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The Eighth Air Force in WWII by Eugene Spearman

Eugene Spearman signs the wing panel in October 2014

Eugene Spearman signs the wing panel in October 2014

Today I’m turning my post over to 384th Bomb Group veteran, Eugene Spearman. Eugene was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #26 dated February 2, 1945 as the Radio Operator/Gunner of the Edwin G. Nicolai, Jr. crew. He attended radio school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; gunnery school in Yuma, Arizona; and crew training in Avon Park, Florida before he was shipped overseas.

Eugene served thirty-four missions with the 384th from February 15, 1945 to April 19, 1945. He has written many stories about flying and about the 384th’s base in Grafton Underwood, and shared them with me. He agreed to my request to share them here with you and I think that you will enjoy them as much as I have. Eugene’s stories give me a greater insight to what life was like for the men in the 384th Bomb Group during WWII.

The Eighth Air Force in WWII

by Eugene Spearman

When I was 19 years old, I was living in a sixteen man quonset hut on a heavy bomber air base in the midlands of England call Grafton Underwood near Kettering. I was a crewman on a B-17 flying fortress. At about four in the morning a sergeant would come in the hut and awake me saying, “Be down at briefing at 4:40 AM; you are flying in the Ed Nicolai crew.”

I would hurriedly dress, ride the little English bike down to the mess hall that we called “Tomaine Tavern,” eat breakfast and then rush over to briefing. At briefing we were told the target for the day. If it was a location like Berlin, Hamburg, Leipsig, “a rough mission,” you would hear a “moan” from the group of crewmen.

After briefing we put on our flying suits, picked up our parachutes and other equipment, and loaded on trucks that would take us out to the dispersed planes which were loaded with fuel and bombs. We then taxied out to the end of the runway and awaited our instruction to take off. Standing at the end of the runway was a minister, “Bro Billie,” holding a Bible and praying for us as we roared down the runway and became airborne.

I am aware that very few people know what part the Eighth Air Force played in the defeat of Germany in World War II. The Eighth was the first armed force unit to attack Germany. They began these continuous attacks almost two years before D-Day. During these times, they destroyed factories, oil refineries, air fields and rail yards. On these very dangerous missions, over 26,000 airmen were killed in action, and well over 20,000 became prisoners of war with untold thousands wounded. Too, there were over 6,000 planes lost in this deadly struggle.

Even on missions where 50 or more planes were lost, the Eighth never turned back. They never retreated. The average mission was about 10 hours long. We dressed in heavy wool suits and wore oxygen masks, flack suits and a heated-suit at an elevation of nearly 5 miles high and a temperature of down to 50 degrees below.

When I was flying in 1944 and 1945, we were required to fly 35 missions before we completed our tour and were allowed to return to the USA. Our crew consisted of nine members. Two of the crew were KIA and three others were slightly wounded. My pilot, Ed Nicolai and I, Eugene Spearman, flew back to the USA in May 1945, having completed our tour.

© Eugene Spearman, 2016

 

Notes:

  • The name “Tomaine Tavern” comes from an early reference to ptomaine poisoning, which at the time was believed to be food poisoning caused by bacteria.
  • Photo provided courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group. See this and more photos from the 384th here.
  • Learn more about Eugene Spearman’s missions with the 384th here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

 

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Military Records Received

I received fifteen pages of copies from the NPRC shortly after they mailed them on February 18, 2015, in addition to a letter noting that “the copy quality is the best that can be obtained.”

The documents included:

INFORMAL INFORMATION REPLY

This document looks like a reply for information requested by my mother and is dated October 31, 1994. It supplies very little actual information. It shows my father’s dates of POW status as September 28, 1944 to May 8, 1945. It also shows that:

  • The record needed to answer your inquiry is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed.
  • The enclosed copies of documents were obtained from an alternate record source.
  • However, complete records cannot be reconstructed.
  • And, we regret that these sources do not contain the particular type of information or document requested.

It also gave an alternate address to request information about medals.

ENVELOPE (COPIED)

The envelope in which my mother mailed her request on September 28, 1994 (exactly 50 years after the mid-air collision) to:

AIR FORCE MANPOWER AND PERSONNEL CENTER
MILITARY PERSONNEL RECORDS DIVISION
RANDOLPH AFB, TX. 78150-6001

REQUEST PERTAINING TO MILITARY RECORDS

…filled out by my mother. Her request was for my father’s “Military history, where trained and where sent overseas. Also record of being a Prisoner of War in Germany, dates and camps, and what battles.”

For the purpose for which information or documents are needed, she wrote:  “Since he is deceased, we would like to have the Military history to include in our Family history and for the benefit of me and our children. Also what medals issued.”

