Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame was a Stars and Stripes war correspondent during World War II. In this capacity Rooney became good friends with native North Dakotan, Raymond Check. Captain Check was a B-17 bomber pilot and was well liked by everyone who knew him. Check flew during a time in the war when a bomber tour was 25 missions, and in that many missions, the odds of being killed, wounded or shot down were high.
Check had flown 24 missions and was due to complete his 25th on June 26, 1943. On the following day, June 27, Raymond was to marry his sweetheart, an American army nurse.
Check’s 25th mission was considered an easy milk run, a shallow penetration raid into France. The mission was considered so casual that fighter support wasn’t provided. Check’s original squadron commander, Lt. Col. James Wilson, had come in to fly his last mission with him, with Check’s close friend and regular co-pilot, Lt. William Cassedy moving to the waist gunner position.
On the final seconds of the bomb run, several German fighters dived unseen out of the sun, made one pass through the formation of bombers and were gone. Check was stuck by a cannon shell and was instantly killed. A fire started in the cockpit and Wilson tried to beat it out with his hands and received serious burns. Badly burned, he tried to control the plane until Lt. Cassedy could come forward and take over. Cassedy was horrified to see Check, dead in the pilot’s seat.
In Andy Rooney’s book “My War,” Rooney relates the rest of the story, which he didn’t find out until 60 years later. Cassedy knew that Check’s intended bride would be waiting at the end of the runway for their return. Cassedy made the decision to land against the traffic pattern – downwind so they would end up on the other end of the airfield, far from the eyes of Raymond’s fiancé.
Rooney would write, “Happy endings were rare” at the air stations of England.
This would have been Raymond Check’s 101st birthday. He was born at Granville, North Dakota on this date in 1917.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Andy Rooney’s book, “My War”. Don Miller’s book, “Masters of the Air”. Curt Eriksmoen article in the Bismarck Tribune, Nov. 22, 2009