The Arrowhead Club

384th Bomb Group Chaplains

In WWII, clergy could not be drafted for military service. However, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many felt patriotic and enlisted. Although there were a few exceptions, the requirements for a military chaplain at the time of initial examination included:

  • Male citizen of the USA
  • 23 to 34 years old
  • 4-year college degree
  • 3 years of theological seminary education
  • Ordained, accredited by, and in good standing with a religious denomination or organization
  • Primary occupation in the ministry with 3 years of experience

There were Christian-faith (Catholic and Protestant) and Jewish-faith chaplains in the Chaplains Corps. But there were very limited numbers of chaplains, so often one chaplain would minister to all faiths.

As far as I can tell, the 384th Bomb Group had three chaplains during its stay in Grafton Underwood. Two of those chaplains were Catholic, Method Billy and Herbert Francis Butterbach. The other chaplain was Protestant, Dayle R. Schnelle. I cannot find record of a Jewish chaplain, or Rabbi, but I am still searching.

The importance of the group chaplain to the men of the 384th cannot be underestimated. Eugene Spearman, a radio operator with the group, wrote about the importance of the presence of this religious figure to him before missions.

One thing that I was thankful for was that a minister or priest stood holding a Bible beside the runway just before we released the brakes and raced down the runway on every mission, rain or shine. Standing just beside the end of the runway, where we made that final check of instruments before releasing the brakes, stood a minister. I don’t know what denomination he represented, but it was an inspiration to me to see him there. And then we were on our way.

The first Catholic chaplain was Method C. Billy. Brother Billy or Father Billy, as he was known, served under the first group commander, Budd Peaslee, and the second, interim commander, Julius Lacey. In the Fall of 1944, Dale Smith took command of the 384th. Smith wrote in his book “Screaming Eagle” that his service with the 384th was the “most challenging and terrifying year of my life.”

Smith found that the men of the 384th had such respect for original commander Budd Peaslee that any replacement could not measure up to the great man. Ask anyone familiar with 384th Bomb Group history today who the commander of the 384th was and the answer will be Budd Peaslee. There was a succession of commanders, six of them in fact, but the only name you will likely hear in answer to that question is Peaslee’s.

Smith felt like an outsider at Grafton Underwood and felt the continued allegiance of the men to Peaslee to such an extent that he replaced many of the group’s leaders. Perhaps Brother Billy was one of those or who did not fit into Smith’s plans for the group. It was at this time that Smith transferred Brother Billy and replaced him with Herbert Francis Butterbach.

At the end of WWII, when the 384th Bomb Group moved to Istres, France, they had at least one chaplain with them with the last name Duvall. He could have been James T. Duvall, who served during the war as chaplain of the 398th Bomb Group, according to the American Air Museum in Britain.

For more information about the Chaplain Corps, click here.

Thank you to 384th Bomb Group Combat Data Specialist and Researcher Keith Ellefson for contributions to this article.

I will continue this series with separate posts about and photos of Chaplains Billy Method, Herbert Francis Butterbach, Dayle R. Schnelle, and James T. Duvall…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Robert Jeremy Fisher

Several years ago, as I was researching the 384th Bomb Group’s mission of September 28, 1944 – the mission on which my dad’s B-17 and another B-17 of his Group collided over Magdeburg, Germany – I wrote about original Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk. The original post is here.

Chester Rybarczyk was flying with the William J. Blankenmeyer crew that day aboard Hot Nuts. The Blankenmeyer crew’s Sortie Report for that mission stated that they “Left formation after target for unknown reasons, but returned to base.” With Rybarczyk on board, I imagined that the reason they left formation was to try to determine the fate of Rybarczyk’s Buslee crewmates as he watched the two planes fall to earth.

I have learned that was not the case. The 384th Bomb Group’s Facebook Group is a wealth of information and that is where I found that my reasoning about why the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was not correct.

Through the Facebook group, I have made many connections with 384th Bomb Group Veterans and their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-nieces and nephews. Sometimes one of them provides me with a missing piece of the puzzle of my father’s WWII service and this was one of those times.

Robert Jeremy “Bob” Fisher was the co-pilot of the Blankenmeyer crew and was aboard Hot Nuts on September 28, 1944. Bob and his son and daughter are all members of the Facebook group. When Bob’s children chimed in on one of the threads on Facebook and mentioned their dad, I looked him up in the 384th Bomb Group’s database and found that he was on that mission and on the B-17 with Chester Rybarczyk.

Formation chart of the High Group, September 28, 1944. Buslee and Brodie collide after coming off the target. The Blankenmeyer crew, including co-pilot Bob Fisher and Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk, witness the collision.

