American was hero drops in to visit Lahinch crash-landing


Margaret O’Brien, of the Irish Examiner, meets Chet Miller who recounts his Irish visit.


Date of article in the Irish Examiner is the 27th of September 2000




When the US B24 bomber, the Travellin’ Trollop, landed on Lahinch beach in 1943, the top priority for the parish priest was to get a local painter down to the crash site in double quick time to preserve the modesty of the topless woman emblazoned on its nose!


Now, 57 years after the crash landing, a crew member on the doomed flight, Chet Miller, has returned to Lahinch to meet the locals who came to his rescue. The tale of local painter, Frank Heinz, busily painting over the lewd ladies on the plane, was one of many anecdotes exchanged this week.


Martin Skerritt, the first person to reach the plane on the dark, drizzly morning recalled, hearing the drone of the engine overhead. "I went out to see what was happening and actualy saw the plane land on its belly inthe sand." Martin was drawn like a magnet to the incident: "I was only 14 years old, and in awe of the plane. I'd never seen one before. Then I saw the crew and became a bit nervous.


For their part, the crew were relieved when young Martin turned up and could understand their questions. Having lost radio contact and compass, they had been flying blind 700 miles from their destination. Although unsure of their whereabouts they knew thay ad to abort as their fuel tank was almost empty. It was with relief that they discovered they were in Ireland. Martin Skerritt was soon joined by a throng from the village as news spread. It didn't take long for the Gárdaí and members of the Local Defence Force, who had a camp at Lahinch, to make their way to the beach to restore order. By the time they arrived the bewildered eleven-man crew and their single passenger were already dispensing chocolate and chewing gum amongst the crowd. Chet Miller said they were treated with great civility. "We were brought to the Army camp for Questioning and given breakfast."



Accompanying Chet on his visit this time were his wife, Phyllis and daughter Jane, son Keith and his wife Kathleen. "My Wife and I celebrated 50 years of marriage this year and my family treated us to this holiday," explained Chet. Chet joked that both his trips to Ireland had been 'sponsored', although the journey taken over 50 years ago cost considerably more. Ditching the "Travellin' Trollop" at Lahinch cost the US Government $280,000.


Having crash-landed in July 1943 opposite the 8th hole of the famous Lahinch Links Golf course, they later found themselves in one of the town's most famous pubs, the 'Ninteenth Hole', where they enjoyed some good Irish hospitality. Mary Walsh, former owner of the 'Nineteenth' who looked after the Americans that day, has maintained contact with many of the crew down through the years. "I still get Christmas cards and occasional letters from them," Mary said.



Publican Odran O'Looney hosted a celebratory lunch for the American guests of honour. Mr. O'Looney, his brother, Jarlath, and their childhool friend, Tom O'Sullivan, all have vivid memories of the excitement the arrival of the bomber plane created. They decided to from a research group, which erected a commerorative plague on the 50th anniversary, in 1993, of the crash landing. Chet Miller, bemused by the attention being lavished on him and his family posed for photos, like a natural celebrity, next to the plaque.


As with other Americans who arrived on Irish soil during the war, the crew were quickly spirited north of the Border to avoid internmant. Chet confirms that from there they were flown to Prestwick and on to Norwich. The crew stayed together throughout the war and flew 27 successful missions to Norway and Europe before being posted to North Africa.


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