The Arrowhead Club

Budd Peaslee – Part 7

Budd Peaslee – Part 6 was published November 29, 2017 here. (Scroll to the end of this post for links to the entire series).

In Heritage of Valor, Budd Peaslee describes air battles, including the brutal first Schweinfurt mission, from the Summer of 1943 into the Fall. He quotes statistics, including numbers of bombers lost and number of men lost. But the most memorable words of his book to me are not the statistics, but his understanding of the brutalities of war and his empathy for the men who served under him. He wrote:

The men who flew the missions were numb with fatigue and the mental strain of facing death in one form or another – from hundreds of thousands of shrapnel fragments, cannon projectiles, bursting bombs, bullets, fire, oxygen starvation, or a fall from five miles up to sudden and total destruction on the ground. This kind of war had no foxholes or dugouts, no hedgerows or earthworks, no place to hide, no place to run; it was a far different kind of conflict than man had before faced.

He continued with this excerpt that answers the endless “what was it like over there” question to a veteran who was there long ago…

In the absolute darkness of the blacked-out metal huts of the combat crews there was silence except for the regular heavy breathing of those who slept and the creaking of the restless bedsprings of those who couldn’t. Always, day and night, day after day and night after night, there was the distant rumble of engines, as much a part of the air as oxygen. The engines were never still, but had to be listened for with effort except when some crewman revved up a nearby bomber engine to test the replaced spark plugs or the power output of a new turbo-supercharger. In this lonely darkness a man was alone with himself and his thoughts, from which there was no escape. It was in this hour of truth that those with the keenest sensibilities suffered the most. To some the thought of what they and their comrades must face on the morrow took possession of their minds and with it came a vague sadness for those they had seen falter in the vast expanses of sky and then start the long fall toward oblivion.

He continued with the answer to another question – why didn’t our fathers talk about the war?

To some came the nameless dread of the future for themselves, and the restlessness of suspense while waiting for the inevitable. To others, the more sensitive, there was thought of the guilt they bore for their acts and contributions. They saw the masses of the innocent, the aged infirm and helpless, the young, the uncomprehending and the pitiful – all shocked and torn by the devastation of fire and blast that was of their making. These were the things that besieged the mind, that could not be changed or buried by conversation with a companion, or a new romance with a willing British maid, or the ordering of another drink from the club bartender. This was man living with himself in the darkness of his thoughts, but hoping for the blessed oblivion of sleep, dreading to hear the approaching footsteps of a runner summoning him to the duties of war.

Budd Peaslee was a commander to whom the airmen and ground crews of the 384th could relate. He left the 384th on September 8, 1943, but he would forever be THE commander of the 384th, “the Boss.”

Col. Budd J. Peaslee
Photo Courtesy of Marc Poole, 2014, via the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

To be continued…

Sources

“Heritage of Valor” by Budd J. Peaslee.

www.384thbombgroup.com

384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Budd Peaslee – Part 1 was published January 4, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 2 was published February 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 3 was published March 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 4 was published April 5, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 5 was published May 24, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 6 was published November 29, 2017 here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Excerpts from Heritage of Valor by Budd J. Peaslee, © Budd J. Peaslee, 1963

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Budd Peaslee – Part 6

One of the subjects I have neglected for the past six months is my series of posts on 384th Bomb Group Commander Budd Peaslee. I’d like to finish up the series before the end of the year, so the next several posts will be all about Budd Peaslee.

Budd Peaslee – Part 5 was published May 24, 2017 here. (Scroll to the end of this post for links to the entire series).

The 384th Bomb Group joined the Eighth Air Force flying missions over Europe in the first week of June 1943 with thirty-five combat crews. Replacement bombers and replacement crews would be added as original crews failed to return. In the first three months of operation, forty-two 384th Bomb Group bombers failed to return from missions over Europe, representing a 120% loss. At this time in the war, a flyer’s tour was defined as twenty-five missions.

In his book, Heritage of Valor, Budd Peaslee offers insights into WWII, and air war in general, that I have never seen from any other source. The following is a paragraph from Peaslee’s book.