After I requested Bob’s children to ask their dad if he remembered that mission, his daughter did so and told me of a small notebook in which her dad wrote notes about each mission. On September 28, 1944, Bob Fisher wrote:

Made reciprocal run on target due to group under us when we were to drop the first time. On turn one we almost hit our squadron leader due to an exceedingly sharp turn. On turn off target 2 planes hit together and both went down. Seven chutes reported. Let down more slowly then formation due to the fact that Bill’s ears would not clear. Had some trouble with mine – ambulance met us at dispersal and took Bill to get his ears cleared. Bill grounded-as is Reed and Obermeyer.

The reason the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was because the pilot, William J. “Bill” Blankenmeyer was having trouble clearing his ears.

But there is another interesting clue in Bob Fisher’s notebook. Obermeyer was not the crew’s navigator on September 28, 1944 as he had previously been grounded. Because of his grounding, Chester Rybarczyk filled in for him, keeping him off the Buslee crew’s plane that day. Had he flown with the Buslee crew, he would have been one of the men to perish aboard Lead Banana that day after the mid-air collision. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

The 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

I help out the 384th Bomb Group as one of the administrators of their magnificent photo gallery. It is one of the best collections of WWII photos from a single bomb group on the internet. Our group also hosts a Facebook page and members regularly post wonderful photos of family members that were in the 384th. But the photos posted to our Facebook group are not of the best quality and highest resolution, are not easily downloadable, and are not searchable by names like the ones in the photo gallery.

I love seeing all the photos members share in the Facebook group, but every time I see a new one, I wish the photo would also be posted in the 384th’s photo gallery so it would become a part of the permanent collection. The gallery is a permanent, stable, organized, and most importantly (to me, anyway) searchable repository of photos and documents of the 384th Bomb Group.

In an effort to get more of those photos into the gallery, I have written a set of instructions for creating a gallery account (which is free) and uploading photos (also free). Downloading any of the photos to your personal computer is also free.

 

384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

Registration and Photo Upload Instructions

Welcome to the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery.  All content on the gallery is visible to all visitors. Those wishing to enter a comment or contribute images will need to register and log in (links on left side of Home page). Please register for an account when you need access beyond viewing gallery content.

To open the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery Home page:

http://www.384thbombgroup.com/piwigo_384th_gallery/

You may also access the gallery from the PHOTO GALLERY menu selection “Photo Gallery – Top” at www.384thbombgroup.com.

 

Account Registration and Login

  1. To register for an account, click Register in the Identification section on the left side of the Home page.

  1. Create a Username and Password on the Home/Registration page and enter your Email address.

 Note:  The Username you enter here will become your Community album name.

You must fill out all fields on the Home/Registration page to register for an account.  Optionally check the box to “Send my connection settings by email” to receive a record of your Username and Password.  Click the Register button to complete registration.

  1. Upon registration, you will be logged into the photo gallery and will optionally receive an email record of your registration.

  1. If you log out, or the system logs you out on exiting the photo gallery, you must enter your Username and Password to log back in.

 

You may click Login or you may enter your Username and Password in the Quick connect section.  Check the Auto login box to stay logged into the photo gallery so that you will not have to log in each time.  DO NOT check the Auto login box on a public or shared computer.

  1. You may now enter comments on photos within the gallery and upload your own images. You now have your own Community album in which to upload photos, but note that you will not see your album in the gallery’s Community albums until you add at least one photo.

 

Upload Photos to the Gallery

  1. To upload photos, click Upload photos in the Menu section on the left side of the page.

  1. The Home/Upload photos page will open with your Community album already selected for you. You may upload photos only to your album.

  1. To use the default Browser uploader, click Choose File to select photos to upload. The maximum size limit for individual photos is 6MB.

IMPORTANT!  Click Set Photo Properties to add a photo Title (short and descriptive), Author (your name), and Description (long description including identifications).  You must add these items NOW as you upload your photos.  You will not be able to add or edit these fields later.  The Description is very important and should include as much information as you have about the photo, especially identification of people in the photo.  But you must upload only one photo at a time to enter a unique Title and Description for each one.

  1. You may upload more than one photo at a time by selecting + Add an upload box as long as you stay within the 64MB maximum size limit. If you exceed the file size limit, your photos will not upload properly.  If your photos have different descriptions, do not upload them together.  Upload only one photo at a time and use Set Photo Properties to add separate titles and descriptions to each.
  1. After selecting a photo to upload, click the Start upload button.
  1. Once your photo(s) upload, you will see a message that they have uploaded into your Community album and you will see a thumbnail of the photos. You may click on the thumbnails to see photos in your Community album or you may click Add another set of photos to upload more photos.
  1. You may choose to upload your photos with the Flash uploader instead of the Browser uploader. In “You are using the Browser uploader.  Try the Flash uploader instead,” click on Flash uploader.  Click Select files and select the photos you wish to upload.

