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The 1973 Fire

On July 12, 1973, shortly after midnight, a fire was reported at the military personnel records building of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in the Overland area of St. Louis, MO. Firefighters were on the scene in a little over four minutes after the first alarm. They were able to reach the fire on the sixth floor, but heat and smoke forced them out three hours later.

To combat the fire and contain the flames, the firefighters poured great quantities of water on the building and inside through broken windows. The fire, fueled by all those paper records, burned for twenty-two hours. It was two days before firefighters could re-enter the building. The fire department deemed the fire officially out on July 16, nearly four and a half days after it started. Investigators never officially determined the source of the fire due to the extensive damage.

The fire destroyed sixteen to eighteen million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). Records of Army personnel, of which WWII Army Air Forces were a part, discharged between November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960, suffered an eighty percent loss. There were no duplicate or microfilm copies, or even any indexes prior to the fire.

The National Archives immediately began a salvage operation to save as many records as possible. On July 23, Federal Property Management Regulations (FPRM) Bulletin B-39 halted Federal agencies from disposing of records that might be helpful in recreating the lost military service records. Those records have helped reconstruction efforts of basic service information. Also on July 23, the NPRC awarded a construction contract to salvage the remains from the sixth floor, and recovery efforts began. Approximately six and a half million burned and water damaged records were recovered due to this effort.

Just behind the fire damage was the water damage. Firefighters poured millions of gallons of water into the building fighting the fire. To stop sporadic flame-ups, they continued spraying water until late July. Broken water lines also flooded the building. The heaviest water damage was on the fifth floor, one floor below the destruction of the fire on the sixth. Once all the water was combined with the high temperatures and humidity of St. Louis in the summer, the next avenue of destruction was mold. Thymol was sprayed throughout the building to control a mold outbreak on all that highly susceptible paper.

The next challenge was how to dry all those millions of water-soaked records that remained. Records were shipped in plastic milk crates to several sites for drying on racks made from shelving. The McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, and those were utilized in addition to a NASA facility in Ohio.

During the reconstruction effort, the NPRC established a “B” (Burned) Registry file to index the six and a half million recovered records and set up a separate temperature controlled area for them. In April 1974, the NPRC established the “R” (Reconstructed) Registry file to further assist the reconstruction efforts. Reconstructed files were then stored in another new area separate from the Burned Registry files.

In the months following the fire, the NPRC established a new branch to deal with damaged records issues. The new branch’s central mission was to reconstruct records for those requesting service information. Records were reconstructed from documents and alternate sources outside of the NPRC as well as the center’s organizational files. Alternate sources included Veterans Administration (VA) claims files, individual state records, Multiple Name Pay Vouchers (MPV) from the Adjutant General’s Office, Selective Service System (SSS) registration records, pay records from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), as well as medical records from military hospitals, entrance and separation x-rays and organizational records.

Source of information:  http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/fire-1973.html

To be continued:  how to request records and my personal experience locating my dad’s service records with the NPRC.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

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Aunt Janet

Janet Farrar Boyt

Janet Farrar Boyt

Carroll and Raleigh May Farrar had nine children spanning over twenty-seven years. Their second child was daughter Janet Mae. Janet was born December 1, 1912, about two and a half years after older sister Nell Geraldine (Gerry) in 1910. Janet grew up to be a headstrong child, earning the nickname “Major” from her father. When she was particularly difficult, he referred to her as the “Major General.”

Amid all the chaos as the household grew – Janet was followed by Carroll Jr in 1916, Dorothy (Dot) in 1919, George (Ed) in 1921, Robert (Bob) in 1925, and Martha in 1927 – Gerry chose to move in with Raleigh May’s sister Ennis and her husband Claude Reeves. Ennis and Claude had children of their own and Gerry became very close to their daughter, Louise. Gerry considered Louise another sister.

Janet was the first of the children living at the Farrar home to earn her driver’s license and took on the task of driving Carroll Jr and Dot around Atlanta in the late 1920’s.

In December 1936, at twenty-four years old, Janet married Atlantan Bob Hunt. According to her youngest sister, Beverly, Janet and Bob lived just around the corner from the Farrar family’s home at 79 East Lake Terrace in the Kirkwood section of Atlanta.

Janet Farrar with first husband Bob Hunt

Janet Farrar with first husband Bob Hunt

Janet was also known as a great shot who could pick off a lizard in the back yard. Her abilities with a gun may have lead to her employment in early March 1943 with the Georgia division of Bell Aircraft in Marietta, Georgia. She was hired as their very first policewoman and began her career at the B-2 information booth.

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On June 10, 1943, she completed the Bell Aircraft Training Course in Plant Protection.

