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Budd Peaslee – Part 7

Budd Peaslee – Part 6 was published November 29, 2017 here. (Scroll to the end of this post for links to the entire series).

In Heritage of Valor, Budd Peaslee describes air battles, including the brutal first Schweinfurt mission, from the Summer of 1943 into the Fall. He quotes statistics, including numbers of bombers lost and number of men lost. But the most memorable words of his book to me are not the statistics, but his understanding of the brutalities of war and his empathy for the men who served under him. He wrote:

The men who flew the missions were numb with fatigue and the mental strain of facing death in one form or another – from hundreds of thousands of shrapnel fragments, cannon projectiles, bursting bombs, bullets, fire, oxygen starvation, or a fall from five miles up to sudden and total destruction on the ground. This kind of war had no foxholes or dugouts, no hedgerows or earthworks, no place to hide, no place to run; it was a far different kind of conflict than man had before faced.

He continued with this excerpt that answers the endless “what was it like over there” question to a veteran who was there long ago…

In the absolute darkness of the blacked-out metal huts of the combat crews there was silence except for the regular heavy breathing of those who slept and the creaking of the restless bedsprings of those who couldn’t. Always, day and night, day after day and night after night, there was the distant rumble of engines, as much a part of the air as oxygen. The engines were never still, but had to be listened for with effort except when some crewman revved up a nearby bomber engine to test the replaced spark plugs or the power output of a new turbo-supercharger. In this lonely darkness a man was alone with himself and his thoughts, from which there was no escape. It was in this hour of truth that those with the keenest sensibilities suffered the most. To some the thought of what they and their comrades must face on the morrow took possession of their minds and with it came a vague sadness for those they had seen falter in the vast expanses of sky and then start the long fall toward oblivion.

He continued with the answer to another question – why didn’t our fathers talk about the war?

To some came the nameless dread of the future for themselves, and the restlessness of suspense while waiting for the inevitable. To others, the more sensitive, there was thought of the guilt they bore for their acts and contributions. They saw the masses of the innocent, the aged infirm and helpless, the young, the uncomprehending and the pitiful – all shocked and torn by the devastation of fire and blast that was of their making. These were the things that besieged the mind, that could not be changed or buried by conversation with a companion, or a new romance with a willing British maid, or the ordering of another drink from the club bartender. This was man living with himself in the darkness of his thoughts, but hoping for the blessed oblivion of sleep, dreading to hear the approaching footsteps of a runner summoning him to the duties of war.

Budd Peaslee was a commander to whom the airmen and ground crews of the 384th could relate. He left the 384th on September 8, 1943, but he would forever be THE commander of the 384th, “the Boss.”

Col. Budd J. Peaslee
Photo Courtesy of Marc Poole, 2014, via the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

To be continued…

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.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

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

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Budd Peaslee – Part 6

One of the subjects I have neglected for the past six months is my series of posts on 384th Bomb Group Commander Budd Peaslee. I’d like to finish up the series before the end of the year, so the next several posts will be all about Budd Peaslee.

Budd Peaslee – Part 5 was published May 24, 2017 here. (Scroll to the end of this post for links to the entire series).

The 384th Bomb Group joined the Eighth Air Force flying missions over Europe in the first week of June 1943 with thirty-five combat crews. Replacement bombers and replacement crews would be added as original crews failed to return. In the first three months of operation, forty-two 384th Bomb Group bombers failed to return from missions over Europe, representing a 120% loss. At this time in the war, a flyer’s tour was defined as twenty-five missions.

In his book, Heritage of Valor, Budd Peaslee offers insights into WWII, and air war in general, that I have never seen from any other source. The following is a paragraph from Peaslee’s book.

Recorded history has little to say about great air battles or significant happenings of aerial combat. As an army or navy moves ponderously across the surface of the earth there is time to record the strategy of its generals or admirals. There is even time to speculate on their thoughts and motives, and to make analysis of their decisions. And there is time to record and reward great acts of heroism and courage, and to condemn and punish cowardice and error. But with an air force, although the drama and heroics are undeniably present, the occurrence is condensed in time and expanded in space to such an extent that the record of significant decision is lost forever to the world. That there are momentous occasions – as an air force moves from deep in the friendly zone, mounts into the firmament, crosses multiple sea and mountain barriers and national boundaries, to penetrate in a few hours to the very heartland of the enemy and there to strike a devastating blow – let no one doubt. That these deeds are lost to history and to the people is the unfortunate penalty of the era of speed that will become worse, never better.

