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The Cook Family Scrapbook Holds the Answers

The continuation and conclusion of the past two weeks’ posts about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field…

Part 1: A Hero’s Hero

Part 2: The Boy Who Took My Place in the Water

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII was Delia Cook McBride’s uncle. Delia never had the chance to meet her mother’s brother because he died in WWII. He was a family legend, only known to her through the memories of her family and the scrapbook her grandmother made with photos, newspaper articles, and letters. The scrapbook was the last connection Jack’s mother, Mary Ellen Cook, had to her son. Like so many others, Jack went off to war and never came back.

In my lengthy research of Jack Cook, I had two main questions surrounding his death. One, did Jack receive any awards recognizing his actions on February 3, 1945 when his shot-up B-17, the Challenger, was forced to ditch in the North Sea? Jack’s pesonnel record was burned in the big fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in 1973, leaving no record of any awards.

And, two, did Jack’s family know of his bravery and heroism on that day? Jack’s Individual Deceased Persons File (IDPF) was not stored at the NPRC at the time of the fire, although it is now. A letter from Brigadier General Ray L. Owens is included in that file. It is dated May 2, 1945 and notified Jack’s parents that:

The crew had to swim for life rafts, and three of the crewmen did not reach any of the rafts. These three crew members were the pilot, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Long, the radio operator, Sergeant Fred A. Maki and your son. The bodies of your son and the pilot were recovered.

Was this all that the Cook family knew about the ditching? They were led to believe that Jack died in the North Sea without ever reaching a life raft. Did Jack’s parents go through their entire lives without knowing of Jack’s heroism?

Finding Jack’s niece, Delia, and Mary Ellen Cook’s scrapbook led to the answers.

Many newspaper articles reside in the Cook family scrapbook, and though they are old and yellowed, play their part in keeping Jack’s memory alive. Most of them report the same story of the sad day when Jack lost his life in the North Sea, how Jack, fearing the life raft overcrowded with most of the crew would capsize, got into the North Sea and maneuvered it “acting as a human propeller” to come alongside the raft containing the unresponsive pilot.

Most of the newspaper stories were likely written from the Stars and Stripes account of the ditching of the Challenger on February 3, 1945. None of them mention specifically that Jack Coleman Cook gave his place in the life raft to Edward Field, but some do note that Jack rescued another member of the crew, likely a reference to Jack’s trading places in the water with Edward.

Navigator Edward Field, 384th Bomb Group
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

As for awards, the August 26, 1945 edition of the Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported the news of a ceremony presenting Jack’s medals to his family with this accompanying photo:

Prince and Mary Ellen Cook and their children Prince Jr and Princella receive Jack Cook’s medals from Col. John P. Wheeler
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Col. John P. Wheeler, commandant of the Army Redistribution Station, is presenting Princella Cook the Air Medal, awarded posthumously last week to her brother, Sgt. Jack Cook, U.S. Army Air Forces, as her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. Prince Cook, and brother, Prince Cook, Jr., look on. The latter is wearing the Bronze Star medal presented at the same ceremony as a posthumous award to Sergeant Cook.

The young airman, ball turret gunner on a B-17, died of exposure in the icy waters of the North Sea where his plane crashed February 3. He was cited for his courage and heroism in rescuing another member of the crew and in making himself a human propeller to keep rafts holding the remainder of the crew together until a rescue craft arrived. This action won him the Bronze Star award. The Air Medal was for meritorious action in raids over enemy territory from January 29, 1945 to February 3.

But it was the family of pilot Robert Long who likely were the Cook family’s original source of the news of Jack’s bravery on February 3, 1945.

The Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported (date unknown) in an article entitled Sgt. Jack Cook Died of Exposure in North Sea in Effort to Save Other Members of Fortress Crew, that Mr. and Mrs. Prince Cook, parents of Sgt. Cook, were sent a newspaper clipping about the ditching by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Long, parents of Lt. Robert Clay Long, 24, pilot of the Challenger, who lost his life at the same time as Sgt. Cook. It stated:

In their letter to Mr. and Mrs. Cook, the parents of Lt. Long said their son had sent them the address of every member of his crew.  They were not certain that Mr. and Mrs. Cook had learned details of their son’s death, so forwarded them the newspaper clipping. Until its receipt, Mr. and Mrs. Cook had not received any detailed information from the government.

