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More About Buslee Ball Turret Gunner Erwin Foster

Erwin Vernon Foster

I previously wrote about Buslee crew ball turret gunner Erwin Vernon Foster in this article. However, after visiting the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, I found some additional information about him.

In his personnel file at the NPRC, I found several forms relating to Erwin’s service in the Air Force Reserves after WWII and his active duty in the Korean War. They are also a window into what Erwin did for a living, as he had to fill out employment information on several forms. For instance, Erwin noted he was in auto sales for three months, roofing and siding sales for a home improvement company for seven months, and in office equipment sales for Pitney-Bowes, particularly mailing machines, for one month.

As a reservist, Erwin filled out a form for a voluntary application for recall of USAFR Airmen to Active Duty on July 8, 1950, volunteering for a 12 month tour in the Korean War.  At the time he was living at 15 Park St. in Oswego, NY, was married and had a child.

On this form, he listed his education as:

  • High School:  Elmira Free Academy (graduated 1939)
  • College:  Simmons School of Embalming, 6 month course of Funeral Director, degree of Embalmers, Undertaker (1940)
  • Military:  Scott Field, IL, 4 1/2 months, radio course, no degree
  • Military:  Harlingen Gunnery School, 1 1/2 months, aerial gunner course (3 mos), degree aerial gunner

This form also noted:

  • Unit and Location:  unassigned (enlisted Elmira, NY)
  • Duty Assignment:  none
  • Military Occupational Specialty:
    • Primary:  611, April 1944 – October 1945
    • Additional:  612, July 1944 – May 1945
    • Additional:  847, June 1945 – October 1945
    • Additional:  Embalmer

He noted his WWII service as:

  • 8th AF, 384th BG, 544th BS, 4 July 1944 – 28 Feb 1945, 35 combat missions, aerial gunner, B-17
  • Active service from 4 Dec 1942 to 20 Oct, 1945 (2 Dec 1942 to 23 Oct 1945 on another form)
  • 10 months of overseas service (11 months on another form)

He noted his last 3 civilian occupations as:

  • March 1945 – Jan 1947, salesman, automobile, W.D. Schwenk Inc, Elmira, NY
  • Jan 1947 – June 1949, undertaker, embalmer, J.E. Baird Funeral Service, Wayland, NY
  • June 1949 – Present, undertaker, embalmer, Emens Funeral Home (self), Oswego, NY (uncertain of this name written in Erwin’s handwriting)

Forms that Erwin signed on December 4 and 5 of 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey – apparently as he was re-entering active duty – indicated quite a bit of personal information, too.

  • His home address was 452 W. Church St., Elmira, New York (his mother’s home).
  • He was born in Horseheads, New York.
  • He weighed 150 lbs and was 5’6” tall.
  • His wife, Virginia S. Foster, was 26 years old.
  • He had a three-year old daughter.
  • His mother, Mary C. Smith, was 56 years old.
  • Ruth Carpenter was an aunt living at 454 W. Church St., Elmira, New York (right next door).
  • His father was deceased, having died at 30 years old of meningitis.
  • In 1934 at age 14, Erwin had had an appendectomy in Elmira.
  • In 1944, while in England, Erwin had jaundice.

On other forms, Erwin provided this further information about himself:

  • His military address was 306th Bomb Group, 368th Bomb Squadron.
  • At Elmira High School, he played football.
  • He considered his main occupation to be Salesman, retail, selling postal machines (stamping). His employer was Pitney-Bowes, Inc of Stamford, CT. At the time he filled out the form, he had been doing this for 1 month.
  • He considered his second best occupation to be an embalmer for 8 years, working for himself. His last date of employment at this occupation was October 1950. In this job, he made arrangements for and conducted funerals. He attended such details as selection of coffin, site, flowers, adjusting of lights, transportation, etc. He did embalming work. He worked at this occupation from 1939 – 1942 and 1946 – 1950.
  • His listed an additional occupation or hobby as hunting.
  • The dates of his last civilian employment were July 1949 to October 1950 as a self-employed Funeral Director.
  • His original induction date into the military (in WWII) was November 28, 1942.
  • His date and place of entry into active service in the Korean War was December 1, 1950.

During the Korean War, Erwin’s most significant duty assignment was the 305th Air Refueling Squadron, 305th Bomb Wing (M), MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He was in Operations. On October 22, 1951, he was granted Top Secret Clearance (only a month before his release).

On November 29, 1951, Erwin Foster received an honorable discharge and was released from assignment with the 305th Air Refueling Squadron, 305th Bomb Wing (M), MacDill AFB, Florida.  At that time, he transferred back to the Air Force Reserves. On July 26, 1953, Erwin was discharged from the Air Force Reserves.

