A new search has provided me with some new information regarding the tail gunner, Gerald Lee Andersen, who was onboard my father’s (George Edwin Farrar’s) B-17 the day of the Buslee crew’s mid-air collision with the Brodie crew’s B-17, 28 September 1944.
Gerald Andersen was the tail gunner of the Joe Carnes crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII and filled in for Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Lucynski on that date.
To view my original post and other information about Gerald Lee Andersen, please see the links at the end of this post.
Combining information from several sources including the Federal censuses of 1930, 1940, and 1950, Gerald Andersen’s Person page from an Ancestry family tree, Gerald’s memorial on Find A Grave, and the obituaries of two of Gerald’s brothers (Dale and Jimmie), I find that the Andersen family consisted of parents,
- Father – Ernest William Andersen, 1899 – 1982
- Mother – Verna Esther Yost, 1900 – 1950
and their fifteen children (ten boys and five girls),
- Daughter – Betty Joyce Andersen, 1921 – 2005
- Son – Gerald Lee Andersen, 1923 – 1944
- Daughter – Lila Mae Andersen McLaughlin, 1925 – 2002
- Son – Dale E. Andersen, 1927 – 2013
- Son – Billie LeRoy Andersen, 1928 – 2019
- Son – Don DeVern Andersen, 1929–1991
- Son – Lon Wesley Andersen, born 1931
- Daughter – Verna Elagene Andersen, 1932–1941
- Son – Edwin Ernest Andersen, 1934–2013
- Daughter – Charlene Andersen Taylor, born approx. 1938
- Son – Jimmie Ray Andersen, 1939–2016
- Son – Jack Wayne Andersen, 1940–1990
- Daughter – Althea Kay Andersen Wolfenden, born approx. 1941
- Son – Larry D. Andersen (alternately reported as having the surname Yost), possibly 1944 – 1991
- Son – Dennis L. Andersen (alternately reported as having the surname Yost), possibly 1947 – 2012
Marriage of Gerald Andersen and Esther Coolen
According to marriage records on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen (born 20 June 1923) and Esther Elaine Coolen (born 16 June 1916 – seven years older than Gerald), both of Seneca, Nebraska, married on 24 May 1942.
Entry into World War II
A little over a month after he and Esther married, Gerald Lee Andersen registered for the World War II draft on 30 June 1942 at the Thomas County Court House in Thedford, Nebraska and recorded the following information on his draft form.
His place of residence at the time of registration was Seneca, Thomas County, Nebraska. His date and place of birth was 20 June 1923 in Dunning, Nebraska, and he was nineteen years old at the time of registration.
The name and address of the person who would always know his address was his wife, Esther Andersen of Seneca, Nebraska. His employer’s name and address was E.W. Andersen (his father) of Seneca, Nebraska.
Gerald was 5’8″ tall, 135 pounds, with blue eyes and black hair, with a dark complexion, and had no other obvious physical characteristics.
WWII Induction and Active Duty
According to a US National Cemetery Interment Control Form entry found on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen was inducted into the US Army Air Forces on 6 May 1943 and began active duty on 13 May 1943. The form specifically notes the 6 May date as an “induction” date rather than an “enlistment” date.
Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Gerald Lee Andersen:
- On 26 JULY 1944, Gerald Lee Andersen was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944 as a tail gunner (classification AAG, Airplane Armorer/Gunner, with the MOS, military operational specialty, of 612), for the Joe Ross Carnes, Jr. crew. His pay per month was $140.40. His rank when assigned was Sergeant. He listed his home address as Mrs. Esther E. Andersen, Box 282, Stromsberg, Neb.
- On 1 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen was promoted to Staff Sergeant on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #175.
- On 6 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from sick quarters (LD) to absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital Thrapston.
- On 11 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital Thrapston to duty.
- On 16 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from duty to sick quarters (LD).