NOTE:  You must have Flash Player installed to use the Flash uploader.

IMPORTANT!  Click Set Photo Properties to add a photo Title (short and descriptive), Author (your name), and Description (long description including identifications).  You must add these items NOW as you upload your photos.  You will not be able to add or edit these fields later.  The Description is very important and should include as much information as you have about the photo, especially identification of people in the photo.  But you must upload only one photo at a time to enter a unique Title and Description for each one.

  1. After selecting photos to upload, click the Start upload button.

View My Photo Album

To view photos in your Community album, click Community in the Albums section on the left side of the screen or click the Community album on the Home page.  As long as there are photos in your Community album, your album name will display in the list.  Your album name will be the Username you registered with.  You can select your album by clicking on the name of your album (your Username) in the list.

 

Where Are My Photos?

At times, gallery administrators move photos from the Community albums into the appropriate albums in the gallery.  For example, crew photos will be moved into the individual squadron crew albums.  If you have uploaded photos and can no longer find them in your Community album, or cannot find your Community album, your photos have been moved.  You may search for your photos by Author (your Username) using the gallery’s search feature.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Keep the Show on the Road

Our 384th Bomb Group motto is “Keep the Show on the Road.” But it was not the original motto. Early on in the group’s history, the motto was “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I Came, I Saw, I Conquered), as seen on the jacket patch in this photo of the 384th’s first Commander, Budd Peaslee.

First commander of the 384th Bomb Group wearing the Group Patch reading “Veni Vidi Vici”
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson, 2014

But a loss on the group’s second mission led to the Group’s new motto. The Group’s Deputy Commanding Officer, Major Selden L. McMillin, was shot down on June 25, 1943 on the group’s mission to Hamburg, Germany. McMillin, known as “Major Mac” managed to crash land in Holland. The Engineer/Top Turret Gunner was killed and the remainder of the crew was taken prisoner.

Major Mac sent a postcard to his commander, Colonel Budd Peaslee, telling Peaslee to “KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD.” The 384th adopted McMillian’s message as their motto and it remains our mantra to this day.

Keep the Show on the Road
Reproduction artwork by Marc Poole, artist and originator of 384thBombGroup.com

Keeping the Show on the Road is what we NexGens (Next Generation) strive to do, meaning it is our job to keep the history of the 384th Bomb Group alive.

NexGens research the men of the Group, the aircraft, the missions, and every other thing that is 384th Bomb Group related. We help relatives of the men of the 384th discover the part their airman played and the sacrifices they made in WWII. 384th Bomb Group webmaster Fred Preller and his band of researchers make sure that information is readily available for those seeking it through the Group’s website and photo gallery.

NexGens meet at reunions. The next reunion of the 384th Bomb Group is in conjunction with the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion in New Orleans at the end of September. For more information, click here.

NexGens take our Commemorative Wing Panel (affectionately known as Wingy) to veterans of the 384th all over the country for their signatures. Edward Field was the most recent to sign. For more information on the wing panel project, click here.

546th Bomb Squadron Navigator Edward Field signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

Christopher Wilkinson, instigator of the Commemorative Wing Panel Project, says it best.

One of the things we learn as we host the wing panel for our veterans is that each man came to their own understanding of their part, and so each brings something unique to their own story of what they did and saw. This opens new understandings for us as well, and in turn helps us to convey in a more personal way to younger generations what happened during the war.

All of us who lend a hand to the cause of keeping the history of “Our Group” alive want the same thing. We want current and future generations to remember these men. We want our children and their children to know the part these men played in one of the most critical periods in the history of our country. We want them to know what these men did for us. At the time, these brave young men of the 384th were fighting for their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their young wives, and of course, their countrymen. Most of us weren’t even born yet, but they were doing it for us, too.