Some of the interesting things I deduce from this information and information from my previous post are:

  • Like Buslee crew top turret gunner, Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin must have washed out of radio school before going on to become an aerial gunner.
  • Erwin’s wife and child must have gone to live with his mother in Elmira, New York while he was on active duty in the Korean War.
  • Ruth Carpenter, who showed up living with Erwin and his mother along with her own son, in earlier census records was still living close to Erwin’s mother (right next door).  Ruth’s son, Raymond, was three years older than Erwin.
  • Erwin’s father died at 30 years old of meningitis. In WWI, he served on the USS Guantanamo from October 9, 1918 until the end of WWI on November 11, 1918.  Navy records show that he died on March 10, 1921.  It is unclear if he was still serving with the Navy at the time. Erwin was only one year old when his father died.
  • In 1944, while in England, Erwin had jaundice. This is one of the most interesting pieces of information for me in Erwin’s personnel file. I had been wondering why he missed so many missions with the Buslee crew in September of 1944. I believe this could be the reason. Fortunately for him, he was unable to fly on the September 28, 1944 mission to Magdeburg where the Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s flying fortress. As a result, Erwin was able to finish his thirty-five required missions to complete his tour and return home. Erwin Foster was one of only three of the original Buslee crew members to complete his missions without being killed, seriously wounded, or taken prisoner during WWII.
  • I don’t understand his mention of the 306th Bomb Group, 368th Bomb Squadron as his military address on one form although I supposed it could have been his designation during his Air Force Reserve duty.

Now I have some more Buslee crew NexGens to search for: Erwin Foster’s daughter, who would be in her early 70’s today, and descendants of his cousin Raymond Carpenter.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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WWII Timeline – Fall 1933

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1933 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1933

October 4, 1933

The Nazis enacted a law to prohibit Jews from being journalists and all newspapers were placed under Nazi control.

October 14, 1933

Following Japan’s lead on March 27, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations.

November 16, 1933

In a diplomatic agreement, Moscow agreed to not sponsor Communist propaganda in the United States.

November 24, 1933

The Nazis passed a Law against “Habitual and Dangerous Criminals”, which allowed beggars, the homeless, alcoholics, and the unemployed to be sent to concentration camps.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1933

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Special Orders Number 144

A continuation of my previous post, Special Orders Number 86.

The eleven Ardmore Army Air Field B-17 combat crews sent on their way to Grafton Underwood via Special Orders Number 86 were not all assigned to that air station at one time.

Special Orders Number 202 from HQ AAF Station 112, dated July 20, 1944, assigned seven crews (three of them from Ardmore and four others – see Note below) to the 384th Bomb Group effective July 21.

On Saturday, July 22, 1944, three of the eleven Ardmore crews, including my dad’s (George Edwin Farrar), were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group per Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) Special Orders Number 144. These three crews were headed by pilots:

Special Orders 144

The Proctor and Buslee crews were assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron and the Wood crew was assigned to the 545th.

On Monday, July 24, 1944, two of the eleven crews from Ardmore were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group. These two crews were headed by pilots:

The Bills crew was assigned to the 547th Bombardment Squadron and the Plowman crew was assigned to the 546th.

On Wednesday, July 26, 1944, the remaining six Ardmore crews were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group. These six crews were headed by pilots:

The Jung crew was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron. The Brodie and Kinnaird crews were assigned to the 545th. The Cline and Duesler crews were assigned to the 546th. And the Brown, Jr. crew was assigned to the 547th.

Of these eleven crews, only a little over half completed their tour with the 384th Bomb Group. Here’s how the statistics added up for these 110 men:

  • 62 (56%) completed their tour with the 384th
  • 1 (1%) was wounded, non-combat
  • 14 (13%) were killed in action
  • 3 (3%) were killed in a flying accident (non-combat)
  • 11 (10%) became POWs, taken prisoner by the Nazis
  • 3 (3%) were wounded in action
  • 16 (14%) were transferred

Note

In addition to the three Ardmore crews assigned to the 384th Bomb Group on July 22, 1944, four other crews were assigned to the 547th Bombardment Squadron on the same Special Orders Number 144. These four crews were headed by pilots:

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Summer 1933

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1933 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1933

July 1933

The Nazis enacted a law to allow forced sterilization of those found by a Hereditary Health Court to have genetic defects.

July 14, 1933

The Nazi Party was declared Germany’s only political party, which effectively outlawed all other political parties.

The Nazis enacted a law to strip Jewish immigrants from Poland of their German citizenship.

September 22, 1933

The Nazis established the government agency Reich Chamber of Culture as a professional organization of all German creative artists with the purpose to gain control over all cultural life in Germany, creating and promoting Aryan art consistent with Nazi ideals. All artists had to apply for membership on presentation of an Aryan certificate without which resulted in an occupational ban.

September 28, 1933

The Nazis enacted a law to prohibit all non-Aryans and their spouses from government employment.

 September 29, 1933

The Nazis enacted a law to ban Jews from all cultural and entertainment activities including literature, art, film and theater.

The Nazis prohibited Jews from owning land.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Wikipedia

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1933

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Special Orders Number 86

Dad (George Edwin Farrar) spent his last training days in the States in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He did his combat crew training at the 222nd Combat Crew Training School (H) at the Ardmore Army Air Field.

Dad received his Combat Orders on June 8, 1944, followed by Special Orders on June 23, releasing him from assignment and duty at Ardmore and transferring him to AAB, Kearney, Nebraska.

Special Orders #86, Buslee crew (* indicates married)

Special Orders Number 86 sent fifty-five ten-man B-17 crews from Ardmore Army Air Field on the first leg of their journey into combat. These five hundred fifty airmen traveled to Kearney not by air, but by rail, arriving on June 24, 1944.