- On 19 SEPTEMBER 1944, with Gerald Andersen on sick leave, Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Lucynski flew in Gerald’s place with the Joe Carnes crew on Mission 196 to Hamm, Germany. Target was Transportation, the Railroad Marshalling Yards. Aboard B-17G 42‑37982, Tremblin’ Gremlin, the crew went MIA (Missing in Action). Lucynski was forced to bail out over Allied Territory. Seven of the crew returned to duty. The ball turret gunner, James Bernard King, Jr., was injured by flak and transferred to the Detachment of Patients, 4178 U.S. Army Hospital Plant. Eugene Lucynski was injured by flak and hospitalized from 19 September 1944 until 10 November 1944.
- On 20 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from sick quarters (LD) to duty.
- On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, Eugene Lucynski had not returned to duty since he went MIA on 19 SEPTEMBER. With Gerald Andersen more than a week off sick leave, he replaced Lucynski as tail gunner with the Buslee crew on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Target was Industry, Steelworks. On this mission the James Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 coming off the target. The Buslee crew, as well as the Brodie crew, were declared MIA. Subsequently, all airmen on board the Buslee crew’s B-17, including Gerald Lee Andersen, were declared KIA (Killed in Action) except for George Edwin Farrar who was declared POW (Prisoner of War).
Gerald Lee Andersen was credited with 12 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group.
Gerald Andersen’s WWII service as remembered by fellow crew mate Alfred Benjamin, the Carnes crew Navigator
In 2016, I connected with 384th Bomb Group navigator Alfred Benjamin. He and Gerald were crew mates on the Joe Ross Carnes, Jr. crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron. As Alfred stated at the time, “Although I am 92, I can still remember most things about the War.” He admitted, though that after seventy-two years, he “could not remember a great deal about Gerald,” but he did recall that,
I believe that Gerald joined the Carnes crew in Sioux City AAF Base in early 1944. I was the last person to join the crew and they had been training there for some period. We completed our training in early June and picked up a B-17 in Kearney, Neb. And proceeded across the USA to New Hampshire, Maine and then to Labrador, Iceland and England. We eventually were assigned to the 384th BG 544th SQ. and started our familiarization phase. As I remember, Gerald was a serious young man intent on being a positive asset to our crew of 9.
Like me he had certain trepidations about the mission we were on. At this time in the War the 8th [AF] was still undergoing heavy casualties and this certainly affected our thinking.
Gerald flew with us on 9 missions but as things go I believe that he went on sick call and did not fly with our crew again until September 9th. [Correction: September 13th]. The Carnes Crew ran into Heavy Flak and we were forced to Bail out over Binche Belgium on Sept 19th and Gerald did not fly with us on that mission. I personally was injured and did not return to Grafton Underwood for 29 days and then learned that Gerald was shot down during my absence.
These were the Missions we flew together.
- 7 Aug 1944—Aircraft Fuel Depot, Dugny France
- 8 Aug 1944—Tactical Mission, Bretteville-sur-Laize, France
- 9 Aug 1944—Erding Luftwaffe Base, Erding Germany
- 11 Aug 1944—Coastal Artillery Emplacements, Brest France
- 16 Aug 1944—Delitzsch Luftwaffe Depot, Delizsch, Germany
- 18 Aug 1944—Bridge, Vise, Belgium
- 24 Aug 1944—Synthetic oil plant, Merseburg, Germany
- 25 Aug 1944—Luftwaffe Airfield, Anklam, Germany
- 13 Sept 1944—Synthetic Oil Refinery, Merseburg, Germany
According to a US National Cemetery Interment Control Form entry found on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen’s Date of Interment on American soil is noted as 23 August 1949. The form also notes that Gerald earned the Purple Heart and an Air Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster.
The airmen of the Buslee and Brodie crews who had been killed in the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision were initially buried in the cemetery at Ost Ingersleben, Germany, a village near the crash site of the two B-17’s.
Their bodies were later reinterred in the United States Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland, and Gerald was buried in Plot R, Row 3, Grave 51.
In 1953, Gerald Andersen was brought home and on 23 August 1953, was reinterred in the Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell (Lincoln County), Nebraska, Section F, Site 1229.
