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Leonard Opie

Leonard Wood (previously reported as Wesley) Opie was a member of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII. He came from a farming family in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois.

Leonard’s father was Chester Arthur Opie (1893 – 1981) and his mother was Annie or Anna M. Opie (born 1898). Both Chester and Annie were born in Illinois. Annie’s parents were both born in Germany, and they immigrated to America before her birth. Chester’s father, Charles “Fremont” Opie, was born in Indiana, and his mother, Anna, was born in Illionis.

Leonard was born on September 14, 1921 in Peoria County, Illinois.

In 1930, the Opie family lived in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois.  Chester’s parents lived next to Chester, Annie, and their family, which consisted of son Leonard (eight years old at the time of the census) and daughter Miriam (five years old). Chester was a farm laborer.

In 1940, the family still lived in Trivoli. Chester, wife Annie, son Leonard (18), oldest daughter Miriam (15), youngest daughter Barbara Jean (9), and Chester’s mother Anna all lived together. Chester’s father had died in 1939. Chester was still farming, and Leonard, at eighteen years old, worked on the farm.  

On October 17, 1942, Leonard enlisted in the Army Air Forces. After training, he found himself designated as one of the two flexible (waist) gunners on the James Joseph Brodie crew. Leonard was assigned to the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26, 1944.

Once arriving at the 384th’s base in Grafton Underwood in England, Leonard discovered that missions were conducted with only one waist gunner on each crew. The other waist gunner of the Brodie crew was Harry Allen Liniger. On the crew’s first three missions together on August 7, 1944, Liniger was selected to be the the waist gunner on the crew. Leonard did not fly his first mission until August 11 and was finally able to fly with the Brodie crew while Liniger sat out. Leonard also flew the next two missions with the Brodie crew, leaving Liniger back at the base.

By the Brodie crew’s next mission, though, Liniger was back on the crew as waist gunner, leaving Leonard off the crew. Leonard only flew those three missions with the Brodie crew, the last one being on August 24, 1944. His record with the 384th ends there. He is not recorded as flying with another 384th crew. He may have been transferred to a ground crew with the 384th or he may have been transferred to another bomb group.

Leonard did return home after the end of the war, though. On May 13, 1946, he married Hattie Ellen T. Todd (1923 – 2010) in Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas. Twenty-eight years later, on May 20, 1974, he died in Longview (Gregg County), Texas.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

 

 

Wilfred Frank Miller

Wilfred Frank Miller was a member of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII.  His family was from Wisconsin.

Wilfred’s father, Fred Anton Miller, was born April 8, 1892 in Dorchester, Wisconsin. His mother, Mary Ludvina Sadkowski Miller, almost nine years younger than her husband, was born March 31, 1901 in Pueblo, Colorado.

Fred and Mary were married September 27 (or October 18 according to a second source), 1920 in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin. Their first son, Leo Anton Miller, came along on February 8, 1923. Second son, Wilfred Frank Miller, followed two years later on February 15, 1925 in Osman, Wisconsin. Osman is an unincorporated community in the town of Meeme, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.

In 1930, the family lived on a farm in Rhine, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, which was about fifteen miles away from Meeme. But by 1940, the family had moved back to the Osman community in Meeme, and were still farming. The boys were now seventeen and fifteen years old, and helped out on the family farm.

On April 6, 1943, their father Fred died of a heart attack. I don’t know if either of the boys had already begun their service in WWII by that time, but both boys did go to war. Older brother Leo was a Marine. A partial war record shows that he was in the service on June 30, 1944 and that he spent time at Camp Pendleton.

Younger brother Wilfred enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned to the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bombardment Group on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26, 1944, as part of the James Joseph Brodie Crew. Wilfred was the tail gunner for the crew. Brodie flew two missions – on August 4 and 5, 1944 – as co-pilot with two other crews in order to get some combat training before piloting his own ship with his crew. Wilfred Miller and the rest of the Brodie crew flew their first mission together on August 7. Wilfred completed nineteen missions.

