Sanford Allen Reback was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on 6 June 1916 and grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was the oldest son of three sons of Max and Ida Reback. Sanford attended local schools in Pawtucket and entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1933 with the class of 1937. He was a member of the Beacon Staff, Grist Staff, East Hall Association and Vice President of the Philosophy Society.
In addition, he played on the intramural basketball, baseball and track teams; and he was also a member of the debating team. He participated in the Army ROTC program for two years. Sanford graduated from RISC in June 1937 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on 1 May 1942. Private Sanford Allen Reback graduated from the ten-week U.S. Army Air Forces preflight training program, a combination of enlisted basic training and officer candidate school.
He was assigned as a cadet at the Flying/Navigation cadet training program, U.S. Army Air Forces Training Center, Duncan Field, Alabama. The 20-week navigation training consisted of precision dead-reckoning navigation with proficiency in pilotage, radio and celestial navigation. Upon completion of navigation school, he was awarded his Navigator Silver Wings, commissioned a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater, 8th Air Force, 330th Bomber Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Group (H), in Molesworth Field, England. The mission of the 8th Air Force was to conduct aerial bombardment missions against Nazi-occupied Europe.
In July 1943, the 8th Air Force groups began practicing for a low-level mission against the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania, named operation “Tidal Wave.” This mission called for LT Reback’s 93th Group to be the second group in the low-altitude formation. On 1 August 1943, the B-24D named “The Pudgy,” with LT Reback as the navigator, took off with a total of 177 B-24D Liberators from Libya for Ploesti, Romania. Extra fuel and a maximum load of bombs, ammunition and thermite sticks put each plane over the safe takeoff weight for a B-24.
As LT Reback’s 93rd Group approached the refineries, the planes encountered heavy flack. Pilots ordered the gunners to engage the flak towers while they hugged the ground to spoil the antiaircraft gunners’ aim. B-24 after B-24 was hit by heavy fire and went down in flames. As the B-24 bombs detonated on Ploesti’s refineries, gasoline tanks caught fire and began exploding, throwing debris high into the air and into the paths of approaching B-24 Liberators. The “Pudgy” successfully dropped its bombs on the target; and as they approached Bucharest, the plane was intercepted by two ME-109 German Fighters.
The German fighters hit engine #2, and the “Pudgy” caught fire near Ogrezeni. They attempted to divert to Turkey; but once they were near Bucharest, the fire was spreading and the altitude was too low to bail out. They were forced to make a crash landing. Of the ten-man crew, LT Reback and five others were killed; and four crew members were taken prisoner by the Germans.
For his actions, Second Lieutenant Sanford A. Reback, U.S. Army Air Forces, was cited for Gallantry in Action and Bravery and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart (Posthumously).
Citation – Distinguished Flying Cross
The President of the United States of America, authorized by act Congress on July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Second Lieutenant Sanford Allen Reback, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States while serving as a B-24D navigator, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater, Eighth Air Force, 330th Bomber Squadron, 93th Bombardment Group (H) World War II. Second Lieutenant Reback’s heroic and fearless actions in the face of all odds has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the Armed forces of the United States.
Second Lieutenant Sanford A. Reback, U.S. Army Air Forces, was buried with full military honors at Ardennes American Cemetery, Belgium. He is another son of Rhode Island and America who answered the call to duty and gave his life during World War II. He is a heroic member of the “Greatest Generation.”