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Collecting Very Special Signatures

The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel with 147 Signatures

Calling all Veterans of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII!

If you are a WWII veteran of the 384th Bomb Group and you have not yet had the opportunity to sign the Group’s Commemorative Wing Panel, or if you know, or know of, a 384th Bomb Group Veteran who would be interested in signing, please e-mail:

B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com

The 384th Bomb Group was based in Grafton Underwood, England during WWII. One hundred forty-seven Veterans of the 384th have already signed and three more Veterans are scheduled to sign in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan in November.

A few weeks ago, Veterans, NexGens (Next Generation members), and friends of the 384th Bomb Group all came together in New Orleans for the annual 8th Air Force/384th Bomb Group Reunion. While the Group’s Veterans were the obvious stars of the show, “Wingy,” as our Commemorative Wing Panel is affectionately known, was a much sought-after celebrity for photo opportunities.

History of the 384th Bomb Group’s Signing Project

The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project arose from a chance observation in 2008. 384th BG NexGen member Christopher Wilkinson was visiting the EAA’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” and admired the large number of Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door. The significance of personally signing the bomber and the affection they had for the B-17s they flew and serviced was apparent. An idea began to form: might it be possible for the Veterans of the 384th BG to personally sign a B-17 part to honor their hard work? The dream began to take shape after discussions with fellow Group members, and so the search for a suitable B-17 part began.

In March 2010, after a long search, a genuine B-17G wing skin panel was generously donated to the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. by Carl Scholl, partner in the warbird restoration firm Aero Trader of Chino, California. The identity of the B-17G that the panel came from is unknown. All that is known, based on the original ID plate affixed to the back, is that it was built during WWII by Briggs Manufacturing Company and its function is a wing stress panel to enclose the fuel tank.

To ready the panel for its first signatures, warbird restorer and artist Cory O’Bryan of Ontario, CA donated his time and artistic skills hand-painting the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, 544th, 545th, 546th and 547th Bomb Squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and listed the Group’s support squadrons on the 3-foot by 8-foot long panel.

The wing panel was first presented to the Group at their reunion in Branson, Missouri on October 12, 2010, where the first 10 Veterans signed. Since then, it has been to every annual 384th reunion and has also been shipped to all corners of the country, and has visited 147 Veterans and their families.

The 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel is available for any 384th Bomb Group Veteran to sign who served in any capacity in the Group between January 1943 to February 1946. Families and friends of the Veterans are strongly encouraged to participate with the Veteran when they sign the wing panel.

The project is continuing as Veterans are located, and as arrangements can be made for them to sign, even if they are unable to travel to the reunions. As many of our Veterans are unable to travel, this has become very important to them. The project will continue for as long as 384th Veterans can be located.

At the completion of the Project, when all possible signatures have been gathered, the wing panel – formally known as The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel – will be placed on permanent display in a place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The project was conceived to be materially and logistically supported by the Group’s NexGen members, solely for the benefit of its Veterans and at no cost to them or their families. This has been an important goal for the project since its inception and has not wavered from this. The project’s success relies entirely on the skill, great dedication and good will of the Group’s NexGen members and friends, and the friendship and great Patriotism of its Veterans. Over two dozen individuals have contributed to the project materially or with their time, without which it could not happen.

History of the wing panel provided by 384thBombGroup.com.

For more information about the wing panel project and past signings, click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

A Wing Panel Signing

I get pretty excited about a 384th Bomb Group wing panel signing. I get absolutely ecstatic when the wing panel signing is close enough to my home for me to attend. And you can’t even imagine how great I felt when I was able to have another 384th veteran (other than the signer) come with me to enjoy the day.

I attempt to explain to family and friends what a wonderful event a wing panel signing is, but I think if I could actually show them what’s involved, it would be much more meaningful. So here goes.

First of all, I’d like to share the background of the wing panel and its history. I’m going to publish here the document that others have created to explain the project. I don’t think they’ll mind since, hopefully, word about the project will reach others by my promotion of it. The project is officially known as “The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project.”

The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project arose from a chance observation in 2008. 384th BG NexGen member Christopher Wilkinson was visiting the EAA’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” and admired the large number of Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door. The significance of personally signing the bomber and the affection they had for the B-17s they flew and serviced was apparent. An idea began to form: might it be possible for the Veterans of the 384th BG to personally sign a B-17 part to honor their hard work and the sacrifices of their fallen comrades? The dream began to take shape after discussions with fellow Group members, and so the search for a suitable B-17 part began.