Left to right: Lt. Robert C. Long (Pilot) and Sgt. Howard J. Oglesby (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner)
Photo courtesy of Jon Selle

Another important source of information for Jack’s parents was Jack’s crewmate, Howard J. Oglesby, who had survived the ditching. Howard, like Jack, was originally from Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of the newspaper stories told of letters Howard Oglesby wrote to Jack’s parents. One story shared an excerpt of a letter from Howard to the Cooks:

Your son died a hero’s death. He died in an effort to save the other crew members, and did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.

Another article notes that Howard also wrote in a letter to the Cooks:

No doubt by now you have received notice of your son’s death and of the brave way in which he died. I was with him when it happened and I saw him die. Mr. Cook, Jack was a fine boy and everyone thought well of him, and he thought there was no one like you.

I know it is very hard to take and you may think this is easy for me to say, but it isn’t, for I have experienced the same thing twice. We will have to look at everything for the best, though it is very hard to do.

Mr. Cook, if you only knew about Jack’s death as I do you wouldn’t feel near as bad. He died a hero’s death in a effort to save or trying to save other crew members. He did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.  That boy had great courage and plenty of it.  I will always admire him for his courage and bravery. He did things that no one thought was humanly possible.

Howard J. Oglesby and one of the letters he wrote to Jack Cook’s parents
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack’s mother’s scrapbook contains another letter Howard Oglesby wrote to Prince Cook in which he tells Jack’s father:

Mr. Cook it was rough Feb 3 and only men like Jack Cook can stand it.  Jack and I were big pals…I will never forget him.

Howard also wrote that he would like to pay Prince Cook a visit. Howard stated he had a lot to tell Mr. Cook that he couldn’t write. If Howard did pay Prince Cook a visit, I suppose he told Jack’s father all of the details of their time in the North Sea, the details a father would want to know about the day his son died.

Because of Jack Coleman Cook’s heroism and bravery in the February 3, 1945 ditching of the Challenger, the navigator he saved, Edward Field, has enjoyed a long, wonderful life and will turn ninety-four next month. Edward was able to pursue his dream and have a lifelong award-winning career as a poet.  Edward was recently inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. His Hall of Fame plaque honors the man who gave his life to save Edward, Jack Coleman Cook.

384th Bomb Group Navigator Edward Field was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in May 2018
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

Now I know. I know Jack was honored for his bravery and heroism in 1945 and in 2018. I know Jack’s parents learned of their adopted son’s heroic actions and the details of his death on February 3, 1945. But I also know how a family who claimed Jack Coleman Cook as their own for a mere dozen years suffered his loss for very much longer than the time he was part of their lives. Earlier this week on Memorial Day 2018, I remembered Jack Coleman Cook. Like Howard Oglesby and Edward Field, I will never forget him.

Jack’s niece Delia plans to have the contents of the family scrapbook scanned and when I receive the scanned images, I will upload them to the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery. In the future, be looking for the Jack Coleman Cook collection in the Robert Long crew album courtesy of Delia Cook McBride. Thank you so very much for sharing these family memories with us, Delia.

Links to previous posts and other info about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field

Thank you to 384th Bomb Group researcher and combat data specialist Keith Ellefson for contributing to this article.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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The boy who took my place in the water…

…who died instead of me

~Excerpt from World War II by Edward Field

The boy who took Edward Field’s place in the water and gave Edward his place in the life raft after the ditching of their B-17 The Challenger in the North Sea on February 3, 1945 was Jack Coleman Cook.

Jack Coleman Cook, year unknown
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack Coleman Cook, who had previously been a mystery to me, is now coming into focus. For a very long time I had only known some basic facts about Jack. For instance…

Jack’s WWII enlistment record told me:

  • His name was Jack C. Cook.
  • His Army Air Force serial number was 38601019, which matches the personnel record for the 384th Bomb Group’s Jack Cook.
  • He enlisted in WWII on December 10, 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • He was a resident of Garland County, Arkansas (Hot Springs).
  • He was born in Tennessee in 1925.
  • He had 1 year of high school.
  • His civilian occupation was “skilled mechanics and repairmen, motor vehicles,” which leads me to believe that before enlistment he worked for his father at Prince Cook Motors.
  • He was single when he enlisted.