Recorded history has little to say about great air battles or significant happenings of aerial combat. As an army or navy moves ponderously across the surface of the earth there is time to record the strategy of its generals or admirals. There is even time to speculate on their thoughts and motives, and to make analysis of their decisions. And there is time to record and reward great acts of heroism and courage, and to condemn and punish cowardice and error. But with an air force, although the drama and heroics are undeniably present, the occurrence is condensed in time and expanded in space to such an extent that the record of significant decision is lost forever to the world. That there are momentous occasions – as an air force moves from deep in the friendly zone, mounts into the firmament, crosses multiple sea and mountain barriers and national boundaries, to penetrate in a few hours to the very heartland of the enemy and there to strike a devastating blow – let no one doubt. That these deeds are lost to history and to the people is the unfortunate penalty of the era of speed that will become worse, never better.

As a heavy bomb group commander based in England, in the summer of 1943, Peaslee identified another enemy of the 8th Air Force, or at the very least an obstacle to a successful air war, poor weather conditions.

In these early months of day bombardment, success was dependent almost wholly on a favorable weather situation, not only over the bases where the bombers must rise and assemble into formation and to which they must return, but also along the routes and in the target area. In truth the weather had turned out to be the greatest enemy of the American scheme and until it was defeated, or at least neutralized to a great extent, the effectiveness of daylight operation with massive striking forces against precision targets was open to serious and skeptical scrutiny.

During that same summer, Peaslee recalls a particular mission in his book, Mission 9 on July 24, 1943.

24 July 1943, Heroya, Norway (Industry)
Back L-R: Lt. Brown (OBS/TG), SSgt. William O’Donnell (LWG), SSgt Fred Wagner (RO), Lt. Charles Bonnett (B), Lt. James Martin-Vegue (N), SSgt James Self (RWG), Lt. James Merritt (CP)
Front L-R: TSgt. George Ursta (BT), Lt. John DuBois (N), TSgt David Cochran (TT), Col. Budd Peaslee (P)
Aircraft: B-17F 544th BS 42-5883 SU*D No Name Jive/Weary Willie
Source: The Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery.

The bombing at Heroya has passed into history and is rarely recalled, except by those who made the trip and who still survive. To them it was the most successful and shrewedly planned and executed mission of the entire war.

384th Bomb Group veteran Burnia Martin flew that mission. I met Burnia at the 8th Air Force reunion in New Orleans this year, but wasn’t aware of his participation in that mission, and missed my opportunity to hear about it in person.

Burnia Martin then…

Burnia Martin
Photo courtesy of the Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Burnia Martin now…

Burnia Martin, September 2017

To be continued…

Sources

“Heritage of Valor” by Budd J. Peaslee.

www.384thbombgroup.com

384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Budd Peaslee – Part 1 was published January 4, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 2 was published February 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 3 was published March 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 4 was published April 5, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 5 was published May 24, 2017 here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Excerpts from Heritage of Valor by Budd J. Peaslee, © Budd J. Peaslee, 1963

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving! Today, I’ll take a brief look back at Thanksgiving at Grafton Underwood during WWII.

It seems that even with a war going on, the men of the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England followed the American tradition of a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

Grafton Underwood cooks carving turkey
Photo courtesy of Tony Plowright

I found this interesting photo in the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery this week.

S/Sgt. William D. Johnson leads an informal discussion on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1943, with school children at the Church of England School, Sudborough, Northamptonshire
Photo provided by both Robert Bletscher and Quentin Bland

William D. Johnson was a Quartermaster Supply Technician with the 6th Service Squadron. Johnson was twenty-eight years old at the time and was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent Thanksgiving 1943 at war and away from home and wanted to share the story of this American holiday with the English schoolchildren.

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Collings Foundation 2017 Tour Stop in Leesburg

The first weekend in November, the Collings Foundation brought their WWII aircraft to Leesburg, Florida. My 384th Bomb Group pilot friend, John DeFrancesco, and I drove down from Ocala on Saturday to see the planes, especially the B-17G.

The Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

It was a beautiful Florida Fall day to be at the Leesburg airport checking out the planes. The Collings Foundation’s B-17G was the same model my dad and John flew in WWII.

Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Nine-O-Nine and Consolidated B-24J Liberator Witchcraft were both open for walk-through tours and the North American TP-51C Mustang Toulouse Nuts was also on display. Rides were available, for a price, on all three. John and I first checked out the Nine-O-Nine, getting a good look at the Flying Fortress up close.

John DeFrancesco with the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

We went from the nose, to the ball turret…

Ball turret of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

…and from the ball turret to the tail.

John DeFrancesco, WWII B-17 pilot with the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Then I just had to have a look inside. I have probably walked through the Nine-O-Nine close to fifty times, but I never get tired of exploring this plane that was such an important part of my dad’s history. After entering through the nose hatch, I got a good look inside the nose with the Bombardier’s seat and bombsight and the Navigator’s desk.

Nose position of the navigator and bombardier of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Next, I crossed back past the nose hatch toward the cockpit…

Front hatch and route from the nose to the cockpit and back of the Fortress of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

…and took a look at the Pilot’s and Co-pilot’s seats and instruments. The Pilot, like John, would have been seated on the left with the Co-pilot on the right.

Cockpit of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Heading toward the back of the plane, I stopped to look up through the Engineer/Top Turret Gunner’s position…

Top turret view of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

…and then crossed the catwalk through the bomb bay.

Bomb Bay of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

On the other side of the bomb bay, I entered the radio room.

Entry of the radio room from the bomb bay catwalk of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Entering the room, the Radio Operator’s desk is on the left side of the plane, but the entire radio room is filled with his equipment.

Radio operator’s desk of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Continuing on toward the tail, the ball turret lies just past the radio room where the Ball Turret Gunner would have been squeezed inside for the entire mission except for taking off and landing…

Ball turret and waist area of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

…and just past the ball turret lies the waist area with waist windows and mounted machine guns on each side. I always picture my dad standing at his position as the Right Waist Gunner. Early in the war, a Left Waist Gunner would have stood at the left waist window, but later in the war, the Radio Operator manned the left waist gun. At the rear of the waist area is the tail gunner’s position.

Waist area of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Sitting across the tarmac was the B-24 Witchcraft. I have walked through Witchcraft many times, but this day I missed the walk-through tour.

The Collings Foundation’s B-24 Witchcraft In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

John and I checked out the P-51 Mustang, Toulouse Nuts, too.

John DeFrancesco with the Collings Foundation’s WWII Mustang Toulouse Nuts In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

After a couple of hours admiring the planes and talking to several other visitors to the Collings tour, it was time for the Nine-O-Nine’s last flight before leaving for the tour’s next stop. I was lucky enough to take a flight a couple of years ago, so this time I kept my feet on the ground and recorded videos. John, however, was getting a ride on the Nine-O-Nine and took to the skies with Leesburg’s last group of the day.

Standing in front of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G “Nine-O-Nine” before their flight are left to right: Bill Campbell, John DeFrancesco, Robert Arserio, Oscar I. “Chip” Chenoweth with grandson Levi Barnes, John Marteeny, and Sonny Rohm

William “Bill” Campbell wanted to fly the B-17 to honor a friend’s dad who was a gunner on a B-17 crew in WWII and to get a taste of what it was like to fly on one. But Bill had also wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang since the late 1950’s, when he attended air-sea rescue training with the West Virginia Air National Guard at Kanawha Airport (now Yeager Airport). There were P-51’s in the same squadron while he was there, but they were being phased out, and he never had the opportunity to take one up. So earlier this day, before Bill had his flight in the B-17, he was strapped into the Mustang for a half hour of flight training. Bill, an experienced pilot, had the time of his life performing loops, rolls, inverted flight, and other aerobatics in the WWII fighter plane. A P-51 and a B-17 flight the same day? I guess it just doesn’t get any better than that.

John DeFrancesco was a B-17 pilot in the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force and was stationed at Grafton Underwood, England during WWII. John finished his thirty-five required missions with a bail out over Germany on January 8, 1945. After his POW liberation and the end of WWII, John remained in the Air Force Active Reserves until the late 1960’s when he went into the Inactive Reserves. In 1984, John retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel. You can read more about John here.