As a heavy bomb group commander based in England, in the summer of 1943, Peaslee identified another enemy of the 8th Air Force, or at the very least an obstacle to a successful air war, poor weather conditions.

In these early months of day bombardment, success was dependent almost wholly on a favorable weather situation, not only over the bases where the bombers must rise and assemble into formation and to which they must return, but also along the routes and in the target area. In truth the weather had turned out to be the greatest enemy of the American scheme and until it was defeated, or at least neutralized to a great extent, the effectiveness of daylight operation with massive striking forces against precision targets was open to serious and skeptical scrutiny.

During that same summer, Peaslee recalls a particular mission in his book, Mission 9 on July 24, 1943.

24 July 1943, Heroya, Norway (Industry)
Back L-R: Lt. Brown (OBS/TG), SSgt. William O’Donnell (LWG), SSgt Fred Wagner (RO), Lt. Charles Bonnett (B), Lt. James Martin-Vegue (N), SSgt James Self (RWG), Lt. James Merritt (CP)
Front L-R: TSgt. George Ursta (BT), Lt. John DuBois (N), TSgt David Cochran (TT), Col. Budd Peaslee (P)
Aircraft: B-17F 544th BS 42-5883 SU*D No Name Jive/Weary Willie
Source: The Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery.

The bombing at Heroya has passed into history and is rarely recalled, except by those who made the trip and who still survive. To them it was the most successful and shrewedly planned and executed mission of the entire war.

384th Bomb Group veteran Burnia Martin flew that mission. I met Burnia at the 8th Air Force reunion in New Orleans this year, but wasn’t aware of his participation in that mission, and missed my opportunity to hear about it in person.

Burnia Martin then…

Burnia Martin
Photo courtesy of the Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Burnia Martin now…

Burnia Martin, September 2017

To be continued…

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.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving! Today, I’ll take a brief look back at Thanksgiving at Grafton Underwood during WWII.

It seems that even with a war going on, the men of the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England followed the American tradition of a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

Grafton Underwood cooks carving turkey
Photo courtesy of Tony Plowright

I found this interesting photo in the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery this week.

S/Sgt. William D. Johnson leads an informal discussion on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1943, with school children at the Church of England School, Sudborough, Northamptonshire
Photo provided by both Robert Bletscher and Quentin Bland

William D. Johnson was a Quartermaster Supply Technician with the 6th Service Squadron. Johnson was twenty-eight years old at the time and was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent Thanksgiving 1943 at war and away from home and wanted to share the story of this American holiday with the English schoolchildren.

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

An Italian-American Airman in WWII

384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco is a WWII rock star. He has been the subject of several magazine and newspaper articles and is now set to appear on Italian television. Both of John’s parents were from Italy. John’s father immigrated with his family when he was fourteen years old and served in the American Army in WWI, earning his American citizenship. John’s mother was also born in Italy and immigrated with her family when she was very young.

Italian Air Force veteran and journalist Vittorio Argento recently visited Florida to interview John about his role as an Italian-American B-17 pilot in WWII.

Vittorio currently works with the Department of Safety and Security for Italy’s national radio/television public broadcasting company, RAI. He is a veteran journalist who has worked in television and daily newspapers and was previously Deputy Managing Director for RAI Radio News. In 2016, Vittorio served as the Prix Italia’s (an international Italian television, radio-broadcasting and website award program) Secretary General.

Vittorio Argento looking at some of John DeFrancesco’s WWII documents

Vittorio has a personal interest in WWII history and has restored two WWII jeeps. You can read about Vittorio’s adventure to bring a 1943 Willys back to its Ohio factory from Italy here.

Vittorio Argento’s 1943 Willys Jeep

At John’s interview, Vittorio presented him with a beautiful plaque of the Italian Air Force. “Virtute Siderum Tenus” translates to “With Valor to the Stars”.

L to R: John DeFrancesco and Vittorio Argento

As a result of his interview, John will be the subject of two television programs in Italy and an article in the Italian Air Force magazine.

I enjoyed Vittorio’s visit with us and he has sparked an interest in my husband and me to visit Italy. My passport is ready, my phone is loaded with Google Translate for Italian, and, most importantly, I am shopping for travel shoes.