Jack’s 384th Bomb Group personnel record and accompanying missing air crew report told me:

  • He was assigned to the Robert Clay Long crew of the 546th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) Special Orders #8 dated 9 January 1945.
  • He served with the 384th Bomb Group on three missions as a ball turret gunner.
  • He died on February 3, 1945 in the North Sea on his crew’s return from a mission to Berlin aboard the flying fortress, The Challenger.
  • He saved the life of Edward Field by giving Edward his place in the life raft on the mission to Berlin.
  • The crew’s pilot, Robert Clay Long, and radio operator, Frederick Arnold Maki, lost their lives the same day in the North Sea.

I learned more about Jack Cook through searches on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. The census and marriage records I found told me:

  • His parents were William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook.
  • William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle married on March 23, 1933 at the Union Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, when Jack was around seven years old.
  • In 1935, the Cook family lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • In 1940, the Cook family lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  • He had a younger brother and sister, William Prince, Jr. and Mary Princella.
  • On August 12, 1944, at 18 years old, he married Lucille Hutzell in Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas.
  • His birth month and day was October 18, but his birth year is in question.  It was either 1925 or 1926. The birth year on Jack’s marker in Hot Spring’s Greenwood Cemetery reads 1926, a date which I must assume was provided by his father. But the birth year on his enlistment and marriage records is 1925.
  • If 1925 is correct, Jack would have been 18 years old when he enlisted, but if 1926 is correct, he would have only been 17 at the time of enlistment and 18 at the time of his death.

Jack Coleman Cook’s marker, Greenwood Cemetery, Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas, Plot: Block C

Those are the only bits of information I knew about Jack Coleman Cook until just a few weeks ago.

Last week, I wrote of the recent discovery of some of Jack’s relatives. Jack’s niece, Delia McBride, and great-nephew, Jamie Melton, have given me a glimpse into Jack’s childhood.

William Prince Cook and Mary Ellen Cagle met on a blind date. Prince was a car salesman who was already in his late thirties and nine years older than Mary Ellen. He spent his spare time helping out at a church in Memphis. Through his work at the church, he met a young boy, an orphan. The orphan, Jack, would have been around six or seven years old at the time. After Prince and Mary Ellen married in 1933, they adopted Jack.

Even though Prince and Mary Ellen were not Jack’s birth parents, they became his loving mother and father and he their beloved son. In February 1945, Mary Ellen heard a knock at the door. Before she opened the door, she knew Jack was gone.

The news of Jack’s death confirmed her mother’s intuition and her deepest fear. Mary Ellen and Jack did not share a bloodline or DNA, but a mother’s love for her son transcends all things biological. Family is not made of flesh and bone, but of heart and soul. The Cooks were another family destroyed by a tragedy of war.

Three weeks after Jack’s death, Miss Agnes W. Grabau, Executive Secretary of the Memphis branch of the Church Mission of Help in Tennessee wrote a condolence letter to Prince Cook. The organization’s letterhead described them as performing “case work service to young people.” In the letter, dated February 26, 1945, Miss Grabau wrote, in part:

I was shocked and grieved to read in yesterday’s paper about Jack’s death in action.  As I saw the boy’s picture and read the article it brought back a flood of memories and I called Mr. Armstrong today to find out how to get in touch with you.

I know there is very little that anybody can say to you, but I want to tell you that I realize what a grand job you did with that boy and know that your sorrow must be tempered with pride that he came through in such a splendid way and was able to give this service to his country.  Mrs. Livaudais and I share with you in your sorrow and your pride and we want you to know that we are thinking of you and that it is a real inspiration to us to have known you and to have seen the splendid results of your affection for this boy and your fine sympathetic understanding of him.

The Cook family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1940, seven years after Prince and Mary Ellen adopted Jack. In 1940, they had three children, with the addition of son Prince, Jr. and daughter Princella. Prince Cook, Sr. opened his own Ford car dealership in Hot Springs.

Jack Coleman Cook with younger sister Princella and younger brother Prince, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

It is unclear if the Church Mission of Help was involved in Jack’s life before his adoption or as he grew up, but it is clear that the people of the Church Mission of Help fondly remembered Jack and Prince Cook for many years afterwards.

The Church Mission of Help’s website today (if this indeed is the same organization) defines them as “A counseling agency founded in 1922, CMH Counseling is a private, not-for-profit organization providing counseling services to individuals, couples and families.”