In Kearney, Nebraska the crews were assigned brand new B-17’s to ferry to England. The crews all likely considered that shiny new B-17 “theirs” as I know my dad did, but that new ship would not follow them to their base. Once it arrived in England, it would be assigned to whichever bomb group needed a replacement aircraft.

Of those fifty-five crews transferred on Special Orders Number 86, eleven, including my dad’s, were eventually headed to Grafton Underwood and the 384th Bomb Group. These eleven crews were headed by pilots:

  • Edgar L. Bills
  • James J. Brodie
  • Bert O. Brown, Jr.
  • John O. Buslee
  • Walter W. Cline
  • Donald B. Duesler
  • Howard A. Jung
  • William R. Kinnaird
  • Noel E. Plowman
  • John R. Proctor
  • Rodney J. Wood

I have written previously about the information I have on Dad’s journey to the ETO from Kearney, Nebraska, which you can read here.

To be continued with more information about the next assignment to Grafton Underwood for these eleven crews…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Spring 1933

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1933 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1933

April 1, 1933

A week after Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany, he ordered a boycott of Jewish shops, banks, offices and department stores. It was mostly ignored and called off after three days, but it was followed by a series of laws which robbed Jews of many rights.

April 7, 1933

“The Law of the Restoration of the Civil Service” was introduced. ‘Aryanism’ was made a necessary requirement in order to hold a civil service position. All Jews holding such positions were dismissed or forced into retirement.

In Nazi doctrine, Aryan meant a non-Jewish Caucasian, especially of Nordic stock.

April 11, 1933

The Nazis specifically defined non-Aryans with an official decree as “anyone descended from non-Aryan, especially Jewish, parents or grandparents. One parent or grandparent classifies the descendant as non-Aryan…especially if one parent or grandparent was of the Jewish faith.”

April 22, 1933

The Nazis enacted a law in which Jews were prohibited from serving as patent lawyers and from serving as doctors in state-run insurance institutions.

April 25, 1933

The Nazis enacted a law against the overcrowding of German schools, which placed severe limits on the number of young Jews allowed to enroll in public schools.

April 26, 1933

Hermann Göring created the Gestapo, the secret state police, in the German state of Prussia. Göring was the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia, Plenipotentiary (a person having full power to take independent action on behalf of his government) for the Implementation of the Four Year (economic) Plan, and designated successor to Hitler.

The Gestapo would later be taken over by Heinrich Himmler and terrorize the continent of Europe.

May 6, 1933

The Civil Service law of April 7 was amended to close loopholes in order to keep out Jewish honorary university professors, lecturers and notaries.

May 10, 1933

German students from universities formerly regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin and other German cities to burn books with unGerman ideas. Books by Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jack London, H.G. Wells and many others went up in flames as students gave the Nazi salute.

At the Berlin book burning, which was accompanied by the singing of Nazi songs and anthems, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave a speech to the students, stating…

…The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. The breakthrough of the German revolution has again cleared the way on the German path…The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November (Democratic) Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise…

Included in the book burning were works by German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine. One-hundred ten years earlier in 1823 in his work, Almansor: A Tragedy, Heine had predicted,

Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.

June 2, 1933

The law of April 22 was amended to prohibit Jewish dentists and dental technicians from working with state-run insurance institutions.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1933

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Frigham Young

A few weeks ago, in an article about the B-17 Lead Banana, I published a poem about that Flying Fortress by Lawrence Vallo, radio operator of the Paul Norton crew of the 384th Bomb Group. Vallo was a Native American airman and you can read much more about him in that previous post. I immediately recognized the Vallo name when I read the poem and that got me to thinking about some Norton crew photos I had in my collection.

There is a connection between the Paul Norton crew and the John Buslee crew of which my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner. The Buslee crew arrived at their air base in Grafton Underwood, England about seven weeks after the Norton crew. They were both part of the 544th Bomb Squadron and therefore lived in the same area of the airbase.

Map of Grafton Underwood airbase

Note the circled 544th SQDN in the bottom right corner of the map of the Grafton Underwood airbase. I speculate that the enlisted men of the Buslee crew may have even shared living quarters with the enlisted men of the Norton crew. Among my dad’s photos from Grafton Underwood are several of the enlisted men of the Norton crew, which I share below with further descriptions. I believe all of these casual photos may have been taken in the same time period as this one of my dad and some of his Buslee enlisted crewmates.

Buslee crewmates left to right: George Edwin Farrar (waist gunner), Lenard Leroy Bryant (top turret gunner), Erwin V. Foster (ball turret gunner), and Sebastiano Joseph Peluso (radio operator). In the background (left) are tents, and (right) a latrine.

The Buslee crew’s first mission with the 384th Bomb Group was on August 4, 1944. It was a training mission for crew pilot John Buslee. With Buslee in the co-pilot seat and Arthur Shwery showing him the ropes, that didn’t leave a spot in the cockpit for Buslee’s co-pilot David Albrecht. So Albrecht got in some training himself flying as co-pilot with the Paul Norton crew.

 

L to R: (I believe) David Albrecht and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

I think the photo (above) is of the Buslee crew’s David Albrecht on the left and the Norton crew’s Carl Guinn on the right. Carl was the Norton crew’s engineer/top turret gunner and his position in the aircraft was directly behind the pilot’s compartment. The engineer interacted with and assisted the pilot and co-pilot and was in charge of interpreting the instrument readings during flight. A good engineer knew what the combination of instrument readings meant as far as condition of the engines, etc.

