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William Alvin Henson II, Update – Part 2

New information from a new search on, and new information from military records have provided me with some new and updated information regarding William Alvin Henson II, the navigator flying with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII on 28 September 1944. 

To view my original post and other information about William Alvin Henson II, please see the links at the end of this post.

Continuation of William Alvin Henson II, Update – Part 1

William Alvin Henson II

Casualty of War

William Alvin “Bill” Henson II, original Sammons crew bombardier, but participating on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany as navigator of the Buslee crew, died on that date, at the age of 21.

The place of Bill Henson’s death, Ost Ingersleben near Magdeburg, Germany, is not much over 100 miles northwest of Nünchritz, Germany, the location of his grandfather’s birth. Bill’s mother Gertrude’s father, Max Alwin Sproessig, was born in Nünchritz in 1866. Max and Gertrude and the rest of the Sproessig family left Germany in 1906 to start a new life in America.

In 1906, Max Sproessig probably thought his family was safe in America. He couldn’t know that Germany would become his new home’s, and world’s, enemy in the future, and that his grandson would have to fly bombing missions over Germany to fight that enemy thirty-eight years after Max arrived on American soil.

Max died in 1935, and didn’t live to see America become involved in WWII, or see his grandson enlist in the military, or see him go to war. In Max’s lifetime, his family was safe in America. Max’s story may be somewhat unique, but I’m sure many American immigrants faced the same nightmare, having to send their sons to war to a place that they felt they had safely escaped.

A Chronology

Bill Henson’s family received telegrams and letters from, and wrote letters to, the United States War Department in the months following his loss in the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision over Magdeburg. Although the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri suffered a catastrophic fire in 1973, almost two hundred of Bill Henson’s military documents survived, while some likely burned, in the fire at that facility. A few of his existing documents were partially burned and show the singed edges indicating that the fire did reach his records.

These documents and letters from Bill Henson’s NPRC personnel record chronicle the release of information, or lack thereof, to his family at home. Among the following letters and documents from Bill Henson’s personnel record, I have inserted some additional family information and wartime news in the timeline where appropriate.

On 9 October 1944, 384th Bomb Group Protestant Chaplain Dayle R. Schnelle wrote to Mrs. W.A. Henson (Bill Henson’s mother) at 172 Milstead Avenue in Conyers, Georgia. Dayle Schnelle wrote the same letter to George Edwin Farrar’s mother, and likely to the families of all of the boys lost on both the Buslee and Brodie crews’ B-17s on 28 September 1944. The Catholic chaplain may have taken care of the letters to any of the Catholic members of the crew.

Chaplain Schnelle expressed the “deepest and heart-felt concern” regarding Gertrude Henson’s son, who was reported missing in action. He offered hope that her son had escaped or was being held prisoner of war and told her not to consider her son as dead.

Chaplain Schnelled ended his letter with,

May I assure you that I believe that our God still answers prayers. I promise that I shall continue to remember him before God as I know that you are also doing. I firmly believe that the hand of God still guides the destiny of His children. May your faith in the ultimate triumph of God’s will give you courage, strength, and grace to meet the burden of this hour of uncertainty.

On 12 October 1944 a Casualty Message Telegram was created and dispatched on 13 October 1944 to Mrs. Harriet W. Henson (Bill Henson’s wife) in Summerville, Georgia. The telegram stated,

The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your Husband First Lieutenant William A Henson II has been reported Missing in Action since Twenty Eight September over Germany If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified

The Farrar family’s Missing in Action telegram was received on 14 October 1944, making it likely that Harriet Henson also received hers on the same date.

On 15 October 1944, Major General J.A. Ulio, the Adjutant General, followed up Bill Henson’s Missing in Action telegram with a letter. The Farrar’s follow-up letter was dated 17 October.

Major General Ulio wrote that he would pass along additional information when it was received or within at least three months. He also stated,

The term “missing in action” is used only to indicate that the whereabouts or status of an individual is not immediately known. It is not intended to convey the impression that the case is closed. I wish to emphasize that every effort is exerted continuously to clear up the status of our personnel. Under war conditions this is a difficult task as you must readily realize. Experience has shown that many persons reported missing in action are subsequently reported as prisoners of war, but as this information is furnished by countries with which we are at war, the War Department is helpless to expedite such reports.

On 7 November 1944, Bill Henson’s wife Harriet wrote to Major General Ulio. She wrote,

Thank you for your letter and for the little assistance you were able to give. I realize that under the conditions it is hard to get any more information about the status of my husband.

I feel I would like to write to the families of the boys that he was flying with when he was shot down. I do not know who these boys are or their home addresses, and wondered if you can give them to me, or tell me how I can get them.

I will appreciate it, if, as soon as you hear any more about my husband, to please let me know, as I know you will. Also if you can give me any of this information.