When the news media told America the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field, several old newspaper articles about Jack also surfaced.

KARK 4 News of Little Rock reported that a February 1945 newspaper article reporting Jack’s death stated:

Sergeant Cook was well known here. He came to Hot Springs from Memphis with his parents about five years ago. He attended Gulfport Military Academy and Subiaco Academy. He was a member of the First Baptist Church and his parents are leaders in civic and church work. He had been overseas since December.

The Sunday, May 27, 1945 Arkansas Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas reported:

The Air Medal and the Bronze Star Medal have been awarded posthumously to Sgt. Jack Cook, aged 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Prince W. Cook, according to information received by Senator J.W. Fulbright from Brig. Gen. Miles Reber, acting chief of the Legislative Liaison Division.

Sergeant Cook, ball turret gunner on a B-17, was shot down in action over Germany. When their Fortress crash-landed in the North Sea, one of the life rafts got away. Sergeant Cook “acted as a human propeller,” the citation said, and refused to get on the other rubber float, fearing it would sink. Later he died from exposure.

Fellow 384th Bomb Group researcher Keith Ellefson notes that Jack would have also been eligible and his name submitted for award of the Purple Heart at the time that the other recommendations were submitted, even though the article doesn’t mention that medal. Jack’s relatives, Delia and Jamie, confirm that Jack was awarded the Purple Heart. Delia was in possession of her Uncle Jack’s medals until they were stolen from her home in 1995.

KARK 4 also reported that a July 1948 Arkansas Democrat article was published when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial. It stated:

When war was declared, Cook, not yet 18, volunteered. He went overseas just before Christmas 1944, and was assigned to a flying fortress, The Challenger.

Since connecting with Jack Coleman Cook’s niece, Delia Cook McBride, Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman’s office is working to replace Jack’s medals and to add Jack’s name to the Veterans Memorial of Garland County in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Just days before Delia discovered that her Uncle Jack had been honored on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Westerman, Delia had visited the Veterans Memorial and thought she should add her Uncle Jack’s name. Now Delia will receive replacements for Jack’s stolen medals and will see him honored at the memorial in his home town of Hot Springs thanks to Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman.

Jack’s niece Delia shared several newspaper articles with me, but I ran out of time to include them in this post. Check back next week for more about Jack Coleman Cook…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

A Hero’s Hero

Jack Coleman Cook

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook

Watch Edward Field read his poem World War II on YouTube

Edward Field’s voice trembles and his eyes reflect a profound sadness when he reads these lines of his poem World War II…

That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me

Even though the events Edward describes in his poem happened seventy-three years ago, his memory of February 3, 1945 is as fresh as if it were yesterday.

Edward is not telling a story. He is conveying an experience. And watching him do so, I am there in the life raft feeling the chill and the terror of the cold North Sea creep into my bones. I can see the apprehension and disbelief on the faces of the crew. They should be back at their base in England reliving the mission over a drink with the group, not freezing in a raft bobbing alone in the sea. I realize I am holding my breath waiting for him to tell me everything turns out all right. But I already know. It does not turn out all right.

Of the crew of nine, three are lost. Edward is one of six survivors. The experience is not over when life moves on for these six. It remains deep in their souls and will be a part of them for the rest of their lives.

Edward Field is the last surviving member of the crew and at ninety-three years old, this hero of World War II wanted to honor his hero, the airman who saved his life in the North Sea in 1945, Jack Coleman Cook.

I met Edward Field in Washington, D.C. in April to do exactly that. We were there to see Jack Coleman Cook honored in the United States House of Representatives. During our stay we visited the Library of Congress where Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project interviewed Edward Field.

R to L: Owen Rogers and Edward Field
Photo courtesy of David Perrotta

Owen recorded a lengthy video of Edward, which includes the poem reading, on the afternoon of April 11 and graciously shared the recording with me. I plan to eventually share the entire recording on YouTube, but currently you can view Edward reading his poem World War II here. And if you wish to read it yourself, you can do so here.

At the time we were in Washington, we had been unable to locate any relatives of Jack Coleman Cook. The media coverage surrounding Congressman Bruce Westerman’s speech honoring Jack in the House of Representatives changed that. The first to come forward were descendants of Jack’s wife Lucille Hutzell and her second husband James Harmon.