I believe the photo, and most of the others included here, were taken after the completion of the August 4, 1944 mission. The next photo will explain why.

Standing, L to R: (I believe) John Bregant, Carl Guinn, and Lester Noble
Kneeling with jacket: Clarence Bigley
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

Notice the flight jacket in the above photo. The man holding it was Norton crew waist gunner turned togglier Clarence Bigley. Bigley decorated the back of his jacket with the crew’s nickname Frigham Young and twenty bombs. I don’t believe it was coincidence that the August 4, 1944 mission was Bigley’s twentieth. As for the name Frigham Young, it was a play on words on the name of Mormon leader Brigham Young as the crew’s commander, pilot Paul Norton, was reportedly a Mormon.

Also appearing in the above photo are Norton crew tail gunner John Bregant, engineer/top turret gunner Carl Guinn, and ball turret gunner Lester Noble. In the crew photo of the entire Norton crew, I cannot identify Bregant. However, I have managed to find a few school yearbook photos of him, and his thick mass of hair gives him away. I am quite certain that it is Bregant in the above photo.

Paul E. Norton crew
Co-pilot Robert C. Barnes standing on left, Togglier Clarence Bigley kneeling 2nd from left, Engineer Carl Guinn kneeling 3rd from left, Ball turret gunner Lester Noble kneeling 2nd from right, Radio operator Lawrence Vallo kneeling far right
Photo courtesy of Tracie Guinn Coons, Carl Guinn’s daughter

The man standing on the right in the above flight jacket photo has Les painted on the front of his flight jacket. He must be Norton crew ball turret gunner Lester Noble.

It took me years to identify Carl Guinn in the photo, but with the help of his relatives on Facebook, we made a positive ID about a year ago. I could never make out the name on the front of his flight jacket, but Carl’s daughter Tracie was able to clear up that mystery. The name painted on the front of her dad’s flight jacket is Jelly. Carl was a southern boy, born in Mississippi and was living in Louisiana when he enlisted in June of 1942. At the Grafton Underwood enlisted mess breakfasts, the other men would tease Carl about his southern accent when he asked “would y’all pass the jelly.”

All four of these men of the Paul Norton crew were on the August 4, 1944 initiation flight of Buslee co-pilot David Albrecht aboard the B-17 Little Kenny. The poet of the crew, Lawrence Vallo, was aboard, too, and so was Thomas Everitt, the Norton crew’s waist gunner.

Thomas Everitt and Carl Guinn…

L to R: Thomas B. Everitt and Carl Guinn
From a lead crew photo courtesy of Mark Léautaud of The Netherlands

and Native American airman Lawrence Vallo…

Lawrence Jonathan Vallo

who later wrote a book, Tales of a Pueblo Boy, about his life growing up in an Indian Pueblo, which can still be found on used book sites and Amazon.com.

Remember the tents in the background of the photo of my dad and three of his crewmates at the beginning of this article? The tents in that photo look to be the same tents that Carl Guinn and John Bregant are standing in front of in this photo.

L to R: Carl Guinn and (I believe) John Bregant
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

Also, in both photos, Carl Guinn and Lenard Bryant are both wearing the same type of coveralls. Carl was the top turret gunner for the Norton crew, and after the Buslee crew’s top turret gunner, Clarence Seeley, was injured on the August 5, 1944 mission, Lenard, previously trained as a waist gunner, took over that position. I believe it was Carl who gave Lenard some pointers as to what tasks a B-17 engineer/top turret gunner performed.

Lenard attended radio school for a while during his training in the states, and was familiar with reading switches and settings, so probably was a quick study for the requirements of adapting to the position of engineer/top turret gunner for the Buslee crew. From his first mission on August 4 as a waist gunner, Lenard had only five days to figure out his new job as top turret gunner on the August 9 mission, not much time for any kind of formal training.

L to R: Lenard Bryant and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

All members of the Frigham Young crew, including pilot Paul Norton, navigator John Lezenby, and original bombardier Hugh Green completed their tours with the 384th Bomb Group with the exception of one. Co-pilot Robert C. Barnes was killed while flying with a different crew on November 16, 1944.

Paul Norton crew co-pilot Robert C. Barnes

I must conclude, considering that my dad had these photos of the enlisted men of the Norton crew in his collection, that though most men didn’t make a lot of friends outside of their own crew, the enlisted men of the Buslee crew and Norton crew must have been friends and may have even shared living quarters in the 544th Bomb Squadron enlisted housing.

I’d even like to go a bit further in thinking that my dad, from Georgia, and Lenard, from Texas, took a liking to Carl because he was a fellow Southerner. Living so far from their families in America, hearing “y’all” from a fellow airman in England probably helped them feel at home.

Wouldn’t our dads be amazed to know that their children had “met” through a Facebook group because of some long-forgotten photos saved from their time in WWII? Long after my dad, George Edwin Farrar, and Tracie and Debbie’s dad, Carl Guinn, served in that great war, we were able to find each other and make a new connection in the 384th Bomb Group NexGen family.