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By January 10, 1944, she completed the Bell Aircraft Training Course in Police Manual Training.

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On March 13, 1944, Janet received a letter of appreciation for her year of service with perfect attendance with the Guard Force at the Bell Aircraft plant.

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During WWII, Janet became enamored with Johnnie Smith Boyt, a fellow employee at Bell Aircraft in Marietta. Johnnie was five years older than Janet and was a widower. His first wife, Louvinda, had died in 1941, leaving Johnnie to raise their five-year-old son, Donald, alone. Janet divorced Bob Hunt and she and Johnnie Boyt married on August 11, 1945. By the time Janet and Johnnie married, Donald was nine. Janet raised Donald as her own, never having any of her own children.

Left to right: Bob Farrar in his WWII Navy uniform, Janet and Johnnie Boyt

Left to right: Bob Farrar in his WWII Navy uniform, Janet and Johnnie Boyt

And a late- or post-WWII era photo:

Left to right: Johnnie Boyt, Dot Farrar Cobb, Millie Dustin Farrar (Carroll Jr's wife), and Janet Farrar Boyt at Atlanta's MacArthur Cocktail Room at Peachtree and Ellis

Left to right: Johnnie Boyt, Dot Farrar Cobb, Millie Dustin Farrar (Carroll Jr’s wife), and Janet Farrar Boyt at Atlanta’s MacArthur Cocktail Room at Peachtree and Ellis

Although none of these documents explain exactly what Janet’s job with the Guard Force of the Bell Aircraft Corporation actually entailed, the Certificate of Meritorious Conduct she was awarded on August 31, 1945 sheds a little more light on the subject. Her job was with the Auxiliary Military Police of the Army Air Forces of the United States at the Marietta Aircraft Assembly Plant in Marietta, Georgia. She worked as part of the auxiliary military police from March 21, 1943 to August 21, 1945 during WWII. Janet apparently left her job ten days after her marriage to Johnnie. So, in addition to the three Farrar boys – Carroll Jr, Ed, and Bob – one of the Farrar girls was also involved in the war effort.

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My cousin Nola, my Aunt Gerry’s daughter, has a distinct memory of both Donald and Janet. Nola remembers that “Donald was such a nice boy. He pulled me out of the water once when he saw cotton-mouths (snakes) swimming with me. Aunt Janet shot them with her shot gun. She was a real dead-eye.”

Janet and Johnnie spent most of their married life in Yatesville, Georgia. Johnnie died on December 8, 1966 at the age of 59. Janet continued to live in Yatesville and never remarried. She died August 20, 1990. Both Janet and Johnnie are buried at New Hope Cemetery in Yatesville, Georgia.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

The White Cliffs of Dover

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I have never seen the White Cliffs of Dover, but my dad, George Edwin Farrar, saw them fifteen times. They were the landmark he and his crew mates would look for as their B-17 crossed the English channel back to the base at Grafton Underwood in England from their WWII bombing missions. It meant that they had survived another one with the 384th Bomb Group and were safe once again. As he told me about it when I was a child, I could see that the beauty was not all in the vision of it, but in the deep emotion of it as well.

The White Cliffs of Dover stand 300 feet high and stretch for almost ten miles along the English coastline at the Strait of Dover, facing France and the rest of continental Europe at the narrowest part of the English Channel. They are composed mainly of soft white chalk with streaks of black flint.

Interestingly, there are secret tunnels behind the face of Dover’s cliffs that served as Winston Churchill’s military headquarters during WWII. They were originally carved by prisoners held in the Dover Castle during the Napoleonic Wars and later enlarged.

The White Cliffs of Dover are a sentimental symbol of England, which was put into words as song lyrics to the WWII-era song “The White Cliffs of Dover.” It was composed by Walter Kent and Nat Burton in 1941, and recorded by Vera Lynn in 1942. It was written about a year after British and German aircraft had been fighting over the cliffs of Dover in the Battle of Britain, and before America had joined in the war. The lyrics look forward to a time when the war would end and peace would return.

While bluebirds, as we in America know them, don’t inhabit England, the bluebirds may have been another bird with a blue sheen. Swallows and house martins migrate to and from the continent in spring and fall, crossing the English Channel over the white cliffs. Many spend the summer in the vicinity of Dover. Traditionally, swallows and martins are believed to bring good fortune.

For a nice video with photos of the cliffs accompanied by the song, visit YouTube.

 

“The White Cliffs of Dover” song lyrics

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away I still can hear them say
Thumb’s up
For when the dawn comes up
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free
The shepherd will tend his sheep.
The valley will bloom again.
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

George Edwin Farrar and the Buslee crew’s last view of the White Cliffs of Dover from a B-17 was on September 27, 1944 – the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th mission. The next day, September 28, they did not return.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Delbert Storm Finds His Group

Oh, the power of the Internet. And the power of Facebook. A 384th Bomb Group veteran named Delbert Storm wanted to find other surviving veterans of the group. His daughter posted this picture of him on Facebook.