In March 2010, after a long search, a genuine B-17G wing skin panel was generously donated to the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. by Carl Scholl, partner in the warbird restoration firm Aero Trader of Chino, California. The identity of the B-17G that the panel came from is unknown. All that is known, based on the original ID plate affixed to the back, is that it was built during WWII by Briggs Manufacturing Company and its function is a wing stress panel to enclose the fuel tank.

To ready the panel for its first signatures, warbird restorer and artist Cory O’Bryan of Ontario, CA donated his time and artistic skills, hand-painting the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, 544th, 545th, 546th and 547th Bomb Squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and listed the Group’s support squadrons on the 3-foot by 8-foot long panel.

The wing panel was first presented to the Group at their reunion in Branson, Missouri on October 12, 2010, where the first 10 Veterans signed. Since then, it has been to every annual 384th reunion, giving attending Veterans the opportunity to sign. It has also been shipped to 29 states, The District of Columbia and Canada. As of November 2016, nearly 140 Veterans have signed, and about 15 more Veterans have been identified as potential signers.

The 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel is available for any 384th BG Veteran to sign who served in any capacity in the Group from January 1943 to February 1946. Families and friends of the Veterans are strongly encouraged to participate with the Veteran when they sign the wing panel.

The project is continuing as Veterans are located, and as arrangements can be made for them to sign, even if they are unable to travel to the reunions. As many of our Veterans are unable to travel, this has become very important to them. The project will continue for as long as 384th Veterans can be located.

At the completion of the Project, when all possible signatures have been gathered, the wing panel – known as The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel – will be placed on permanent display in a place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The project was conceived to be materially and logistically supported by the Group’s NexGen members, solely for the benefit of its Veterans and at no cost to them or their families. This has been an important goal for the project since its inception and has not wavered from this. The project’s success relies entirely on the skill, great dedication and good will of the Group’s NexGen members and friends, and the friendship and great Patriotism of its Veterans. Over two dozen individuals have contributed to the project materially or with their time, without which it could not happen.

b-17-wing-panel-schematic

The original location of the 384th BG Veterans Wing Panel is shown as a red rectangle on the schematic view above.

And this is what the wing panel looks like when it is set up for a signing.

dscn2697

As you can imagine, the wing panel is quite large, although not as heavy as you might think. B-17s were made with thin aluminum skins to keep them light as possible.

When 384th Bomb Group veterans are located, a signing is scheduled and “Wingy” is shipped to the wing panel host. In “Wingy’s” journey across the United States, she is shipped in a large wooden crate, aka, her chariot.

The wing panel host brings the panel to the veteran. Sometimes the signing takes place in the veteran’s home, and sometimes it takes place in a public place such as a veterans park or museum.

The latest wing panel signing was this past Sunday, November 20. Frederick Edward Rubin, a navigator with the group, was the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign. Keith Ellefson, the wing panel host, drove the wing panel from his home in Alabama to Fred Rubin’s home in Florida. Keith is a 384th Bomb Group NexGen and a combat data specialist.

Fred Rubin, the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign the wing panel

Fred Rubin, the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign the wing panel

The wing panel host presents the signer with several gifts:  a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P (symbol of the 384th) pin, and a handcrafted (by Keith Ellefson) stained glass triangle P memento, complete with stand.

L to R: Keith Ellefson presents Fred Rubin with a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P pin, and a handmade (by Keith) stained glass triangle P memento.

L to R: Keith Ellefson presents Fred Rubin with a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P pin, and a handmade (by Keith) stained glass triangle P memento.

Also in attendance was John Joseph DeFrancesco, a pilot with the group. John signed the wing panel in January 2014.

John DeFrancesco points out his signature on the wing panel

John DeFrancesco points out his signature on the wing panel

In addition to signing, the veterans share stories of their time serving in the 384th Bomb Group during WWII. Fred was a navigator who was also trained to be a pilot and a bombardier. He served on the lead crew on bomb runs. John was a pilot whose aircraft was so seriously damaged by flak during his thirty-fifth and final mission that the crew had to bail out over Germany. After evading capture for a time, John was eventually taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war as a guest of the Germans, being liberated by General Patton himself.

L to R: Cindy Farrar Bryan, John DeFrancesco, Fred Rubin, and Keith Ellefson

L to R: Cindy Farrar Bryan, John DeFrancesco, Fred Rubin, and Keith Ellefson

At the end of the signing, “Wingy” is snuggled comfortably back in her chariot to await transport to her next signing. Even though “Wingy” is in her seventies, she proudly continues her service to the men who knew her so well and protected her so fiercely in WWII.

Man and machine never worked so perfectly together than a ten-man heavy bomber crew in a B-17. She was a part of them and they were a part of her, and we, the next generation, will continue to bring them together again as long as we can find one more to sign.

If you know (or know of) a 384th Bomb Group WWII Veteran, please contact:

B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Paul Bureau and the Marion County Florida Veterans Memorial Park

I live in North Central Florida. We don’t have beaches, but we have plenty of moss-covered oak trees and horse farms. In fact, Beautiful Marion County’s motto is Horse Capital of the World. We breed and grow great thoroughbred race horses here. Another thing we in Marion County are proud of is our veterans.

The Ocala/Marion County Veterans Memorial Park opened in 1997. It is a lovely park where folks like to have a picnic lunch on nice days, which we have a lot of here. The park is a lasting memorial to veterans of all wars, with more than 5,000 personalized bricks set into pedestals, 200 benches, and 100 plaques.

The first time I visited the park was January 25, 2014, when the 384th Bomb Group’s wing panel came to Ocala. Two 384th Bomb Group veterans, pilot John DeFrancesco and armorer Paul Bureau, added their signatures in a ceremony near the park’s pavilion. John’s signature was the wing panel’s eighty-sixth and Paul’s was number eighty-seven.

 

John DeFrancesco

John DeFrancesco

 

Paul Bureau

Paul Bureau

Like many military parks, the park hosts a Memorial Day celebration every year. But the Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park goes a step further. They host a Memorial Ceremony every quarter to honor those Marion County veterans who have died in the previous three months.

Saturday, October 1, 2016, I attended the ceremony to honor Paul Bureau. Paul was an armorer in the US Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, the same group my dad served with in Grafton Underwood, England. Paul’s was among the names read during the ceremony’s “Roll Call of Honored Deceased.” Paul died on August 9 this year.

Paul Bureau in uniform during WWII

Paul Bureau in uniform during WWII

The park had recently acquired a cannon and chose to use it in the memorial ceremony. The ceremony began with the firing of the cannon. Almost as startling as the tremendous sound of the cannon fire was the ring of smoke that ascended to the heavens as though carrying away the souls of the veterans toward their final mission.

The ceremony continued with the invocation and a youth group called the “Young Marines” posted the colors. Everyone joined in the pledge of allegiance to the flag and sang the national anthem. The roll call began and a bell was rung after the reading of each name. Taps were played. A man named John Earl dressed in a kilt played the bagpipes. The Ocala Police Department Honor Guard performed a twenty-one gun salute.

The ceremony concluded with the benediction and a second firing of the cannon. I knew what was coming, but I still jumped at the tremendous boom.  This time, though, no smoke ring accompanied the boom. Only the sad realization that many of our country’s finest defenders are no longer with us.

Memorial bricks at Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park

Memorial bricks at Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park

Note:  Please visit the home page of the 384th Bomb Group’s website or the Veterans Signing Project page of the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery for more information about the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project and photos of past signers. Volunteers are still touring the country with the wing panel collecting signatures of 384th Bomb Group Veterans.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

How to Bail Out of a B-17

In researching Floyd Vevle’s final mission, I became curious about how an air crew left a B-17 Flying Fortress if they needed to do so. Keith Ellefson pointed me to this link…

How to Bail Out of a B-17

…that has a very nice graphic and explains it very well. I will try to explain it as well here.

The B-17 had four exits from which the crew could bail out:

  1. A door below the nose of the aircraft.
  2. The bomb bay doors.
  3. The waist door near the rear of the aircraft on the right side.
  4. An emergency exit door in the tail of the aircraft.

If the crew were in their normal combat positions and needed to bail out, they would exit this way:

  1. Navigator and Bombardier from the door below the nose.
  2. Pilot, Co-Pilot, Top Turret Gunner/Enginner, and Radioman from the bomb bay doors.
  3. Ball Turret Gunner and Waist Gunners from the waist door.
  4. Tail Gunner from the tail gunner’s emergency exit.