On September 28, 1944, on Mission 201 (Wilfred’s nineteenth mission), moments after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany, the Brodie crew’s flying fortress, Lazy Daisy, collided with the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew’s fort, Lead Banana. Aboard Lazy Daisy, the navigator, George M. Hawkins, Jr., tail gunner, Wilfred Frank Miller, and flexible gunner, Harry A. Liniger were the only survivors. Hawkins wrote what he knew of the accident after he returned home from the war in 1945. His account, as follows, is included in MACR9366:

Following “Bombs away” at our target over Magdeburg, Germany, our B17-G and another ship in our formation collided. At the time of the accident our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.

At the time of the collision, the front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner, S/Sgt Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.

Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.

Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground. While floating downward, I saw one other chute below me.

I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.

The following evening I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.

To the best of my knowledge, All other five members of the crew were at their positions on the plane and failed to leave the ship. All were uninjured up till the time of the collision.

In the Casualty Questionnaire section of MACR9366, Hawkins adds that Miller, the tail gunner, rode the tail down some distance following an explosion which severed the tail from the ship. Miller later bailed out of the tail section.

Wilfred Miller became a prisoner of war at the Stalag Luft IV POW camp in Gross-Tychow Pomerania, Prussia. I have no specific record, but he must have also endured the eighty-six day Black March with the other prisoners of Stalag Luft IV. After liberation in 1945, Miller returned to the states, but I have no further record of his life.

In late 1944, according to the Next of Kin list for the Brodie crew, Wilfred’s mother Mary lived in Newton, Wisconsin, another unincorporated community in Manitowoc County. Perhaps she had moved off the family farm after her husband died and both boys had gone to war.

On September 30, 1950, Wilfred’s mother Mary re-married. She married Adolph Bauer in Osman, Wisconsin. After thirteen years together, Mary became a widow a second time on November 4, 1963 when Adolph died. Mary lived until the age of eighty-eight, dying January 25, 1990 in Manitowoc, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, just two months from her eighty-ninth birthday. She is buried in Saint Isidore Catholic Cemetery in Meeme.

Both of Mary’s sons died the next year. Younger brother Wilfred died June 29, 1991 in Cleveland, Wisconsin. He is also buried in the Saint Isidore Catholic Cemetery in Meeme. Older brother Leo died just a few months later on September 8, 1991 in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

Wilfred Frank Miller

Wilfred Frank Miller

If any descendants of the Miller family have any additional information about Wilfred Frank Miller they would be willing to share, please contact me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

 

Byron L. Atkins

Byron Laverne Atkins was a member of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII. Byron was one in a long line of Atkins’ from Union Township, Boone County, Indiana of which Lebanon is the county seat. Lebanon is located in central Indiana, about twenty-five miles northwest of Indianapolis.

Byron’s father, Verne Atkins, was born October 28, 1894 to Samuel Thomas (1863 – 1934) and Amy Golden (1868 – 1931) Atkins. When Verne was twenty-three years old, on May 2 or 10, 1918, he married Goldie Myrtle Jones. Goldie was barely sixteen years old. She was born April 8, 1902 in Virginia.

In 1920, Verne and Goldie lived in Union Township, Boone County, Indiana in the home of Verne’s parents, Samuel and Amy Atkins. Samuel was a grocer and Verne helped him run the family store. On October 9 of that year, Verne and Goldie’s first child, daughter Dorothy Evelyn was born. Four years later in 1924, their son Byron Laverne Atkins was born.

By 1930, Verne and Goldie had divorced. Goldie had left the family, leaving Verne to raise two young children alone, but with the help of his family. Byron, now age five, and his sister Dorothy lived with their grandparents, Samuel and Amy Atkins. According to the 1930 census, they were living at street number 123 (street name unknown). Byron and Dorothy’s father Verne was listed as living at street number 121. Verne’s brother William T. Atkins and his wife Blanche, their sons Samuel and Wendell, and their daughters Virginia and Marjorie were living at street number 120.

