For quite some time I have played around with the idea of creating a tribute video to the 384th Bomb Group in WWII. The 384th’s photo gallery is overflowing with photos of the men who served with the group at Grafton Underwood from 1943 to 1945. All I needed was the right music to bring the photos to life. What with the complex copyright laws in the music field, I was perplexed as how to proceed, and put the project on hold.
A few months ago, a music CD arrived in my mail from fellow 384th Bomb Group Nex-Gen Todd Touton. Todd is the son of 384th pilot William Touton. The CD contained a dozen songs that Todd and his friend Evan Wallach, a bronze star Vietnam veteran, created. Evan wrote the lyrics and Todd put them to music and performed the songs.
One song in particular caught my attention – the one Todd dedicated to his father. “Damn Yankee” does not describe any particular mission. Todd and Evan chose the title “Damn Yankee” as it was the plane William Touton flew on his first mission as pilot of his own crew. Bill Touton began his 384th tour as co-pilot of the John Hunt crew, but November 29, 1944 found him in the pilot seat on a mission to Misburg, Germany to destroy an oil target.
For those not familiar with 384th Bomb Group aircraft history, there were several aircraft named Damn Yankee assigned to the group at different times.
The first was a B-17F with tail number 41-24557. 41-24557 had a relatively short life in the 384th – only thirteen missions before being shot down on December 1, 1943. Five of the crew were killed, four were taken POW, and the pilot, Bruce Sundlun (who would become Rhode Island’s 71st governor in 1991), was able to evade capture. For more information on Bruce Sundlun, click here.
Then there was B-17F tail number 42-29809, aka Queen Jeanie or Damn Yankee II. 42-29809 completed twenty-one missions with the 384th from September 26, 1943 to March 27, 1944. She was returned to the states in June of ’44.
And then finally, there was tail number 42-102518, the Damn Yankee that Bill Touton flew on his first mission as pilot. 42-102518 completed 135 combat missions with the 384th. She was a B-17G and her first mission was on April 20, 1944. She suffered damage on October 23 when she crashed after her landing gear collapsed upon returning from a training mission. There were no crew injuries. She was out for about three and a half weeks for repairs and then back on duty for almost two weeks before Bill Touton took the helm for his first flight in the pilot seat.
She continued to perform admirably through the end of the war and was then moved to Istres, France with the group to serve her last purpose, mapping duties. Sadly, after the war the last Damn Yankee was, like other B-17’s, destined for the scrap yard. Her last duty date was December 10, 1945. Like the song says, she was not much more than a metal tube, but she came alive with some oil and gas and lube. But that metal tube had one of the most important jobs of the war – to transport the young men of the 384th and their bombs through hostile skies into enemy territory and to bring them safely home, again and again. One hundred and thirty-five times.
As for the tribute video, it’s finished now and available on YouTube for viewing here.
I would like to thank the 384th Bomb Group site for permission to use photos from the photo gallery.
And I would especially like to thank Todd Touton and Evan Wallach for permission to use their song. “Damn Yankee” is a hauntingly beautiful song that evokes the emotions of a war where so many sons and husbands and fathers lost their lives in their fight for freedom.
Many were lost, but many survived to return home and get married and raise children. Bill Touton was one of the fortunate ones who completed his thirty-five missions and made it back. And like Bill’s son, Todd, those of us of the next generation that know of the sacrifice of the young men of WWII’s 384th Bomb Group firsthand want to share their stories with others. We do our best to honor them and it is our responsibility to remind future generations what their lives, and deaths, mean for all of us.
Some of the men of the 384th had only twenty years on this earth, others ninety, but they all leave their legacy – the ones that returned and the ones that didn’t. They embraced a responsibility to defend our country. They fought for our freedom and they won it. We will be forever grateful.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015