Remember these men and when you meet one, thank him for his service. They deserve your thanks and much more. And whenever possible, share their stories and Keep the Show on the Road.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

John DeFrancesco

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

If you recall my post from last week, I recently spent an enjoyable weekend in Savannah with my three Stalag Luft IV sisters, Ellen Weaver, Candy Brown, and Laura Edge, and 384th Bomb Group veteran, John DeFrancesco. The better I get to know John, the more I am in awe of him and the other boys who served in the 384th and other Bomb Groups of the 8th Air Force in WWII. Most of the boys were just that – boys who had just finished high school or maybe had a couple of years of college. And here they were, fighting a war on foreign soil, defending our freedom, some of them dying for us. A very big responsibility for such young men.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

John Joseph DeFrancesco enlisted just a couple of months after graduating from high school. He was just eighteen years old when he enlisted, but despite his young age, he was selected for the aviation cadet program and was soon on his way to becoming a pilot. No, he had never flown before, but growing up he loved looking up to the sky when he heard the sound of an aircraft engine overhead and delighted in watching them in flight. That led him to choose the Army Air Forces for his military career.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

At the completion of his training, John was assigned a crew and they were assigned to the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force (a.k.a. “The Mighty Eighth”) and were stationed in Grafton Underwood, England. The 384th Bomb Group’s website displays John’s personnel data:

John DeFrancesco’s Personnel Data. Edited screenshot from 384thBombGroup.com.

John does not possess a full crew photo, but he does still have the escape/evasion photos of most of his crew. Escape/evasion photos were taken to assist a crewman who was able to escape or evade capture in the event he found himself bailing out of his B-17 and landing in hostile territory.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, Pilot

Escape/evasion photo for John Joseph DeFrancesco, Pilot, 544th Bomb Squadron. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Robert Edwin Simmons, Co-pilot

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Robert Edwin Simmons (Co-pilot). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Jerome Calnitz, Navigator

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Jerome Calnitz (Navigator). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco

William C. Brown, Bombardier

No photo available

Ira J. Bias, Jr., Radio Operator/Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Ira J. Bias, Jr. (Radio Operator). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Evan L. “Dixie” Howell, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Evan L. (Dixie) Howell (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Charles J. Doleshal, Ball Turret Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Charles J. Doleshal (Ball Turret Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Harmon C. Hastings, Tail Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Harmon C. Hastings (Tail Gunner/Flexible Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Ferris J. Walker, Tail Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Ferris J. Walker (Tail Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

John Allen Williams, Flexible Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember John (Johnny) Allen Williams (Flexible Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

There were a few other men who John DeFrancesco served with on a number of missions. He flew with William E. Moon (no photo available) of the James W. Orr crew on twenty-one missions. Moon was originally a bombardier who retrained as a navigator.

John flew with Homer L. Lott of the James Robson Gilmore crew on eleven missions. Lott was a flexible gunner turned togglier and flew with John on the January 8, 1945 mission on which both me became POWs.

Homer L. Lott of the James Robson Gilmore Crew, 384th Bomb Group. Photo posted on Ancestry.com.

John DeFrancesco’s sixth mission on October 18, 1944, target Ford Motor Works in Cologne, Germany, was a memorable one. As the bombardier bent over the bomb sight, a piece of flak smashed through the Plexiglass nose of their B-17. It flew over the bombardier’s head and struck the navigator on that flight, Jack Lyons, in the arm, tearing away a large chunk of flesh and shattering his arm.

The piece of flak continued through the aircraft and came through the floor of the cockpit, lodging under his pilot’s seat. With other crew members unsuccessful in their attempts to aid Lt. Lyons, John turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went to Lt. Lyons’ aid in the nose. He cut the sleeve off Lt. Lyons’ jacket, formed it into a bandage, and applied it to the wound to stop the flow of blood.

John’s actions saved the life of Jack Lyons, as without John’s help, Jack would have bled to death before they returned to their base at Grafton Underwood. With Lt. Lyons stable, John returned to the cockpit and assumed the controls of the aircraft, bringing navigator Jack Lyons home alive.

John DeFrancesco became a POW on his thirty-fifth mission and served 144 days as a POW in Germany in the prison camps Stalag 13D (Nuremburg) and Stalag 7A (Moosburg). The story of John’s thirty-fifth mission will be the subject of a future post.

John DeFrancesco  received the following medals for his WWII service:

  • European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal
  • Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters
  • Victory Medal
  • POW Medal

After WWII, John DeFrancesco served in the Air Force Active Reserves from 1945 until the late 1960’s when he went into the Inactive Reserves. In 1984, John retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel.

In 2014, John DeFrancesco signed the 384th Bomb Group’s Commemorative Wing Panel. I was honored to attend his signing and meet him and 384th Bomb Group armorer Paul Bureau that day.

John DeFrancesco signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel, 2014. Photo courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com.

John DeFrancesco addresses the audience at his 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel Signing, 2014. Photo courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com.

To be continued in a future post…

John’s thirty-fifth mission with the 384th Bomb Group and his time as a prisoner of war in Germany.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Rendezvous in Savannah

The March 2017 issue of the 8th AF News contains a wonderful story, “Band of Daughters.” The story is about two women, Ellen Hartman and Laura Edge, and their adventure together to visit the WWII prison camp, Stalag Luft IV, where their fathers and my father, were held as prisoners of war. You can read the story here.

