James Davis was not an original member of the John Oliver Buslee crew. However, his first mission as a bombardier was with the Buslee crew on the August 9, 1944 Mission 176 to the Erding Airdrome & Airfield at Erding, Germany.
What a first mission as a 384th bombardier this must have been for James. According to the sortie report notes from the 384th’s web site:
The 384th Bombardment Group (H) provided all three groups of the 41st “B” Combat Bombardment Wing – except for three aircraft from the 303rd BG, which formed the high element of the high group. Although the division abandoned operations at the Dutch Coast due to bad weather, the 41st “B” carried on until after they had passed Aachen, at which point the weather had become impenetrable. The wing leader ordered the wing to attack the briefed target of last resort, which the lead and high groups accomplished. However, the low group’s bombsight gyro “tumbled” just before bombs away, so they went on to bomb a target of opportunity (TOO).
The Buslee crew was part of the low group and their visual target of opportunity was a railroad and highway viaduct in Nohfelden/Hoppstädten, Germany. This must have been quite a harrowing mission for rookie bombardier, James Davis, but he went on to complete thirty-four missions before finishing his tour and returning to the states.
James was originally assigned to the Howard A. Jung crew of the 544th bomb group on July 26, 1944. On August 3, 1944, Jung, co-pilot James Allan Vranna, navigator Thomas C. Bates, engineer/top turret gunner Harold L. Perry, and radio operator William Isaac Sellers – who was not a regular member of the Jung crew – were assigned to slow-time a new engine. On their way back to the base in the darkness, the evening fog settled in.
The aircraft made several passes at the field with landing lights on at a very low altitude but could not see the ground. The aircraft could not be seen from the ground either, only the glow of his lights in the clouds. At 2330 hours, even though the crew was unable to locate the runway, Jung attempted to come in under the low ceiling, estimated at 300 feet. The aircraft struck the trees with a wing tip, tearing off several feet of the wing, crashed and exploded.
Jung, Bates, Perry, and Sellars were killed in the crash. Vranna, the sole survivor, was seriously wounded (see note below).
With the pilot dead and the co-pilot seriously wounded, the crew broke up. Ball turret gunner Harold J. Laursen became a member of the Richard H. Groff crew and completed thirty-three missions before finishing his tour and returning to the states. Radioman Herman J. Wolters flew three missions with the 384th before being transferred to the 36th bomb squad of the 801st bomb group. Flexible gunners Roland E. Creasy, William F. Peters, and James D. Walker, Jr.’s Army Air Forces careers are unknown. James B. Davis was the only other Jung crewmember to be reassigned to another 384th crew.
James Davis was born on October 5, 1921 in New Castle, Indiana to Charles R. and Bess Millican Davis. During his 384th career, he earned three bronze stars, an air medal with five oak leaf clusters, and a presidential citation. He died on December 20, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
According to his obituary on FindAGrave.com, James Allan Vranna “sustained multiple, devastating injuries which he bore with tremendous grace throughout his lifetime. He spent the next three years undergoing multiple surgical procedures and recovering from his injuries.” James Vranna died July 22, 2012 and is buried in the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetery in Mandan, Morton County, North Dakota.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014