I have made many such connections over the years of researching my dad’s time in the war and I know I will make many more as my journey to learn more about the 384th Bomb Group and Grafton Underwood continues…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

The Cook Family Scrapbook Holds the Answers

The continuation and conclusion of the past two weeks’ posts about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field…

Part 1: A Hero’s Hero

Part 2: The Boy Who Took My Place in the Water

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII was Delia Cook McBride’s uncle. Delia never had the chance to meet her mother’s brother because he died in WWII. He was a family legend, only known to her through the memories of her family and the scrapbook her grandmother made with photos, newspaper articles, and letters. The scrapbook was the last connection Jack’s mother, Mary Ellen Cook, had to her son. Like so many others, Jack went off to war and never came back.

In my lengthy research of Jack Cook, I had two main questions surrounding his death. One, did Jack receive any awards recognizing his actions on February 3, 1945 when his shot-up B-17, the Challenger, was forced to ditch in the North Sea? Jack’s pesonnel record was burned in the big fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in 1973, leaving no record of any awards.

And, two, did Jack’s family know of his bravery and heroism on that day? Jack’s Individual Deceased Persons File (IDPF) was not stored at the NPRC at the time of the fire, although it is now. A letter from Brigadier General Ray L. Owens is included in that file. It is dated May 2, 1945 and notified Jack’s parents that:

The crew had to swim for life rafts, and three of the crewmen did not reach any of the rafts. These three crew members were the pilot, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Long, the radio operator, Sergeant Fred A. Maki and your son. The bodies of your son and the pilot were recovered.

Was this all that the Cook family knew about the ditching? They were led to believe that Jack died in the North Sea without ever reaching a life raft. Did Jack’s parents go through their entire lives without knowing of Jack’s heroism?

Finding Jack’s niece, Delia, and Mary Ellen Cook’s scrapbook led to the answers.

Many newspaper articles reside in the Cook family scrapbook, and though they are old and yellowed, play their part in keeping Jack’s memory alive. Most of them report the same story of the sad day when Jack lost his life in the North Sea, how Jack, fearing the life raft overcrowded with most of the crew would capsize, got into the North Sea and maneuvered it “acting as a human propeller” to come alongside the raft containing the unresponsive pilot.

Most of the newspaper stories were likely written from the Stars and Stripes account of the ditching of the Challenger on February 3, 1945. None of them mention specifically that Jack Coleman Cook gave his place in the life raft to Edward Field, but some do note that Jack rescued another member of the crew, likely a reference to Jack’s trading places in the water with Edward.

Navigator Edward Field, 384th Bomb Group
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

As for awards, the August 26, 1945 edition of the Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported the news of a ceremony presenting Jack’s medals to his family with this accompanying photo:

Prince and Mary Ellen Cook and their children Prince Jr and Princella receive Jack Cook’s medals from Col. John P. Wheeler
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Col. John P. Wheeler, commandant of the Army Redistribution Station, is presenting Princella Cook the Air Medal, awarded posthumously last week to her brother, Sgt. Jack Cook, U.S. Army Air Forces, as her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. Prince Cook, and brother, Prince Cook, Jr., look on. The latter is wearing the Bronze Star medal presented at the same ceremony as a posthumous award to Sergeant Cook.

The young airman, ball turret gunner on a B-17, died of exposure in the icy waters of the North Sea where his plane crashed February 3. He was cited for his courage and heroism in rescuing another member of the crew and in making himself a human propeller to keep rafts holding the remainder of the crew together until a rescue craft arrived. This action won him the Bronze Star award. The Air Medal was for meritorious action in raids over enemy territory from January 29, 1945 to February 3.

But it was the family of pilot Robert Long who likely were the Cook family’s original source of the news of Jack’s bravery on February 3, 1945.

The Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported (date unknown) in an article entitled Sgt. Jack Cook Died of Exposure in North Sea in Effort to Save Other Members of Fortress Crew, that Mr. and Mrs. Prince Cook, parents of Sgt. Cook, were sent a newspaper clipping about the ditching by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Long, parents of Lt. Robert Clay Long, 24, pilot of the Challenger, who lost his life at the same time as Sgt. Cook. It stated:

In their letter to Mr. and Mrs. Cook, the parents of Lt. Long said their son had sent them the address of every member of his crew.  They were not certain that Mr. and Mrs. Cook had learned details of their son’s death, so forwarded them the newspaper clipping. Until its receipt, Mr. and Mrs. Cook had not received any detailed information from the government.

Left to right: Lt. Robert C. Long (Pilot) and Sgt. Howard J. Oglesby (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner)
Photo courtesy of Jon Selle

Another important source of information for Jack’s parents was Jack’s crewmate, Howard J. Oglesby, who had survived the ditching. Howard, like Jack, was originally from Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of the newspaper stories told of letters Howard Oglesby wrote to Jack’s parents. One story shared an excerpt of a letter from Howard to the Cooks:

Your son died a hero’s death. He died in an effort to save the other crew members, and did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.

Another article notes that Howard also wrote in a letter to the Cooks:

No doubt by now you have received notice of your son’s death and of the brave way in which he died. I was with him when it happened and I saw him die. Mr. Cook, Jack was a fine boy and everyone thought well of him, and he thought there was no one like you.

I know it is very hard to take and you may think this is easy for me to say, but it isn’t, for I have experienced the same thing twice. We will have to look at everything for the best, though it is very hard to do.