Laura holds a Masters of Social Studies Education degree and wrote the book “On the Wings of Dawn:  American Airmen as Germany’s Prisoners – Their Story of Courage, Sacrifice, and Survival.” Ellen owns her own public relations agency in Atlanta and is just beginning to research her father’s service in WWII. You can read the post I wrote about Ellen’s father, Joe Weaver, here.

I contacted both Ellen and Laura and learned that they had big plans for this year’s Fourth of July weekend in Savannah. They would be visiting the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Joining them would be Zigmunt Wujek, a Polish sculptor, and Jupi Podlaszewski, head of the English School of Koszalin. Zigmunt created the memorial sculpture at the site of Stalag Luft IV.

Zigmunt Wujek has created more than two hundred memorials in his native Pomerania including monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. Zigmunt also created a bronze bust of an American airman from a photograph of Stalag Luft IV POW Joseph O’Donnell, author of the book “The Shoe Leather Express.”

Also joining the group as the third Stalag Luft IV daughter would be Candy Kyler Brown. Candy wrote the book “What I Never Told You:  A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.”

A WWII veteran of the 8th Air Force, Walter Grotz, was to join the group. Walter, of the 445th Bomb Group and his wife, Mary, sponsored the Polish dignitaries’ journey to the US. Walter and Mary had a B-24 propeller blade to donate to the museum and wanted Zigmunt to see his American Airman’s home in the museum. Walter became a prisoner at Stalag Luft IV when he had to bail out of his B-24 on the November 26, 1944 mission to an oil refinery at Hannover, Germany. Sadly, Walter Grotz died in May, but his wife, Mary, carried on Walter’s wishes and joined the group in Savannah.

Walter’s B-24 Propeller Blade

Zigmunt Wujek’s bronze bust of the American Airman in the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

The American Aviator bronze bust (as described in the accompanying plaque) …

is the only exact copy of the “American Aviator” in the 1992 memorial at Stalag Luft IV, the WWII prison camp for enlisted American airmen in Poland. Wujek used a photograph of Joseph O’Donnell, a  POW at Stalag Luft IV, as his model. At the 2006 dedication of the site as a Polish War Memorial, Wujek gave this bust to former POW Walter Grotz. It took Grotz five years to make the necessary import arrangements, and in 2011 he delivered the bust to this museum which will be its permanent home. Wujek presented it on behalf of the people of the Pomerania region of Poland as a Thank You to Eighth Air Force Veterans, all Veterans and the people of the United States.

Zigmunt Wujek and Mary Grotz admire Zigmunt’s work.

The organizer of the Savannah group, Ellen Hartman, was kind enough to invite me at join them as the fourth Stalag Luft IV daughter. And I, knowing that a WWII veteran living near me, John DeFrancesco, had a great desire to see the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, invited him to go to Savannah with me. John had been a POW in WWII, but not in Stalag Luft IV.

John was a pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron, the same group and squadron in which my dad served. John was on his thirty-fifth mission on January 8, 1945 to a railroad line in Kyllburg, Germany when two of his engines exploded and his B-17 caught fire. After bailing out of the crippled aircraft, John was a POW at Stalag 13D Nuremburg (Oflag 73) Bavaria, an officers’ camp, and later after a forced march, was held at Stalag 7A (Moosburg).

John DeFrancesco standing in front of the B-17 “City of Savannah” at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

Our experience at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force was extraordinary. In addition to touring the museum on our own (we took advantage of every free moment in our schedule to see as much as we could), we had two excellent guided tours.

Our first tour was led by 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Historian and NexGen Research Director John Edwards. John was one of the original nine who started the Museum of the Mighty Eighth. Between John’s history with the museum and his interest in aviation research, John’s tour offered our group a unique insight to the museum and the WWII history of the 8th Air Force.

Left to right: Zigmunt Wujek, Mary Grotz, Jupi Podlaszewski, and John DeFrancesco enjoy John Edward’s tour of the museum

Our second tour was led by Al Pela, museum docent and son of Stalag Luft IV POW Albert Pela who was a flexible gunner with the 100th Bomb Group, also known as “The Bloody Hundreth.” Albert’s B-17 crashed at Gottesgab (now Bozi Dar, Czech Republic) on September 11, 1944. Al’s stories of his father’s experiences at Stalag Luft IV added another perspective to our museum experience.

Al Pela’s tour included the personal POW history of his father in front of the museum’s POW barracks display

Just past the POW exhibit in the museum is a display case in which the vest that Candy Kyler Brown’s father, John Roland Kyler, made while he was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV. Candy proudly shows her father’s work to the group. Kyler knitted the vest from a Red Cross-provided kit and he was able to bring it home on his trek across Germany in the Black March.

