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Masters of the Air: What happened to all the major characters post-WW2 in real life?

Most of these stories had happier endings than you'd believe

Masters of the Air main cast
Image credit: Apple TV+

Apple's Masters of the Air limited series still has a few episodes left to go, but you might already be wondering about the real-life events that affected its key characters during and after the war. If you're not afraid of spoilers, or are coming in after the show ends, this is what you need to know about the brave real-life pilots the fictionalized story follows.

Spoilers for Masters of the Air ahead, of course.

Major Gale 'Buck' Cleven (Austin Butler)

Gale Cleven - Austin Butler
Image credit: Apple TV+

After getting shot down on October 8, 1943, Cleven and his pilot were taken to a German military station west of Osnabruck, where other members of his squadron who had also been shot down joined them later. They were moved to the Stalag Luft III Sagan camp after interrogation, where they remained POWs. On January 27, 1945, Cleven and some other POWs heard a call to evacuate the camp through illegal radios they'd been using and escaped their captors during the trek to another camp.

Cleven managed to survive and escape German forces after 12 days on the run, putting an end to his time as a participant in World War II. He continued to serve in the Korean War as well as in Vietnam before officially retiring in 1955. He then worked IT jobs and became manager of Webber College in Florida. Survived by his second wife Lee, Cleven died on November 17, 2006, at the age of 97.

Major John 'Bucky' Egan (Callum Turner)

John Egan - Callum Turner
Image credit: Apple TV+

Egan was shot down shortly after Cleven and taken prisoner, also arriving at Stalag Luft III and reuniting with 'Buck' and other pilots that had been there for three days. John Egan and Gale Cleven were together for 18 months in the POW camp. Cleven escaped first while being transferred to another POW camp, but the 'two Buckys' were alive to see the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.

At the beginning of the Korean War, Egan was in command of the 47th Reconnaissance Group and was promoted to colonel in 1951, flying several air support missions. After that war, he served as deputy chief of staff for operations of the 5th Air Force in Japan before being appointed director of operations for the Pacific Air Force in Hawaii in 1956. In 1958, he was assigned to The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He died on April 16, 1961, while on active duty after suffering a heart attack at his home in McLean, Virginia.

Lt. Curtis Biddick (Barry Keoghan)

Curtis Biddick - Barry Keoghan
Image credit: Apple TV+

In contrast to the show, in which Biddick attempts to land his plane and save his wounded co-pilot, the real Lt. Biddick was consumed by the flames before his aircraft exploded. He died on August 17, 1943.

Biddick, flight officer Snyder, radio gunner Sergeant Robert R. DeKay, and aerial engineer Sergeant Lawrence Godbey "were all found near the crash site by locals, who buried them in a church cemetery in the nearby town of Pülfringen."

Major Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle)

Harry Crosby - Anthony Boyle
Image credit: Apple TV+

After being promoted to Lead Navigator, Crosby survived his time in Europe during World War II and returned to Iowa to finish his graduate degree in 1947. He later earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1953 and began teaching English Composition and American Literature at the University of Iowa. After only a few years, he moved to work at Boston University until 1984.

Other remarkable achievements included helping in the development of the curriculum at the Air Force Academy and acting as the Director of Studies at the Pakistan Air Force Academy. He died on July 28, 2010, at age 91.

Major Robert Rosenthal (Nate Mann)

Robert Rosenthal - Nate Mann
Image credit: Apple TV+

Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal was the only pilot to safely return to base following the Munster raid on October 10, 1943. He was later appointed Squadron Commander of the 418th Bomb Squadron and then the 350th Bomb Squadron, before being shot down in France in September 1944, where he evaded capture and returned to duty. He was also shot down over Berlin in February 1945 and later picked up by Red Army allies. That didn't stop him from flying more combat missions, 52 total, earning 16 awards.

He returned to the Manhattan law firm where he worked as a lawyer after the war, but returned to Europe shortly afterwards, in 1946, to work on the US prosecution team during the Nuremberg trials. On the journey to Germany, he met his wife, fellow trial judge Phyllis Heller. He died on April 20, 2007, aged 89 in White Plains, New York.

Sergeant William Quinn (Kai Alexander)

William Quinn - Kai Alexander
Image credit: Apple TV+

Quinn was shot down on August 17, 1943, during the same mission that killed Lt. Curtis Biddick and many others. He evaded capture, with the help of Belgian rebels, until February 6, 1944.

The real Quinn successfully returned to England, but there are few records documenting his experience, which explains why he isn't a very prominent figure in Masters of the Air, despite episode 4 focusing a lot on him and his escape.

2nd Lt. Robert Daniels (Ncuti Gatwa)

Robert Daniels - Ncuti Gatwa
Image credit: Apple TV+

Lt. Daniels was shot down in August 1944, when he and other P-51 Mustang pilots of the all-black 301st Fighter Squadron attacked a German radar unit near Marseilles, France. He was captured by German forces and was held POW until the end of hostilities in May 1945.

After the war, he became an air traffic controller. In 1987, he died at the age of 69.

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