Jimmy Harmon is Lucille and James’s son and their youngest child. Shelly Hefner McIntyre is Lucille and Jame’s granddaughter, daughter of their second daughter and middle child. They both knew of Lucille’s marriage to Jack Cook and that Jack and Lucille didn’t have any children together. Lucille talked quite often about Jack, but didn’t tell them many details of Jack’s and her life together.

Lucille talked of Jack getting in the water and pushing the raft and that he had died of hypothermia. She said that Jack’s parents, Prince and Mary Ellen Cook, were always very good to her, even offering the use of a car from Prince Cook’s car dealership so she could attend Jack’s funeral when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial in 1948. Remarried and with a child on the way, Lucille declined to attend Jack’s funeral.

Still a mystery to Lucille’s children and grandchildren, she told them that she and Jack had divorced. Lucille and Jack were married for less than four months when he was shipped overseas, and less than six months when he died. The family never found any divorce records or other proof, and Lucille never conveyed a reason for a divorce. Lucille died in 2011.

Jimmy and Shelly and Lucille and James’s other children and grandchildren knew that Jack died during the war. They knew that Jack died from exposure in the cold North Sea. But they did not know that Jack had a place in the life raft and gave it up to save the life of his fellow airman, Edward Field.

They did not know the extent of Jack’s sacrifice to save another. Of all the awards that could be bestowed upon Jack Coleman Cook, the most special is the gift of knowledge to those who consider Jack family, even though they are not directly related by blood or marriage, of Jack’s heroism and bravery and that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow man. 

Shortly after Jack’s wife’s relatives learned of Jack’s recent honors, Jamie Melton was searching for a photo of his grandfather Prince Cook’s car dealership on the internet when he ran across the media coverage and my blog coverage of the story of his great-uncle Jack Coleman Cook.

Prince Cook Motors of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Jack had a younger brother and sister. His brother, William Prince, Jr., known to the family as Bubba, would have been eleven years old when Jack died. His sister, Princella, would have been nine. Today, Jack has two nieces and a great-nephew he never had the opportunity to meet. Prince, Jr. married, but had no children. Princella also married and had two daughters. Prince, Jr. died in 1981 and Princella died in 1990.

Prince Cook, Jr (Bubba) and Princella Cook in high school yearbook photos
Children of William Prince Sr and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook

Princella’s daughter, Delia Ann Cook McBride, became the keeper of the family’s memories of Jack, a scrapbook of Jack’s pictures, letters, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia. Delia’s son, Jamie, led her to the recent honors for Jack which rekindled her memories of her grandparents’ stories of her Uncle Jack, her hero, when she was growing up.

Delia provided me with the portrait of Jack in uniform. As I compare Jack’s photo with the Robert Long crew photo, I still cannot place him in the group. It’s possible that when the photo was taken, Jack wasn’t yet a part of the crew.

Robert Long crew

My best guess at identifications, made with the help of Edward Field, Keith Ellefson, and some photos provided by Jon Selle, the grandson of Robert Long’s cousin, are:

  • Kneeling in the front row are the crew’s officers: left to right, Robert Long (Pilot), Ralph Vrana (Co-pilot), Edward Field (Navigator), unidentified crew’s Bombardier. At this point in the war, many of the bombardiers were replaced with an enlisted man serving as togglier who dropped the bombs with the lead crew’s bombardier.
  • Standing in the back row are the crew’s enlisted men: left to right, Thomas Arnold Davis (Tail Gunner), Frederick Arnold Maki (Radio Operator), Marvin Rudolph (Togglier), Howard Oblesby, nicknamed “Moose” (Top Turret Gunner/Engineer), Unidentified, Unidentified
  • Remaining Long crew members who served in the 384th Bomb Group are Jack Coleman Cook (Ball Turret Gunner) and Donald Duncan (Waist Gunner)

Delia and her son Jamie shared some information with me about Jack. Next week I plan to share with you what I learned. Until then, you can watch Delia’s television news interview viewings on KARK 4 and Fox 16.

Links

Continued next week with more information about Jack and the Cook family and hopefully a few more photos from Delia…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

The Lead Banana

Last week, I explained how I have become convinced that 384th Bomb Group B-17G 43-37822 was not the Lead Banana. That name actually belonged to the Group’s B-17G 42-37822.