On 15 November 1944, Brigadier General Edward F. Witsell responded to Harriet Henson’s letter of 7 November. He responded,

It is regretted that no information has been received in this office regarding your husband other than the initial message stating that he has been missing in action since 28 September 1944 over Germany. Let me assure you, however, that all means practicable are being utilized by our commanders in the theaters of operations to determine the whereabouts of our military personnel who are reported missing in action and when further information is received, concerning Lieutenant Henson, it will be conveyed to you promptly.

I am requesting the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to furnish you the names of the crew members associated with your husband on 28 September 1944, and the names and addresses of their emergency addressees, if this information is available and if security regulations permit.

You have my sympathy in your anxiety for your husband and I earnestly hope that a favorable report, concerning him, will soon be received.

On 20 November 1944, Major E.A. Bradunas followed up the letter of 15 November with,

The Missing Air Crew Report which would furnish the details relative to the disappearance of your husband, and the names of the other crew members serving with him when he was reported missing in action on September 28, 1944, has not been received. Consequently, at the present time, we are unable to comply with your request for information. However, as soon as this report is received this headquarters will communicate with you promptly.

You have our sympathy during this period of uncertainty.

On 8 December 1944, Major E.A. Bradunas wrote the following to Harriet Henson,

Further information has been received indicating that Lieutenant Henson was a crew member of a B-17 (Flying Fortress) bomber which departed from England on a combat mission to Magdeburg, Germany, on September 28th. The report indicates that during this mission at about 12:10 p.m. in the vicinity of the target, your husband’s bomber sustained damage from enemy antiaircraft fire. Shortly afterwards the disabled craft was observed to fall to the earth, and inasmuch as the crew members of accompanying planes were unable to obtain any further details regarding its loss, the above facts constitute all the information presently available.

Due to necessity for military security, it is regretted that the names of those who were in the plane and the names and addresses of their next of kin may not be furnished at the present time.

Please be assured that a continuing search by land, sea, and air is being made to discover the whereabouts of our missing personnel. As our armies advance over enemy occupied territory, special troops are assigned to this task, and all agencies of the government in every country are constantly sending in details which aid us in bringing additional information to you.

Buslee crew waist gunner George Edwin Farrar’s mother received a similar letter dated the same day.

On 9 December 1944, Harriet Henson gave birth to her and Bill Henson’s daughter. Harriet named their new baby Harriet. Harriet took baby Harriet home from the hospital to Bill’s parents’, William and Gertrude Henson’s, Atlanta home on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

On 23 December 1944, just two weeks after baby Harriet’s birth, Harriet Henson received the news that Bill wouldn’t be coming home and she would be raising their daughter alone. The Adjutant General sent a telegram to Mrs. Harriet Henson in Summerville, Georgia,

Report now received from the German Government through the International Red Cross states your husband First Lieutenant William A Henson II who was previously reported missing in action was killed in action on Twenty Eight September over Germany The Secretary of War extends his deep sympathy Letter follows

On 28 December 1944,  Major General J.A. Ulio, The Adjutant General, followed up the latest telegram with a letter.

This letter is being written to confirm the recent telegram in which you were regretfully informed of the death of your husband, First Lieutenant William A. Henson II, 0761431, Air Corps, who was previously reported missing in action since 28 September 1944 over Germany.

The report received from the German Government through the International Red Cross contained only the fact that he died on 28 September 1944. Since it gives the date of his death as the same date he was previously reported missing in action, it has been officially recorded on the records of the War Department that he was killed in action on that date. I wish that there were more information available to give you, but unfortunately reports of this nature do not contain any details or particulars.

I realize the great suspense you have endured and now, the finality to those hopes which you have cherished for his safety. Although little at this time may be said or done to alleviate your grief, it is my fervent hope that later the knowledge that he gave his life gloriously for his country may be of sustaining comfort to you.

I extend to you my deep sympathy.

On 8 January 1945, the Commanding General of the United States Army Air Forces, H.H. “Hap” Arnold, wrote a letter to Harriet Henson. He wrote,

With deepest regret I have learned that your husband, First Lieutenant William Alvin Henson II, missing since September 28, 1944, has been reported as having died in action on that date in the European Area.

My attention has been called to the fine reputation for self-reliance and aggressiveness which Lieutenant Henson enjoyed throughout his military career. In his eagerness to succeed in the Army Air Forces he seriously and energetically applied himself to the training courses, and realized his ambition when he graduated from the Bombardier School at Victorville, California, with a good record. Having an amiable disposition and other admirable traits he endeared himself to the officers and men in his command, and they are saddened by his untimely passing.

Your husband gave to the full measure of his ability for his Country’s cause. I hope the memory of this will help to lessen your grief, and I offer my heartfelt sympathy to you and other members of the family.

On 1 February 1945, Harriet Henson wrote a letter to Mrs. Olga Buslee, John Oliver “Jay” Buslee’s mother. Jay was the pilot of Bill Henson’s B-17 on 28 September 1944. The Buslees had learned on 28 January that their son had been killed on 28 September in the same mid-air collision that claimed the life of Bill Henson. Harriet wrote,

I am so sorry that I have to write this letter. I had prayed that I wouldn’t, because, to say the least, it isn’t very pleasant.