The museum is full of wonderful displays. John DeFrancesco stands in front of a memorial to the 384th Bomb Group complete with a model of a B-17.

Past a set of glass doors at the back of the large space housing the B-17 and other aircraft is the museum’s memorial garden. The garden is a beautiful, peaceful place full of memorials to groups and members of the 8th Air Force and the Chapel of the Fallen Eagles.

Inside the chapel are a multitude of stained glass windows…

… including a replica of the one honoring the 384th Bomb Group in the Church of St James the Apostle in Grafton Underwood, England.

John DeFrancesco stands in front of a replica of the 384th Bomb Group Memorial in Grafton Underwood, England, where the group was stationed during WWII.

After some help from Al Pela, I was able to find the memorial to the Brodie crew of the B-17 Lazy Daisy which collided with the B-17 Lead Banana on which my dad was the waist gunner on September 28, 1944.

To end this wonderful weekend, our group was honored at the American Legion Post 135 which is housed at 1108 Bull Street in Savannah, where on January 28, 1942, the Eighth Air Force was activated.

John DeFrancesco receiving a Certificate of Honor from American Legion Post 135 in Savannah

In addition to honoring the WWII veteran of our group, John DeFrancesco, the American Legion also honored Zigmunt Wujek, Walter Grotz, and each of the Stalag Luft IV daughters’ fathers.

Following the ceremony at the American Legion, our group enjoyed a spectacular dinner right next door at the restaurant Local11ten. It was the perfect ending to the perfect adventure for this group which was brought together because of a shared history in WWII. That adventure ended, but I suspect a new journey is just beginning.

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV with WWII veteran John DeFrancesco.
Left to right: Cindy Farrar Bryan, Laura Witt Edge, John Joseph DeFrancesco, Candy Kyler Brown, and Ellen Weaver Hartman

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Magdeburg and Belgard (Bialogard)

My dad flew sixteen missions with the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII, but the only mission location he marked on this Invasion Map of Europe in his World Atlas was Magdeburg, Germany. It was the only mission he told me stories about, the one where another B-17 collided with his and he lost all of his fellow crewmates on that ship that day.

In a report to the military after his return to the States, he wrote:

Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group.  The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to.  At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship.  Never saw any of the other boys.  I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.

He also marked Magdeburg on another map in his World Atlas and wrote “Belgard” in the top margin. Belgard, or Bialogard, is the county in which Gross-Tychow (now Tychowo), Poland lies, home of Stalag Luft IV.

Stalag Luft IV in Gross-Tychow was where Dad spent the darkest days of his life. It was one of the worst WWII prison camps in Germany, where prisoners were mistreated and underfed. It was the camp from which prisoners were marched in early February 1944, in one of the worst winters in Germany’s history, until their liberation in late April/early May.

These places, Magdeburg and Belgard, these two places on his map, would be burned into my father’s memory and soul forever. He would never return to those places for the rest of his life, but the memories of them remained with him every day and every night.

I am drawn to these places and I hope one day I will visit both. Neither look the same today as what Dad experienced in 1944, but I wish to stand on the soil where he hit the ground in his parachute, where his B-17 crashed to earth, and where he was held a prisoner behind barbed wire. I would like to walk the roads he marched as a prisoner of war by day, and see the barns where he slept in the hay at night.

Why do I want to visit these sites? Dad would probably not want me to see these places he would like to have forgotten, but they were an important part of his history and that makes them an important part of mine. I imagine seeing these places will take my breath away and bring me to tears.

I lost Dad almost thirty-five years ago. He died at the age of sixty-one. His heart gave out when he was too young to leave us. The mid-air collision and his subsequent time as a prisoner of war are what killed him. But he was tough and it took him another thirty-eight years to die. I would like to have had him around for another thirty years or more, so he could watch my sister and me mature, walk us down the aisle, and hold his grandchildren. But I understand now that the only way he found peace from the war was to leave this life and those horrible memories behind.

Rest in peace, Dad. I will never stop loving you.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

From the US to the UK and Beyond

One of the maps in my dad’s World Atlas showed his route from the US to the UK and then on into Germany. I believe the starting point in the US was Kearney, Nebraska, where he and the Buslee crew picked up their B-17 to ferry across the Atlantic.

On his way out of Ardmore, Oklahoma, he wrote about his expected stay in Nebraska in a letter to his mother dated June 22, 1944.

We will be at the next place just long enough to get our plane. It should take from three to seven days.

Dad must have made a few stops between Kearney and the East Coast of the US. On June 25, he wrote to his mother again.