INSTRUCTIONS

…presumably printed on the back of the REQUEST PERTAINING TO MILITARY RECORDS form.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION MPR FINDING AID REPORT

After a search on my father’s social security number, on 10/12/94 at 15:00:33, this report was summed up simply: NOT FOUND.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION MPR FINDING AID REPORT

After a search on my father’s service number, on 10/12/94 at 15:00:39, this report returned the following information:

SGO HOSPITAL LIST         QT          H 1945 022 002
FARRAR GEORGE E          QM         P 0000 193 180
FARRAR GEORGE E          QT          W280944 080545
FARRAR GEORGE E          AR          R 0009 076 277

ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES HONORABLE DISCHARGE certificate

ENLISTED RECORD AND REPORT OF SEPARATION, HONORABLE DISCHARGE form

  • Battles and campaigns included Normandy, No. France, and Rhineland.
  • Decorations and citations included American Theater Ribbon, EAME Ribbon w/3 Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, Air Medal w/1 Bronze Cluster
  • Wounds received in action listed Germany 28 September 44.
  • Service schools attended were Kingman, Ariz., Ft. Myers, Fla.

ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES SEPARATION QUALIFICATION RECORD (front)

Military Occupational Assignments:

  • 1 month as Pvt in AAF Basic Tng 521
  • 13 months as Sgt as AAF Gunnery Instructor 938
  • 3 months as S/Sgt Airplane Armorer Gunner 612

Summary of Military Occupations:

  • AAF GUNNERY INSTRUCTOR (938) – Instructed Military Personnel in flexible gunnery for 7 months 1943 at Kingman, Arizona. Conducted and administered training classes and gunnery tests. Administered phase checks, organized students and instructors for training in aerial gunner for six months at Armore [Ardmore] OTU, Okla.
  • AIRPLANE ARMORER GUNNER – Was a crew member of a B-17 at an 8th AF Heavy Bombardment Base in England for 3 months in 1944. Flew 17 missions over German Occupied territory. Flew as Armorer Gunner in lead ship and was responsible for inspection and repair of bomb racks, gun sights, and turrets. Fired 50 caliber machine gun from Waist position when in combat.

ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES SEPARATION QUALIFICATION RECORD (back)

MILITARY EDUCATION

  • ACGS: Kingman, Ariz. Flexible Gunnery, (30 and 50 caliber machine guns) 6 weeks.
  • AC INSTRUCTORS SCHOOL – Ft.Myers, Fla. 6 wks. – Course included instruction and practical training in teaching methods and Student Psychology as well as fundamentals of advanced Aerial Gunnery.

TRANSMITTAL OF AND/OR ENTITLEMENT TO AWARDS

This form, dated September 19, 1988, noted approval of the Prisoner of War medal.  The approval verification at the bottom was actually dated September 28, 1988 (forty-four years  to the day after the mid-air collision).

TRANSMITTAL OF AND/OR ENTITLEMENT TO AWARDS

This form, also dated September 19, 1988, must refer to a different medal, but the writing on the form is too light to read.  I guess that’s part of the reference to the copy quality being the best that could be obtained.

VETERAN IDENTIFICATION SCREEN printout

This printout copy is very light, but I can read most of the information included, although most of the fields are not completed. Dates are correct: birth date, death date, enlistment date, and release date.  Social security and service numbers are noted.  The only other substantial bit of information on this printout is POW DAYS. It looks like it reads C030. I am unsure of the meaning of C030. His actual number of POW days was 217.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION – NATIONAL PERSONNEL RECORDS CENTER (Military Personnel Records), dated 08/23/88.

NAME                                   SERVICE               REGISTER
                                              CODE                    NUMBER              
SGO HOSPITAL LIST         QT                          H 1945 022 002
FARRAR GEORGE E          QT                          W280944 080545
FARRAR GEORGE E          QM                         P 0000 193 180

PRISONER OF WAR (POW) MEDAL APPLICATION/INFORMATION

A copy of the form my mother filled out on August 17, 1988 to apply for a posthumous POW medal for my dad. She included the description:

Was in B-17 #4337822. Plane on right hit by ground fire and hit the plane George Edwin Farrar was on, at 30,000 ft., coming off a target in Magdeburg, Germany. He was knocked unconscious, came to, hooked up parachute, landed on the ground. He was only survivor out of a crew of nine (9). He was liberated on May 2, 1945. Sent to Brussels, Belgium and on to a hospital in France where he spent several weeks.

He was a prisoner at Stalag Luft IV and was on a forced march across Germany from Feb. 6, 1945 until May 2, 1945.

Do not have POW identification card but do have the POW tag #3885.

