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WWII Timeline – Summer 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1936

July 17, 1936

Civil war erupts in Spain. Fascist General Francisco Franco leads the “Nationalists” against the “Loyalists.” Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini assist by flying Franco’s troops from Spanish Morocco to Spain. They later also send planes and troops to help Franco fight the Spanish Republic.

August 1936

The Nazis set up an Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortions (by healthy women).

August 1, 1936

The 1936 Summer Olympic Games, which had been awarded to Germany before Adolf Hitler rose to power, begin in Berlin. During the Olympics, in an attempt to gain favorable public opinion from foreign visitors, Hitler and the top Nazis refrain from taking any actions against Jews.

August 7, 1936

The subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction best-seller Unbroken, Olympic runner Louis Zamperini finished 8th in the 5000-meter men’s event at that Olympics with a time of 14:46:8. But Zamperini’s final lap of 56 seconds was unheard of. It was rare for a final lap in a 5000-meter race to be run in under a minute. Afterwards, Zamperini and Hitler shook hands, and Hitler said, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

September 15, 1936

Spain’s Loyalist government protests the shipment of arms to Germany’s and Italy’s Nationalists.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Wikipedia:  Louis Zamperini

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Site Map of Station 106 at Grafton Underwood

The last time I caught up with Mark Meehl was in October in Dayton, Ohio at the latest 384th Bomb Group Reunion. Both Mark and his brother Jerry attended as they have for many years. Mark and Jerry’s dad, Paul Edwin Meehl, was a ground crew chief assigned to the 384th’s 547th Bomb Squadron from early 1943 through the end of the war. He also transferred with the group to Istres, France at the end of the war in Europe.

Left to right: Mark and Jerry Meehl at the 2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion in Dayton, Ohio

Mark is the group’s archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s brother Jerry (Gerald) is also interested in military history and has written or co-written three books, one with 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Jack Goetz.

At the reunion, I mentioned to Mark that I wanted to attend the group’s next junket to England – in September 2019 – and hoped to find the site of some air base photos in my dad’s collection. Mark shared scans of a couple of maps of the Station 106 site plan at Grafton Underwood with me and using them I believe I may be able to stand in the very same area the photos were taken when I visit.

For starters, this map that Mark shared with me shows the entire site with runways, living areas, and the small village of Grafton Underwood.

Overall plan of the Grafton Underwood airfield and all the site areas.
Scan by Mark Meehl of original plans/maps courtesy of Matt Smith in England

Click on the image to open it to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). The legend for the map is:

  • Site No. 1 – Airfield and Hardstands
  • Site No. 1 – 547th BS & Maintenance Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Group Headquarters
  • Site No. 1 – Old Head Wood Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 1 – SE Area
  • Site No. 1 – Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Warkton Common Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 2 – Communal
  • Site No. 3 – Communal
  • Site No. 4 – Group Staff Quarters
  • Site No. 5 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 6 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 7 – W.A.A.F.
  • Site No. 8 – 544th BS Area
  • Site No. 9 – 547th BS Area
  • Site No. 10 – 545th BS Area
  • Site No. 11 – 546th BS Area
  • Site No. 12 – Sick Quarters
  • Site No. 13 – Sewage
  • Site No. 14 – Sewage

Mark also told me I could add the site map as an overlay on Google Earth, so armed with a few instructions from Mark, I came up with this…

Grafton Underwood site map overlaid on Google Earth map

I’ll be playing around with this feature of Google Earth some more and try to get better results, but I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt.

My dad was in the 544th Bomb Squadron, so one of my interests is in Site No. 8. I believe my dad’s photos were taken in this area, and I’ll explore that site in more detail in a future post.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Spring 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1936

May 2, 1936

The leader of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, fled the capital, Addis Ababa, as the country is overrun by Italian troops.

May 9, 1936

In an invasion that began October 2, 1935, Mussolini’s Italian forces conquer and annex Ethiopia.

May 12, 1936

Italy renounces its membership in the League of Nations.

June 17, 1936

Heinrich Himmler is appointed Reichsführer-SS, chief of the German Police. The second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany, he was head of the SS, the Gestapo, and all of the Third Reich’s police and security forces.