Just a line to let you know that everything is fine.  There is no use in you writing me here, as we will only be here four days.  We have our own plane, and will fly over.  We should be there next week this time.

In describing their new B-17, he also wrote that

It only has twelve hours on it and guns all over it.  They are giving each of us a cal. – 45 pistol and a large knife.  You would think we were going to look for a fight.

Daddy was ready to head to combat. He wrote

Please don’t worry about me as I know what I am doing, and love it.

Daddy wrote to his mother again the next day, June 26.

One more day in this place, and we will be going.

Two days later on June 28, I’m not sure where he was, but he wrote to his mother,

In just a little while and we will be on our way.  I wish I could tell you where to, but it just isn’t being done this season.  I can tell you we will stay once more in the States, and I will try to drop you a line from there.  I am in the ship now.  We have everything packed, and we are taking time about watching it until take-off time.

This is one of the best places I have been in some time, and I hate to leave it without going to town once more.

According to his separation documents, my dad departed the US on July 1, 1944 and arrived in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) on July 3.

There were three air bases in the Northeast involved in ferrying aircraft to the ETO – Grenier Army Air Base in New Hampshire, Presque Isle Army Airfield in Maine, and Dow Army Airfield, also in Maine.  From the spot marked on his map, I believe Daddy’s last stop in the US was Grenier Army Air Base in Manchester, New Hampshire.

From there, most ferried aircraft next went to RCAF Station Gander, Newfoundland until mid-1942, when a change was made to Goose Bay Labrador. Sure enough, Dad marked the location of Goose Bay on his map.

There were three aircraft ferrying stops in the North Atlantic Route in Greenland, Bluie West 1, Bluie West 8, and Bluie East 2, but Daddy didn’t note a stop in Greenland.

The next stop Dad noted on his map was on the East coast of Iceland. There were three airfields in Iceland used on the North Atlantic Ferrying route: Meeks Field, Patterson Field (originally Svidningar Field), and Reykjavik Airport. Reykjavik Airport and Meeks Field appear on the map on the West coast of Iceland. I can’t locate Patterson Field on the map. He must have stopped in Iceland, but I am not certain of the exact location.

Next stop must have been the RAF Valley in Wales in the UK, judging from the location Dad marked on his map. Sixty to seventy ferried aircraft arrived there each day, then were forwarded to the operational bases in England of the 8th and 9th Air Forces.

From there, Dad marked a route across England to his home base in Grafton Underwood, and then continued the route deep into Germany. I know the location of his final mark. It would be Magdeburg, where high in the skies above Germany, another B-17 of his own Bomb Group would collide with his B-17 on September 28, 1944.

Another map included in the Atlas showed some various routes to the ETO.

Dad marked one spot on his Atlas map of Great Britain and Ireland, his home base in Grafton Underwood. (I added the arrow and red outline). Station 106 at Grafton Underwood was the home of the 384th Bomb Group, from which my dad flew his missions in WWII.

To be continued…

…with Magdeburg and Belgard.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Home Bases

While trying to piece together my dad’s timeline during his WWII service, I decided to dig through his box of WWII letters and memorabilia again. I ran across this treasure, “World Atlas of Today – War Edition.” I know I have thumbed through it before, but I did not remember my dad’s annotations I found on its cover and within it.

The inside cover calls it “Hammond’s World Atlas” and it was copyrighted 1943 by C.S. Hammond & Co., New York. It was printed specifically for WWII and includes a description of this volume which starts with…

With the whole of the globe the scene of the greatest upheaval since the birth of man – Maps – clear and accurate maps are absolutely indispensable to enable one to grasp the vast scope of the present world shaking conflict, and to form an appreciation of the tremendous distances involved.

Remember, this was a time before jet airliners and cell phones. Travel to distant places took much longer and news from those faraway places took longer, too. But my dad went to those faraway places and in the pages of this volume of maps, he recorded his travels, and in doing so recorded his history.

Dad wrote his name and station on the cover, George E. Farrar, 328th Hd. Sq., Kingman, Ariz. I know he was stationed with the 328 Hd. Sq in May 1943, so that’s probably about the time he received this atlas.

Inside the atlas on a map of the United States, Dad circled his home bases while he served stateside and drew some lines that I’m working to decipher. The bases he circled were:

  • Kingman, Arizona
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Kearney, Nebraska
  • Grenier Army Air Base, New Hampshire (three miles south of Manchester, New Hampshire)

Other than Kingman, I know Dad was in Albuquerque sometime between October 12 and December 18, 1942 as those were the dates a movie crew was in Albuquerque filming the movie “Bombardier.” Dad was there as part of the 383rd Student Squadron at Kirtland Army Air Base. I know this only from his notes, as his separation documents don’t list Albuquerque as a place he was either a student or instructor.