In 1940, at age fifteen, Byron was living with his aunt (Verne’s sister) and uncle, Orpha and Albert E. Delano, still in Union Township of Boone County, Indiana.  Orpha was a house cleaner and Albert was a farm laborer. Also listed as living nearby were Byron’s father Verne, and another aunt and uncle (Verne’s brother) William T. and Blanche, and their daughter Marjorie. Verne was now proprietor of the family grocery store and by the age of 45 had not remarried.

Byron’s sister Dorothy was now married and no longer living at home. She married Marion H. Swinford, who was a farm laborer like her Uncle Albert. By 1940, Dorothy and Marion lived in Clinton Township of Boone County, Indiana with their baby girl Phyllis Louise.

On June 17, 1943, Byron traveled to Indianapolis to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Byron was now eighteen or nineteen years old. At the time of his enlistment, he was single and worked as a sales clerk, likely in the family grocery store. Byron trained to fly B-17’s as a flexible gunner. He was assigned to Grafton Underwood, England with the 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #157 dated August 5, 1944, with the James Woodrow Chadwick crew.

By the time the ten-man Chadwick crew arrived at Grafton Underwood with two flexible gunners, they discovered that flight crews had been reduced to nine men with only one flexible gunner per crew. The Chadwick crew’s first mission was on August 14, 1944, but Byron Atkins did not fly with the Chadwick crew on that mission. The other flexible gunner, Louis Leonard Merfeld, manned the waist gun position with the crew.

Byron retrained as a ball turret gunner and didn’t fly his first mission until September 9, 1944 to a chemical plant in Ludwigshaven, Germany. Byron flew that mission and his next two missions on September 10 and 13 as the ball turret gunner for the Donald L. Hulcher crew.

On September 11, 1944, the Chadwick crew flew Mission #192B to an oil refinery in Merseberg, Germany. With the primary target obscured by poor weather conditions, the formation proceeded to a secondary target. Most of the formation, which included other bomb groups, broke off the attack, but the 384th continued on and dropped their bombs in the vicinity of the target, although results were poor.

Their group was attacked by an ME163 Komet rocket-powered aircraft, which made two passes at the formation. The Chadwick crew aboard White Angel received a direct flak burst in the bomb bay, releasing the bombs and catching on fire. They dove to 18,000 feet and leveled off, but were lost to sight. White Angel crashed near Halle, Germany, killing seven of the men on board, including flexible gunner Louis Leonard Merfeld. Only the navigator and tail gunner survived, becoming prisoners of war.

On September 11, the entire Chadwick crew, other than radio operator Lawrence V. Mulvey, and displaced flexible gunner Byron Atkins, was gone. Mulvey went on to complete his tour and return home. But unknown to Byron Atkins at this point, his days were numbered. He only had seventeen days and four missions left before his time was up, too.

On September 21, 1944, Byron flew as a togglier for the first time, with the James Joseph Brodie crew. A togglier was similar to, but not as fully trained as, a bombardier. A bombardier was an officer who went through extensive training in all technical aspects of determining the right moment to drop the bombs on their target. He sat in the nose of the aircraft and operated the bomb sight. He flew the aircraft during the bomb run, turning the controls back over to the pilot after bombs away.

Originally, each aircraft in a squadron formation had a bombardier in the nose of the plane, each determining the exact moment to drop his bombs. The 8th Air Force decided that instead, all planes in a squadron formation should drop their bombs simultaneously, which meant that only the bombardier in the lead plane needed to operate his bomb sight.

All of the other planes in the squadron needed only to release their bombs at the same time as the lead plane’s bombardier. This technique resulted in enlisted crew sitting in the bombardier’s position and tripping the bomb release switch at the appropriate time – when the bombardier in the lead plane dropped his bombs. On that September 21 mission, the planes successfully bombed the railroad marshalling yards at Mainz, Germany.

On his next misson on September 25, Byron returned to the Hulcher crew as a flexible gunner, the position for which he had originally trained. But three days later, on September 28, Byron was called to fly as togglier for the Brodie crew again. Original Brodie crew bombardier William D. Barnes, Jr. had recently left the crew for navigator training. Theodore Rothschild filled in for Barnes as a togglier on several missions, but on September 28, the job went to Byron Atkins.