In 1936, Himmler spoke to his SS and instructed them:

I know there are many people in Germany who feel sick at the very sight of this black (SS) uniform. We understand this and we do not expect to be loved…All those who have Germany at heart, will and should respect us. All those who in some way or at some time have a bad conscience in respect to the Führer and the nation should fear us. For these people we have constructed an organization called the SD (SS security service) and in the same way…the Gestapo (secret state police)…

Unconditional and highest freedom of will comes from obedience, from service to our Weltanschauung (world view), obedience which is prepared to render each and every sacrifice to pride, to external honor and to all which is dear to us personally, obedience which never falters but unconditionally follows every order which comes from the Führer or legally from superiors…

He won their obedience and when the order came from Hitler to exterminate the Jews, they obeyed.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Why Did the Caterpillar Cross the Pond?

Question:  Why did the caterpillar cross the pond?

Answer:  To save the lives of airmen who were forced to bail out of disabled aircraft, like George Edwin Farrar of the 384th Bomb Group of the USAAF 8th Army Air Forces and Lawrence Edgar Newbold of the RAF 50 Squadron in WWII.

I recently wrote about Lawrence Newbold here. Lawrence was forced to bail out of his Avro Lancaster on March 18, 1944 on a mission to Frankfurt. Six months later, my dad, George Farrar, was thrown from his disabled B-17 on September 28, 1944 on a mission to Magdeburg. Dad and Lawrence were assigned as fellow POWs in Room 12 of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp.

I even more recently was able to connect with Lawrence Newbold’s family in England and his grandson Paul Newbold kindly shared a photo of Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me.

Lawrence Newbold’s Caterpillar Club card and pin
Photo by Paul Newbold

Seeing Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin jogged my memory of how important a wonderful invention – the parachute – was to the airmen of WWII and specifically to my dad and to me. If my dad hadn’t been wearing his in his midair collision of September 28, 1944, he would not have survived, married my mother, and had me or my sister.

During WWII, several companies manufactured and sold parachutes to both the American and British military. The Irvin Air Chute Company was one of them, as was the Switlik Parachute Company.

In 1919, Leslie Irvin, a stuntman from California, borrowed a sewing machine and made the first “free drop” parachute, which he demonstrated himself to flying safety experts. He so impressed them that the American and British Air Forces adopted the parachute as standard equipment. Irvin established his first American factory in Buffalo, New York that year and his first European factory in Letchworth, England in 1926. The Irvin Letchworth factory produced a peak of nearly 1,500 parachutes a week during the height of WWII.

Both the Irvin and Switlik companies began Caterpillar Clubs which awarded certificates and pins as testimony to the life saving ability of the parachute. The requirement for each was that the applicant must have bailed out of a disabled or flaming aircraft under emergency conditions.

The name of the club came about because in the early days of the parachute, they were made from pure silk. The clubs used the symbol of the silk worm caterpillar, which descends slowly by spinning a silk thread to hang from.

By WWII, silk could no longer be imported from Japan and the parachutes used by American and British airmen were primarily made of nylon. Regardless of the material used in the construction of their parachutes, after the end of WWII, by late 1945, there were 34,000 members of Irvin’s Caterpillar Club.

Airmen serving in WWII did not receive any training for bailing out or using their chutes other than a set of instructions. Though the Parachute Instructions (full instructions at the end of this article) suggest “It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger,” most airmen didn’t strap them on until they heard an alarm or instructions from their pilot to bail out. Chutes were uncomfortable to wear and got in the way of an airman’s duties.

My dad must have been wearing his chute, which was a chest chute, or at least had one side of the pack strapped on, because I don’t think he would have had time to grab it when, and if, he saw another B-17 in his formation heading straight for him.

In the stories he told me when I was a child of the collision and his time as a prisoner of war, he said the reason he was the only survivor aboard his flying fortress was because he was the only one who “still had on his chute” after dropping the bombs on their target. He was knocked unconscious in the collision and awoke in free fall 5,000 feet from the ground to the sound of his mother’s voice calling his name. After hooking up his chute and taking in the view of the countryside below him, he lost consciousness again and didn’t awaken until he lay injured on the ground, being beaten by an older German woman.

On his parachute ride down, he did not see the B-17 from which he had been thrown burning and spinning into the clouds. He did not see the ball turret knocked from the ship with the helpless gunner inside falling to Earth. The ball turret was too small for most gunners to wear their chutes inside the capsule. Even if my dad’s crew mates had been wearing their chutes, the centrifugal force of the spinning ship likely would have pinned them inside and prevented them from bailing out. They also may have been knocked unconscious in the horrific collision 25,000 feet above the ground, unable to find and strap on their parachutes.

But like Lawrence Newbold, my dad survived, thanks to his parachute, to also become a member of the Caterpillar Club. Dad joined both Irvin’s and Switlik’s clubs.