Robert B. Arserio, a retired Air Force Captain, heard many stories of the WWII bombers when he was stationed with the US Air Force at RAF Upper Heyford in England in the mid-1970’s. His father served in the US Army in WWII and was in the first occupational forces in Japan stationed in Yokohama. Robert sees the Warbirds almost yearly on their Florida tour and first flew on the Nine-O-Nine with his son twenty years ago in Boca Raton.

Oscar I. “Chip” Chenoweth brought his grandson Levi Barnes out to see the Warbirds and take a ride on the B-17. Both of Chip’s parents were pilots. His father was a navy ace who flew in the Aleutians at the battle of Attu with the VC-21 and then transferred to the VF-17 (known as Blackburn’s Irregulars) in the south Pacific.  Chip’s mother was Miss Miami Aviation at the 1939 World’s Fair. Chip’s mother and father went out on their first date December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Levi took his first-ever flight in a Skylane 172 in October and eleven days later he took his second flight on the Nine-O-Nine with his great-grandfather’s squadron patch in his shirt pocket. I know his great-grandparents would have been proud.

John Marteeny wanted to take a ride on the Flying Fortress because his father, Donald Marteeny, was an Armorer in a B-17 bomb group, the 97th, in England, North Africa, and Italy from 1942 to 1944 during WWII.  The 97th Bomb Group flew the Eighth Air Force’s first heavy bomber mission from Grafton Underwood, England when they bombed a marshalling yard at Rouen on August 17, 1942. In September 1942, the 97th Bomb Group was reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force and left England for the Mediterranean theater, and later was assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy.

After the 97th Bomb Group moved out of Grafton Underwood, the 384th Bomb Group moved in. Grafton Underwood is the same base from which John DeFrancesco and my dad, George Edwin Farrar, flew their missions with the 384th. 

Sonny Rohm has loved the B-17 since he was twelve and at sixty-nine decided it was time to take a ride on one. He also wanted to pay tribute to the brave men who flew them into battle during WWII and to the WWII Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried new planes from factories to military bases, tested newly overhauled planes, and towed targets for gunnery practice (with live ammunition).

The Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

We would all like to thank you, Collings Foundation, for bringing your Warbirds to Central Florida. And we’d like to offer a special thanks for a truly memorable flight aboard the Nine-O-Nine to Tour Flight Coordinator Jamie Mitchell and Crew Chief André . We all had an exceptional day and we can’t wait till next year!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

An Italian-American Airman in WWII

384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco is a WWII rock star. He has been the subject of several magazine and newspaper articles and is now set to appear on Italian television. Both of John’s parents were from Italy. John’s father immigrated with his family when he was fourteen years old and served in the American Army in WWI, earning his American citizenship. John’s mother was also born in Italy and immigrated with her family when she was very young.

Italian Air Force veteran and journalist Vittorio Argento recently visited Florida to interview John about his role as an Italian-American B-17 pilot in WWII.

Vittorio currently works with the Department of Safety and Security for Italy’s national radio/television public broadcasting company, RAI. He is a veteran journalist who has worked in television and daily newspapers and was previously Deputy Managing Director for RAI Radio News. In 2016, Vittorio served as the Prix Italia’s (an international Italian television, radio-broadcasting and website award program) Secretary General.

Vittorio Argento looking at some of John DeFrancesco’s WWII documents

Vittorio has a personal interest in WWII history and has restored two WWII jeeps. You can read about Vittorio’s adventure to bring a 1943 Willys back to its Ohio factory from Italy here.

Vittorio Argento’s 1943 Willys Jeep

At John’s interview, Vittorio presented him with a beautiful plaque of the Italian Air Force. “Virtute Siderum Tenus” translates to “With Valor to the Stars”.

L to R: John DeFrancesco and Vittorio Argento

As a result of his interview, John will be the subject of two television programs in Italy and an article in the Italian Air Force magazine.

I enjoyed Vittorio’s visit with us and he has sparked an interest in my husband and me to visit Italy. My passport is ready, my phone is loaded with Google Translate for Italian, and, most importantly, I am shopping for travel shoes.