On September 28, 1944, on Mission 201, moments after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany, the Brodie crew’s flying fortress, Lazy Daisy, collided with the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew’s fort, Lead Banana. It was Byron Atkins bad fortune to be sitting in the nose as togglier that day. Only three of the nine crew members aboard Lazy Daisy survived and Byron Atkins was not one of them.

Aboard Lazy Daisy, the navigator, George M. Hawkins, Jr., tail gunner, Wilfred F. Miller, and flexible gunner, Harry A. Liniger were the only survivors. Hawkins wrote what he knew of the accident after he returned home from the war in 1945. His account, as follows, is included in MACR9366:

Following “Bombs away” at our target over Magdeburg, Germany, our B17-G and another ship in our formation collided. At the time of the accident our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.

At the time of the collision, the front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner, S/Sgt Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.

Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.

Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground. While floating downward, I saw one other chute below me.

I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.

The following evening I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.

To the best of my knowledge, All other five members of the crew were at their positions on the plane and failed to leave the ship. All were uninjured up till the time of the collision.

In the Casualty Questionnaire section of MACR9366, Hawkins adds that Miller, the tail gunner, rode the tail down some distance following an explosion which severed the tail from the ship. Miller later bailed out of the tail section. Also, in the Casualty Questionnaire section, Wilfred Miller adds that he heard through Hawkins that the wing of the other plane knocked Atkins out the nose without his chute. On September 28, 1944, on only his sixth mission, and at twenty years old, Byron Atkins died serving his country.

Byron’s father, Verne Atkins died on August 24, 1945 in Lebanon, Boone County, Indiana, shortly before the first anniversary of his son’s death. Byron’s sister Dorothy lived to be eighty-four, dying in 2004, also in Lebanon, Indiana.

Byron is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Lebanon, Boone County, Indiana, Plot: 151-30.

If any family of Byron Laverne Atkins finds this post and can share any additional information or pictures of Byron, please contact me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

Robert Sumner Stearns

Robert Sumner (Bobby) Stearns was born August 25, 1923 to Carey Sumner Stearns (1894 – 1966) and Betty Hunt Stearns (1896 – 1970) of LaPine, Deschutes County, Oregon. Older brother James Gerry (Jim) had been born a year earlier, in 1922. The Stearns were a farming/ranching family.

Both of the Stearns’ sons served in WWII.  Jim first became a flight instructor and later trained to be a turret mechanic and gunner on a B-29.  Robert enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 19, 1942. He trained to become a bombardier and was assigned to the 544th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #113 dated June 15, 1944 as part of the Larkin C. Durdin crew.

Robert’s first mission as a bombardier was Mission #142 on June 21, 1944 to Berlin. By June 28, he had flown his last mission with the Durdin crew. After that, he served as bombardier on several different crews.  In a letter to the Stearns family in January 1945, Durdin explained the reason that their son was flying with other crews was that Durdin had started flying lead, but Bob had not been checked out as lead.

The Stearns’ local paper reported on August 26, 1944 that Robert had earned an air medal.

LaPine Aviator Wins Air Medal Over Europe

An Eighth AAF Bomber Station, England, Aug. 26 (Special)

Award of the air medal for “exceptionally meritorious achievement while participating in sustained bomber combat operations over enemy occupied continental Europe” to 2nd Lt. Robert S. Stearns, 20, Box 113, Lapine, was announced today.

Lt. Stearns, a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress, has taken part in more than 10 bombing attacks against targets in Germany and occupied countries. The son of Carey S. Stearns of the same address, he attended Oregon State college and worked as a ranch foreman…

On September 27, 1944 on Mission #200, Robert replaced James B. Davis as the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew’s bombardier.  Mission #200 was Robert’s sixteenth credited mission.

On his seventeenth credited mission on September 28, Mission #201, Robert replaced Davis on the Buslee crew as bombardier for the second time. After coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany, Lazy Daisy carrying the Brodie crew collided with Lead Banana carrying the Buslee crew. Of the Buslee crew, only waist gunner George Edwin Farrar survived.  Robert and the other members of the Buslee crew were killed in the mid-air collision.

