Last week, in a post about 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger, I included a drawing of Harry titled “Sparks Liniger” that was drawn by J. G. Forster. I believe Forster was John Graham Forster, a fellow radio student of Harry’s at radio school at Scott Field, Illinois.
I believe “Sparks” was derived at radio school as a nickname for Liniger from the obsolete (today) type of radio equipment called a “spark-gap” transmitter which generated radio waves by means of an electric spark.
Liniger’s fellow radio student, John Graham Forster, did not serve in combat in the same bombardment group as Harry. While in training in the states, servicemen (and servicewomen) were transferred to various stations around the country for different phases of their training and most likely lost track of others they trained with over time.
Regardless of whether they stayed in touch or lost track of each other, Liniger thought enough of the drawing to save it and his son still has it almost eighty years after it was drawn.
It is easier to learn more about men who served in combat together if those historical records have been gathered and presented for future generations by a historical association. But finding someone who served with a relative in a training setting can be quite difficult. Generally, those types of records or lists don’t exist.
So since I have been able to identify the artist who drew Liniger as “Sparks,” I’m going to take the opportunity to look into where Forster came from and a little of his WWII history as it serves to illustrate the differences in the backgrounds of those who were brought together to fight a world war and the enormous movement of those personnel as part of the American war machine to various points across the globe.
I usually research and write about those who served in the Eighth Air Force in WWII, and mostly about the specific B-17 heavy bombardment group in which my father served, the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy). But there were many other divisions of the United States Air Forces serving in different parts of the world during WWII, and this is a good opportunity to introduce the subject, which I will write more about at a later date.
John Forster was a third generation American. He was named after his grandfather, John Graham Forster of St. Louis Parish, Kent County, New Brunswick, Canada. Grandfather John immigrated to America at eighteen years old, settled in Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and married and raised a family there. Grandson John was born there in 1922.
In the 1940 Waltham High School Yearbook, John’s Senior year, he noted his first ambition was to,
Go round the world and see our 48 states
He liked nice girls and baseball, planned to enter an art career, and was Art Manager of the Senior Play.
In 1942, John enlisted in the United States Air Corps. After his training, including his and Harry’s time at radio school, John was assigned to the 764th Bomb Squadron of the 461st Bomb Group.
But the 461st was stationed nowhere near Harry’s 8th Air Force base with the 384th in Grafton Underwood, England. In fact, the 461st was not even part of the 8th Air Force, but was instead part of the 49th Bombardment Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force. The 461st flew B-24 Liberators and the group was known as the “Liberaiders.”
The Fifteenth Air Force operated in the WWII Mediterranean Theater of Operations and mainly operated out of bases in southern Italy. The 461st was based at Torretto Field, about 12 km (about 7 1/2 miles) south of the town of Cerignola, Italy.
John Forster was assigned to the Carl J. Schultz crew as radio operator/gunner. The Schultz (#3-1) crew consisted of:
- Carl J. Schultz, Pilot
- William R. Baird, Co-Pilot
- James R. Merkel, Navigator
- Joshua Loring, Jr., Bombardier
- John G. Forster, Radio Operator/Gunner
- John W. Rice, Engineer/Gunner
- William F. Sanders, Gunner
- Glenn A. Sligar, Engineer/Gunner
- Don R. Trail, Gunner
- William R. Vaitkunas, Gunner
On 23 March 1945, John Forster participated in the 461st’s Mission 200 to bomb a high priority target, the Kagran Oil Refinery in Vienna, Austria. Thirteen of the 461st’s thirty aircraft were hit by flak over the target and the lead bombardier, Lt. Rosulek, was wounded just before bombs away.
On this mission, William Baird was pilot of the unnamed B-24J 44-41091 with Dwight B. Olson serving as his co-pilot. Other original crew members included John Rice, Glenn Sligar, William Sanders, William Vaitkunas, and of course, John Forster. Substitutes, besides Olson, included Edward T. Wenslik as Bombardier, Richard C. Davis as Navigator, and Marlin R. Smith as Gunner.
At about the time of bombs away, the Number 2 engine of 44-41091 was hit by flak and knocked completely off the ship. They dropped back in the formation with a fire in the wing. Following an unsuccessful attempt to put out the fire, they lost altitude and dropped about 5,000 feet. Five chutes were seen to emerge before the plane went into a dive and exploded.
Davis, the Navigator of the crew, reported that he was reunited in the next few days with all of the crew except for Lt. Baird, the pilot. A German guard reported that Baird was found dead with an unopened chute some distance from the wreckage of the aircraft.
One of the crew wrote in his Individual Casualty Questionaire that,
Lt. Baird … went beyond the “call of duty” that day in fighting the ship to keep it from going into a spin, and then momentarily leveling it out with the trim tabs giving us all, the nine of us, time to jump.
With the exception of Baird, the entire crew was held prisoner of war at Moosburg, Stalag VIIA. All were liberated from Moosburg on 29 April 1945 and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike in La Harve, France to begin their journey back to America.
Forster did become an artist after the war. In the 1952 Waltham Massachusetts City Directory, he listed his occupation as artist. He married a nice girl and had seven children.
John Graham Forster died on 24 June 1982 at the age of 59 in Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, Middlesex County, Massachusetts in Section 23-N, Lot 48-A.
I don’t know if he ever saw all of our “48 states” (or additionally Alaska and Hawaii), but he did see quite a bit of the world, including Italy, France, Austria, and Germany, and saw things he couldn’t imagine during high school from the radio room of a B-24.
Thank you to Chuck Parsonon, Admin of the 461st Bombardment Group’s Facebook group for providing me with information for this post.
Thank you to the folks running the 461st Bombardment Group website for the excellent information on the group and its service members you provide.
Last week’s post, Harry Liniger’s Letters and Guardian Angel
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021