The Arrowhead Club

Home » My Dad - Ed Farrar » WWII » Eighth Air Force

Category Archives: Eighth Air Force

Advertisements

Congress Honors Jack Coleman Cook

The Washington Monument framed by cherry blossoms

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, 384th Bomb Group navigator Edward Field and I were on hand as Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler honored 384th ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Both Westerman and Nadler made speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington DC to honor Jack Cook for saving Edward Field’s life on February 3, 1945.  In an act of bravery and heroism, Jack gave Edward his place in the life raft after their B-17 was forced to ditch in the frigid North Sea.

Unlike that bitterly cold day in February 1945, it was a beautiful warm day in Washington, with the sun shining brightly and the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Joining us were my husband Bill; Edward’s long-time close friend, David Perrotta, who is Program Specialist for the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and David Olive, Principal of Catalyst Partners in Washington DC.

David Olive is a former Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. (and now Governor of Arkansas) Asa Hutchinson, and many years ago David hired Congressman Westerman’s Chief of Staff, Vivian Moeglein. When David reached out to Congressman Westerman’s office for help in honoring Jack Coleman Cook, they quickly set things in motion to honor Jack and make it a truly spectacular day for all of us.

Congressman Bruce Westerman’s speech on the floor of the house

Congressman Westerman was the first speaker of the day to honor Jack. Click here to watch the video of Congressman Westerman’s speech.

Congressman Westerman’s speech, as delivered:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life of Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his heroic actions in World War II.

Sergeant Cook was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, named the “Challenger.”

On February 3, 1945, the 384th Bomb Group participated in a mission over Berlin.

During the mission, the Challenger was hit by flak, damaging multiple engines, gas tanks, and the fuselage, but left the crew unharmed.

On the return journey home, the plane began losing altitude and crash-landed in the frigid North Sea. The crewmembers abandoned the aircraft and boarded two life rafts, but became separated.

Navigator Edward Field, a crew member who stayed in the water, began to push his raft toward the other raft, but became numb, and said that he could no longer hold on.

Sergeant Cook got into the water so the crew’s navigator could get out of the cold sea and take his spot in the raft. The sergeant then swam for forty-five minutes until they reached the second raft.

Shortly afterward, Air-Sea rescue located the crew, but Sergeant Cook had little life left in him, and he passed away on the boat.

It is with great gratitude and respect that I honor Jack Coleman Cook. Sergeant Cook is a true American hero. He selflessly gave his life for his fellow man, and for this, we remember him more than seventy years later.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back.

Next, Congressman Nadler rose to honor Jack. Congressman Nadler’s speech, as delivered:

Mr. Speaker, like Mr. Westerman, I rise today to recognize the heroic actions taken by 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, during a World War II mission.

Selflessly, Sergeant Cook gave his life to save the life of his fellow airmen, including my constituent, First Lieutenant Edward Field, a veteran and poet from Brooklyn, New York. On February 3, 1945, in a bombing mission over Berlin, Sergeant Cook showed us what true heroism looks like.

After their B-17 bomber crashed into the North Sea, the crewmembers were forced to inflate two life rafts. Unfortunately, only one raft was able to fully inflate, leaving two men, Lieutenant Field and another crewmember, in the frigid water.

After they had spent about 30 minutes in the water, Sergeant Cook gave up his spot in the raft for Lieutenant Field, who had become numb. Sergeant Cook then swam in the freezing water to the other raft, which was only partially inflated. Unfortunately, he died before a British vessel could come and rescue them.

In his poem, “World War II,” Lieutenant Field honored the incredible sacrifice made by Sergeant Cook, recognizing that his survival is entwined with the spirit born from another hero’s sacrifice.

It is my distinct honor today to commemorate the American heroes who bravely served our country, in this case, Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook and First Lieutenant Edward Field.

Afterward, Congressman Westerman, Edward Field, and I were interviewed by the media and Congressman Westerman treated us to a view of Washington DC from the balcony of the House of Representatives. Press Secretary Ryan Saylor made sure everything was running smoothly.

Ryan Saylor on the left overseeing the Interviews

Congressman Westerman presented Edward Field with a copy of the proclamation to honor Jack Coleman Cook and we all took the opportunity to take a few photos (correction, many photos).

R to L: Edward Field and Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman

David Olive with Edward Field and Congressman Bruce Westerman.

L to R: David Olive, Edward Field, and Congressman Bruce Westerman

David Perrotta with Edward Field

R to L: Edward Field and David Perrotta

Me with Edward Field and Congressman Bruce Westerman

R to L: Edward Field, Cindy Bryan, and Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman

My husband Bill and I received the red carpet treatment from Congressman Westerman’s staff during our visit to Washington. We arrived in the Congressman’s office earlier that morning and Legislative Correspondent Nicholas Lisowski guided us on a personal tour of the Capitol.

Chief of Staff Vivian Moeglein accompanied us on a tour to the top of the Capitol dome in the afternoon. And Congressman Westerman spent time with us chatting about my favorite subject, 8th Air Force World War II history, and shared the story of his childhood Sunday School teacher, Conley Culpepper, who was a Technical Sergeant and top turret gunner on a B-17 crew with the 100th Bomb Group, better known as the “Bloody Hundredth.”

Nicholas Lisowski and Vivian Moeglein with Edward Field

R to L: Nicholas Lisowski, Edward Field, and Vivian Moeglein

The story ran on national television news all over the country. View the televised report here. And the story also made the newspaper. View the printed report here.

Our stay in Washington was all too short and we hope to return to visit our nation’s capitol again. We did get a chance to visit the World War II memorial and Library of Congress, but there is so much else to see and do that we must return for a longer visit.

World War II memorial

World War II memorial, Washington DC

Bill and I taking in the view of Washington from the outdoor viewing platform at the top of the Capitol dome

Bill and Cindy Bryan at the top of the Capitol Dome

We have already been in contact with Jack’s wife’s family due entirely to the media coverage of Congressman Westerman’s speech. In a couple of weeks, I will share new information and hopefully photos of Jack Coleman Cook. But until then, I’ll “Keep the show on the road” to honor our 384th Bomb Group heroes!

To read Edward Field’s poem “World War II,” click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Advertisements

World War II by Edward Field

Dedicated to the Memory of Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook for his Heroism

World War II

by Edward Field

It was over Target Berlin the flak shot up our plane
just as we were dumping bombs on the already smoking city
on signal from the lead bomber in the squadron.
The plane jumped again and again as the shells burst under us
sending jagged pieces of steel rattling through our fuselage.
It was pure chance that none of us got ripped by those fragments.

Then, being hit, we had to drop out of formation right away,
losing speed and altitude,
and when I figured out our course with trembling hands on the
instruments (I was navigator),
we set out on the long trip home to England
alone, with two of our four engines gone
and gas streaming out of holes in the wing tanks.

That morning at briefing
we had been warned not to go to nearby Poland
partly liberated then by the Russians,
although later we learned that another crew in trouble
had landed there anyway,
and patching up their plane somehow,
returned gradually to England
roundabout by way of Turkey and North Africa.
But we chose England, and luckily
the Germans had no fighters to send up after us then
for this was just before they developed their jet.
To lighten our load we threw out
guns and ammunition, my navigation books, all the junk
and made it over Holland
with a few goodbye fireworks from the shore guns.

Over the North Sea the third engine gave out
and we dropped low over the water.
The gas gauge read empty but by keeping the nose down
a little gas at the bottom of the tank sloshed forward
and kept our single engine going.

High overhead, the squadrons were flying home in formation —
the raids had gone on for hours after us.
Did they see us down there in our trouble?
We radioed our final position for help to come
but had no idea if anyone
happened to be tuned in and heard us,
and we crouched together on the floor
knees drawn up and head down
in regulation position for ditching,
listened as the working engine stopped —
a terrible silence —
and we went down into the sea with a crash,
just like hitting a brick wall,
jarring bones, teeth, eyeballs panicky.
Who would ever think water could be so hard?
You black out, and then come to
with water rushing in like a sinking‑ ship movie.

All ten of us started getting out of there fast:
There was a convenient door in the roof to climb out by,
one at a time. We stood in line,
water up to our thighs and rising.
The plane was supposed to float for twenty minutes
but with all those flak holes
who could say how long it really would?
The two life rafts popped out of the sides into the water
but one of them only half inflated
and the other couldn’t hold everyone
although they all piled into it, except the pilot,
who got into the limp raft that just floated semi-submerged.

The radio operator and I, out last,
(Did that mean we were least aggressive, least likely to survive?)
the two of us stood on the wing watching the two rafts
being swept off by waves in different directions.
We had to swim for it.
Later they said the cords holding rafts to plane
broke by themselves, but I wouldn’t have blamed them
for cutting them loose, for fear that by waiting for us
the plane would go down and drag them with it.

I headed for the overcrowded good raft
and after a clumsy swim in soaked heavy flying clothes
got there and hung onto the side.
The radio operator went for the half–inflated raft
where the pilot lay with water sloshing over him,
but he couldn’t swim, even with his life vest on.
Being from the Great Plains,
his strong farmer’s body didn’t know
how to wallow through the water properly
and a wild current seemed to sweep him farther off.
One minute we saw him on top of a swell
and perhaps we glanced away for a minute
but when we looked again he was gone —
just as the plane went down sometime around then
when nobody was looking.

It was midwinter and the waves were mountains,
and the water ice water.
You could live in it twenty-five minutes
the Ditching Survival Manual said.
Since most of the crew were crowded onto my raft
I had to stay in the water, hanging on.
My raft? It was their raft, they got there first so they would live.
Twenty-five minutes I had.
Live, live, I said to myself. You’ve got to live.
There looked like plenty of room on the raft
from where I was and I said so –
couldn’t they squeeze together more? —
but they said no.

When I figured the twenty-five minutes were about up
and anyway I was getting numb,
I said I couldn’t hold on anymore,
and a skinny kid from Arkansas, the ball turret gunner,
got out of the raft into the icy water in my place,
and I got on the raft in his.
But first he insisted on taking off his flying clothes
which was probably his downfall because even wet clothes are
protection,
and then worked hard, pulling the raft,
kicking with his legs, and we all paddled,
to get to the other raft,
and we tied them together.
The gunner got into the flooded raft with the pilot
and lay in the wet, where shortly after,
the pilot started gurgling green foam from his mouth —
maybe he was injured in the crash against the instruments —
and by the time we were rescued,
he and the little gunner were both dead.

That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me
I don’t remember his name even.
It was like those who survived the death camps
by letting others go into the ovens in their place.
It was him or me, and I made up my mind to live.
I’m a good swimmer,
but I didn’t swim off in that scary sea
looking for the radio operator when he was washed away.
I suppose, then, once and for all,
I chose to live rather than be a hero, as I still do today,
although at that time I believed in being heroic, in saving the world,
even if, when the opportunity came
I instinctively chose survival.

As evening fell the waves calmed down
and we spotted a boat, far off, and signaled with a flare gun,
hoping it was English not German.
The only two who cried on being found
were me and a boy from Boston, another gunner.
The rest of the crew kept straight faces.

It was a British air-sea rescue boat.
They hoisted us up on deck,
dried off the living and gave us whisky and put us to bed,
and rolled the dead up in blankets,
and delivered us all to a hospital on shore
for treatment or disposal.

This was a minor accident of war.
Two weeks in a rest camp at Southport on the Irish Sea
and we were back at Grafton-Underwood, our base,
ready for combat again,
the dead crewmen replaced by living ones,
and went on hauling bombs over the continent of Europe,
destroying the Germans and their cities.

© Edward Field, 1967, 1987

Published with the author’s permission.

February 3, 1945 Mission to Berlin

On February 3, 1945, 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook saved the life of navigator Edward Field in the cold North Sea when their B-17, The Challenger, was forced to ditch on the return trip to England after their mission to Berlin.

The Challenger was one of a group of forty-two B-17’s and three hundred fifty-six combat personnel of the 384th Bomb Group assigned to the Group’s Mission #264 (the 8th Air Force’s Mission #817) that day. The 384th flew this mission as the 41st B Combat Wing of the 1st Air Division.

Of the assigned forty-two B-17’s, three did not go. One was an unused ground spare aircraft, one was scrubbed, and one was a weather aircraft that returned to base.

Of the remaining thirty-nine B-17’s, thirty-six completed the mission, returning safely to England at the end of the day.

Three did not make it back with the bomber stream. One, Stardust, crash landed in Russian territory, even after being warned not to do so during the morning briefing, and after repairs eventually made it back to England. All aboard were uninjured.

One, unnamed 42-97960, the lead squadron hot camera ship, was hit by flak which knocked out the #2 and #4 engines. The pilot reported they were on fire, losing altitude and had two wounded on board. All nine crewmembers bailed out and the ship crashed near Fuerstenwerder, Germany. All survived, but became POWs for the remainder of the war.

And then there was The Challenger, the ship of the Robert Long crew that successfully dropped their bombs on Berlin that day, but were forced to ditch in the North Sea on the return trip to England. The Challenger lost three men, pilot Robert Long, radio operator Fred Maki, and ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook. The remaining six men of the crew, including Edward Field whose life was spared due to the bravery and heroism of Jack Cook, lived to fight another day. [I previously related the story of the Long crew in this post.]

These are the statistics of only one heavy bomber group of the 8th Air Force on only one mission, though not an unimportant one. This was the February 3, 1945 raid on Berlin.

Almost 1,000 B-17 heavy bombers of the 8th Air Force made up the bomber stream to Berlin on February 3, 1945. The bombers were supported and protected by 575 P-51 Mustang fighters.

Officially, the target for the mission was the Tempelhof Marshalling Yards in Berlin, but Commander of Strategic Air Forces in Europe General Carl Spaatz and Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had more in mind. The raid would be a massive attack on the city center of Berlin, a terror bombing designed to lower the morale of the German people. Eighth Air Force Commander Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle objected to such tactics and appealed to Spaatz to stick to America’s strategic principle of precision bombing of targets of military significance.

Doolittle was not successful in changing Spaatz’s mind. The raid was planned for the morning of February 2, but the mission was cancelled due to heavy cloud cover. It was rescheduled for the next day, February 3, a day with unusually clear weather which permitted accurate visual bombing. What started out for the bomb and fighter groups as a cold, wet English Saturday morning, over Berlin the day would become CAVU, with “ceiling and visibility unlimited.”

For Doolittle’s 8th Air Force, February 3 was to be one of the biggest missions of WWII. The bomber stream was to consist of forty-two bombardment groups in the three air divisions, 1,003 B-17 Flying Fortresses heading to Berlin and 434 B-24 Liberators heading to Magdeburg, with 15,000 airmen manning the bombers and accompanying fighters.

In Berlin, the fire caused by the bombing lasted four days and burned everything combustible to ash. It was only stopped by waterways, thoroughfares, and parks that it could not jump. Berlin was reduced to a city of debris and rubble, buildings destroyed or badly damaged, crater-filled streets, without water and electricity.

Statistics vary regarding the loss of life on the ground in Berlin on February 3, 1945. At the time, there were perhaps three million refuges in Berlin, what Donald Miller called “part of one of the greatest human migrations in history” in his book, Masters of the Air. Thousands were instantly cremated where they stood when the bombs began to fall and explode around them and the city began to burn.

Early estimates by the 8th Air Force put the dead at 25,000, but German historians estimate a much lower total around 3,000. Even at the doubtful estimate of 3,000, it was the most Berliners killed in a single raid in all of WWII. Regardless of an accurate number of deaths, historians do agree that 120,000 Berliners were made homeless by the bombing mission of February 3.

The next day, a report from London noted that “The powerful United States Eighth Air Force attacked the heart of Berlin yesterday noon with about 3,000 tons of high explosives and incendiaries in the most concentrated bombing ever carried out on the Reich capital.” The New York Times carried the story with the headlines “3,000-Ton Blow Hits Berlin In Steady Bombing of Reich and 3,000-TON BOMBING IN BERLIN’S CENTER.”

The 8th Air Force planned to return to Berlin three days later, but bad weather caused the mission to be cancelled. The 384th, with a dozen less airmen, did not participate in another mission for nearly a week.

Sources:

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

An Honor for Jack Coleman Cook in the Congressional Record

On February 3, 1945, 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook saved the life of navigator Edward Field in the cold North Sea when their B-17, The Challenger, was forced to ditch on the return trip to England after their mission to Berlin.

Jack Coleman Cook is finally receiving the honor he deserves for his bravery and heroism that day. He has now received and is still receiving several honors and today I want to share with you Jack’s honor that was entered into the Congressional Record of March 21, 2018 by Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman.

The text of the honor reads:

HONORING SERGEANT JACK COLEMAN COOK OF HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
(Extensions of Remarks – March 21, 2018)

[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 49 (Wednesday, March 21, 2018)]

HONORING SERGEANT JACK COLEMAN COOK OF HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS

______

HON. BRUCE WESTERMAN

of arkansas

in the house of representatives

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

  Mr. WESTERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his heroic actions in World War II when he selflessly sacrificed his own life to save his fellow airmen.

Sergeant Cook was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, the “Challenger,” with the 384th Bomb Group. On February 3, 1945, the 384th Bomb Group participated in a mission to bomb the Tempelhof Railroad Marshalling Yards in Berlin. During the mission, the Challenger was hit by flak, damaging multiple engines, gas tanks, and the fuselage, but left the crew unharmed.

As they made their way back to base in England, their plane began losing altitude and crash landed in the frigid North Sea. As soon as the plane hit the water, the crew members proceeded to abandon the aircraft and pull out the two life rafts, but only one fully inflated. The pilot and radio operator swam for the partially inflated raft, but the pilot succumbed to the cold and passed away, and the radio operator was dragged into the sea where he was lost.

The rest of the crew swam for the closer, fully inflated raft. Sergeant Cook, the first to make it, helped four other crewmembers into the overcrowded raft, while two men stayed in the water. Edward Field, the navigator who stayed in the water, began to push their raft towards the second raft. After thirty minutes in the water, Edward Field became numb, and said that he could no longer hold on.

Jack Coleman Cook got into the water so Edward Field could take his spot in the raft, where he continuously swam for forty-five minutes until they reached the second raft. Shortly after, Air-Sea rescue reached their position, but Sergeant Cook had little life left in him, and he passed away on the boat.

Sergeant Cook selflessly sacrificed his own life so Edward Field and his fellow crewmembers could live. Those men returned to duty only four weeks after the crash, where they bravely fought through the rest of the war.

Jack Coleman Cook is a true American hero who showed bravery and courage in a time of great circumstance. He gave his life for his fellow man, and for this, we remember him over seventy years later. It is with great pride that I honor Jack Coleman Cook.

______

Thank you Congressman Westerman and staff for recognizing Jack Coleman Cook with this honor.

The honor in the Congressional Record can also be viewed directly here.

I’ll be sharing more honors for Jack Coleman Cook in coming articles…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Lingering Shadows of an Aluminum Overcast

When  I look at written World War II history, I see names, dates, places of great battles, and statistics. I rarely see mention of family, but families are what’s at the core of such a great struggle. One man was not fighting this great war against his enemy, another man. Their families were right there beside them fighting, too. When one man went down, many more at home who shared his blood went down with him. The loss of one man became a great emotional loss at home and the loss of many future generations of his family.

Two B-17 flying fortresses collided above Germany on September 28, 1944. Of the eighteen men aboard the two forts, four survived. None of the four live on today, but their children and grandchildren carry on their legacy. At least three of the men who died that day had children or knew that they were to become fathers in the months to come. That makes seven families, not quite half, who share a common history dating back to WWII.

Of the eleven men who would have no descendants, most of them had siblings who had children and there are nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and -nephews who also share their history and cherish their memories.

We are known collectively as the Buslee and Brodie crews’ NexGens, the Next Generation of the men of these two crews of the 384th Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Air Force who bravely defended our country in WWII.

I began my search for Buslee/Brodie NexGens, who I consider extended family, in 2011 after I met Wallace Storey. I remember so clearly now my astonishment when Wallace told me that he had been in touch with other family members of the two crews. It was that light-headed feeling of shattered disbelief that almost knocked me off my feet, the thought of something I had never considered possible. There were others out there who knew my father’s story of the mid-air collision. It was no longer my family’s private history.

I had never before considered that my sister and I were not the only ones. From my dad’s stories, I knew he was the only survivor of the Buslee crew. At the time, I did not know that children were born to two of the men after the mid-air collision. And I never suspected that any of the men of the Brodie crew had survived the horrific accident, but three of them had. One of their sons had contacted Wallace Storey before me. So had a newphew and great-nephew of Buslee crew members.

I began contacting the relatives for whom Wallace provided information and I started researching each man who had been on those two planes, looking for their families, and finding some of them. During this process, I realized there was a lot we didn’t know about September 28, 1944, and that the other NexGens wanted to know as badly as I what happened in the skies above Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944.

Top secret reports from WWII were public now, and I discovered details bit by bit and started putting them together, like pieces of a puzzle. I shared what I found with the other Buslee/Brodie NexGens and they shared knowledge, photos, and letters. These men who were our fathers and grandfathers, and uncles and great-uncles had an incredibly close bond. And now we NexGens were forming our own bond as we learned details about that late September day, details that in the 1940’s our families struggled so very hard to discover, but of which they were left uniformed.

With the power of knowledge of what happened to the boys that day, we are able to feel them again, hold them close, grieve for them, and look at them with a new sense of awe and respect. I have new family now, these descendants of the great airmen of WWII. We live in the lingering shadows of an aluminum overcast that will never fade away as long as we remember.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Immigrants

In my research of the members of the Buslee and Brodie crews and other crews of the 384th Bomb Group, I learned that many of their families were recent (pre-WWII) immigrants to America. It struck me that their parents came to America not only to escape religious persecution or a dangerous political climate, but to make a better life for themselves and to make a better and brighter future for their families. America provided freedom and would be a safe place to raise their children.

Coming to America was a hard decision to make and a difficult goal to realize. It cost life savings. A lifetime of possessions would be left behind, with only the most important and precious carried along.

Once on American soil, it was a new start at a new life, discovering an unfamiliar country, absorbing a new language, learning new customs. But they managed. They found jobs and became Americans. They settled in to live good lives and raise their children in the freedom of their new land.

But when freedom was threatened with a world war looming, they found their children would be the ones who would have to fight to keep that freedom. Immigrant parents had to sacrifice the very thing they came to America to protect. For many, their offspring were lost in the great battles of the land, sea, and air of WWII and the future of their families disappeared overnight. This is one of the greatest tragedies of war.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

One Moment

Sometimes we choose our path in life and sometimes it is chosen for us. Every single decision we make and every step we take in a certain direction write a piece of our history. But that history is not solely of our making. Outside influences are a huge factor in what happens to us upon each footfall, upon each spoken and unspoken thought, upon the most minute action we take.

The men of the Buslee and Brodie crews all chose the path of joining the United States Army Air Forces to fight in WWII. The histories of eighteen men from eighteen families were all very different from the moment of their births until the morning of September 28, 1944 when they climbed aboard their two B-17s to take their places in the 8th Air Force bomber stream on that day’s mission to Magdeburg, Germany.

On that day, each man had his job to do. The pilots and co-pilots had to deliver the bombs to the target. The navigators had to direct them to the correct location. The bombardiers had to release the bombs at the precise point. The radio operators had to maintain communications. The engineers had to make sure all systems worked properly. The gunners in the ball turret, waist, and tail had to defend their ships and loads of bombs and personnel. Each man had his individual job, but each crew was speeding through the skies toward their target as one.

They had one goal. Get their bombs on the target. And then they could go home. That day, their path was chosen for them. They were not completely in charge of the history they were making that day. They were a small piece of an enormous weapon of destruction, a tiny cog in a very big wheel.  And that day, they would not go home.

Whatever minute action or outside influence it was, because a single determining factor cannot be pinpointed, the Brodie crew’s ship collided with the Buslee crew’s ship after coming off the target. That one defining action fixed forever the most important moment in the history of eighteen men. It was the moment that the lives of fourteen men were lost and fourteen families were destroyed. It was the moment that the future path of four men was reset to skew greatly from the path that was imagined for them at birth.

It was just one moment in history. But it changed everything.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Back to My Dad’s Story

George Edwin Farrar

I started this blog when I started researching my dad’s WWII history, including his training, but mainly focused on his service with the 384th Bomb Group and his mid-air collision on September 28, 1944. By delving into the actions of the 384th Bomb Group, I have found many interesting stories and fascinating people. As much as I enjoy researching them, I find I have wandered very much off the subject which I originally intended to explore.

I am going to attempt – and I say attempt because I am easily distracted – to get back on topic this year and follow through my dad’s story to the end. George Edwin Farrar’s story includes the stories of many others – the other men on his crew, the other men he associated with at Grafton Underwood, the men of the crew of the other B-17 involved in the mid-air collision, his fellow POW’s, his family, and the families of his military “brothers.”

I will also study what the world was like during WWII and the years leading up to the war and what life was like during that time period for the people who lived through it. I don’t think I can fully understand the people I’m researching until I understand their time period, which was so different from ours.

The actions of the men who experienced that war still echo through the thoughts of those of us who descended from them or their brothers and sisters. But it is difficult to comprehend for many of us living in today’s very different world what it truly meant to fight in that war.

Today we can take a ride as a passenger in a B-17, as quite a few of them tour the country. But that is a fun ride in the clear skies at low altitude over a piece of beautiful American countryside. We cannot know, no matter how good our imaginations are, what that ride would have been like in the cold of 25,000 feet with no oxygen, with German fighters bearing down, or flak exploding into the belly of the plane. We cannot fully imagine the excitement or the terror or the sadness that those men felt mission after mission after mission.

I need to know. I need to piece the picture together bit by bit until I can see it more clearly. My dad is no longer around to tell me his war stories and even if he were, I don’t think I could ever completely know what it was like without living through it. By talking with men who served in the 384th, and reading books and watching documentaries and movies about the war, I have developed a picture in my mind. But that picture is not, and never will be, complete. The edges are fuzzy and holes remain in the middle of my picture.

I’ll just keep piecing it together, looking for new information and gaining a better understanding. It’s been an interesting journey so far.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

An Italian-American Airman on Television

In October, RAI (Italian television and radio) journalist Vittorio Argento traveled from Rome, Italy to Ocala, Florida to interview 384th Bomb Group pilot John DeFrancesco. I previously posted this article about Vittorio’s visit here.

The TV show has aired in Italy and I thought I would share it here.  It is available now through this link. This is a direct link to the episode of November 26, 2017, episode 26.11.17 of TG2 Storie.

Before you watch, I must let you know that the program is for Italian viewers and everyone, including John, is speaking Italian, but I think with the wonderful job of editing that Vittorio did with the photos and WWII footage he used, you’ll be able to follow the story just fine.

Multiple stories are presented in the program. John’s story starts at 28:58 in the video and goes through 34:45. Notice the photo on the wall of John’s kitchen.  That’s me and my Stalag Luft IV daughter friends with John. Standing left to right are Laura Edge and I. Seated left to right are Ellen Weaver Hartman, John DeFrancesco, and Candy Kyler Brown.

The story includes a photo of my dad and some of his crewmates at 33:52. They are left to right, George Edwin Farrar (my dad), Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin V. Foster, and Sebastiano Joseph Peluso (also an Italian-American). Vittorio also included several other photos of 384th Bomb Group airmen and ground crew.

Thank you, Vittorio Argento, for helping the 384th Bomb Group “Keep the Show on the Road.” You did an exceptional job telling 384th Bomb Group pilot John’s DeFrancesco’s story!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Budd Peaslee – Part 9

Budd Peaslee – Part 8 was published December 13, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 9 concludes my series of posts on the first commander of the 384th Bomb Group, Budd Peaslee.

In the final pages of the final chapter of Heritage of Valor, Budd Peaslee recounted the statistics of the 384th Bomb Group’s “enviable” combat record in WWII. The 384th Bomb Group:

  • Flew 316 missions
  • Dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs on enemy targets
  • Lost 159 B-17’s
  • Lost 1,625 men
  • Were credited with the destruction of 165 enemy fighters in combat, plus 34 probably destroyed and 116 damaged

At the end of hostilities in Europe, the 384th moved to Istres, France where they participated in the evacuation. The airfield at Grafton Underwood was returned to its original tenants for the use of grazing cattle and sheep.

Peaslee wrote that the designation of the group was “no longer a proud identity in the armed forces” but for a select and honorable group of men for whom 384 will always have a special meaning. He would probably be pleased to find that the special meaning of 384 has been passed down to children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews of those men. He would probably be pleased to know the pride we have in the group and of the men of that group, who were represented by that number – 384.

Budd Peaslee died before the 384th Bomb Group website was developed, before the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery became filled with priceless photos, and before the 384th Bomber Group Facebook group started its first discussion. I think Budd Peaslee would be very proud that we have no intention of letting the number 384 become simply “a number preceded by 383 and followed by 385.” We will remember the acts of valor by the men of the 384th and we will make sure future generations learn what these men did for us.

During his military service, Budd Peaslee was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Croix de Guerre, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, service and campaign medals, and a Presidential Citation.

After WWII, Colonel Budd Peaslee served in Formosa as head of the Far East Air Force Section. He retired from the military in 1953 because of physical disabilities. In civilian life, he was the director of the Salinas, California airport and enjoyed flying his Cessna 195.

Budd Peaslee’s wife, Evelyn, died May 8, 1980, and three years later, Budd died on April 3, 1983 in Salinas, California. They are buried in the Garden of Memories in Salinas, Monterey County, California.

I want to close this series on Budd Peaslee with the closing words of his book, Heritage of Valor. Of all the stories written about WWII – the battles, the personal accounts, the self-published, and the best sellers – Budd Peaslee’s final words of Heritage of Valor affect me more deeply than any other.

The tumult and the shouting have died away. The B-17’s and B-24’s will never again assemble into strike formation in the bitter cold of embattled skies. Never again will the musical thunder of their passage cause the very earth to tremble, the source of sound lost in infinity and seeming to emanate from all things, visible and invisible. The great deep-throated engines are forever silent, replaced by the flat, toneless roar of the jets and the rockets. But, on bleak and lonely winter nights in the English Midlands, ghost squadrons take off silently in the swirling mist of the North Sea from the ancient week-choked runways, and wing away toward the east, never to return. On other nights the deserted woodlands ring with unheard laughter and gay voices of young men and young women who once passed that way. Recollections of all these fade a little with each passing year until at last there will finally remain only the indelible records of the all-seeing Master of the Universe to recall the deeds of valor excelled by no other nation, arm, or service. These sacred scrolls will forever remain the heritage of the free and untrampled people of this earth.

Budd Peaslee, courtesy of Quentin Bland via the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

Sources

“Heritage of Valor” by Budd J. Peaslee.

www.384thbombgroup.com

384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Budd Peaslee – Part 1 was published January 4, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 2 was published February 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 3 was published March 1, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 4 was published April 5, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 5 was published May 24, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 6 was published November 29, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 7 was published December 6, 2017 here.

Budd Peaslee – Part 8 was published December 13, 2017 here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Excerpts from Heritage of Valor by Budd J. Peaslee, © Budd J. Peaslee, 1963