I would have liked to have received much, much more information on my dad’s years of service in the Army Air Forces, but this is all that is left of his official military personnel record. Thanks to the internet and 384thBombGroup.com, I have been able to piece together a much more complete picture, and find new information every day…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

My Personal Experience Obtaining Military Records

In an effort to complete the picture of my dad’s war service, I decided to obtain his military records and asked for his entire file. I requested his records online through eVetRecs on September 10, 2014 and mailed the signature verification that day. I was given a maximum wait time of ninety days, so I expected to hear something by at least December 9, 2014.

December 9, 2014 came and went without any word on my request. I hoped this was a good thing, that there was so much information in my dad’s military file that it was taking longer than usual.

On January 21, 2015, an archives technician from the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) mailed me a letter. The letter began:

The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed.

My heart sank, but I kept reading. The letter continued:

Fortunately, there were alternate records sources that contained information which was used to reconstruct some service record data lost in the fire. However, complete records could not be reconstructed.

Ah, some hope. Not much, but some.

We have located a file created during our reconstruction attempts for the veteran named in your request. This partially “reconstructed” file is a record in the legal custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. Access to this record will be granted by providing a copy of the documents in the file. A reconstructed file typically contains limited service data from some of the alternate records sources, working notes from the reconstruction efforts and miscellaneous correspondence or unofficial documents sent to the NPRC with previous requests for information.

Hmmm… At this point, I was not sure how much information they had, but they did have something. And my curiosity was getting the better of me. I really wanted to know exactly what information they had.

The charge for reproducing this reconstructed file is shown on the attached ‘Order for Archival Reproduction Services’ form.

The total cost listed on the Order for Archival Record Reproduction Services was $70.00. Now I was confused. They didn’t have much information, but what they had was worth $70.00. Could this be something interesting, or could it be not much more than I already knew. I had failed to note on the website when I initially made the request – or maybe I did note it and had forgotten by the time I received the letter – that the fee schedule for five pages or less was $25.00, and six pages or more was $70.00.

Please return this form with your payment within 30 days. Once payment is received, the photocopies will be mailed to you. If payment is not received within this period, we will assume that you no longer desire a copy of this reconstructed file and your request will be closed automatically without further notice.

Now they’re getting to me. My take:  We don’t have much info for you, but what we have is worth $70, and you have to decide quickly if you want it or not, or else you can start this process all over again at a future date. And then there’s this…

Please keep in mind that the record may contain few military documents and NPRC will not refund your payment if the photocopies you receive do not contain the information you seek.

Oh, now what to do. I tried to translate what this cryptic letter meant. We don’t have anything interesting for you. We have something juicy that’s worth $70.00. Couldn’t they just tell me exactly what they had so I could make an informed decision? Obviously not. They had to tease me into paying up front to find out what was in this treasure chest. Of course…

As an alternative to purchasing copies of the file, you may view the original reconstructed file in our archival research room located at the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.

How much would it cost for me to travel to St. Louis? Much more than the $70.00 fee for having my dad’s records copied and mailed to me. On February 3, 2015, I mailed back the form and a check.

To be continued: Records received.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Military Service Records for WWII Veterans

In researching my dad’s time in WWII, I decided to obtain his military service record from the National Archives. While I would have liked to have visited the Archives in person, at the time I did not want to travel to St. Louis to do so. I chose to request his records online and started here:

http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/index.html.

Other than a personal visit to the archives, records may be requested online, by mail, or by fax. Available records are the DD 214 (separation documents), personnel records, replacement medals, and/or medical records. The online process of requesting records is accomplished using the eVetRecs process and is not completely digital. Once you request records through eVetRecs, you must either mail or fax your written signature. The process is fairly simple, and you can begin by clicking “Submit your request ONLINE with eVetRecs.” If you wish to proceed through mail or fax, click “Submit your request by MAIL or FAX using the SF-180 Form.”

Only a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran may order personnel records online through eVetRecs. Depending on the information requested, fees can vary.

While most requests from the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) are for only a copy of the separation document, about ten percent request a copy of the entire file, as I did. Since the 1970’s the center’s standard procedure for requests for entire files has been to provide only copies of key documents and vital information. However, for files more than sixty-two years old – as are the files of WWII veterans – all documents are provided if requested.

Some of the information contained in a personnel file could include separation documents, military service dates, character of service, promotions and reductions, duty stations and assignments, foreign or sea service, military schooling and training, awards and letters of commendation, disciplinary actions, lost time, enlistment contract, entry and separation physical exams, immunizations, dental examinations, and clinical summaries.

I already had a copy of my dad’s separation documents. My interest in obtaining his entire file was mainly to see medical records and his physical condition after his liberation as a prisoner of war. I had read that the prisoners that were liberated on the march were not weighed or their deteriorated conditions recorded in their medical records. I had some unanswered questions and hoped to find some of those answers in his service record.

I started, like many others, with an online request through eVetRecs for my dad’s entire service file.

To be continued: my personal experience receiving my dad’s service record from the NPRC.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016