I have just returned from the 2016 Eighth Air Force Reunion in St. Louis, Missouri.
The 384th Bomb Group was represented by a group of forty folks, many of them 384th NexGens, and five veterans of the group. Our veterans in attendance were:
- Sheldon Vernon, Navigator for the James Foster crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron
- Henry Sienkiewicz, Bombardier for the John Herzog crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron
- Don Hilliard, Radio Operator for the Ranald MacDonald crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron
- Peter Bielskis, Ball Turret Gunner for the Robert Henry crew of the 546th Bomb Squadron
- Dave Lustig, Radio Operator for the James Drew crew of the 547th Bomb Squadron
The first day of the reunion, the group had the option to take a Military Heritage tour which included a tour of the Missouri Civil War Museum and a driving tour of the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. I chose to tour the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on my own with my husband, Bill Bryan, and fellow 384th NexGen, Keith Ellefson. My great-great-grandfather, who died in the Civil War, is buried there and I set out to find his grave.
That evening, dinner was served to each Bomb/Fighter Group separately in their hospitality suites.
The second day of the reunion, the group had the option to take a Gateway to St. Louis City Tour. Again, my husband, Keith Ellefson, and I opted to strike out on our own and drive into St. Louis to visit the Old Courthouse and take a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch.
The presentation for the second night’s dinner was given by Dr. Donald L. Miller, author of “Masters of the Air.” After dinner, Dr. Miller was kind enough to autograph my copy of his book. At the end of the evening he stopped by the 384th’s hospitality suite to see our wing panel.
The third and final day of the reunion, my husband and I opted to take the Anheuser-Busch Brewery/Grant’s Farm tour with the group.
The last evening’s dinner was the Gala Dinner. It was the last opportunity of the reunion to spend time with and personally thank the men who won our country’s freedom in WWII.
Mark your calendars for the last week of October 2017 for next year’s 8th Air Force Reunion in New Orleans!
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016
Robert William Fish was born on May 30, 1917 in Gladwin County, Michigan. His parents were Amon Emil and Ethel Bevis Fish and Robert was the third of their seven children.
In 1923, the family moved to Ohio. The 1930 Census reports the Fish family living in Claibourne, Union County, Ohio. And the 1940 Census reports that Robert Fish lived in Peoria, Ohio in 1935.
In 1939 Robert joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a pilot. The 1940 Census (recorded April 9, 1940) shows him living in the Flying Cadet Detachment at Kelly Field in Bexar County, Texas. He had completed two years of college and his occupation was Flying Cadet. His enlistment date is recorded as June 22, 1940, but clearly he was already in pilot training by then.
In 1941, he married Jean Young. She was born in 1920 and was from San Antonio.
In addition to pilot training, Robert graduated from the Air Tactical School, the Air Command and Staff school, and from the National War College. He also taught in both the Air Tactical and the Air Command and Staff schools. As far as civilian education, he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering (before his service) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a major in Industrial Management (after WWII) from Ohio State University and a Master’s of Arts degree with a major in International Relations from George Washington University.
Robert served in many Air Force command and staff positions including twelve years in Washington D.C. He also served in Taipei, Taiwan as Military Attache to the Nationalist Chinese government for two years, which he called an “interesting assignment.” He was the only Defense Attache assigned to a country at war.
Before his short assignment with the 384th Bomb Group at the end of WWII, Robert Fish was a Carpetbagger. In his book, “They Flew by Night,” Fish describes the beginning of the secret Carpetbagger Operation:
On 24 October 1943, Lt. Col. Clifford J. Heflin, the Squadron Commander of the 22nd Anti-Submarine Squadron; Major Robert W. Fish, Squadron Operations Officer; Lt. Robert Sullivan, and Lt. Bruce Akers, the Squadron Engineering Officer, were called to a meeting at Bovingdon Air Base west of London…
…At this meeting the officers of the 22nd Squadron were sworn to secrecy and then they were briefed on a new mission being assigned to their unit. This new mission was designated by the code name “Carpetbaggers.” All of the personnel of the 22nd Squadron and only the non-aircrew personnel of the 4th Squadron would be involved. Two new squadrons would be organized from the manpower pool of the two anti-submarine squadrons.
