I get pretty excited about a 384th Bomb Group wing panel signing. I get absolutely ecstatic when the wing panel signing is close enough to my home for me to attend. And you can’t even imagine how great I felt when I was able to have another 384th veteran (other than the signer) come with me to enjoy the day.
I attempt to explain to family and friends what a wonderful event a wing panel signing is, but I think if I could actually show them what’s involved, it would be much more meaningful. So here goes.
First of all, I’d like to share the background of the wing panel and its history. I’m going to publish here the document that others have created to explain the project. I don’t think they’ll mind since, hopefully, word about the project will reach others by my promotion of it. The project is officially known as “The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project.”
The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project arose from a chance observation in 2008. 384th BG NexGen member Christopher Wilkinson was visiting the EAA’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” and admired the large number of Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door. The significance of personally signing the bomber and the affection they had for the B-17s they flew and serviced was apparent. An idea began to form: might it be possible for the Veterans of the 384th BG to personally sign a B-17 part to honor their hard work and the sacrifices of their fallen comrades? The dream began to take shape after discussions with fellow Group members, and so the search for a suitable B-17 part began.
In March 2010, after a long search, a genuine B-17G wing skin panel was generously donated to the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. by Carl Scholl, partner in the warbird restoration firm Aero Trader of Chino, California. The identity of the B-17G that the panel came from is unknown. All that is known, based on the original ID plate affixed to the back, is that it was built during WWII by Briggs Manufacturing Company and its function is a wing stress panel to enclose the fuel tank.
To ready the panel for its first signatures, warbird restorer and artist Cory O’Bryan of Ontario, CA donated his time and artistic skills, hand-painting the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, 544th, 545th, 546th and 547th Bomb Squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and listed the Group’s support squadrons on the 3-foot by 8-foot long panel.
The wing panel was first presented to the Group at their reunion in Branson, Missouri on October 12, 2010, where the first 10 Veterans signed. Since then, it has been to every annual 384th reunion, giving attending Veterans the opportunity to sign. It has also been shipped to 29 states, The District of Columbia and Canada. As of November 2016, nearly 140 Veterans have signed, and about 15 more Veterans have been identified as potential signers.
The 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel is available for any 384th BG Veteran to sign who served in any capacity in the Group from January 1943 to February 1946. Families and friends of the Veterans are strongly encouraged to participate with the Veteran when they sign the wing panel.
The project is continuing as Veterans are located, and as arrangements can be made for them to sign, even if they are unable to travel to the reunions. As many of our Veterans are unable to travel, this has become very important to them. The project will continue for as long as 384th Veterans can be located.
At the completion of the Project, when all possible signatures have been gathered, the wing panel – known as The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel – will be placed on permanent display in a place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The project was conceived to be materially and logistically supported by the Group’s NexGen members, solely for the benefit of its Veterans and at no cost to them or their families. This has been an important goal for the project since its inception and has not wavered from this. The project’s success relies entirely on the skill, great dedication and good will of the Group’s NexGen members and friends, and the friendship and great Patriotism of its Veterans. Over two dozen individuals have contributed to the project materially or with their time, without which it could not happen.
The original location of the 384th BG Veterans Wing Panel is shown as a red rectangle on the schematic view above.
And this is what the wing panel looks like when it is set up for a signing.
As you can imagine, the wing panel is quite large, although not as heavy as you might think. B-17s were made with thin aluminum skins to keep them light as possible.
When 384th Bomb Group veterans are located, a signing is scheduled and “Wingy” is shipped to the wing panel host. In “Wingy’s” journey across the United States, she is shipped in a large wooden crate, aka, her chariot.
The wing panel host brings the panel to the veteran. Sometimes the signing takes place in the veteran’s home, and sometimes it takes place in a public place such as a veterans park or museum.
The latest wing panel signing was this past Sunday, November 20. Frederick Edward Rubin, a navigator with the group, was the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign. Keith Ellefson, the wing panel host, drove the wing panel from his home in Alabama to Fred Rubin’s home in Florida. Keith is a 384th Bomb Group NexGen and a combat data specialist.
The wing panel host presents the signer with several gifts: a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P (symbol of the 384th) pin, and a handcrafted (by Keith Ellefson) stained glass triangle P memento, complete with stand.
Also in attendance was John Joseph DeFrancesco, a pilot with the group. John signed the wing panel in January 2014.
In addition to signing, the veterans share stories of their time serving in the 384th Bomb Group during WWII. Fred was a navigator who was also trained to be a pilot and a bombardier. He served on the lead crew on bomb runs. John was a pilot whose aircraft was so seriously damaged by flak during his thirty-fifth and final mission that the crew had to bail out over Germany. After evading capture for a time, John was eventually taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war as a guest of the Germans, being liberated by General Patton himself.
At the end of the signing, “Wingy” is snuggled comfortably back in her chariot to await transport to her next signing. Even though “Wingy” is in her seventies, she proudly continues her service to the men who knew her so well and protected her so fiercely in WWII.
Man and machine never worked so perfectly together than a ten-man heavy bomber crew in a B-17. She was a part of them and they were a part of her, and we, the next generation, will continue to bring them together again as long as we can find one more to sign.
If you know (or know of) a 384th Bomb Group WWII Veteran, please contact:
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016