The local paper announced that Robert was missing in action, article date unknown.

Lt. Robert Stearns is Missing, Parents Told

Lapine, (Special) – First Lieut. Robert Stearns has been missing in action over Germany since September 28, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns, Lapine, have been notified by the war department.

Lt. Stearns, a bombardier, was a graduate from the Lapine high school.

Classified as missing in action since the collision, the Stearns learned on December 23, 1944 that their son, Bobby, had been killed on the September 28 mission. The local newspaper ran an article regarding Robert’s death.

Lt. Robert S. Stearns is Killed in Action

Bend, Dec. 23 – Reported missing since September 28, in action over Germany, Lt. Robert S. Stearns, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns, Lapine, was killed in action, his parents were notified today by the war department.

Meager information received by relatives indicates that Lt. Stearns, a bombardier, was in a plane shot down only ten miles from Berlin. The young officer, a graduate from Lapine high school, went overseas last May.  He was attending Oregon State college when he entered the service.

Aside from his parents, Lt. Stearns is survived by one brother, Pvt. James Stearns, now at Fort Lewis. Marshall T. Hunt, Bend, is an uncle.

Lt. Robert Stearns was a grandson of Mrs. Frances E. Stearns, and a nephew of Harry and the Misses Lora and Nora Stearns, of Prineville.

Robert Sumner Stearns lost his life barely a month past his twenty-first birthday.  He was first buried in the cemetery at Ost Ingersleben, near the Lead Banana crash site. He was later buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland in Plot “L” Row 12, Grave 299.

After the end of the war, Robert’s body was returned to the states and he was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, San Mateo County, California, Section B, Site 302.

Stearns Grave CA

He also has a memorial marker in the Stearns family section at the Juniper Haven Cemetery, Prineville, Crook Co, Oregon.

Stearns marker

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

Clarence B. Seeley

Originally published April 1, 2015

Post Updated June 2, 2020

In the original text of this post, I incorrectly identified Clarence B. Seeley, engineer/top turret gunner of the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, as Clarence Benjamin Seeley, born on February 26, 1921 to Clarence A. and Marie A. Seeley, died August 17, 2007 in Portland, Clackamas County, Oregon.

Jess Seeley, the grandson of Buslee crew member Clarence Seeley, recently informed me that I had it wrong and his grandfather, Clarence Burdell Seeley, was the engineer/top turret gunner of the Buslee crew. I have rewritten my post here and will republish it on June 17, 2020 to correct my error.

I apologize to both Seeley families for the mis-identification and thank Jess Seeley for correcting me and providing me with biographical information on his grandfather, Burdell.

Clarence Burdell Seeley, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner of the John Oliver Buslee Crew
Photo courtesy of grandson Jess Seeley

Clarence Burdell Seeley was born in Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska on December 12, 1921, and grew up in Halsey, Thomas County, Nebraska. His parent were Ferris and Esther M. Rasmussen Seeley. Rather than Clarence, he preferred to go by his middle name, Burdell.

Burdell’s father, Ferris Seeley, was born in Nebraska in 1894. Ferris’s parents, John and Clara Seeley, were born in Iowa (John) and Illinois (Clara).

Burdell’s mother, Esther M. Rasmussen Seeley, was born in Christiansand, Norway in 1898. Her parents, George August and Gunnild Gurine Rasmussen, were both born in Norway. The Rasmussen’s immigrated to the United States in 1903 when Esther was five years old.

Ferris and Esther married on June 18, 1918 in Omaha, Nebraska shortly before Ferris enlisted for WWI service. He enlisted on July 25, 1918 and served in the Balloon Corps during the war. He was released from his military service on January 15, 1919.

I cannot locate a census record for Ferris and Esther Seeley for 1920, but their first son Donald Ferris Seeley was born that year in Omaha.

In 1930, according to the Federal census, the Seeley family lived at 2786 E. Street, Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska, where Ferris Seeley worked as a delivery man in the construction industry. Ferris and Esther had four children – ten year old son Donald Ferris, eight year old son Clarence Burdell, six year old son Harold Floyd, and two months shy of four year old daughter Margaret Gwendolyn. All of the Seeley children were born in Nebraska.