Under the code name, “Carpetbaggers,” the two squadrons would be assigned the mission of parachuting saboteurs, intelligence agents, weapons and other supplies to the underground forces of the countries on the continent of Europe that had been overrun by the German Armed Forces.
To read more about the Carpetbaggers, see a link to “They Flew by Night” in the Sources below.
Robert William Fish’s military decorations include:
- Legion of Merit with two Bronze Stars
- U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross
- R.A.F. Distinguished Flying Cross
- French Croix de Guerre a vec Palm
- Danish Liberation Medal
- Norwegian Liberation Medal
- Belgian Liberation Medal
- U.S. Air Medal with four Clusters
- Outstanding Unit Award
- American Defense Medal
- American Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
- European-African Campaign Medal with one Silver and one Bronze Star
- WWII Victory Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Air Force Longevity Service Medal with four Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
- Republic of China Cloud and Banner
After serving his country for thirty years and through three wars – WWII, Korea, and Vietnam – Robert retired from the United States Air Force on January 31, 1970.
In 1990, Robert published a book entitled “They Flew By Night.” It is subtitled “Memories of 801st/492nd Bombardment Group ‘Carpetbaggers’ as told to Col. Robert W. Fish.” It was privately printed by the 801st/492nd Bombardment Group Association as a memorial to the men of the 801st/492nd Bombardment Group in WWII.
The book is a compilation of stories mostly contributed by the men who were members of the group during WWII. It also includes the history of Robert Fish and the group, as well as stories written by Fish. “They Flew by Night” is over four hundred pages long, but can be read in its entirety on the internet. A link to the PDF file is listed below in Sources.
In retirement in his home on the shores of Falcon Lake at Zapata, Texas, Robert became active in preserving the history of the Zapata County area and he instigated the formation of the Zapata County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse to carry the fourteen “Flags of Zapata” (the fourteen different flags that have been used to claim jurisdiction over the Zapata County area) in formal parades throughout south Texas.
Robert died on October 12, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. He and Jean had been married sixty-seven years. He is buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas in Plot: Section 49, Site 104.
Robert’s wife, Jean Young Fish, died March 16 this year and is buried next to her husband.
- Robert W. Fish’s obituary as published in the San Antonio Express, can be read in its entirety here at Legacy.com.
- Robert Fish’s book, “They Flew by Night” can be read here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016
I previously published a list of commanders of the 384th Bomb Group and it seems that I left one out. At the end of the war in Europe, the 384th Bomb Group moved from Grafton Underwood, England to Istres, France in June 1945. Lt. Col. Robert W. Fish took command on June 17, 1945 and stayed in that position until October 18, 1945, just a day over four months. Lt. Col. Fish is the last commander of the 384th I listed.
But the story of the 384th in Istres actually continues into 1946. On October 18, 1945, Lt. Col. Lloyd D. Chapman took command and led the group until the 384th Bomb Group was inactivated on February 28, 1946.
Lloyd Douglas Chapman was born on April 21, 1919 in Walters, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on September 11, 1940. His enlistment record shows that his term of enlistment was for the Philippine Department. It also shows he had four years of high school and his civilian occupation was in building aircraft. Lloyd was single at the time he enlisted, but on June 6, 1941, he married Vivian Jernigan of Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
Though Chapman had only a four plus-month stint with the 384th, he had a long career of service to his country. During WWII, he was both a B-17 (his personal favorite aircraft) and B-24 bomber pilot and flew missions over Europe from both England and Africa.
In 1951 he flew in combat again, leading the first B-29 Bomb Squadron over Korea. Later in his career he went on to fly the B-36 Heavy bomber, B-47 Medium bomber, B-52 Heavy bomber, B-58 Hustler bomber, KC 135 Strato tanker, and the T39 six passenger executive jet.