 

B-17G 42-37822 The Lead Banana

As I indicated last week, I did not want to believe that the ship I had come to know as Lead Banana would now be referred to solely by number, 43-37822. Notwithstanding the evidence that Marc Poole provided, I still clung to the Lead Banana name as the name of the ship in which my father and the Buslee crew suffered a mid-air collision on September 28, 1944. Regardless, a poem that Keith Ellefson ran across during his research leaves me with  no other choice.

The poem, which is called The Lead Banana: A B-17 Flying Fortress, was published in the August 1989 384th Bomb Group, Inc.’s newsletter. The poet was a radio operator of the group who served on the Paul Norton crew at the same time my dad was stationed at Grafton Underwood. First, I’ll present Lawrence Vallo’s poem, and afterwards share compelling information I gleaned from it.

THE LEAD BANANA: A B-17 FLYING FORTRESS
by Lawrence J. Vallo

She sits on her hard stand enshrouded in fog,
Her towering tail fin almost lost in the smog,
Knock kneed weary wings drooping,
Looking all the world like the ugly duckling.

Tin benders patch the rips in her skin,
Scars from her late trip to Berlin.
There were Frankfurt, Merzburg, Munich, and many more,
Do you wonder that she looks weary and sore?

Yes, she does look sickly and kind’a wan
As she squats on her stand in the grey light of dawn,
But, wait till you see this old bird in the air,
She’ll turn into a majestic and graceful swan.

She’s carried her crew into flak filled skies
That promised deadly encounters, and someone dies,
Proudly she’s burst through the treacherous shroud
Surging ever upward toward sunlit cloud.

Her place in the group formation today
Is her usual spot, number four in the low.
Some pilots have said in a half hearted way,
“Let’s leave her home, she’s too old and too slow.”

But a hundred missions she has under the belt,
Countless hostile blows on her skin she has felt.
Fire, flak, fighters, and bone chilling air,
None has deterred her from the enemy’s lair.

Over the I.P. and holding steady,
Bombardier sighting and at the ready,
“Bombs away!” and upward she lunges,
Wheeling ’round, and then downward she plunges.

Shuddering and shaking as she makes the round,
Nothing will stop her, she’s homeward bound,
All guns blazing, and you can bet all your script,
No yellow nosed demon will get her this trip.

Little brothers appear in the sky,
They waggle their wings as they zip by,
Her crew, dazed, spent and numb with cold,
Lads in their teens suddenly forty years old.

Into the pattern she’ll gracefully glide,
All four turning, wings spread out in pride,
Gear down and locked, flaps coming lower,
No red flares to add to the shower.

Taxiing to her stand, her engines she’ll preen,
Just look at her, she’s no “hanger queen.”
Clearing her stacks, she’ll relax with a shudder,
Heave a sigh of relief as ground lock finds rudder.

Once more she rests, weary wings drooping,
Knocked kneed and looking like the ugly duckling.
But, don’t get misty eyed and put away your bandana,
The great fortress you see, is the “Lead Banana.”

Yes, she’s back from her war, holed like a tin can,
But mister, she’s carried her load,
And brought home many a fine young man,
Who bravely went forth to KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD.

By “Chief” Vallo (NM)
544th  Bomb Squad
“Frigham Young”

* * * * *

“Chief” Lawrence Vallo’s poem does indeed close the book for me on which B-17 was named Lead Banana. I’ll tell you why by pointing out various clues I discovered in the poem and through my research on both planes.

About the plane…

  • Vallo flew on seventeen different B-17’s during his service with the 384th Bomb Group with one mission aboard 42-37822 and one aboard 43-37822. While Vallo only flew one mission aboard 42-37822 Lead Banana, it was his very first combat mission. It seems like the first ship an airman flies into combat will forever be special in his heart, so special to Vallo that he would write a poem about it.
  • 42-37822, Lead Banana, was with the 384th for 311 days, was assigned to 104 missions, and received combat credit for 63 missions.
  • 43-37822 was with the 384th for 91 days, was assigned to 34 missions, and received combat credit for 28 missions.
  • Vallo mentions the ship’s 100 missions. 42-37822 was assigned to 104 and 43-37822 was only assigned to 34.
  • 42-37822 had missions to Berlin, Frankfurt, Merzburg (sp. Merseburg), and Munich.
  • 43-37822 never went on a mission to Berlin, but did have missions to Frankfurt, Merzburg (sp. Merseburg), and Munich.
  • Vallo’s description of the ship is of an older painted ship like 42-37822, not the newer, shiny 43-37822.
  • 42-27822, Lead Banana, crashed during a training mission on March 16, 1945 when the right main landing gear collapsed after a hard landing at RAF Ringway. There were no injuries to personnel, but it was the end for Lead Banana, which was salvaged.
  • 43-37822 was lost on the September 28, 1944 combat mission in a mid-air collision over Magdeburg, Germany. My father, George Edwin Farrar, became a POW and the other eight airmen aboard were killed.
  • Lead in Lead Banana was pronounced like the metal lead and at one time was spelled Led, not Lead.