From the Irvin Air Chute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club card issued by the Irvin Air Chute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Irvin

From the Switlik Parachute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club certificate issued by the Switlik Parachute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Switlik

George Farrar and Lawrence Newbold endured Stalag Luft IV together, they survived the Black March together, and both became lifetime members of one of the most exclusive clubs in which no one wants to have to face the first requirement to become a member, having to bail out of a disabled aircraft in an emergency to save one’s life.

Parachute Instructions for B-17 Crews as presented at Stalag Luft I Online (link below)

  1. Handle the parachute pack gently and do not allow it to get wet or greasy.
  2. It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger.
  3. Jumping Suggestions
    • Make delayed jumps.
    • Dampen oscillation.
    • Face downwind.
    • Keep feet together.
    • Unhook snaps during descent if over water.
  4. Use static lines to bail out wounded personnel.
  5. Three short rings on alarm signal indicates “Prepare to bail out.” One long ring is the signal for “Bail Out.”

Source:

Stalag Luft I Online

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Winter 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1936

February 10, 1936

The German Gestapo, under Heinrich Himmler, assumes absolute control over internal German security, placing them above the law.

March 1936

SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) – in English, the SS Death’s Head (skull and crossbones) division – is established to administer the Nazi concentration camps.

March 7, 1936

In violation of the Versailles Treaty, Nazi troops occupy the Rhineland.

March 29, 1936

Ninety-eight percent of Germans vote for Hitler’s policy of re-militarization.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1935

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Let us be thankful for…this possum?

Daddy’s family never had much money when he was growing up in Atlanta. My granddad was a printer by trade and had trouble finding work during the Great Depression. After that, he owned his own print shop for a while, and even invented a printing press, but family lore says the patent was stolen from him and he never realized any money from his invention.

Granddad and Grandmother didn’t see a lack of money as a reason to limit their family size, though, and over twenty-seven years had nine children.  They kept a big garden, raised chickens and rabbits, and all the kids except the youngest, Beverly, left school after the tenth grade to get jobs to assist with the family finances.

The Farrar children were great story tellers and had a lot of interesting family memories to draw from, so when my Aunt Beverly told me the story of the most memorable family Thanksgiving, it stuck in my mind.

This particular Thanksgiving may have occurred in the 1920’s or 1930’s or as late as the early 1940’s, either before Beverly was born or when she was too young to remember the day herself. Her knowledge of that Thanksgiving was the story told to her by her mother, my grandmother, Raleigh Mae Farrar.

Beverly told me the story a couple of times and small details changed between tellings.  This is my version of the day compiled from my recollections and recordings of the events as told to me by Beverly. The quotations are Beverly’s words.

Grandmother had what the family called “the vapors.” Back then, having the vapors were at the very least described as having spells of light-headedness, flushing, or fainting, to the opposite end of the spectrum of hysteria, mania, or depression. It could involve mood swings and loss of mental focus. Having had her last child at the age of forty-seven in 1937, for Grandmother, the vapors may have been menopause. She would have turned fifty in 1940.

During the period of Grandmother’s vapors, she was sometimes bedridden and a woman came in every day to take care of the family. That year when Thanksgiving neared, the family didn’t have money for a turkey and all the fixings.

Grandmother said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do, we don’t have money for a turkey. We’ll just have chicken.”

The woman said, “Oh, no, Miss Mae, don’t worry about that. I’m going to take care of Thanksgiving.”

Soon Thanksgiving Day came and Grandmother said the smells wafting from the kitchen were just absolutely fabulous. The family could hardly wait to get in there and eat Thanksgiving dinner. When the woman announced dinner was ready, they opened up the door and all rushed in to gather around the dining room table.

In the center of the table was a great big possum on a platter. The possum had an apple in its mouth and was surrounded with potatoes cut to look like flowers, with English peas scattered among the potatoes. Everyone sat and stared at that beautiful display and that possum. But just for a moment, before the room filled with laughter.

After composing themselves, my grandfather and all the children told my grandmother they weren’t eating the previous night’s roadkill for Thanksgiving. Then every one of them got up from the table and left the dining room.

In 1909, President William Howard Taft and his family reportedly enjoyed a twenty-six pound possum alongside the traditional turkey for their Thanksgiving Day meal. Maybe the woman who cooked Thanksgiving for my grandparents and their children that year thought that if a Thanksgiving possum was good enough for a U.S. President and his family, it would be good enough for the Farrar family who, that year, couldn’t afford a turkey.