Delbert Storm original request

He asked for shares and he got them. Last Fall, the picture found its way to the 384th Bomb Group’s Facebook page – many, many times. The picture is still being shared on Facebook, and still being shared with the Group’s Facebook page. (You can all stop now – he found us).

Staff Sergeant Delbert Storm was a ball turret gunner with the 384th’s 547th Bomb Squadron. He was assigned with the Edward A. Sienkiewicz crew on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #146 on July 24, 1944, just two days after my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was assigned to the group with the John Oliver Buslee crew. I doubt they ever crossed paths as the Buslee crew was assigned to the 544th Bomb Squadron.

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The Sienkiewicz crew and the Buslee crew also flew the same first mission – August 4, 1944. Delbert survived four-plus months of one of the most dangerous places to be in a B-17 – the ball turret, which hung from the belly of the plane. He completed his thirty-fifth mission on December 11, 1944 and earned his ticket home. Despite flying his first thirty-four missions as a ball turret gunner with the Sienkiewicz crew, Delbert flew his thirty-fifth as a flexible gunner with the Merton D. Klatt crew. Edward Sienkiewicz had completed his tour on December 9, leaving Delbert to complete his last mission with a different crew.

Delbert Storm was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group with the following crew:

  • 2nd Lt Edward A. Sienkiewicz, Pilot
  • 2nd Lt Edwin B. Frederick, Co-pilot
  • 2nd Lt William A. Stockman, Navigator
  • 2nd Lt Anthony John Zanin, Bombardier
  • S/Sgt Hollis S. Crowell, Radio Operator
  • S/Sgt John S. Ballenger, Engineer
  • S/Sgt Delbert Storm, Ball Turret Gunner
  • Sgt. August F. Wilson, Tail Gunner
  • Sgt. Garnet E. Foster, Flexible Gunner
  • Pvt. Alvin W. Orth, Flexible Gunner

A common occurrence in the 384th, at times the Sienkiewicz crew needed replacement personnel. As a result, Delbert Storm served on at least one mission with 31 different crew mates:

Rank Name Position Missions Flown
Together
2Lt Baker, John R CP 1
S/S-T/S Ballenger, John S TT 37
S-S/S Clairday, Willard Lee TG 1
S/S-T/S Crowell, Hollis H R 36
Cpl-S/S Davidson, Charles Wayne WG-TOG 1
S-S/S Dippold, Robert J TG 1
Cpl-T/S Dufur, William S R 2
S Dunn, Lawrence W FG 13
S-S/S Foster, Garnet E WG 38
2Lt Frederick, Edwin B CP 37
2Lt Gronemeyer, Lyle J N 6
S-S/S Grubbs, Wilmer H TG 8
Cpl-S/S Harper, Jack R WG 1
Cpl-S/S Jones, Lilburn H TG 1
Cpl-S/S King, Carleon W TG 1
2Lt Klatt, Merton D P 1
S-S/S Kugler, James H WG-TT 3
S-S/S McCullough, Robert E TG 2
S-S/S Menchaca, Jose R WG-TG 1
Pvt-S/S Orth, Alvin W WG 36
S-S/S Patrizio, Angelo A WG 1
Cpl-T/S Pattison, Carroll E R 1
Cpl-T/S Potts, Raymond L R 1
2Lt Sienkiewicz, Edward A P 37
2Lt Stockman, William A N 31
F/O-2Lt Titus, William L N 1
Cpl-S/S Warner, Homer J BT 1
Cpl-T/S Wetherbee, Owen L TT 1
S-S/S Wilson, August F TG 8
2Lt Zanin, Anthony John B 7

While Delbert Storm has found his group, I don’t know if he has actually found any survivors that he actually served with on a mission or any of those that were in his original crew. If you recognize any of the names on this page as an elderly (in his 90’s by now) friend or relative that served with the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England, please e-mail me or post a message to the 384th Bomber Group’s Facebook page (you’ll have to join the group before posting).

In the meantime, Mr. Delbert Storm is now on the list to sign the 384th Bomb Group Commemorative Wing Panel, and has received a beautiful stained-glass Triangle-P memento crafted by NexGen member Keith Ellefson. As 384th Webmaster Fred Preller explains, “these projects are entirely conducted and supported by NexGen members of the Group, to honor the Gift of Freedom our Veterans have secured for us.”

Delbert Storm 1

Thank you, Mr. Storm, and welcome back to your group. We’re thrilled that you found us.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016