About Lawrence Vallo…

Lawrence J. Vallo

Lawrence Jonathan (or Jack) Vallo was a Native American born on July 6, 1922 to James (Santiago) and Annie Vallo in McCarty, New Mexico. At nineteen years old, on June 30, 1942, he registered for the draft. He listed his middle name as Jack on his draft card, rather than Jonathan. At the time, he was living in Richmond, Contra Costa, California and his employer was the Santa Fe Railroad Co. He reported his weight at 138 pounds, height at 5’4″, with dark complexion, brown eyes, and black hair. The Department of Veterans Affairs lists his WWII enlistment date in the Army Air Corps as February 3, 1943 with a release date of October 8, 1945.

During WWII, Lawrence Vallo served with the 384th Bomb Group as the Radio Operator of the Paul Norton crew, a crew who gave themselves the nickname “Frigham Young.”

In addition to his WWII service, Vallo served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The National Archives contains an enlistment record for Vallo with the enlistment date of June 29, 1946 in the Air Corps with the grade designation of Corporal and the term of enlistment as “Enlistment for Hawaiian Department.”

However, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not include the 1946 enlistment, but includes two other enlistments into the Air Force. One has an enlistment date of July 1, 1949 and release date of March 10, 1955. The other has an enlistment date of March 11, 1961 with a release date of June 30, 1964.

Lawrence Vallo died on November 26, 2001 at the age of 79 at Jemez Pueblo, Sandoval, New Mexico. He is buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico in Plot 11A, 32.

In a memorial on Ancestry.com, Lawrence “Larry” Vallo was described as an “educational advocate for Indian youths.” His wife said that his “individualism, extroverted nature and love of people set him apart from others” and “He was very proud he was a Native American.”

Lawrence Vallo would probably also be proud that he was able to clear up the confusion for me through his poem of the correct B-17 to be known as Lead Banana. And thank you Keith Ellefson for bringing Vallo’s poem to my attention.

Next week, I had planned to explore Vallo’s crew, “Frigham Young,” and tell you why they are important to my dad’s WWII history. But I have some new information about the search for relatives of Jack Coleman Cook to share. I’ll return to the “Frigham Young” crew the next week following the update to the Jack Coleman Cook story.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Not the Lead Banana

In all of my previous articles describing the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision in which my dad was involved, I stated that the Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy and the Buslee crew was aboard Lead Banana. I have recently learned that the ship 43-37822, which my dad and the Buslee crew manned that day, was not, in fact, named Lead Banana.

Lead Banana was the nickname for 42-37822, not 43-37822. The name was incorrectly assigned in the 384th Bomb Group’s database of WWII aircraft, but has now been corrected. The error was discovered through Marc Poole’s research and confirmed by a poem that Keith Ellefson ran across last month. The aircraft is also misidentified in Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log, which can be found here. On page 545, the Fortlog entry reads:

43-37822 Del Cheyenne 25/5/44; Kearney 8/6/44; Grenier 28/6/44; Ass 544BS/384BG [SU-N] Grafton Underwood 29/6/44; MIA Magdeburg 28/9/44 w/John Buslee, Dave Albrecht, Bill Henson, Bob Stearns, Len Bryant, Seb Peluso, George McMann, Gerald Anderson (8KIA); George Farrar (POW); flak, cr Ingersleben, Ger; MACR 9753. LEAD BANANA.

Early in my research of my dad’s WWII service, when I initially learned that my dad was aboard ship 43-37822 on September 28, 1944 in the mid-air collision, I was stunned. In all the stories that my dad told me about the war, the only B-17 he ever mentioned by name was Tremblin’ Gremlin. I had always assumed that was the ship he was aboard on September 28.