In 1940, according to the Federal census and family records, the Seeley family lived in the village of Halsey in the Natick Precinct of Thomas County, Nebraska. The census record reported that on April 1, 1935, the family still lived in Lincoln, so the move to Halsey occurred after that point. Ferris worked as a “Care of Stock Rancher” on a ranch. Donald was no longer listed as living at home, but Burdell, Harold, and Margaret Gwendolyn were still at home with their parents. Burdell also worked as a “Care of Stock Rancher.”

In 1942, at twenty years old, Burdell was living in San Diego, California and working for Consolidated Air Craft when he registered for the draft on February 15. He listed his mother, Mrs. Esther Seeley of Halsey, Nebraska as the “person who will always know your address.” He listed his height at 5 feet 11 1/2 inches, weight at 167 pounds, and with brown hair, brown eyes, and a ruddy complexion.

Although I cannot find an enlistment record for Burdell in the National Archives under the Serial Number recorded for him in his 384th Bomb Group website’s personnel record (39270874), according to his U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, he enlisted in the Army on December 22, 1942.

Of course, at the time, the Air Force was part of the Army, so he either signed up for the Army Air Forces or he was designated so because of his aviation employment at Consolidated Air Craft. [Even without finding an actual enlistment record, I believe the December 22 date to be accurate because Burdell’s Social Security Number as indicated on the BIRLS file matches the SSN for him in the Social Security Death Index (both records found on Ancestry.com).]

Burdell’s two brothers also served in WWII. Older brother Donald Ferris Seeley (1920 – 1974) served in the Navy aboard the ammunition ship USS Rainier, and younger brother Harold Floyd Seeley served in the Army in a clerical position.

Clarence B. Seeley, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Buslee Crew

At the completion of his military training in the states, Clarence Burdell Seeley became the Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew.  After final crew training in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Buslee crew was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #144 dated July 22, 1944. The crew flew heavy bomber missions in B-17s over Germany.  The ten-man crew included:

  • Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
  • Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
  • Navigator – Chester A. Rybarczyk
  • Bombardier – Marvin B. Fryden
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Clarence B. Seeley
  • Ball Turret Gunner – Erwin V. Foster
  • Tail Gunner – Eugene D. Lucynski
  • Waist Gunner/Flexible Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
  • Waist Gunner/Flexible Gunner – George Edwin Farrar

Once the Buslee crew of ten reached Grafton Underwood, flight crews had been reduced to only nine men per aircraft and included only one waist gunner rather than two. On the crew’s first mission on August 4, 1944 to Rocket R&D, Crossbow (V-Weapons), Peenemunde, Germany, Jay Buslee co-piloted alongside pilot Arthur Shwery, giving Buslee some combat training. This resulted in co-pilot David Franklin Albrecht flying with the Paul E. Norton crew, and George Edwin Farrar sitting out the mission as Lenard Leroy Bryant had been selected to fly as sole waist gunner on the Buslee crew’s first mission. Clarence Burdell Seeley completed his first mission as Engineer/Top Turret Gunner.

On the crew’s next mission, Shwery again provided combat training for Buslee, and Albrecht flew with the Norton crew. Farrar was rotated in as waist gunner and Bryant sat out this mission. This August 5 mission was to a military airfield in Langenhagen, Germany with the Buslee crew aboard aircraft 42-37982, The Tremblin’ Gremlin. At the beginning of the bomb run over the target, they were met with anti-aircraft fire. A shell exploded to the side of the Tremblin’ Gremlin’s nose and a shell fragment pierced the flying fortress and struck bombardier Marvin Fryden in the chest. Fryden managed to maintain his position and released Tremblin’ Gremlin’s bombs on the target before collapsing.

The engineer and top turret gunner, Clarence Burdell Seeley, sustained the second most serious injury. A piece of flak tore through the lower part of his right leg above the ankle. Also incurring minor injuries on the mission were navigator Chester A. Rybarczyk, pilot Arthur J. Shwery, co-pilot John Oliver Buslee, and waist gunner George E. Farrar.

