Masters of the Air: What Happened to the Pilots in Real Life?

Apple TV+’s war drama, ‘Masters of the Air,’ ends with its ninth episode, bringing the story of the 100th Bomb Group to an end. After many dangerous missions and the unexpected ups and downs in their lives, the members of the 100th (those who survive) finally get to go back home. But what was life like for them after the war? What did the WWII veterans do in the later years of their lives? Here’s a look at the characters who were at the forefront of the story in ‘Masters of the Air’ and their fate after the events of the show.

Major Gale “Buck” Cleven

Image Credit: 100th Bomb Group Foundation

After flying several missions and then spending the rest of the war in German prison camps, Buck Cleven escaped just as the Allies pushed Germany into defeat. Having served in Europe, Buck continued to work for the Air Force and also served in Korea and Vietnam. He eventually rose to the rank of Colonel. He got his MBA from Harvard Business and later worked at Hughes Aircraft. He married Marge, who sadly passed away eight years after their wedding. Cleven got married for the second time and died in 2006 surrounded by his friends and family.

Major John “Bucky” Egan

Image Credits: 100th Photo Archives

Bucky Egan, like many other POWs, was freed when the Allies won the war. Like his best friend, Buck Cleven, he, too, continued to be a part of the Air Force and served in Korea. He graduated from Georgetown University and was later promoted to Chief Policy Division in the Air Force. The lone-wolf Bucky found his life partner in Josephine and had two daughters. He died at the age of 45 in 1961 due to a heart attack.

Major Harry Crosby

Image Credit: 100th Bomb Group Foundation

After an illustrious career in the US Air Force, Crosby returned home and got his PhD from Stanford. He took a faculty position in Iowa City and later at Boston University while also briefly working at Harvard. He continued to work with the Air Force by helping develop a curriculum for them. With his wife, Jean, he had four children. When she passed away in 1980, Crosby married for the second time to Mary Alice. He died 91 years old in 2010.

Major Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal

One of the most decorated war veterans from the 100th Bomb Group, Rosie Rosenthal, flew a total of 52 missions as a part of his group. He received 16 medals, including the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Service Cross, the British Distinguished Flying Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre, among others. After coming home from the war, he went back to his career in law, but he wasn’t done with the Nazis yet. When the trials at Nuremberg began, he served as the assistant to the U.S. prosecutor and interrogated people like Hermann Göring. It was during his role as a prosecutor in Nuremberg that he met Phillis Heller, who was also working in the prosecutorial staff. They got married and had three children. Rosenthal died at the age of 89 in 2007.

2nd Lt. Alexander Jefferson

Not a part of the 100th Bomb Group, Alexander Jefferson and the Tuskegee Airmen are introduced in the last couple of episodes of ‘Masters of the Air.’ Their stories collide with that of the members of the 100th at the German prison camps. As shown in the series, Jefferson survived the war and his time in the camps. After the war, he continued working for the country’s Air Force, and, serving in the Reserves, he was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel and retired in 1969. In 1995, he was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a part of the 332nd Fighter Group. For a while, he worked at the US Postal Service and then left it to work as a teacher in the Detroit Public School System, where he worked for a decade and retired as an assistant principal. He died at the age of 100 at his home in Detroit in 2022.

2nd Lt. Richard D. Macon

Following his service in the Second World War, Macon was honorably discharged in 1945 and received an Air Medal and a Purple Heart. In 1946, he started a flight school in Birmingham, Alabama, at Howard Hughes’ Birmingham Airpot after a meeting with the businessman himself. Later, Macon got a Master’s in maths from Indiana University. He started working as an associate professor at Miles College but left in 1956 to join the Detroit Public School System with his friend, Alexander Jefferson. He and Jefferson also co-founded Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Macon retired in 1987 from his position as an educator and died in 2007 at the age of 86.