Mr. Cook, if you only knew about Jack’s death as I do you wouldn’t feel near as bad. He died a hero’s death in a effort to save or trying to save other crew members. He did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.  That boy had great courage and plenty of it.  I will always admire him for his courage and bravery. He did things that no one thought was humanly possible.

Howard J. Oglesby and one of the letters he wrote to Jack Cook’s parents
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack’s mother’s scrapbook contains another letter Howard Oglesby wrote to Prince Cook in which he tells Jack’s father:

Mr. Cook it was rough Feb 3 and only men like Jack Cook can stand it.  Jack and I were big pals…I will never forget him.

Howard also wrote that he would like to pay Prince Cook a visit. Howard stated he had a lot to tell Mr. Cook that he couldn’t write. If Howard did pay Prince Cook a visit, I suppose he told Jack’s father all of the details of their time in the North Sea, the details a father would want to know about the day his son died.

Because of Jack Coleman Cook’s heroism and bravery in the February 3, 1945 ditching of the Challenger, the navigator he saved, Edward Field, has enjoyed a long, wonderful life and will turn ninety-four next month. Edward was able to pursue his dream and have a lifelong award-winning career as a poet.  Edward was recently inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. His Hall of Fame plaque honors the man who gave his life to save Edward, Jack Coleman Cook.

384th Bomb Group Navigator Edward Field was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in May 2018
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

Now I know. I know Jack was honored for his bravery and heroism in 1945 and in 2018. I know Jack’s parents learned of their adopted son’s heroic actions and the details of his death on February 3, 1945. But I also know how a family who claimed Jack Coleman Cook as their own for a mere dozen years suffered his loss for very much longer than the time he was part of their lives. Earlier this week on Memorial Day 2018, I remembered Jack Coleman Cook. Like Howard Oglesby and Edward Field, I will never forget him.

Jack’s niece Delia plans to have the contents of the family scrapbook scanned and when I receive the scanned images, I will upload them to the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery. In the future, be looking for the Jack Coleman Cook collection in the Robert Long crew album courtesy of Delia Cook McBride. Thank you so very much for sharing these family memories with us, Delia.

Links to previous posts and other info about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field

Thank you to 384th Bomb Group researcher and combat data specialist Keith Ellefson for contributing to this article.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

The boy who took my place in the water…

…who died instead of me

~Excerpt from World War II by Edward Field

The boy who took Edward Field’s place in the water and gave Edward his place in the life raft after the ditching of their B-17 The Challenger in the North Sea on February 3, 1945 was Jack Coleman Cook.

Jack Coleman Cook, year unknown
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack Coleman Cook, who had previously been a mystery to me, is now coming into focus. For a very long time I had only known some basic facts about Jack. For instance…

Jack’s WWII enlistment record told me:

  • His name was Jack C. Cook.
  • His Army Air Force serial number was 38601019, which matches the personnel record for the 384th Bomb Group’s Jack Cook.
  • He enlisted in WWII on December 10, 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • He was a resident of Garland County, Arkansas (Hot Springs).
  • He was born in Tennessee in 1925.
  • He had 1 year of high school.
  • His civilian occupation was “skilled mechanics and repairmen, motor vehicles,” which leads me to believe that before enlistment he worked for his father at Prince Cook Motors.
  • He was single when he enlisted.

Jack’s 384th Bomb Group personnel record and accompanying missing air crew report told me:

  • He was assigned to the Robert Clay Long crew of the 546th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) Special Orders #8 dated 9 January 1945.
  • He served with the 384th Bomb Group on three missions as a ball turret gunner.
  • He died on February 3, 1945 in the North Sea on his crew’s return from a mission to Berlin aboard the flying fortress, The Challenger.
  • He saved the life of Edward Field by giving Edward his place in the life raft on the mission to Berlin.
  • The crew’s pilot, Robert Clay Long, and radio operator, Frederick Arnold Maki, lost their lives the same day in the North Sea.

I learned more about Jack Cook through searches on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. The census and marriage records I found told me:

  • His parents were William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook.
  • William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle married on March 23, 1933 at the Union Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, when Jack was around seven years old.
  • In 1935, the Cook family lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • In 1940, the Cook family lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  • He had a younger brother and sister, William Prince, Jr. and Mary Princella.
  • On August 12, 1944, at 18 years old, he married Lucille Hutzell in Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas.
  • His birth month and day was October 18, but his birth year is in question.  It was either 1925 or 1926. The birth year on Jack’s marker in Hot Spring’s Greenwood Cemetery reads 1926, a date which I must assume was provided by his father. But the birth year on his enlistment and marriage records is 1925.
  • If 1925 is correct, Jack would have been 18 years old when he enlisted, but if 1926 is correct, he would have only been 17 at the time of enlistment and 18 at the time of his death.

Jack Coleman Cook’s marker, Greenwood Cemetery, Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas, Plot: Block C

Those are the only bits of information I knew about Jack Coleman Cook until just a few weeks ago.

Last week, I wrote of the recent discovery of some of Jack’s relatives. Jack’s niece, Delia McBride, and great-nephew, Jamie Melton, have given me a glimpse into Jack’s childhood.

William Prince Cook and Mary Ellen Cagle met on a blind date. Prince was a car salesman who was already in his late thirties and nine years older than Mary Ellen. He spent his spare time helping out at a church in Memphis. Through his work at the church, he met a young boy, an orphan. The orphan, Jack, would have been around six or seven years old at the time. After Prince and Mary Ellen married in 1933, they adopted Jack.