The fort had sustained heavy battle damage. The right inboard engine was out. The radio compartment was riddled with flak holes and the radio equipment was destroyed. The trim tabs that control the plane’s balance were shredded. The hydraulic brake system was shot out. Part of the oxygen system was also out, causing the men up forward to use emergency supplies or tap other lines.

Only Fryden and Seeley needed immediate first aid treatment during the return trip. Navigator Chester Rybarczyk assisted Fryden, who remained conscious during the entire mission. Seeley attended to his own leg wound.

The left inboard engine went out as they reached the English coast and Buslee headed for the nearest airfield. Even with his brakes gone, Buslee managed to bring the plane in on the concrete landing strip and slide it off onto the grass to reduce the speed before finally coming to a halt.

Bombardier Marvin B. Fryden died later in an Army hospital with his friend Chester Rybarczyk at his side.

Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Clarence Burdell Seeley was seriously wounded and was taken to the 65th General Hospital for treatment. In the report written up regarding his qualification for the Purple Heart, the circumstances surrounding the receipt of wounds were reported as:

S/Sgt. Seeley was WIA by flak while serving as Top Turret Gunner on a B-17 aircraft on a bombardment mission over enemy occupied territory.

The report continued, describing that the wound consisted of:

Wound, penetrating, right, lower leg due to flak, 5 Aug., 1944. Hospitalized at 65th General Hospital, 35 days.

The 65th General Hospital during World War II was a reserve unit made up of staff from Duke University Medical Center of Durham, North Carolina, and was located in England on the grounds of Redgrave Park in Suffolk County. It was mainly Nissen Hut construction supplemented by ward tents. The hospital had 1456 beds and served from February 1944 to August 1945 as the major hospital center for the surrounding U.S. 8th Army Air Force.

Combat Data Specialist Keith Ellefson speculated that,

I suspect the 65th General Hospital was the general hospital closest to the field (Halesworth, Station 365) that they landed at upon return from the mission. Once he [Seeley] was ambulatory and it was determined that he would possibly recover well enough to go back on flight status, I imagine he would be returned to GU [the 384th’s base at Grafton Underwood] for convalescence and evaluation by the squadron flight surgeon.

Following his flak injury, Burdell Seeley was not able to fly again for almost two months.  As a result, he was grounded until October 1944.

With Seeley out as the Buslee crew’s engineer/top turret gunner, and the fact that flight crews had been reduced to only one waist gunner, Lenard Leroy Bryant was moved into the engineer/top turret gunner position on the crew. This left George Edwin Farrar as the sole waist gunner for the Buslee crew.

On September 28, just days before Seeley would return to flight duty, Lazy Daisy carrying the Brodie crew collided with 43-37822 carrying the Buslee crew after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany. Of the Buslee crew, only waist gunner George Edwin Farrar survived. The other eight members of the crew (see note below) were killed in the mid-air collision.

Burdell Seeley returned to flight duty for Mission 203 on October 2, 1944. He safely completed his tour with 34 missions, the last being Mission 285 on March 10, 1945, and was able to return home.

Clarence Burdell Seeley was released from military service on June 12, 1945. He and Patricia Louise Johnson of Merna, Nebraska were married that year.

Burdell returned to cattle ranching after the war and he and Patricia had two children. Burdell died on March 18, 1980 at 58 years old of a heart attack while working cattle in the corral with a neighbor. He is buried at the Kilfoil Cemetery in Merna, Custer County, Nebraska.

Note

On the September 28, 1944 mission the Buslee crew was made up of:

  • Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
  • Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
  • Navigator – William Alvin Henson II
  • Bombardier – Robert Sumner Stearns
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
  • Ball Turret Gunner – George Francis McMann, Jr.
  • Tail Gunner – Gerald Lee Andersen
  • Waist Gunner – George Edwin Farrar (my dad)

Sources

Press Release of the Buslee Crew’s August 5, 1944 Mission as reported in the Park Ridge, Illinois Advocate

65th General Hospital

Clarence Burdell Seeley and family memorial infomation on FindaGrave.com

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

Original post © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015