L to R: John DeFrancesco, Cindy Bryan, and Vittorio Argento sporting 384th Bomb Group caps

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

French Jubilee of Liberty Medal

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal

On June 6, 1994, the French government commemorated the 50th anniversary of D-Day (the invasion by the Allied forces of Normandy on June 6, 1944) by distributing the French Jubilee of Liberty medal to U.S. veterans who participated in the Normandy campaign. The medal was first awarded to American servicemen for their participation in the Battle of Normandy. They were minted at the request of the Regional Council of Normandy to be presented to the veterans attending the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing. Eligible veterans included those who served in the Normandy campaign from June 6 to August 31, 1944, and were part of the of land forces, off-shore personnel, or airmen flying overhead. The first medals awarded were those presented in the anniversary ceremony to the veterans attending.

The French government no longer awards the Jubilee of Liberty medal. However, they have granted the 8th Air Force Historical Society approval to mint and distribute the medal to eligible veterans or the families of eligible deceased veterans who qualify for the award. A certificate accompanies the medal.

My Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal and Certificate

The certificate reads:

Jubilee of Liberty Medal

The Jubilee of Liberty Medal is presented in grateful recognition of your contribution in the liberation of France. Your participation in the invasion of Normandy is a testament to your commitment to the freedom so many have fought and continue to fight for, every day. Your honorable service to the United States is commendable and will never be forgotten.

Thank you for all that you have done for France, the United States, and the world.

It is with great gratitude and extreme honor that I proudly present

the Jubilee of Liberty Medal to Normandy Veteran:

George E Farrar, 384th Bomb Group

The front of the medal is inscribed with “Overlord 6 Juin 1944” on the upper part of the medal, with the flags of the Allied nations and the names of the landing beaches completing the face of the medal.

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal, front

The reverse of the medal shows the Torch of Freedom surrounded by the device of William the Conqueror “Diex Aie” (“God is with us” in Norman French).

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal, back

Dad, George Edwin Farrar, participated in the Normandy campaign with the 384th Bomb Group in August 1944, which made him eligible for the award. I applied for the Jubilee of Liberty medal for him as soon as I found the application instructions in the September 2017 issue of the 8th Air Force News. As I hold this medal in my hand, it becomes more than metal and ribbon. It is a reminder for me of my dad’s service to our country and his fight for not only our freedom, but France’s and the free world.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Collecting Very Special Signatures

The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel with 147 Signatures

Calling all Veterans of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII!

If you are a WWII veteran of the 384th Bomb Group and you have not yet had the opportunity to sign the Group’s Commemorative Wing Panel, or if you know, or know of, a 384th Bomb Group Veteran who would be interested in signing, please e-mail:

B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com

The 384th Bomb Group was based in Grafton Underwood, England during WWII. One hundred forty-seven Veterans of the 384th have already signed and three more Veterans are scheduled to sign in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan in November.

A few weeks ago, Veterans, NexGens (Next Generation members), and friends of the 384th Bomb Group all came together in New Orleans for the annual 8th Air Force/384th Bomb Group Reunion. While the Group’s Veterans were the obvious stars of the show, “Wingy,” as our Commemorative Wing Panel is affectionately known, was a much sought-after celebrity for photo opportunities.

History of the 384th Bomb Group’s Signing Project

The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project arose from a chance observation in 2008. 384th BG NexGen member Christopher Wilkinson was visiting the EAA’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” and admired the large number of Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door. The significance of personally signing the bomber and the affection they had for the B-17s they flew and serviced was apparent. An idea began to form: might it be possible for the Veterans of the 384th BG to personally sign a B-17 part to honor their hard work? The dream began to take shape after discussions with fellow Group members, and so the search for a suitable B-17 part began.

In March 2010, after a long search, a genuine B-17G wing skin panel was generously donated to the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. by Carl Scholl, partner in the warbird restoration firm Aero Trader of Chino, California. The identity of the B-17G that the panel came from is unknown. All that is known, based on the original ID plate affixed to the back, is that it was built during WWII by Briggs Manufacturing Company and its function is a wing stress panel to enclose the fuel tank.

To ready the panel for its first signatures, warbird restorer and artist Cory O’Bryan of Ontario, CA donated his time and artistic skills hand-painting the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, 544th, 545th, 546th and 547th Bomb Squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and listed the Group’s support squadrons on the 3-foot by 8-foot long panel.