But the fact that my dad never did mention the name Lead Banana does help me believe that 43-37822 was not named. If it had been so named, Dad probably would have used that name when he told his story of the mid-air collision. And Wallace Storey did not use the name Lead Banana when he wrote about that day either. He did use the name Lazy Daisy for the Brodie crew’s ship, but he referred to my dad’s ship by number, not by name.

Both 42-37822 and 43-37822 were B-17G models. And both were fortresses of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th. My father flew missions on both ships, one on 42-37822 (the real Lead Banana) and three on 43-37822.

B-17G 42-37822 The Lead Banana

Marc Poole is the fellow who originally started the 384th Bomb Group’s website. Fred Preller is now the webmaster of the site and there are a group of volunteers and researchers that help maintain it. Though Marc is still active in the research of the 384th Bomb Group, he is primarily an artist, college art instructor, and family man. Not surprisingly, Marc is an amazing aviation artist who has a keen eye for aircraft detail.

As a result of Marc’s research, we now know that the above photo, which is part of the Quentin Bland collection in the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, had been misidentified as 43-37822. Marc provided this information about 43-37822:

Aircraft 43-37822 was a Block 70 Boeing-built B-17G with a Natural Metal Finish, and not painted. Boeing quit painting their B-17’s after Block 30. This photo is of an early G model, and a very well-worn one at that.

Marc checked the listing for 42-37822, a Block 15 Douglas built ship, and there is a photo posted of that ship in flight, with nose art very similar to this close-up photo. Someone may have mistaken 42-37822 for 43-37822. Marc added:

I have yet to see a listing in any references for 42-37822 as Lead Banana, but I think that this is most likely the correct ship. There is a large gap of time in the listing for the ship in Osborne’s FortLog…no info between October 43 and its assignment to the 384th in May 44…odd. In comparing pics of Lead Banana currently posted for 43-37822, and one posted of 42-37822, I think it is the same earlier ship. Note the similarity of the black scoreboard under the Co-Pilot window and along the nose, and the same banana shape in the same spot, (but a different shade). Not 100%, but certainly plausible.

The Fortlog entry for 42-37822 is

42-37822 Del Long Beach 9/9/43; Gr Island 17/10/43; ass 544BS/384BG [SU-C] Grafton Underwood 12/5/44; on landing w/Ray Cook the undercarriage collapsed at RAF Ringway, UK (now Manchester Aprt) 16/3/45. Sal AFSC 19/3/45.

The only photo I can find for 43-37822 is the one below which was the High Group Lead on the August 1, 1944 Mission #169. Gerald Sammons commanded and accompanied pilot William Combs, radio operator Emil Morlan, top turret gunner Forest Bemis, bombardier Donald Ward, ball turret gunner Boyce Ragsdale, navigator Kenneth Lord, waist gunner James Fisher, and tail gunner/observer Lloyd LaChine.

B-17G 43-37822 Unnamed

The photo is from the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, courtesy of Cynthia Smith, via Keith Ellefson. It has the natural metal finish, is not painted, and shows no evidence of any banana nose art.

But the final piece of evidence that has put the misidentification of 43-37822 as Lead Banana to rest for me was some new information that Keith Ellefson shared with me just recently. Keith ran across a poem called The Lead Banana: A B-17 Flying Fortress in the August 1989 384th Bomb Group, Inc.’s newsletter.

Next week I will share the poem and tell you about it’s author, a radio operator of the group. The following week I’ll share the poet’s connection with some of the airmen my dad served with at Grafton Underwood in the late summer and early fall of 1944 and how mysterious old photos can have amazing significance more than seventy years after they were taken.

And one more thing since we’re on the subject of misidentified B-17’s. The ship that Dad talked about in every war story he told me, Tremblin’ Gremlin? He only flew one mission on that one, his very first. The exact name of 42-37982 is in question if you take a look at the nose art. I have never seen the name written as anything other than with the spelling Tremblin’ with the apostrophe at the end. But the nose art was painted with the spelling Trembling.

B-17G 42-37982 Tremblin’ Gremlin

Sorry, but I can’t have all my illusions about my dad’s planes’ names blown away at once. The guy who painted that nose art obviously made a mistake. She’ll always be the Tremblin’ Gremlin to me.

Continued next week…

…and then I’ll continue the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field in a few weeks after a little more research.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018