And, of course, an official system existed for how the bailout should go. The order listed is not exact. Once a crewman finished performing his bailout duties, he was ready to bail out:

  1. The pilot called for everyone to put on their parachutes and bail out over the interphone and using bell signals.
  2. The tail gunner, waist gunners, and ball turret gunner bailed out. The ball turret gunner first had to exit the ball turret and hook up his chute as he did not have room in the ball turret to wear it.
  3. The pilot used the emergency release handle to clear the bomb bay.
  4. The pilot turned on the autopilot, reduced air speed, held the ship as level as possible, and monitored the crew’s evacuation of the aircraft.
  5. The co-pilot assisted the pilot. If the pilot was incapacitated, the co-pilot would take over the pilot’s duties.
  6. The navigator figured out the aircraft’s position and relayed the information to the radio operator (if time permitted).
  7. The bombardier assisted the navigator.
  8. The navigator and bombardier bailed out.
  9. The top turret gunner/engineer assisted the pilot if necessary. He notified the pilot once the navigator and bombardier bailed out.
  10. The top turret gunner/engineer bailed out.
  11. The radio operator sent a distress call and relayed the aircraft’s position (if time permitted).
  12. The radio operator bailed out.
  13. The co-pilot bailed out once the other crew members (other than the pilot) bailed out.
  14. The pilot bailed out once all the other crew members bailed out.

The “official” system of bailout often didn’t go as planned for many reasons. A few reasons were:

  1. Critically injured men were not able to bail out, although at times, they were assisted out of the plane by other crew members with their rip cords pulled, hoping the critically injured man would receive medical attention once he reached the ground.
  2. Parachutes were damaged or not hooked up properly.
  3. The centrifugal force of an aircraft in an uncontrolled spin would pin a crewman in place without a chance to make it to an exit.
  4. An aircraft might have blown up before the crew could exit. Some may have been blown out and parachuted safely to the ground.

Once a man had bailed out, he had to free fall for quite a distance before he could pull the cord and float safely to the ground. If he pulled the rip cord too soon, it would slow down his descent and he might die of anoxia (oxygen deprivation).

Arthur “Ozzie” Osepchook of the 384th Bomb Group made quite a memorable exit from the Silver Dollar on March 9, 1944. Ozzie was the Silver Dollar’s ball turret gunner. During “bombs away”, the high group inadvertently dropped its bombs on Silver Dollar, knocking the tail completely off in front of the stabilizer. The aircraft dived straight down into a spin with all four engines going.

Amazingly, Ozzie was able to get out of the ball turret and get his ‘chute hooked up, then was propelled toward the hole where the tail had once been. Unfortunately, Ozzie’s boots got stuck on mangled pieces of the aircraft and he couldn’t get free. Thinking quickly, Ozzie pulled the rip cord of his parachute, the chute opened, and pulled him right out of his boots and through the hole in the tail section of the ship. He landed safely – minus his boots – and suffered only a minor cut on one leg.

Arthur J. "Ozzie" Osepchook, 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squad

Arthur J. “Ozzie” Osepchook, 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squad

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

Arthur "Ozzie" Osepchook signs the 384th Bomb Group's Wing Panel

Arthur “Ozzie” Osepchook signs the 384th Bomb Group’s Wing Panel

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

384th Bomb Group Commemorative Wing Panel Project

384th Bomb Group Veterans with the Commemorative Wing Panel at the 2014 Reunion in Dayton, Ohio

384th Bomb Group Veterans with the Commemorative Wing Panel – 2014 Reunion in Dayton, Ohio

During WWII, the 384th Bombardment Group was part of the Eighth Air Force and was assigned to the Grafton Underwood Airfield in England. Today, the 384th Bomb Group Commemorative Wing Panel Project provides 384th Veterans a chance to sign their names on a genuine wing skin panel from a WWII B-17G. The panel travels all over the United States for interested 384th Veterans to sign.

In 2008, 384th Bomb Group NexGen (next generation) member Christopher Wilkinson came up with the idea of a B-17 part for 384th Veterans to sign. Chris had seen the  B-17G Aluminum Overcast and noticed the Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door.  Fellow group members loved the idea and began their search for a suitable B-17 part.  Two years later, Carl Scholl generously donated a genuine B-17G wing skin panel to the group.  Carl is a partner with Aero Trader of Chino, California, a warbird restoration firm.  The panel was built during WWII by the Briggs Manufacturing Company and is a wing stress panel used to enclose the fuel tank.

Wing Panel Color

Cory O’Bryan, a warbird restorer and artist of Ontario, California, generously donated his time to hand-paint the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, the squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and the list of the support squadrons on the panel.

