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.
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
* * * * *
“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 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