Even though Prince and Mary Ellen were not Jack’s birth parents, they became his loving mother and father and he their beloved son. In February 1945, Mary Ellen heard a knock at the door. Before she opened the door, she knew Jack was gone.

The news of Jack’s death confirmed her mother’s intuition and her deepest fear. Mary Ellen and Jack did not share a bloodline or DNA, but a mother’s love for her son transcends all things biological. Family is not made of flesh and bone, but of heart and soul. The Cooks were another family destroyed by a tragedy of war.

Three weeks after Jack’s death, Miss Agnes W. Grabau, Executive Secretary of the Memphis branch of the Church Mission of Help in Tennessee wrote a condolence letter to Prince Cook. The organization’s letterhead described them as performing “case work service to young people.” In the letter, dated February 26, 1945, Miss Grabau wrote, in part:

I was shocked and grieved to read in yesterday’s paper about Jack’s death in action.  As I saw the boy’s picture and read the article it brought back a flood of memories and I called Mr. Armstrong today to find out how to get in touch with you.

I know there is very little that anybody can say to you, but I want to tell you that I realize what a grand job you did with that boy and know that your sorrow must be tempered with pride that he came through in such a splendid way and was able to give this service to his country.  Mrs. Livaudais and I share with you in your sorrow and your pride and we want you to know that we are thinking of you and that it is a real inspiration to us to have known you and to have seen the splendid results of your affection for this boy and your fine sympathetic understanding of him.

The Cook family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1940, seven years after Prince and Mary Ellen adopted Jack. In 1940, they had three children, with the addition of son Prince, Jr. and daughter Princella. Prince Cook, Sr. opened his own Ford car dealership in Hot Springs.

Jack Coleman Cook with younger sister Princella and younger brother Prince, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

It is unclear if the Church Mission of Help was involved in Jack’s life before his adoption or as he grew up, but it is clear that the people of the Church Mission of Help fondly remembered Jack and Prince Cook for many years afterwards.

The Church Mission of Help’s website today (if this indeed is the same organization) defines them as “A counseling agency founded in 1922, CMH Counseling is a private, not-for-profit organization providing counseling services to individuals, couples and families.”

When the news media told America the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field, several old newspaper articles about Jack also surfaced.

KARK 4 News of Little Rock reported that a February 1945 newspaper article reporting Jack’s death stated:

Sergeant Cook was well known here. He came to Hot Springs from Memphis with his parents about five years ago. He attended Gulfport Military Academy and Subiaco Academy. He was a member of the First Baptist Church and his parents are leaders in civic and church work. He had been overseas since December.

The Sunday, May 27, 1945 Arkansas Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas reported:

The Air Medal and the Bronze Star Medal have been awarded posthumously to Sgt. Jack Cook, aged 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Prince W. Cook, according to information received by Senator J.W. Fulbright from Brig. Gen. Miles Reber, acting chief of the Legislative Liaison Division.

Sergeant Cook, ball turret gunner on a B-17, was shot down in action over Germany. When their Fortress crash-landed in the North Sea, one of the life rafts got away. Sergeant Cook “acted as a human propeller,” the citation said, and refused to get on the other rubber float, fearing it would sink. Later he died from exposure.

Fellow 384th Bomb Group researcher Keith Ellefson notes that Jack would have also been eligible and his name submitted for award of the Purple Heart at the time that the other recommendations were submitted, even though the article doesn’t mention that medal. Jack’s relatives, Delia and Jamie, confirm that Jack was awarded the Purple Heart. Delia was in possession of her Uncle Jack’s medals until they were stolen from her home in 1995.

KARK 4 also reported that a July 1948 Arkansas Democrat article was published when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial. It stated:

When war was declared, Cook, not yet 18, volunteered. He went overseas just before Christmas 1944, and was assigned to a flying fortress, The Challenger.

Since connecting with Jack Coleman Cook’s niece, Delia Cook McBride, Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman’s office is working to replace Jack’s medals and to add Jack’s name to the Veterans Memorial of Garland County in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Just days before Delia discovered that her Uncle Jack had been honored on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Westerman, Delia had visited the Veterans Memorial and thought she should add her Uncle Jack’s name. Now Delia will receive replacements for Jack’s stolen medals and will see him honored at the memorial in his home town of Hot Springs thanks to Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman.

Jack’s niece Delia shared several newspaper articles with me, but I ran out of time to include them in this post. Check back next week for more about Jack Coleman Cook…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

A Hero’s Hero

Jack Coleman Cook

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook

Watch Edward Field read his poem World War II on YouTube

Edward Field’s voice trembles and his eyes reflect a profound sadness when he reads these lines of his poem World War II…

That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me

Even though the events Edward describes in his poem happened seventy-three years ago, his memory of February 3, 1945 is as fresh as if it were yesterday.

Edward is not telling a story. He is conveying an experience. And watching him do so, I am there in the life raft feeling the chill and the terror of the cold North Sea creep into my bones. I can see the apprehension and disbelief on the faces of the crew. They should be back at their base in England reliving the mission over a drink with the group, not freezing in a raft bobbing alone in the sea. I realize I am holding my breath waiting for him to tell me everything turns out all right. But I already know. It does not turn out all right.

