LEWISTON – Helen Lower Simmons remembers as a young girl praying that her brother Max Wendell Lower would come home to Lewiston. Max went missing in action Aug 1, 1943. Now, 76 years later, at age 90, Helen’s prayers have been answered.
This Saturday, Technical Sargent Max Lower, a radio operator and waist gunner of a B-24 Bomber, will be laid to rest at the Lewiston Cemetery with full military honors.
Up until now, a marker at the cemetery marked the spot where family members would leave flowers in his honor on Memorial Day. However, there were no remains near the marker.
The marker was put near the flagpole a few years after the end of World War II with no memorial services.
Helen has a scrapbook that details her efforts in trying to get her brother’s body home. The book holds correspondence, documents and photographs detailing Max’s life of service in the military and of an earlier life in Lewiston.
“I remember on cold days, he would let me ride on his back from the school,” Helen said. “He was always a hard worker and would have made a good engineer.”
She said after Pearl Harbor, knowing his draft number was high, he decided to enlist.
“He said he would rather fly over a place than walk through it,” Simmons said. “So he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps.”
He wanted to be a pilot, but his eyesight wasn’t the best so he ended up as a radio operator and gunner on “Old Baldy” the B-24.
Lower wrote home and told his family that after his next mission, he hoped to return home. He had 32 missions under his belt and his next would give him three over the 30 required missions.
On his next bombing mission, called “Operation Tidal Wave,” 167 B-24’s were sent to destroy oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania. They had been trained in low level bombing raids and went in as low as 50 feet off of the ground, making them easy prey for a well disguised battery of machine guns and anti-air craft guns hidden in their path.
The Air Force Historical report said that 88 B-24’s, most them heavily damaged, made it back to their home base in Benghazi, Libya. The mission took the lives of 310 crew-members, 108 men were captured and 78 interned in Turkey. Only 31 of the remaining damaged B-24’s ever flew again.
Five officers from the operation earned Medals of Honor.
It was the last low-level bombing operation in WWII.
“My father Steven was a WWI veteran and had seen some of his friends killed,” Simmons said. “It was hard on him when his oldest son didn’t come home.”
She said the only time she saw her father cry was when Max left for the war, and when the two officers left a yellow envelope with a telegraph announcing Max’s death.
After all these years, Helen was excited and ready to have her brother Max’s remains finally interred in the Lewiston cemetery. She was extremely grateful to the state, local and national government officials for their help.
A memorial service will be held in Lower’s honor this Saturday, Nov. 23, under the direction of Allen-Hall Mortuary at noon in the Lewiston Third and Fourth Ward Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located at 16 S. Main Street. Lower will be laid to rest in the Lewiston City Cemetery immediately following the service.
You can learn more about Lower’s time in the military and his family’s efforts to get his remains back home in his compelling obituary.