L to R: John DeFrancesco, Cindy Bryan, and Vittorio Argento sporting 384th Bomb Group caps

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

French Jubilee of Liberty Medal

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal

On June 6, 1994, the French government commemorated the 50th anniversary of D-Day (the invasion by the Allied forces of Normandy on June 6, 1944) by distributing the French Jubilee of Liberty medal to U.S. veterans who participated in the Normandy campaign. The medal was first awarded to American servicemen for their participation in the Battle of Normandy. They were minted at the request of the Regional Council of Normandy to be presented to the veterans attending the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing. Eligible veterans included those who served in the Normandy campaign from June 6 to August 31, 1944, and were part of the of land forces, off-shore personnel, or airmen flying overhead. The first medals awarded were those presented in the anniversary ceremony to the veterans attending.

The French government no longer awards the Jubilee of Liberty medal. However, they have granted the 8th Air Force Historical Society approval to mint and distribute the medal to eligible veterans or the families of eligible deceased veterans who qualify for the award. A certificate accompanies the medal.

My Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal and Certificate

The certificate reads:

Jubilee of Liberty Medal

The Jubilee of Liberty Medal is presented in grateful recognition of your contribution in the liberation of France. Your participation in the invasion of Normandy is a testament to your commitment to the freedom so many have fought and continue to fight for, every day. Your honorable service to the United States is commendable and will never be forgotten.

Thank you for all that you have done for France, the United States, and the world.

It is with great gratitude and extreme honor that I proudly present

the Jubilee of Liberty Medal to Normandy Veteran:

George E Farrar, 384th Bomb Group

The front of the medal is inscribed with “Overlord 6 Juin 1944” on the upper part of the medal, with the flags of the Allied nations and the names of the landing beaches completing the face of the medal.

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal, front

The reverse of the medal shows the Torch of Freedom surrounded by the device of William the Conqueror “Diex Aie” (“God is with us” in Norman French).

Dad’s Jubilee of Liberty Medal, back

Dad, George Edwin Farrar, participated in the Normandy campaign with the 384th Bomb Group in August 1944, which made him eligible for the award. I applied for the Jubilee of Liberty medal for him as soon as I found the application instructions in the September 2017 issue of the 8th Air Force News. As I hold this medal in my hand, it becomes more than metal and ribbon. It is a reminder for me of my dad’s service to our country and his fight for not only our freedom, but France’s and the free world.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

2017 8th AF Reunion in New Orleans

On September 27, WWII veterans of the 8th Army Air Forces, family and friends gathered in New Orleans for the 2017 reunion of the 8th Air Force. It was a joyous occasion filled with the rekindling of old friendships and the making of new ones. Many of us met in person for the first time friends we had only known through the 384th’s Facebook group.

L to R: New friends Robin Long, John DeFrancesco, and Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

One of those I met for the first time was Kevin Flecknor of the UK. Kevin maintains the 384th’s memorial and grounds in Grafton Underwood. I had previously only known Kevin through the 384th’s Facebook group.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

It was also great to see old friends like Henry Sienkiewicz and Katie Cahill at the reunion
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Members of the 384th Volunteer team, left to right: Keith Ellefson, John Edwards, Marc Poole, and Fred Preller. We were all excited to meet Marc, the originator of 384thbombgroup.com, for the first time.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan.

The 384th Bomb Group turned out in full force at the reunion with the highest attendance of any individual group with fifty-nine total registrants. Eight of our 384th veterans were on hand. These eight represented all four bomb squadrons of the 384th and represented all three years the 384th called Grafton Underwood home during WWII, from the first crews to arrive in Grafton Underwood to the last to depart after the final mission, Number 316.

384th Bomb Group Veterans attending the 2017 8th AF Reunion.
Left to Right: Hank Sienkiewicz, Don Hilliard, John DeFrancesco, Burnia Martin, Len Estrin, Dave Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Peter Bielskis
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

The first of these veterans to arrive in Grafton Underwood was…

Burnia Martin, a tail gunner on the Johnny Butler crew representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Burnia flew fourteen missions, #1 through #24 from June 22, 1943 to September 16, 1943. On his fourteenth mission, Burnia’s B-17 was shot down by enemy aircraft. Burnia spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

Burnia Martin
Photo courtesy of the Quentin Bland Collection via the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Two of these veterans arrived in 1944…

Henry Sienkiewicz, a bombardier representing the 545th Bomb Squadron. Hank flew thirty-five missions, #150 through #256 from July 4, 1944 to January 17, 1945. (No wartime photo available).

