resting place to more than 4,000 Americans who gave their lives in World War II. American Battle Monuments Commission

Lithograph of the Florence American Cemetery, which is the final resting place to more than 4,000 Americans who gave their lives in World War II. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Memorial in Greenlawn Cemetery, Harrison County. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Memorial in Greenlawn Cemetery, Harrison County. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

In Greenlawn Cemetery in Harrison County there is a cenotaph that bears his name. The American Battle Monuments Commission Harry G. Deem Jr. maintains his status as Missing in Action, and he is therefore memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing in the Florence American Cemetery.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
April 2021


Harry Gilbert Deem Jr.

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