Though the Farrar’s were poor in money, they were rich in family. Family is what Thanksgiving’s all about, isn’t it?

I’d like to think if that generation of my family had been aware of the centerpiece of President Taft’s 1909 Thanksgiving dinner, they might have given that possum a taste.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Fall 1935

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1935 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1935

October 3,1935

Benito Mussolini, leader of the Fascist Party and Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his troops into Abyssinia (the historical name of the Ethiopian Empire in Africa). The invasion was known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The League of Nations called for economic sanctions against Italy, but there was no enforcement.

December 1935

The Hoare-Laval Pact was proposed by British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare and French Prime Minister Pierre Laval for the purpose of ending the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The proposed pact would partition Abyssinia, which would achieve Mussolin’s goal of making it into an Italian colony.

According to the pact, France and Britain would each give Italy part of Abyssinia with guaranteed access to the ocean. The proposed pact was strongly opposed in both Britain and France and was never finalized. British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare lost his position.

December 12, 1935

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler founded the Lebensborn (source or fount of life) program. The program’s purpose was to produce a German “super race” by selective breeding between young German women demonstrating the idealized Aryan characteristics, and SS officers and others who were considered to be racially pure. Once pregnant, the women were provided with excellent medical care in special medical facilities.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Wikipedia: Second Italo-Ethiopian War

Wikipedia: Hoare-Laval Pact

Wikipedia: Lebensborn

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1935

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion

When I returned from the 384th Bomb Group’s 2018 reunion in Dayton, Ohio, I posted a few photos here.

I have now had a chance to sort through the three hundred-plus photos I took and have posted about five dozen in the group’s photo gallery. The link is to the main album, which contains all photos contributed by reunion attendees. My photos, at least for now, are in the sub-album “Cindy Bryan’s Photos.” These may be rolled up into the main album in the future, so if you don’t see my sub-album, you can assume all my photos have been moved into the main album.

Here are just a few more of my photos from the 2018 Reunion in Dayton, but you can see lots more using the photo gallery link to the group’s online photo gallery.

Friday, October 19 – Our visit to the National Museum of the US Air Force

After a short bus ride from our reunion hotel, we gathered around the 384th Bomb Group memorial outside the museum. An honor guard presented the colors and taps was played.

Honor guard at the 384th Bomb Group memorial at the National Museum of the USAF

The five 384th Bomb Group veterans who attended the reunion posed for a photo on this cold Dayton morning.  Attending were (left to right):

  • Peter Bielskis, Ball Turret Gunner, 27 Missions
  • Henry Sienkiewicz, Navigator, 35 Missions
  • William Wilkens, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, 30 Missions
  • John DeFrancesco, Pilot, 35 Missions, POW
  • Donald Hilliard, Radio Operator, 16 Missions

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group pose behind the group’s memorial at the Museum of the USAF
Left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, William Wilkens, John DeFrancesco, and Donald Hilliard

Never missing an opportunity to photograph our veteran heroes, our group posed inside the museum in front of the Memphis Belle (see previous post), and with UK friend of the group, Neill Howarth, in front of the museum’s soaring stained glass backdrop.

In the Museum of the USAF, left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, Neill Howarth, John DeFrancesco, William Wilkens, and Donald Hilliard

Saturday, October 20 – Our visit to the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio

Our group got a close look at the restoration work on the museum’s B-17 Champaign Lady, getting a hands-on educational opportunity in our favorite subject, the Flying Fortress. We held parts in our hands, crawled through the work-in-progress fuselage and ball turret, and, of course, took more photos.

We even had the opportunity to meet two local WWII Army Air Forces veterans from different bomb groups, Red Ketcham and Art Kemp, who were also based in England during the war. You can see their photos in the gallery.

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: Neill Howarth and John DeFrancesco

Our 384th veterans gathered in front of Champaign Lady

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: William Wilkens, Henry Sienkiewicz, John DeFrancesco, Peter Bielskis, and Donald Hilliard

The obvious “stars” of our group are our veterans, but as the number of surviving veterans dwindle, it is up to the next generation of children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in our group to carry their memory forward.

In addition to our five veterans, twenty-seven family members and five friends of the group gathered in Dayton this year. It is not just our country’s history we celebrate when we gather, it is our family history, too. Others like me seek to learn everything we can about our relatives’ involvement in that time long ago, not just for ourselves, but so that we can pass this knowledge down for generations to come.

