Donations by Corporal Herb Tollefson USAAF (Rt.) of his World War II USAFAF uniform and Mr John Mifsud Jr. of his father’s medals and badges to the National War Museum.
Independence Day 2014 was that more special to a retired World War II USA veteran who came back to Malta with a mission. On 4 July 2014 Corporal Herb Tollefson of the USAAF, donated his +70 years old uniform he once wore at Malta to Heritage Malta’s National War Museum in the presence of members of his family and friends. Also present at the event were the Minister responsible for Culture, the Hon. Dr. Owen Bonnici, Heritage Malta’s Chairman Dr Joseph Buttigieg and CEO Mr Kenneth Gambin and the section’s Curatorial staff. The uniform, now part of the National Collections fills in a lacuna long felt and yearned for in collections of the said museum.
Way back in 1942, Corporal Herb Tollefson, a US Army Air Forces Airframe and Power plant Mechanic in the 9th Air Force, 26th Air Depot Group was stationed in Egypt at the combined British and American Deversoir Air Base. Together with fourteen other men from the 26th Air Depot Group, Tollefson was detailed in 1943 for temporary detached duty to Luqa airfield.
Here in Malta, the unit patched up USAAF aircraft such as Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and North American B-25 Mitchell twin-engined medium bombers which limped damaged to Malta after sorties over Sicily and Italy. The damaged aircraft would get a quick fix and then be dispatched to safer and better equipped repair depots such as Deversoir air base in Egypt. The men of the 26th Air Depot on Malta provided a critical aeroplane ‘first aid’ as a first step in returning USAAF aircraft back to the war. Corporal Herb Tollefson recalls:
“Many times we used clever tricks such as DOPE AND FABRIC instead of sheet metal to get an aircraft field repaired and on to its way. The B-24D had notoriously weak nose gear and many a hard landing would have this nose gear collapsing, requiring field repair. We did it with a special angle iron fix that we perfected. We just lock bolted the nose gear down and sent them back on their way.”
One of the best “fixes” was however not carried out in a Maltese airfield. A battle damaged but intact B-24D had a forced landing in a field between Ispica and Pachino in Sicily. It was deemed salvageable and the 26th Air Depot Crew of fifteen men from Malta was ordered to south-east Sicily to make field repairs and get the bomber back in the air. The men flew from Luqa airfield in a cargo C-47 carrying two new Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines and all the supplies and parts required for a successful repair mission. Herb Tollefson recalls:
“We landed at a just captured 12th Bomb Group airfield located near Pachino, Sicily about 12 miles north of where the B-24D rested…. It was hot and dirty work in the melon field for the two weeks it took to repair the B-24D which we dubbed THE MELON PATCH SPECIAL.”
When the field repair work was completed, Captain Warner E. Newby (who eventually became a USAAF Major General) was flow out from the 26th Air Depot Group at Deversoir air base, Egypt to fly the B-24D out of Sicily.
Heritage Malta’s National War Museum strives to collect authentic historical items to enrich its WW II display within the said museum collections. Though the museum has a number of USA WW II items, foremost of which is the Willys Jeep ‘Husky’ on which President Roosevelt was driven around in Malta, Corporal Herb Tollefson’s uniform is the very first item which can be linked to a USAAF personnel serving in Malta during WW II.
Presenting a group of WW II period medals and Life Saving Badges was Mr John Mifsud Jr, The medals and badges belonged to his father, Malta Police Sgt. John Mifsud who was Mr Herb Tollefson’s best friend in Malta during WW II. After visiting the National War Museum last December, Mr Tollefson, through the local media strove to contact former Maltese friends. Mr John Mifsud Jr. re-established contact with Mr Tollefson earlier this year.
The Minister thanked both Mr Tollefson and Mr Mifsud for their generous donations and felt humbled in the presence of the 96 year old Mr Tollefson who’s love towards Malta and the Maltese never seized after WW II and assured both of the Nation’s gratitude for their donation.
The presentations were held at the Malta Maritime Museum and will be conserved at Heritage Malta’s textile and objects conservation laboratories at Bighi to be eventually displayed in the National War Museum.