The first ten Veterans signed on October 12, 2010 at the Group’s reunion in Branson, Missouri.  The panel has been a centerpiece at every reunion since, available for 384th Veterans who haven’t yet had the chance to sign their names.  In addition to signings at the annual reunions, NexGen members travel the United States with the panel to allow all interested 384th Veterans the opportunity to sign their names.

Since the start of the signing project in 2010, over 100 veterans of the 384th have signed. The B-17 wing panel acts as a testimonial to the spirit and camaraderie of the veterans of the Group, and will help to represent their personal message to future generations.

The project continues as 384th Veterans are located.   For Veterans that are unable to travel to reunions, arrangements are made to bring the panel to them, at no cost to the Veterans or their families.  The project is supported by the Group’s NexGen members, and is solely for the benefit of the Veterans.

The opportunity to sign the panel is not restricted to combat crew members. All who served in the 384th during training in the U.S., at the Grafton Underwood airfield in England during combat operations, and in post-war activities in Istres, France, are qualified to sign.

Once all possible signatures have been collected, the wing panel will be placed on permanent display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

Qualified 384th veterans who would like to sign the panel are urged to e-mail B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com.

For more information about the 384th Bomb Group, click here.

For photos of 384th Veterans signing the wing panel, click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

2014 Reunion of the 384th Bomb Group

The 384th Bomb Group held their 2014 reunion this past week in Dayton, Ohio.  I was very proud to attend and meet a wonderful group of veterans that served with the 384th at Grafton Underwood, England.  Of course, meeting and talking to the veterans and hearing their stories of combat and life in the 384th was the top highlight of the event.

Other highlights were touring the restoration and Presidential hangars of the National Museum of the Air Force, and attending a dinner at the museum Friday night.  On Saturday, we were treated to a tour of a new B-17 being built in Urbana, Ohio and a wonderful banquet on Saturday night.  Speakers on Saturday night were Richard Peaslee, son of the first 384th Bomb Group Commander, Budd Peaslee; Brigadier General J. Kemp McLaughlin; and keynote speaker, Lt. General C. D. Moore.

Four 384th veterans signed the wing panel during the reunion.  Lawrence W. “Red” Gerbig wasn’t able to stay for the entire reunion and signed on Friday.  Saturday night during the banquet, Donald Bean, Leonard R. Neimeic, and Warren Tessmer signed.  By the end of the reunion, the wing panel contained 99 signatures.

On a sad note, for Lawrence Gerbig the 2014 reunion would be his final mission.  He returned home on Saturday, and told his family what a wonderful time he had at the reunion.  He passed away unexpectedly on Sunday morning.  Rest in peace, Mr. Gerbig.  The war is finally over.

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans - Touring the New Build in Progress of B-17 "Champagne Lady", Urbana, Ohio

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans – Touring the New Build in Progress of B-17 “Champagne Lady”, Urbana, Ohio

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans in Dayton, Ohio with the Wing Panel

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans in Dayton, Ohio with the Wing Panel

I’ll try to add identifications and more pictures soon.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

384th Bomb Group Wing Panel Signing Project

The Eighth Air Force played a crucial role in WWII.  The 384th Bombardment Group was part of the Eighth and was assigned to the Grafton Underwood Airfield in England.  My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner in the 384th.  As part of my research into my dad’s war history, I learned of a special project – the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel Signing Project.

The project provides 384th veterans an opportunity to inscribe their names on a piece of history – a skin panel from the wing of a WWII B-17G.  By signing the panel, 384th veterans show their affiliation, pride and respect for each other, their service to Country, and honor the sacrifice of many in the war.  The panel travels all over the United States for interested 384th veterans to sign.

The Wing Panel Project is coming to Florida in January.  The organizers of the project have located one 384th veteran in Ocala who will be signing the panel, but they are seeking more 384th veterans in the Ocala area.  They are seeking only veterans of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) who served during WWII, specifically from December 1942 through the end of the war in mid-1945.

The opportunity to sign the panel is not restricted to combat crewmembers.  All who served in the 384th during training in the US, at the Grafton Underwood airfield in England during combat operations, and in post-war activities in Istres, France, are qualified to sign.

The panel will be in Ocala the latter part of January, currently scheduled from January 24th to the 27th.  Qualified 384th veterans who would like to sign the panel are urged to contact Fred Preller at B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com.