In his thirty years of honorable service with the US Air Force, Chapman made seventeen permanent changes of station. Some of the positions he held were Instructor Pilot, Director of Operations 303rd Bomb Wing (Medium), Director of Operations Strategic Air Command, Chief of Staff 2nd Air Force, member of the National Security Council where he briefed President Eisenhower on security issues, and the Air Attache to Oslo, Norway.
Col. Chapman was highly awarded, receiving the following decorations during his Air Force career: Legion of Merit – one oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross – 17 oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star – two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal – three oak leaf clusters, American Defense Service Medal – two oak leaf clusters, American Campaign Medal-Europe, African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal – five oak leaf clusters, World War II Victory Medal, Army Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Command Pilot Wings and the National Security Council badge.
After he retired from the Air Force, Northrop Aircraft hired him as the director of the Scandinavian Division where he worked for ten years in Oslo, Norway. While in Oslo he was also the President of the American Lutheran Church Council and consulted for the American Businessman’s Club of the World.
Once he retired from Northrop Aircraft, he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where he and his wife Vivian lived for 14 years. In Honolulu, he was President of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church Council. He also advised islanders how to start their own businesses, again through the American Businessman’s Club. He also worked with AFTA helping the islanders with insurance claims, grants, and loans for repairs after hurricanes.
He later suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and he and Vivian moved back to the mainland so they could be closer to family in Scottsdale, Arizona. After a five year battle, he succumbed to the disease. Chapman died December 9, 2004 in Scottsdale, Airzona.
I live in North Central Florida. We don’t have beaches, but we have plenty of moss-covered oak trees and horse farms. In fact, Beautiful Marion County’s motto is Horse Capital of the World. We breed and grow great thoroughbred race horses here. Another thing we in Marion County are proud of is our veterans.
The Ocala/Marion County Veterans Memorial Park opened in 1997. It is a lovely park where folks like to have a picnic lunch on nice days, which we have a lot of here. The park is a lasting memorial to veterans of all wars, with more than 5,000 personalized bricks set into pedestals, 200 benches, and 100 plaques.
The first time I visited the park was January 25, 2014, when the 384th Bomb Group’s wing panel came to Ocala. Two 384th Bomb Group veterans, pilot John DeFrancesco and armorer Paul Bureau, added their signatures in a ceremony near the park’s pavilion. John’s signature was the wing panel’s eighty-sixth and Paul’s was number eighty-seven.
Like many military parks, the park hosts a Memorial Day celebration every year. But the Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park goes a step further. They host a Memorial Ceremony every quarter to honor those Marion County veterans who have died in the previous three months.
Saturday, October 1, 2016, I attended the ceremony to honor Paul Bureau. Paul was an armorer in the US Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, the same group my dad served with in Grafton Underwood, England. Paul’s was among the names read during the ceremony’s “Roll Call of Honored Deceased.” Paul died on August 9 this year.
The park had recently acquired a cannon and chose to use it in the memorial ceremony. The ceremony began with the firing of the cannon. Almost as startling as the tremendous sound of the cannon fire was the ring of smoke that ascended to the heavens as though carrying away the souls of the veterans toward their final mission.
The ceremony continued with the invocation and a youth group called the “Young Marines” posted the colors. Everyone joined in the pledge of allegiance to the flag and sang the national anthem. The roll call began and a bell was rung after the reading of each name. Taps were played. A man named John Earl dressed in a kilt played the bagpipes. The Ocala Police Department Honor Guard performed a twenty-one gun salute.
The ceremony concluded with the benediction and a second firing of the cannon. I knew what was coming, but I still jumped at the tremendous boom. This time, though, no smoke ring accompanied the boom. Only the sad realization that many of our country’s finest defenders are no longer with us.
Note: Please visit the home page of the 384th Bomb Group’s website or the Veterans Signing Project page of the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery for more information about the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project and photos of past signers. Volunteers are still touring the country with the wing panel collecting signatures of 384th Bomb Group Veterans.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016