Left to right: Fred Preller (son of 384th pilot Robert Preller), Cindy Farrar Bryan (daughter of 384th waist gunner George Edwin Farrar), John DeFrancesco (384th pilot), and Keith Ellefson (nephew of 384th ball turret gunner Raymond Orlando Wisdahl)

It took several days for me to return to “normal” from the travel between Florida and Ohio, and the reunion itself. But after my immersion of several days into the WWII air war over Europe, it will take me much longer to return to 2018 from 1945. Part of me is still there in that different world in that long ago time.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Summer 1935

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1935 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1935

July 28, 1935

Boeing’s prototype B-17, known as the Model -299, made its first flight. It was piloted by Boeing’s chief test pilot, Leslie Tower. A reporter for the Seattle Times, Richard Williams, seeing the multiple machine guns, remarked, “Why, it’s a flying fortress!”

August 6, 1935

The Nazis forced Jewish performers/artists to join the Jewish Cultural Unions.

August 31, 1935

President Roosevelt signed the Neutrality Act of 1935. It prohibited trading in arms and other war materials with all parties in a war.

September 1935

Germany adopted the swastika for its national flag. The symbol originally stood for life, power, prosperity, and luck in ancient times. The Nazi party adopted the symbol in the 1920’s to stand for German nationalistic pride. But it became a symbol of antisemitism and terror to Jews and enemies of Nazi Germany.

September 15, 1935

The Nuremberg Race Laws, which imposed strict limits on citizenship and civil rights for German Jews, were adopted.

The Nuremberg Race laws were:

  • The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor (regarding Jewish marriage)
  • The Reich Citizenship Law (designating Jews as subjects)
  • The Law for the Protection of the Genetic Health of the German People (requiring all persons wanting to marry to submit to a medical examination; a “Certificate of Fitness to Marry” – which was required to get a marriage license – would be issued if they were found to be disease free)

The Nuremberg Laws caused confusion over the definition of a “full Jew.” The Nazis even published charts to distinguish “full Jews” from Mischlinge (Germans of mixed race) and Aryans. The Nazis ultimately defined a “full Jew” as a person with three Jewish grandparents. A Mischlinge of the first degree was defined as with two Jewish grandparents and of the second degree as with one Jewish grandparent.

Later, supplemental Nazi decrees outlawed the Jews completely, depriving them of their rights as human beings.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Wikipedia: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Wikipedia: Swastika

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1935

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion – A Teaser

I recently returned from the 2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group in Dayton, Ohio. I plan to share more about the reunion in the coming weeks, but for now only have time for a few photo highlights.

The group’s first tour was the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton. What better place for a photo op than in front of the Memphis Belle, probably the most famous of the type of aircraft our veterans flew in WWII, the B-17.

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group in front of the Memphis Belle at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio.
Left to right: Peter Bielskis (ball turret gunner), Bill Wilkins (engineer/top turret gunner), Henry Sienkiewicz (navigator), John DeFrancesco (pilot), and Don Hilliard (radio operator)

We had about four hours to explore the museum, but probably needed four days.

Our second tour was the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio. It is the site of of an active B-17 restoration. Our group had a more hands-on experience here. Veteran pilot John DeFrancesco had the chance to show us how to fly our favorite warbird…

384th veteran pilot John DeFrancesco at the B-17 controls at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

…and I had the chance to see if I could fit into the ball turret. I did, but now can’t understand how those WWII ball turret gunners endured entire missions in that tiny capsule.

384th Bomb Group webmaster Fred Preller and veteran ball turret gunner Peter Bielskis help Cindy Bryan into the ball turret at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

I did also manage to get out of the ball turret. Afterwards, it dawned on me that I had a WWII ball turret gunner, Peter Bielskis, who had survived twenty-seven missions seventy-three years ago in the ball turret, helping me in and out of the one at the Champaign Aviation Museum!

Left to right: Bill Wilkens, Cindy Bryan, and Peter Bielskis at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio.
2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group

What a day!

Attendees of the 2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group: veterans, family, and friends of the group
Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

But the day’s fun didn’t end there. That evening our group enjoyed our gala banquet and finished this year’s reunion with a veteran group photo in front of the wing panel that over one hundred fifty of our 384th Bomb Group veterans have signed.

384th Bomb Group veterans at the 2018 reunion in Dayton.
Left to right: Bill Wilkens (engineer/top turret gunner), Henry Sienkiewicz (navigator), Peter Bielskis (ball turret gunner), John DeFrancesco (pilot), and Don Hilliard (radio operator)

As I mentioned earlier, more details are coming in a few weeks. But until then, I have to rest up. It’s really tough trying to keep up with super heroes!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018