Connections with Andersen family members
Since initially writing about Gerald in 2015, I have heard from several family members who found my original article about Gerald.
Gerald’s youngest sister, Kay Andersen Wolfenden, wrote to me in 2016. At the time, the most current Federal census available was the 1940 census, which was taken before the youngest four Andersen children were born, including Kay. Kay informed me that,
There were fifteen children altogether, 10 boys and 5 girls. I am number 13 and lost my mother to cancer when I was 8 years old. The rest of the family always said that mother never got over losing Gerald.
Kay’s son Cyrus is researching her brother Gerald.
The son of Gerald’s brother Dale, Myron Andersen, also contacted me in 2016 and noted that Dale often spoke of Gerald. Dale’s obituary (he died in 2013) provided some interesting family information. It mentioned that,
Dale learned many fine things from his dad, not the least of which was the value of hard work…a great deal of hard work.
Early in his working career, Dale worked with his dad in his tank wagon business.
Remember, Gerald worked for his dad at the time of his draft registration, and I assume it was also in the “tank wagon business.”
Also, Janelle Sommer Davis connected with me just after the Fourth of July in 2018. While not related to Gerald, Janelle is the daughter of Esther Coolen, Gerald’s widow. Janelle told me that Esther remarried and had a daughter, but Esther’s second husband died when their daughter was still a newborn. She married again in 1953 and had a second daughter, Janelle, and a son, Rob.
In honor of July 4th, I get out the flag and the purple heart and medal of honors my mom kept in an attic. As a little girl, I would ask about the medals and she was silently mysterious about them.
They stayed in the attic when she passed in 2002.
I got them out again, and since I was off this week from work, I decided to look at the medals closer. Who was this man of mystery that married my mom, and was so tragically KIA over France [correction: Germany]?
I looked closer and noted that the name on the purple heart had his name on the back. I started to research his name. Wondering when he died, wondering how he looked and wondering what he did. 4 hours later today, I found he was a part of the 384th bomb squad [Group]. He ran 12 missions and was missing Sept 28, 1944. He was a part of the arrowhead club. He was the tail gunner and his name was Gerald L Andersen.
I am writing to you because I found the Andersen letters written by my mom, Esther Coolen Andersen. It was with joy, to see her writings of concern and sadness at the same time. It was an honor to know she was once married to a man of courage and of valor.
Esther’s life post-World War II
Esther married Benjamin Carl Bilhorn, who was twenty years her senior and a veteran of World War I, on 2 June 1946. Their daughter was born 15 July 1948. Benjamin Bilhorn’s obituary states that he died 27 August 1948 in the hospital after a two weeks’ illness.
Esther Elaine Coolen remarried 16 January 1953 to William A. Sommer, who was three years older than Esther. William died 29 October 1992 and Esther died 6 March 2002 at age 85.
I love connecting with family and friends of the men who served with my dad, George Edwin Farrar, in the 384th Bomb Group during World War II. It warms my heart to know that the men who never made it home are not forgotten, even more than seventy years after we lost them in the war.
Esther Elaine Coolen, who married Gerald Lee Andersen on 24 May 1942, became a war widow on 28 September 1944. Even though she was married to Gerald only a little over two years, and remarried twice after losing Gerald, she kept his burial flag and war medals for the rest of her life, through marriages to two other men.
The letters Esther wrote to my grandmother after the mid-air collision tell how deeply she loved Gerald and it is easy to see how she could never forget him. Now that Esther is gone, it is up to us to remember him and keep his memory alive so future generations know what Gerald and others who lost their lives fighting World War II and their families sacrificed for our freedom.
Esther Andersen’s letters to my grandmother,
Previous post, Gerald Lee Andersen
Gerald Lee Andersen’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
MOS means Military Occupational Specialty
Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
Gerald Lee Andersen on Find a Grave
Esther Elaine Coolen (Andersen Bilhorn) Sommer on Find a Grave
Alfred Benjamin’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022