The wing panel was first presented to the Group at their reunion in Branson, Missouri on October 12, 2010, where the first 10 Veterans signed. Since then, it has been to every annual 384th reunion and has also been shipped to all corners of the country, and has visited 147 Veterans and their families.

The 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel is available for any 384th Bomb Group Veteran to sign who served in any capacity in the Group between January 1943 to February 1946. Families and friends of the Veterans are strongly encouraged to participate with the Veteran when they sign the wing panel.

The project is continuing as Veterans are located, and as arrangements can be made for them to sign, even if they are unable to travel to the reunions. As many of our Veterans are unable to travel, this has become very important to them. The project will continue for as long as 384th Veterans can be located.

At the completion of the Project, when all possible signatures have been gathered, the wing panel – formally known as The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel – will be placed on permanent display in a place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The project was conceived to be materially and logistically supported by the Group’s NexGen members, solely for the benefit of its Veterans and at no cost to them or their families. This has been an important goal for the project since its inception and has not wavered from this. The project’s success relies entirely on the skill, great dedication and good will of the Group’s NexGen members and friends, and the friendship and great Patriotism of its Veterans. Over two dozen individuals have contributed to the project materially or with their time, without which it could not happen.

History of the wing panel provided by 384thBombGroup.com.

For more information about the wing panel project and past signings, click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

2017 8th AF Reunion in New Orleans

On September 27, WWII veterans of the 8th Army Air Forces, family and friends gathered in New Orleans for the 2017 reunion of the 8th Air Force. It was a joyous occasion filled with the rekindling of old friendships and the making of new ones. Many of us met in person for the first time friends we had only known through the 384th’s Facebook group.

L to R: New friends Robin Long, John DeFrancesco, and Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

One of those I met for the first time was Kevin Flecknor of the UK. Kevin maintains the 384th’s memorial and grounds in Grafton Underwood. I had previously only known Kevin through the 384th’s Facebook group.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

It was also great to see old friends like Henry Sienkiewicz and Katie Cahill at the reunion
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Members of the 384th Volunteer team, left to right: Keith Ellefson, John Edwards, Marc Poole, and Fred Preller. We were all excited to meet Marc, the originator of 384thbombgroup.com, for the first time.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan.

The 384th Bomb Group turned out in full force at the reunion with the highest attendance of any individual group with fifty-nine total registrants. Eight of our 384th veterans were on hand. These eight represented all four bomb squadrons of the 384th and represented all three years the 384th called Grafton Underwood home during WWII, from the first crews to arrive in Grafton Underwood to the last to depart after the final mission, Number 316.

384th Bomb Group Veterans attending the 2017 8th AF Reunion.
Left to Right: Hank Sienkiewicz, Don Hilliard, John DeFrancesco, Burnia Martin, Len Estrin, Dave Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Peter Bielskis
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

The first of these veterans to arrive in Grafton Underwood was…

Burnia Martin, a tail gunner on the Johnny Butler crew representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Burnia flew fourteen missions, #1 through #24 from June 22, 1943 to September 16, 1943. On his fourteenth mission, Burnia’s B-17 was shot down by enemy aircraft. Burnia spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

Burnia Martin
Photo courtesy of the Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Two of these veterans arrived in 1944…

Henry Sienkiewicz, a bombardier representing the 545th Bomb Squadron. Hank flew thirty-five missions, #150 through #256 from July 4, 1944 to January 17, 1945. (No wartime photo available).

John DeFrancesco, a pilot representing the 544th Bomb Squadron. John flew thirty-five missions, #208 through #253 from October 9, 1944 to January 8, 1945. John’s B-17 developed mechanical problems on his thirty-fifth mission and the crew was forced to bail out. John spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

John DeFrancesco
Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco

Five of these veterans arrived at Grafton in early 1945…

Donald Hilliard, a radio operator representing the 545th Bomb Squadron. Don flew sixteen missions, #266 through #315 from February 14, 1945 to April 20, 1945.