2nd Lt Robert Daniels

Of the three Tuskegee Airmen who take the lead in ‘Masters of the Air,’ one is Robert Daniels, played by ‘Sex Education’ and ‘Doctor Who’ actor Ncuti Gatwa. Like his fellow pilots, Daniels’ plane was shot down during a mission near Marseilles in August 1944. He was taken prisoner by the German forces and spent the rest of his time in the POW camps. Like many other prisoners, he was rescued when the Allied forces stormed Germany and freed everyone. Little is known about Daniels’s time after the war. Following his career in the US Air Force, he worked as an air traffic controller. He died at the age of 69 in 1987.

Sgt. William Quinn and Charles Bailey

William Quinn (100th Bomb Group Foundation)

Seargents Quinn and Bailey’s journey was cut short in the first half of the season when both their planes crashed during a mission. They landed in enemy territory and, luckily, were found by the underground resistance rather than the enemy and were brought safely back to Thorpe Abbott’s Base in England, though Bailey came back in March 1944 and Quinn in May. The details about their time after the war remain scarce. Quinn was safely returned home, where he lived a long, fulfilled life. Bailey, too, was sent back home, but he did come back to England in 1944 to serve again. After the war, he returned home and married Doris Jean. He died at the age of 85 in 2004.

Sgt. Ken Lemmons

Image Credit: 100th Bomb Group Foundation

Following his time in the war, Lemmons came back home to Rockford, and after working at Rockford Clutch Division of Borg-Warner for a while, he started his own business in Memphis. He retired in 1987 and died in 2004 at the age of 81.

Captain Bernard “Benny” DeMarco

Like Bucky Egan and Buck Cleven, Benny DeMarco spent a lot of time as a POW in the German prison camps. He was rescued like many other POWs after the Allies won. He returned home after the war and got married to Rita Ann Sullivan. He died 74 years old in 1992.

Lt. Charles Cruikshank

After returning from war, Cruikshank worked in air traffic control. He married a woman named Helen, with whom he had a son and two daughters. After Helen’s death, Cruikshank fell in love again and spent the rest of his life with his partner, Fay Ham. He passed away at the age of 93 in 2010.

Colonel Neil “Chick” Harding

The leader of the 100th, who took over command in the second episode of ‘Masters of the Air,’ Colonel Harding was a part of sixteen missions during his service in the Second World War. He would have stuck around for more, but his health didn’t leave him up to the task, and he had to leave to receive treatment for stones in his gall bladder. After the war, when he was fully healed, he returned to the service and retired in 1957. He died in 1978, surrounded by his loved ones.

Lt. George Niethammer

Lt. Niethammer doesn’t appear in ‘Masters of the Air’ for more than one scene in the final episode, but his crossing paths with Buck Cleven, with whom he had been friends, might make him a person of interest for the audience. He was part of the 454th Bomber Group and had crash-landed in German territory during a mission in which his entire crew was taken prisoner by the enemy. While the rest of his crew eventually made it out, he was the only one who didn’t survive and died as a POW at the Nuremberg-Langwasser prison camp. For his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal, along with the Prisoner of War Medal.

Capt. Joseph “Bubbles” Payne

Bubbles Payne, a close friend of Major Harry Crosby, died at the age of 23 in 1944 when his plane crashed over Sottevast in Basse-Normandie, France. As shown in the series, he was demoted from Group Navigator to the group’s Lead Navigator and flew missions as squadron leader. He was on the crew of Col. Robert Kelly, whose leadership lasted only one week and a failed mission led several men under his command to lose their lives, one of them being Bubbles Payne.

Lt. Curtis Biddick

Image Credits: 100th Bomb Group Foundation

Played by Barry Keoghan, Lt. Biddick was killed in action at the age of 28 in 1943 during the mission to Regensburg, in which he and his crew were part of a mission to attack the ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt. When their plane was significantly damaged, Biddick tried to land it in a desolate field to avoid casualties and died in the crash. He was laid to rest in Pulfringen, but his remains were later brought back home to America.

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