As for Kearney and Grenier, he and the Buslee crew picked up their B-17 in Kearney and I believe Grenier Army Air Base was their final destination in the states on their way to ferry their B-17 across the Atlantic.

Surprisingly, he did not circle Ardmore, Oklahoma, where for six months he administered phase checks and organized students and instructors, and completed his combat crew training, but he does have it marked on the map. Other points around the country that he connected with red and black lines were:

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Sacramento, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Long Beach, California
  • Reno, Nevada
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Yuma, Arizona
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Mobile, Alabama
  • Montgomery, Alabama
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Thomasville, Georgia
  • Waycross, Georgia
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Fort Myers, Florida

I don’t know the significance of these cities other than his hometown was Atlanta, Georgia, and he attended AC Instructors School in Fort Myers, Florida for six weeks. I also don’t understand the significance of the red lines vs. the black lines. Perhaps the lines were routes he traveled, possibly red by train and black by plane. The lines emanating from Kingman and Albuquerque could have been training flight paths. As I discover more information, perhaps one day I will better understand Dad’s annotations on his maps.

To be continued…

…with a map showing his route to the ETO in more detail.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Ardmore Army Air Field

My dad’s (George Edwin “Ed” Farrar’s) WWII Separation Qualification record indicates that he was an Army Air Forces (AAF) Gunnery instructor for thirteen months. For seven months he was a flexible gunnery instructor in Kingman, Arizona, conducting and administering training classes and gunnery tests. For six months he administered phase checks, organized students and instructors for training in aerial gunnery at Ardmore OTU, Oklahoma.

George Edwin “Ed” Farrar pointing to Ardmore, Oklahoma on the map

He spent six weeks at an Aircraft Instructor’s School in Ft. Myers, Florida. The course included instruction and practical training in teaching methods and student psychology as well as fundamentals of advanced aerial gunnery. I’m not sure whether he attended the AC Instructor’s School before he was a flexible gunnery instructor in Kingman or if the Instructor’s School came later, before his stint as an instructor in Ardmore.

Ardmore Army Air Field opened in Ardmore, Oklahoma in 1942 as a glider training facility. By July 12, 1943, it became a Martin Marauder B-26 crew training base of the 394th Bombardment Group, but the 394th transferred out five weeks later on August 19, 1943.

On August 20, 1943, Ardmore Army Air Field passed from the Third Air Force to the Second Air Force and on September 16, the 46th Bombardment Operational Training Wing of the 20th Bomber Command moved to Ardmore. Soon after, the 395th Bombardment Group arrived with their B-17’s.

On November 24, 1943, the 395th Bombardment Group was transformed into the 395th Combat Crew Training School, which provided instructional personnel for the training of new combat crews for the B-17s. Perhaps it was at this time that my dad was assigned to Ardmore as an instructor.

George Edwin “Ed” Farrar in Ardmore, Oklahoma

According to their web site, during this time period in WWII, Ardmore Army Air Field was a receiving facility for new pilots, navigators, gunners, bombardiers, radio operators and flight engineers after they had completed their individual specialty training at other bases around the country.

While at Ardmore, the individuals were brought together for their final combat training to become B-17 combat crews ready to ship overseas and into the action. The training program included both classroom and flying instruction. As a combat crew in training, the men would be at the Ardmore base from three to five months before shipping overseas.

On March 25, 1944, the 395th Combat Crew Training School was changed to the 222nd Combat Crew Training School by Second Air Force General Order Number 35.

My dad transitioned from instructor at Ardmore to a gunner on one of the B-17 crews, where he completed his combat crew training as a flexible gunner (waist gunner) on the the John Oliver Buslee crew.

The Buslee Crew.  My dad is on the far right in the front row.

On June 8, 1944, he received his written orders “as a combat crew member requiring regular and frequent participation in aerial flights.” The order was issued by Major Milton S. Angier, Air Corps Commandant of the Combat Crew Detachment, 222nd Combat Crew Training School, AAF, Ardmore, Oklahoma.

My dad wrote his mother on June 22, 1944 on his way out of Ardmore and the beginning of his journey to Grafton Underwood with the Buslee crew. At the time, most of the B-17 crews traveled by train from the Ardmore base to Grand Island, Nebraska, where they were assigned the B-17’s that they flew to England, and I can only assume that Grand Island was his next destination.

He wrote, “We will be at the next place just long enough to get our plane. It should take from three to seven days.” He also said that he wanted his mother to know that “I haven’t waited this long to start asking God to help me.”

George Edwin “Ed” Farrar

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

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