Don Hilliard
Photo courtesy of Penny Probasco via Facebook

David Lustig, a radio operator representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Dave flew twenty-two missions, #268 through #316 from February 19, 1945 to April 25, 1945.

David Lustig
Photo courtesy of Carl Lustig via Facebook

William Wilkens, an engineer/top turret gunner representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Bill flew thirty missions, #273 through #316 from February 24, 1945 to April 25, 1945.

Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Peter Bielskis, a ball turret gunner representing the 546th Bomb Squadron. Peter flew twenty-seven missions, #274 through #315 from February 25, 1945 to April 20, 1945.

Peter Bielskis, 1944
Photo courtesy of Patricia Haidys-Bielskis via Facebook

Leonard Estrin, a ball turret gunner representing the 546th Bomb Squadron. Len flew seventeen missions, #279 through #314 from March 2, 1945 to April 19, 1945.

Len Estrin
Photo courtesy of Len Estrin via the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

With the addition of a co-pilot, navigator and waist gunner, we would have had a full crew!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

There were a few early arrivals in New Orleans, but today was a travel day for most of us. My husband, Bill, and I, and veteran John DeFrancesco drove in from central Florida today. The 384th’s webmaster, Fred Preller, his brother-in-law, Sal Scalia, and Christopher Wilkinson had the 384th’s hospitality suite nicely set up for us and stocked with provisions. Our hospitality suite was a little off the beaten path and hard to find for visitors, but with our large group in attendance, we needed this bigger space, the Ponchatrain Room.

Keith Ellefson escorted Wingy to the reunion in New Orleans. Fred Preller (on left) and Sal Scalia (on right) lend a hand moving Wingy from her chariot to her place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group’s hospitality suite.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

Everyone gathered in the Hilton’s ballroom at 6pm for the Welcome Reception. Afterwards, everyone dispersed into the individual hospitality suites to see who had arrived and who was still MIA.

L to R: Mark Meehl, Christopher Wilkinson, and Mariola Wilkinson
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The reunion got off to a great start with the first of a two-day tour of the National WWII Museum in downtown New Orleans. Our first day included a viewing of the incredible 4D film “Beyond All Boundaries” narrated by Tom Hanks. We toured as many of the museum’s exhibits as we could cover, but were glad we would have a second day to be able to see everything.

384th BG veteran John DeFrancesco in front of one of the museum’s exhibits, American Invasion of Italy.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

We spent a lot of time in the US Freedom Pavilion with the B-17E “My Gal Sal” and other WWII aircraft, and it would definitely require a second look on Friday. With several catwalks at different levels, we were able to have great views of the Flying Fortress from all angles. Touring the museum in the company of the men who flew those magnificent machines and fought in WWII made the experience even more special.

B-17 in the WWII Museum
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Aircraft suspended from the ceiling of the US Freedom Pavilion at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

On Thursday night, everyone gathered in the Hilton’s ballroom for a buffet dinner and program with two speakers from the National WWII Museum, President and CEO Stephen Watson, and Senior Director of Research and History Keith Huxen.

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs and 384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco gather for a photo at Thursday night’s dinner
Standing L to R: Laura Edge and Cindy Bryan
Seater L to R: Ellen Hartman, John DeFrancesco, and Candy Brown
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

Friday, September 29, 2017

On Friday we returned to the museum for the opportunity to see all the exhibits we missed the first day. After covering all of the museum’s presentations of WWII history, we were drawn again to the Freedom Pavilion and the B-17.

Whenever I see a B-17, I picture my dad manning his machine gun in the waist window, and today was no different. To think that he was part of the great air war over Europe is sometimes hard for me to grasp.

Waist gunner at the ready in his B-17
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

This man who taught me how to ride a bike and build a sand castle on the beach had to go to war when he was a young man. He had to risk his life and fight for what today I take for granted, my freedom. Visiting a museum dedicated to this war from long ago really makes me stop and think about the sacrifices my dad and the other veterans of this war and their families made for us. And it makes me wish my dad was still around to attend this reunion with me.

