The Arrowhead Club

Clarence Burdell Seeley

Clarence Burdell Seeley, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner of the John Oliver Buslee Crew
Photo courtesy of grandson Jess Seeley

Clarence Burdell Seeley was born in Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska on December 12, 1921, and grew up in Halsey, Thomas County, Nebraska. His parent were Ferris and Esther M. Rasmussen Seeley. Rather than Clarence, he preferred to go by his middle name, Burdell.

Burdell’s father, Ferris Seeley, was born in Nebraska in 1894. Ferris’s parents, John and Clara Seeley, were born in Iowa (John) and Illinois (Clara).

Burdell’s mother, Esther M. Rasmussen Seeley, was born in Christiansand, Norway in 1898. Her parents, George August and Gunnild Gurine Rasmussen, were both born in Norway. The Rasmussen’s immigrated to the United States in 1903 when Esther was five years old.

Ferris and Esther married on June 18, 1918 in Omaha, Nebraska shortly before Ferris enlisted for WWI service. He enlisted on July 25, 1918 and served in the Balloon Corps during the war. He was released from his military service on January 15, 1919.

I cannot locate a census record for Ferris and Esther Seeley for 1920, but their first son Donald Ferris Seeley was born that year in Omaha.

In 1930, according to the Federal census, the Seeley family lived at 2786 E. Street, Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska, where Ferris Seeley worked as a delivery man in the construction industry. Ferris and Esther had four children – ten year old son Donald Ferris, eight year old son Clarence Burdell, six year old son Harold Floyd, and two months shy of four year old daughter Margaret Gwendolyn. All of the Seeley children were born in Nebraska.

In 1940, according to the Federal census and family records, the Seeley family lived in the village of Halsey in the Natick Precinct of Thomas County, Nebraska. The census record reported that on April 1, 1935, the family still lived in Lincoln, so the move to Halsey occurred after that point. Ferris worked as a “Care of Stock Rancher” on a ranch. Donald was no longer listed as living at home, but Burdell, Harold, and Margaret Gwendolyn were still at home with their parents. Burdell also worked as a “Care of Stock Rancher.”

In 1942, at twenty years old, Burdell was living in San Diego, California and working for Consolidated Air Craft when he registered for the draft on February 15. He listed his mother, Mrs. Esther Seeley of Halsey, Nebraska as the “person who will always know your address.” He listed his height at 5 feet 11 1/2 inches, weight at 167 pounds, and with brown hair, brown eyes, and a ruddy complexion.

Although I cannot find an enlistment record for Burdell in the National Archives under the Serial Number recorded for him in his 384th Bomb Group website’s personnel record (39270874), according to his U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, he enlisted in the Army on December 22, 1942.

Of course, at the time, the Air Force was part of the Army, so he either signed up for the Army Air Forces or he was designated so because of his aviation employment at Consolidated Air Craft. [Even without finding an actual enlistment record, I believe the December 22 date to be accurate because Burdell’s Social Security Number as indicated on the BIRLS file matches the SSN for him in the Social Security Death Index (both records found on Ancestry.com).]

Burdell’s two brothers also served in WWII. Older brother Donald Ferris Seeley (1920 – 1974) served in the Navy aboard the ammunition ship USS Rainier, and younger brother Harold Floyd Seeley served in the Army in a clerical position.

Clarence B. Seeley, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Buslee Crew

At the completion of his military training in the states, Clarence Burdell Seeley became the Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew.  After final crew training in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Buslee crew was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #144 dated July 22, 1944. The crew flew heavy bomber missions in B-17s over Germany.  The ten-man crew included:

  • Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
  • Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
  • Navigator – Chester A. Rybarczyk
  • Bombardier – Marvin B. Fryden
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Clarence B. Seeley
  • Ball Turret Gunner – Erwin V. Foster
  • Tail Gunner – Eugene D. Lucynski
  • Waist Gunner/Flexible Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
  • Waist Gunner/Flexible Gunner – George Edwin Farrar

Once the Buslee crew of ten reached Grafton Underwood, flight crews had been reduced to only nine men per aircraft and included only one waist gunner rather than two. On the crew’s first mission on August 4, 1944 to Rocket R&D, Crossbow (V-Weapons), Peenemunde, Germany, Jay Buslee co-piloted alongside pilot Arthur Shwery, giving Buslee some combat training. This resulted in co-pilot David Franklin Albrecht flying with the Paul E. Norton crew, and George Edwin Farrar sitting out the mission as Lenard Leroy Bryant had been selected to fly as sole waist gunner on the Buslee crew’s first mission. Clarence Burdell Seeley completed his first mission as Engineer/Top Turret Gunner.

On the crew’s next mission, Shwery again provided combat training for Buslee, and Albrecht flew with the Norton crew. Farrar was rotated in as waist gunner and Bryant sat out this mission. This August 5 mission was to a military airfield in Langenhagen, Germany with the Buslee crew aboard aircraft 42-37982, The Tremblin’ Gremlin. At the beginning of the bomb run over the target, they were met with anti-aircraft fire. A shell exploded to the side of the Tremblin’ Gremlin’s nose and a shell fragment pierced the flying fortress and struck bombardier Marvin Fryden in the chest. Fryden managed to maintain his position and released Tremblin’ Gremlin’s bombs on the target before collapsing.

