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Buslee Crew Photo – A Deeper Look

Standing, left to right: John Buslee (pilot), David Albrecht (co-pilot), Chester Rybarczyk (navigator), and Marvin Fryden or James Davis (bombardier) Kneeling, left to right: Erwin Foster (ball turret gunner), Sebastiano Peluso ( radioman), Lenard Bryant (waist gunner), Clarence Seeley (engineer/top turret gunner), Eugene Lucynski (tail gunner), and George Farrar (waist gunner)

Standing, left to right: John Buslee (pilot), David Albrecht (co-pilot), Chester Rybarczyk (navigator), and Marvin Fryden or James Davis (bombardier)
Kneeling, left to right: Erwin Foster (ball turret gunner), Sebastiano Peluso (radioman), Lenard Bryant (waist gunner), Clarence Seeley (engineer/top turret gunner), Eugene Lucynski (tail gunner), and George Farrar (waist gunner)

This photo of my dad’s (George Edwin Farrar) crew in WWII still confuses me.  Is the navigator in the photo really James Davis, or is it Marvin Fryden? If it is Fryden, does the photo look like it was taken in the states before the crew shipped overseas? If it is Davis, it must be Grafton Underwood.

I sent the photo to Keith Ellefson, a researcher and combat data specialist with the 384th Bomb Group. Keith pointed out several things in the photo to me that I did not see.

Look at the far background on the right side of the picture. It looks like a tree line to me.  Than would be consistent with GU.  Most of the stateside crew training bases were on large airfields with nary a tree or fence in sight.   Looking at the background over Foster’s head, it looks to me like a fence line with some sort of grass or vines on it.  Again, GU and probably not stateside.  Also, on the far left side over the tire I think I see the slope of a squad tent roof.  If it is a tent, it is probably the crew chief’s lair next to the hardstand. I understand nearly every crew had some sort of shelter near the hardstand for warming, storage, naps, etc.

Keith annotated the photo pointing out a couple of items.

Left to right: Erwin Foster (ball turret gunner), Sebastiano Peluso ( radioman), and Lenard Bryant (waist gunner)

Left to right: Erwin Foster (ball turret gunner), Sebastiano Peluso ( radioman), and Lenard Bryant (waist gunner)

  • Looks like SGT Foster must have had a combat tour previous to this photo being taken.
  • Those are training qualification badges on the sleeves of two of the enlisted men.
  • All of the men in the photo are wearing wings but only Foster has any kind of awards being displayed.
  • I see two different unit patches.  Davis (or Fryden) and Lucynski are wearing the 8th AF patch.  Your dad (Farrar) and Seeley have the generic AF patch.
  • Two of the officers, Buslee and Rybarczyk also seem to have the generic AF patch.
  • Three of the enlisted guys appear to have no unit patch.
  • Then we get to the enlisted ranks, or lack of rank, on their uniforms. On the assignment orders, Lucynski  was a SSG. Your dad, Seeley and Peluso were SGTs.  Foster and Bryant were Corporals.
  • Peluso, Foster and Seeley are ’slicksleeves’  (Old army slang for no rank displayed).  I don’t know what to make of this.  Usually the guys would be immensely proud of their ranks and wouldn’t be caught without them.  If it was just one of them, I could think that the guy had been reduced in rank.  That was not uncommon back in the day.  I don’t recall seeing any of these names being reduced in rank on any special orders.
  • [I commented that perhaps some of the jackets were borrowed. Keith replied that it was a possibility.] Every soldier was issued a ‘Class A’ uniform but ….   Five of them (Bryant, Foster, Seeley, Farrar, and Peluso) were promoted to Staff Sergeant on 9 September 1944, SO #180, 9 SEP 44.  Maybe the three ‘slicksleeves’ had their jackets out for rank change and borrowed the jackets for the picture.
  • Also, talking about ranks, Foster, who had a previous tour, would normally be at least a Sergeant and more likely a Staff Sergeant.  I suspect he had been reduced to Corporal prior to being assigned to this crew.
  • Fryden is a 1st LT in the assignment orders.  The other three officers are 2nd LTs.  Fryden may have had several months or more service in the states, maybe as an instructor, prior to being assigned to this crew. I think there was something like a 6 month to one year time between 2nd LT and 1st LT. He wouldn’t have been promoted before the pilot would be promoted if they both had the same length of time in service.
  • Foster and Bryant were promoted to SGT on SO #158, 6 August 1944.  Since Bryant is wearing SGT stripes in the photo, I think this dates the photo to sometime after 6 August 1944, putting Davis in the picture.

Marilyn Fryden, Marvin’s wife, wrote about Marvin in a post to the 384th Bomb Group’s web site in 2007. Her comments support that he had been an instructor in the states for some time before being assigned to the Buslee crew. Marilyn wrote:

He had been commissioned and assigned as an instructor in the states. We had almost 2 years together. As he constantly said he was not doing his part, he finally requested combat duty and was assigned to the Gremlin with John Buslee, Dick Albrecht and other crew members.

Marvin and Marilyn had married October 8, 1942 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a wedding announcement, her parents noted that:

Lieutenant Fryden was appointed instructor at the Albuquerque Air Base and will continue to re-side there with his bride.

After Keith’s analysis, I still question whether the photo includes Davis or Fryden. The back of the photo identifies the navigator as Davis and I believe the identification was provided by the pilot’s father. In a letter to my grandmother dated November 27, 1944, Mr. Buslee wrote:

Early in September we received a snapshot showing the crew members and the plane.  The boys all looked fine and seemed to be in the same high spirit that they enjoyed when we met them in Ardmore.

This comment indicates that Mr. Buslee would have been able to recognize the bombardier since he had met the entire crew. Mr. Buslee offered to send a copy of the photo to my grandmother if she did not have one. My grandmother, Raleigh May Farrar, must have responded to Mr. Buslee that she did indeed have a copy of the picture. He wrote back on December 16, 1944.

I note that you have a crew picture and thinking that you may not know who they are I am sending a list of names in the event that this will interest you.  To look at that group one can well understand what I mean when I say the youth are wonderful.  To my mind that is as fine an assortment of manhood as one could find anywhere and I count it a privilege that my son is among so fine a crew.  Yes I had the good fortune to meet all of them in Ardmore last June and I trust it will be my pleasure to again meet all of them and more that this may be real soon.

Mr. Buslee’s list of names:

WWII-106

Mr. Buslee would not have met James Davis in Ardmore, Oklahoma. At that time, he was not part of the Buslee crew. Marvin Fryden trained with the crew in Ardmore.

Mr. Buslee would also have already known of Marvin Fryden’s death on August 5, 1944. The Buslees and the Frydens both lived in the Chicago area, the Buslees in the Park Ridge area. The Park Ridge Advocate published an article on September 1, 1944 about the crew’s August 5 mission in which Fryden died. Mr. Buslee must have read the article by the time he wrote my grandmother.

Although mortally wounded, the bombardier of a B17 Flying Fortress calmly reported his injury to his pilot and then released his bombs on the target in a remarkable exhibition of sheer courage and presence of mind during a recent American heavy bomber attack over Germany.

The bombardier, 1st Lt. Marvin Fryden, 23, 6719 North Lakewood, Chicago, died later in an army hospital after his bomber, the “Tremblin’ Gremlin,” had reached England with only two of its four engines functioning, its fuselage riddled with more than 100 flak holes and with more than half of its crew wounded.

If the photo includes Fryden, it must have been taken before the August 5, 1944 mission on which Fryden was killed. On that same mission, Seeley was seriously wounded. Davis started flying with the crew on August 9, 1944. Since Seeley was seriously wounded on the August 5 mission, would he have been able to appear in a crew photo after that mission? He wasn’t able to fly again until October 2, 1944, four days after the Buslee crew was lost on the mission to Magdeburg on September 28.

I have not been able to locate any other photos of Marvin Fryden, but I did find a school yearbook photo of James Davis. Putting the photo in question and the photo of Davis side by side, I’m still not certain of the identification. What do you think? Is the man on the left Fryden or Davis?

Photo on left: Marvin Fryden or James Davis? Photo on right: School yearbook photo of James Davis.

Photo on left: Marvin Fryden or James Davis?
Photo on right: School yearbook photo of James Davis.

Enough for today. I have a little more info to add on a couple of the other Buslee crew members, but will hold off for next week. I think this is enough to digest today.

If anyone has a photo of Marvin Fryden (the family spelled the name Frydyn, but Marvin enlisted as Fryden), please contact me. Either comment on this post or e-mail me. Also, if anyone is good at photo analysis, please help me decide – Fryden or Davis?

Thank you, Keith Ellefson, for taking an in-depth look at this photo and providing me with so much information.

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

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