Of the crew of nine, three are lost. Edward is one of six survivors. The experience is not over when life moves on for these six. It remains deep in their souls and will be a part of them for the rest of their lives.

Edward Field is the last surviving member of the crew and at ninety-three years old, this hero of World War II wanted to honor his hero, the airman who saved his life in the North Sea in 1945, Jack Coleman Cook.

I met Edward Field in Washington, D.C. in April to do exactly that. We were there to see Jack Coleman Cook honored in the United States House of Representatives. During our stay we visited the Library of Congress where Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project interviewed Edward Field.

R to L: Owen Rogers and Edward Field
Photo courtesy of David Perrotta

Owen recorded a lengthy video of Edward, which includes the poem reading, on the afternoon of April 11 and graciously shared the recording with me. I plan to eventually share the entire recording on YouTube, but currently you can view Edward reading his poem World War II here. And if you wish to read it yourself, you can do so here.

At the time we were in Washington, we had been unable to locate any relatives of Jack Coleman Cook. The media coverage surrounding Congressman Bruce Westerman’s speech honoring Jack in the House of Representatives changed that. The first to come forward were descendants of Jack’s wife Lucille Hutzell and her second husband James Harmon.

Jimmy Harmon is Lucille and James’s son and their youngest child. Shelly Hefner McIntyre is Lucille and Jame’s granddaughter, daughter of their second daughter and middle child. They both knew of Lucille’s marriage to Jack Cook and that Jack and Lucille didn’t have any children together. Lucille talked quite often about Jack, but didn’t tell them many details of Jack’s and her life together.

Lucille talked of Jack getting in the water and pushing the raft and that he had died of hypothermia. She said that Jack’s parents, Prince and Mary Ellen Cook, were always very good to her, even offering the use of a car from Prince Cook’s car dealership so she could attend Jack’s funeral when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial in 1948. Remarried and with a child on the way, Lucille declined to attend Jack’s funeral.

Still a mystery to Lucille’s children and grandchildren, she told them that she and Jack had divorced. Lucille and Jack were married for less than four months when he was shipped overseas, and less than six months when he died. The family never found any divorce records or other proof, and Lucille never conveyed a reason for a divorce. Lucille died in 2011.

Jimmy and Shelly and Lucille and James’s other children and grandchildren knew that Jack died during the war. They knew that Jack died from exposure in the cold North Sea. But they did not know that Jack had a place in the life raft and gave it up to save the life of his fellow airman, Edward Field.

They did not know the extent of Jack’s sacrifice to save another. Of all the awards that could be bestowed upon Jack Coleman Cook, the most special is the gift of knowledge to those who consider Jack family, even though they are not directly related by blood or marriage, of Jack’s heroism and bravery and that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow man. 

Shortly after Jack’s wife’s relatives learned of Jack’s recent honors, Jamie Melton was searching for a photo of his grandfather Prince Cook’s car dealership on the internet when he ran across the media coverage and my blog coverage of the story of his great-uncle Jack Coleman Cook.

Prince Cook Motors of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Jack had a younger brother and sister. His brother, William Prince, Jr., known to the family as Bubba, would have been eleven years old when Jack died. His sister, Princella, would have been nine. Today, Jack has two nieces and a great-nephew he never had the opportunity to meet. Prince, Jr. married, but had no children. Princella also married and had two daughters. Prince, Jr. died in 1981 and Princella died in 1990.

Prince Cook, Jr (Bubba) and Princella Cook in high school yearbook photos
Children of William Prince Sr and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook

Princella’s daughter, Delia Ann Cook McBride, became the keeper of the family’s memories of Jack, a scrapbook of Jack’s pictures, letters, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia. Delia’s son, Jamie, led her to the recent honors for Jack which rekindled her memories of her grandparents’ stories of her Uncle Jack, her hero, when she was growing up.

Delia provided me with the portrait of Jack in uniform. As I compare Jack’s photo with the Robert Long crew photo, I still cannot place him in the group. It’s possible that when the photo was taken, Jack wasn’t yet a part of the crew.

Robert Long crew

My best guess at identifications, made with the help of Edward Field, Keith Ellefson, and some photos provided by Jon Selle, the grandson of Robert Long’s cousin, are:

  • Kneeling in the front row are the crew’s officers: left to right, Robert Long (Pilot), Ralph Vrana (Co-pilot), Edward Field (Navigator), unidentified crew’s Bombardier. At this point in the war, many of the bombardiers were replaced with an enlisted man serving as togglier who dropped the bombs with the lead crew’s bombardier.
  • Standing in the back row are the crew’s enlisted men: left to right, Thomas Arnold Davis (Tail Gunner), Frederick Arnold Maki (Radio Operator), Marvin Rudolph (Togglier), Howard Oblesby, nicknamed “Moose” (Top Turret Gunner/Engineer), Unidentified, Unidentified
  • Remaining Long crew members who served in the 384th Bomb Group are Jack Coleman Cook (Ball Turret Gunner) and Donald Duncan (Waist Gunner)

Delia and her son Jamie shared some information with me about Jack. Next week I plan to share with you what I learned. Until then, you can watch Delia’s television news interview viewings on KARK 4 and Fox 16.

Links

Continued next week with more information about Jack and the Cook family and hopefully a few more photos from Delia…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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