The engineer and top turret gunner, Clarence Burdell Seeley, sustained the second most serious injury. A piece of flak tore through the lower part of his right leg above the ankle. Also incurring minor injuries on the mission were navigator Chester A. Rybarczyk, pilot Arthur J. Shwery, co-pilot John Oliver Buslee, and waist gunner George E. Farrar.

The fort had sustained heavy battle damage. The right inboard engine was out. The radio compartment was riddled with flak holes and the radio equipment was destroyed. The trim tabs that control the plane’s balance were shredded. The hydraulic brake system was shot out. Part of the oxygen system was also out, causing the men up forward to use emergency supplies or tap other lines.

Only Fryden and Seeley needed immediate first aid treatment during the return trip. Navigator Chester Rybarczyk assisted Fryden, who remained conscious during the entire mission. Seeley attended to his own leg wound.

The left inboard engine went out as they reached the English coast and Buslee headed for the nearest airfield. Even with his brakes gone, Buslee managed to bring the plane in on the concrete landing strip and slide it off onto the grass to reduce the speed before finally coming to a halt.

Bombardier Marvin B. Fryden died later in an Army hospital with his friend Chester Rybarczyk at his side.

Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Clarence Burdell Seeley was seriously wounded and was taken to the 65th General Hospital for treatment. In the report written up regarding his qualification for the Purple Heart, the circumstances surrounding the receipt of wounds were reported as:

S/Sgt. Seeley was WIA by flak while serving as Top Turret Gunner on a B-17 aircraft on a bombardment mission over enemy occupied territory.

The report continued, describing that the wound consisted of:

Wound, penetrating, right, lower leg due to flak, 5 Aug., 1944. Hospitalized at 65th General Hospital, 35 days.

The 65th General Hospital during World War II was a reserve unit made up of staff from Duke University Medical Center of Durham, North Carolina, and was located in England on the grounds of Redgrave Park in Suffolk County. It was mainly Nissen Hut construction supplemented by ward tents. The hospital had 1456 beds and served from February 1944 to August 1945 as the major hospital center for the surrounding U.S. 8th Army Air Force.

Combat Data Specialist Keith Ellefson speculated that,

I suspect the 65th General Hospital was the general hospital closest to the field (Halesworth, Station 365) that they landed at upon return from the mission. Once he [Seeley] was ambulatory and it was determined that he would possibly recover well enough to go back on flight status, I imagine he would be returned to GU [the 384th’s base at Grafton Underwood] for convalescence and evaluation by the squadron flight surgeon.

Following his flak injury, Burdell Seeley was not able to fly again for almost two months.  As a result, he was grounded until October 1944.

With Seeley out as the Buslee crew’s engineer/top turret gunner, and the fact that flight crews had been reduced to only one waist gunner, Lenard Leroy Bryant was moved into the engineer/top turret gunner position on the crew. This left George Edwin Farrar as the sole waist gunner for the Buslee crew.

On September 28, just days before Seeley would return to flight duty, Lazy Daisy carrying the Brodie crew collided with 43-37822 carrying the Buslee crew after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany. Of the Buslee crew, only waist gunner George Edwin Farrar survived. The other eight members of the crew (see note below) were killed in the mid-air collision.

Burdell Seeley returned to flight duty for Mission 203 on October 2, 1944. He safely completed his tour with 34 missions, the last being Mission 285 on March 10, 1945, and was able to return home.

Clarence Burdell Seeley was released from military service on June 12, 1945. He and Patricia Louise Johnson of Merna, Nebraska were married that year.

Burdell returned to cattle ranching after the war and he and Patricia had two children. Burdell died on March 18, 1980 at 58 years old of a heart attack while working cattle in the corral with a neighbor. He is buried at the Kilfoil Cemetery in Merna, Custer County, Nebraska.

Note

On the September 28, 1944 mission the Buslee crew was made up of:

  • Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
  • Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
  • Navigator – William Alvin Henson II
  • Bombardier – Robert Sumner Stearns
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
  • Ball Turret Gunner – George Francis McMann, Jr.
  • Tail Gunner – Gerald Lee Andersen
  • Waist Gunner – George Edwin Farrar (my dad)

Note of Apology

In an earlier post, I incorrectly identified Clarence B. Seeley, engineer/top turret gunner of the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, as Clarence Benjamin Seeley, born on February 26, 1921 to Clarence A. and Marie A. Seeley, died August 17, 2007 in Portland, Clackamas County, Oregon. Interestingly, both Seeley families had roots in both Iowa and Nebraska, so I think it’s possible there could be a family relationship somewhere between them. Regardless, I apologize to both Seeley families for the mis-identification and thank Clarence Burdell Seeley’s grandson, Jess Seeley, for correcting me and providing me with biographical information on his grandfather, Burdell.

Sources

Press Release of the Buslee Crew’s August 5, 1944 Mission as reported in the Park Ridge, Illinois Advocate

65th General Hospital

Clarence Burdell Seeley and family memorial infomation on FindaGrave.com

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: