YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bernerd Harding dies at 90; WWII veteran went on quest for his pilot's wings

As a first lieutenant, his B-24 bomber was shot down in Germany a month after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He returned to a village there two months ago, but came up empty-handed.

November 06, 2009|Associated Press

Bernerd Harding, a World War II pilot from New Hampshire who went on a quest two months ago to find his buried pilot's wings in Germany 65 years after his B-24 bomber was shot down, died Tuesday. He was 90.

His wife, Ruth, confirmed he died at his home in Milford, N.H. He had prostate cancer.

Harding didn't find his wings during his September trip to Germany, but he was given a bracelet belonging to another U.S. airman shot down to return to his family.

Harding was a 25-year-old first lieutenant on a mission to bomb Bernburg, Germany, when his B-24 was shot down on the way back to his base in England. Fighters crippled his plane, forcing him and his crew to bail out with their parachutes.

After waiting for the others to jump, Harding turned and saluted a German fighter pilot for not blowing up the plane with the men inside.

His B-24, nicknamed Georgette, was shot down on July 7, 1944, a month after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. One member of the crew was killed. The others -- including Harding -- were taken prisoner.

Harding had parachuted into a freshly cut wheat field, barely missing a barbed-wire fence. Three farmers, two with pitchforks and one with a gun, captured him and herded him into a cellar in Klein Quenstedt, a village southwest of Berlin. Fearing reprisals from villagers for being a bomber pilot, Harding buried his pilot's wings in the cellar floor.

Harding returned to Klein Quenstedt two months ago to search for the wings with the help of villagers. He didn't find them, but a resident gave him a silver bracelet recovered from the body of a Jack H. Glenn on the same day Harding's plane was shot down. The bracelet was later returned to Glenn's family in Anchorage.

Harding grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and was stationed in Manchester, N.H., during the war before shipping overseas. He returned to New Hampshire after the war and did construction work.


Los Angeles Times Articles