Dad (George Edwin Farrar) at Grafton Underwood, 1944
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

On Friday night, each bomb group gathered in their separate hospitality suites for the Rendezvous Dinner. Frank Alfter, the group’s very first NexGen member, emceed. Christopher Wilkinson and Fred Preller made presentations. And all of us enjoyed the dinner and camaraderie of the evening.

Frank Alfter
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson

L to R: Don and Donna Hilliard, and Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

L to R: Hedwig Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Dave Lustig
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Saturday, September 30, 2017

On Saturday, reunion attendees were given the option of taking a New Orleans City Tour or touring the Oak Alley Plantation. John, Bill, and I opted for a more casual day starting with breakfast at Café du Monde, New Orleans’ original French Market coffee stand since 1862. Black coffee with chicory washed down a plate of Beignets covered with a mountain of powdered sugar.

By the time we returned to the hotel, the 384th’s hospitality suite was in full swing. We joined in until lunchtime when John, Bill, John Edwards, and I took a break to check out the Kenner Seafood Market for some good local seafood. Back to the hospitality suite for the afternoon and then a break before the veterans’ group photos and dinner.

WWII 8th AF Veterans Group Photo
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion who were POWs during WWII
Photo courtesy of Michael Carr

The reunion’s gala dinner banquet was held at the National WWII Museum in the US Freedom Pavilion right underneath the B-17 suspended from the ceiling. What better venue for veterans of the 8th Air Force than dining under a WWII Flying Fortress! Over five hundred attended the banquet and we were entertained by the New Orleans singing group, the “Vintage Vocals.”

Gala Banquet at the WWII Museum
Photo courtesy of Bill Bryan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Most folks, including Bill, John, and I, headed home Sunday morning. I think whether driving or flying, all were thinking about the announcement of the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion plans for next year on their return trip home. It is scheduled for October 10 – 14, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. The National Museum of the USAF is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and will be one of the reunion’s star attractions, second only to the main attraction, the group’s WWII veterans. Hope to see you there!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017 (with the exception of the photos of others)

2017 8th Air Force Reunion Photos

As I still haven’t had enough time to sit at my desk and write about the 8th Air Force Reunion in New Orleans, today I’ll share a few photos. The story will just have to wait…

The 384th Bomb Group’s Hospitality Suite

The 384th Bomb Group’s hospitality suite
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

Keeping the Show on the Road for the 384th Bomb Group
L to R: Keith Ellefson (combat data specialist and researcher), John Edwards (group historian), Marc Poole (384th web site originator, researcher, and aviation artist), and Fred Preller (384th Bomb Group webmaster)
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

John DeFrancesco in his original A2 jacket.
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

Friends reunited, 8th Air Force Veteran and NexGens

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs with 384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco
Standing L to R: Laura Edge and Cindy Bryan
Seated L to R: Ellen Hartman, John DeFrancesco, and Candy Brown
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

The National WWII Museum

B-17 at the WWII Museum
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

B-17 in the WWII Museum
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

Gala Dinner and Program

WWII 8th AF Veterans Group Photo
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

 

Gala Banquet at the WWII Museum
Photo by Bill Bryan

Next week…

…the story and more photos!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

2017 8th Air Force Reunion – A Teaser

I had hoped to be able to tell you all about the 8th Air Force Reunion that I attended last week, but I have barely had time to unpack and rest up from my excellent adventure in New Orleans with veterans, family, and friends of the 384th Bomb Group and other groups of the 8th. It will just have to wait until next week! For now, I’ll just leave you with this teaser…

Over five hundred folks attended the reunion, including seventy-five WWII veterans and eight former POW’s, two of which represented the 384th Bomb Group.

Eight 384th Bomb Group Veterans attended the reunion…

384th Bomb Group Veterans attending the 2017 8th AF Reunion.
Left to Right: Hank Sienkiewicz, Don Hilliard, John DeFrancesco, Burnia Martin, Len Estrin, Dave Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Peter Bielskis

Seventy-five 8th AF Veterans attended (I don’t think they all made it into this photo)…

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion.

And eight of the veterans attending were former POWs including the 384th’s John DeFrancesco and Burnia Martin…

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion who were POWs during WWII (Burnia Martin sits third from left and John DeFrancesco sits fifth from left).

Check back next week for more details about the reunion.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

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