When I look at written World War II history, I see names, dates, places of great battles, and statistics. I rarely see mention of family, but families are what’s at the core of such a great struggle. One man was not fighting this great war against his enemy, another man. Their families were right there beside them fighting, too. When one man went down, many more at home who shared his blood went down with him. The loss of one man became a great emotional loss at home and the loss of many future generations of his family.
Two B-17 flying fortresses collided above Germany on September 28, 1944. Of the eighteen men aboard the two forts, four survived. None of the four live on today, but their children and grandchildren carry on their legacy. At least three of the men who died that day had children or knew that they were to become fathers in the months to come. That makes seven families, not quite half, who share a common history dating back to WWII.
Of the eleven men who would have no descendants, most of them had siblings who had children and there are nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and -nephews who also share their history and cherish their memories.
We are known collectively as the Buslee and Brodie crews’ NexGens, the Next Generation of the men of these two crews of the 384th Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Air Force who bravely defended our country in WWII.
I began my search for Buslee/Brodie NexGens, who I consider extended family, in 2011 after I met Wallace Storey. I remember so clearly now my astonishment when Wallace told me that he had been in touch with other family members of the two crews. It was that light-headed feeling of shattered disbelief that almost knocked me off my feet, the thought of something I had never considered possible. There were others out there who knew my father’s story of the mid-air collision. It was no longer my family’s private history.
I had never before considered that my sister and I were not the only ones. From my dad’s stories, I knew he was the only survivor of the Buslee crew. At the time, I did not know that children were born to two of the men after the mid-air collision. And I never suspected that any of the men of the Brodie crew had survived the horrific accident, but three of them had. One of their sons had contacted Wallace Storey before me. So had a newphew and great-nephew of Buslee crew members.
I began contacting the relatives for whom Wallace provided information and I started researching each man who had been on those two planes, looking for their families, and finding some of them. During this process, I realized there was a lot we didn’t know about September 28, 1944, and that the other NexGens wanted to know as badly as I what happened in the skies above Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944.
Top secret reports from WWII were public now, and I discovered details bit by bit and started putting them together, like pieces of a puzzle. I shared what I found with the other Buslee/Brodie NexGens and they shared knowledge, photos, and letters. These men who were our fathers and grandfathers, and uncles and great-uncles had an incredibly close bond. And now we NexGens were forming our own bond as we learned details about that late September day, details that in the 1940’s our families struggled so very hard to discover, but of which they were left uniformed.
With the power of knowledge of what happened to the boys that day, we are able to feel them again, hold them close, grieve for them, and look at them with a new sense of awe and respect. I have new family now, these descendants of the great airmen of WWII. We live in the lingering shadows of an aluminum overcast that will never fade away as long as we remember.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018