Mrs. Buslee, to say I am sorry is trite, but I really am sorry. To lose a son is different from losing a husband (presuming that we have), and since I have my little girl I feel that I can sympathize with you more, because I just don’t know what I would do if something happened to her.

It isn’t human nature to give up hope. So please don’t, I haven’t. I asked God to bring Bill back to me and I believe He will. Bill has to come back and see his little girl.

Give my best regards to Mr. Buslee and your daughter, and know that I am thinking about you. I feel so close to you even though I do not know you. Maybe when Jay and Bill get back, we can all get together and have a gay time.

On 1 March 1945, Major General Ulio wrote to Harriet Henson regarding her husband’s award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. He wrote,

I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President, the Distinguished Flying Cross has been posthumously awarded to your husband, First Lieutenant William A. Henson II, Air Corps. The citation is as follows:


“For extraordinary achievement while serving as Bombardier of a B-17 airplane on a number of combat bombardment missions over Germany and German occupied countries from 19 May 1944 to 28 September 1944.”

The decoration will be forwarded to the Commanding General, Fourth Service Command, Atlanta, Georgia, who will select an officer to make the presentation. The officer selected will communicate with you concerning your wishes in the matter.

May I again express my deepest sympathy to you in your bereavement.

On 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered to the western Allies at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Headquarters in Reims, France. German Chief-of-Staff, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender, to take effect the following day.

On 8 May 1945, V-E (Victory in Europe) Day was declared as German troops continued to surrender to the Allies throughout Europe.

On 24 July 1945, Bill Henson’s father, William Henson wrote to Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell of the United States Senate and to the Memorial Division of the War Department. Bill Henson’s personnel record at the NPRC does not contain a copy of his father’s letter, but it does contain responses. It does contain a form noting that William Henson’s correspondence was “relative to the burial of the remains of First Lieutenant William A. Henson II, who was killed in action on 28 September 1944 in Germany.”

On 27 July 1945, Senator Russell wrote to the Memorial Division of the War Department on behalf of William Henson. Bill Henson’s file does not contain a copy of this letter either.

On 8 August 1945, Major General Edward F. Witsell wrote replies to both Bill Henson’s father, William A. Henson, of Conyers, Georgia, and to the Honorable Richard B. Russell of the United States Senate.

In General Witsell’s reply to Mr. Henson, he wrote,

I fully appreciate your desire to be informed of the circumstances attending the death of your son and regret that no further information in this respect has reached the War Department since the official message, received from the German Government through the International Red Cross, which stated only that Lieutenant Henson, who was previously reported missing in action over Germany as of 28 September 1944, was killed in action on that date. Every effort is being made by our military authorities to secure further particulars in these cases about which the bereaved families are so vitally interested. To this end, captured enemy records are being carefully examined and verified; details are obtained from airmen who participated in the same engagement and who have since returned to military control, as well as from the interrogation of prisoners taken by our forces. You may be assured that any additional details concerning Lieutenant Henson’s death which may be forthcoming, will be transmitted promptly.

I understand your wish to be advised of the location of your son’s grave. Permit me to explain that The Quartermaster General, this city [Washington, D.C.], is concerned with matters pertaining to burial of the remains of our military personnel who die overseas. He has, therefore, been requested to make further direct reply to you in this respect.

My deepest sympathy is with you in your bereavement.

General Witsell’s reply to the Honorable Richard B. Russell of the United States Senate stated the same information as his letter to Mr. Henson.

On 14 August 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender, but surrender documents would not be signed until 2 September. Some consider the 14 August 1945 date to be V-J (Victory over Japan) Day, but others consider it to be 2 September 1945, when the surrender document was signed.

World War II had ended in both the European and Pacific theaters, but the bodies of America’s World War II dead remained on foreign soil, far away from grieving families. Their war continued.

More about William Alvin “Bill” Henson II in my next post…


Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver “Jay” Buslee’s nephew, for sharing Harriet Henson’s letter to Olga Buslee with me.

Previous post, Lt. William Henson Killed in Action

William Henson’s Enlistment Record in the online National Archives (in the Reserve Corps records)

William Alvin Henson’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Harriet Henson’s letter to John Oliver “Jay” Buslee’s mother

National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) 1973 Fire

Previous post, A Letter from the 384th BG Chaplain

William Alvin Henson II’s Find a Grave memorial

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2023


  1. It’s sad that all this information was conveyed by letter. I imagine that some of the recipients were at home alone reading the news. How did they react? Did they have someone to support them? I believe that the current practice is to have a personal visit to convey the news. Perhaps there were so many casualties in WWII that it was impossible to make personal visits. But certainly there were clergy or military personnel working locally.

    What’s especially sad is that these young men were barely out of high school when they went off to war. When I was that age, I was a military spouse, and they seemed so mature. But looking back from my older years, they seem so fresh and innocent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They had telegrams and letters. Although I do not know the method of delivery of the telegrams, I believe the letters were simply delivered through the postal service, but I could be wrong.


  2. It must have been a terrible time waiting for news.


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