John DeFrancesco, a pilot representing the 544th Bomb Squadron. John flew thirty-five missions, #208 through #253 from October 9, 1944 to January 8, 1945. John’s B-17 developed mechanical problems on his thirty-fifth mission and the crew was forced to bail out. John spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

John DeFrancesco
Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco

Five of these veterans arrived at Grafton in early 1945…

Donald Hilliard, a radio operator representing the 545th Bomb Squadron. Don flew sixteen missions, #266 through #315 from February 14, 1945 to April 20, 1945.

Don Hilliard
Photo courtesy of Penny Probasco via Facebook

David Lustig, a radio operator representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Dave flew twenty-two missions, #268 through #316 from February 19, 1945 to April 25, 1945.

David Lustig
Photo courtesy of Carl Lustig via Facebook

William Wilkens, an engineer/top turret gunner representing the 547th Bomb Squadron. Bill flew thirty missions, #273 through #316 from February 24, 1945 to April 25, 1945.

Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

Peter Bielskis, a ball turret gunner representing the 546th Bomb Squadron. Peter flew twenty-seven missions, #274 through #315 from February 25, 1945 to April 20, 1945.

Peter Bielskis, 1944
Photo courtesy of Patricia Haidys-Bielskis via Facebook

Leonard Estrin, a ball turret gunner representing the 546th Bomb Squadron. Len flew seventeen missions, #279 through #314 from March 2, 1945 to April 19, 1945.

Len Estrin
Photo courtesy of Len Estrin via the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

With the addition of a co-pilot, navigator and waist gunner, we would have had a full crew!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

There were a few early arrivals in New Orleans, but today was a travel day for most of us. My husband, Bill, and I, and veteran John DeFrancesco drove in from central Florida today. The 384th’s webmaster, Fred Preller, his brother-in-law, Sal Scalia, and Christopher Wilkinson had the 384th’s hospitality suite nicely set up for us and stocked with provisions. Our hospitality suite was a little off the beaten path and hard to find for visitors, but with our large group in attendance, we needed this bigger space, the Ponchatrain Room.

Keith Ellefson escorted Wingy to the reunion in New Orleans. Fred Preller (on left) and Sal Scalia (on right) lend a hand moving Wingy from her chariot to her place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group’s hospitality suite.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

Everyone gathered in the Hilton’s ballroom at 6pm for the Welcome Reception. Afterwards, everyone dispersed into the individual hospitality suites to see who had arrived and who was still MIA.

L to R: Mark Meehl, Christopher Wilkinson, and Mariola Wilkinson
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The reunion got off to a great start with the first of a two-day tour of the National WWII Museum in downtown New Orleans. Our first day included a viewing of the incredible 4D film “Beyond All Boundaries” narrated by Tom Hanks. We toured as many of the museum’s exhibits as we could cover, but were glad we would have a second day to be able to see everything.

384th BG veteran John DeFrancesco in front of one of the museum’s exhibits, American Invasion of Italy.
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

We spent a lot of time in the US Freedom Pavilion with the B-17E “My Gal Sal” and other WWII aircraft, and it would definitely require a second look on Friday. With several catwalks at different levels, we were able to have great views of the Flying Fortress from all angles. Touring the museum in the company of the men who flew those magnificent machines and fought in WWII made the experience even more special.

B-17 in the WWII Museum
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Aircraft suspended from the ceiling of the US Freedom Pavilion at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

On Thursday night, everyone gathered in the Hilton’s ballroom for a buffet dinner and program with two speakers from the National WWII Museum, President and CEO Stephen Watson, and Senior Director of Research and History Keith Huxen.

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs and 384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco gather for a photo at Thursday night’s dinner
Standing L to R: Laura Edge and Cindy Bryan
Seater L to R: Ellen Hartman, John DeFrancesco, and Candy Brown
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

Friday, September 29, 2017

On Friday we returned to the museum for the opportunity to see all the exhibits we missed the first day. After covering all of the museum’s presentations of WWII history, we were drawn again to the Freedom Pavilion and the B-17.

Whenever I see a B-17, I picture my dad manning his machine gun in the waist window, and today was no different. To think that he was part of the great air war over Europe is sometimes hard for me to grasp.

Waist gunner at the ready in his B-17
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

This man who taught me how to ride a bike and build a sand castle on the beach had to go to war when he was a young man. He had to risk his life and fight for what today I take for granted, my freedom. Visiting a museum dedicated to this war from long ago really makes me stop and think about the sacrifices my dad and the other veterans of this war and their families made for us. And it makes me wish my dad was still around to attend this reunion with me.

Dad (George Edwin Farrar) at Grafton Underwood, 1944
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

On Friday night, each bomb group gathered in their separate hospitality suites for the Rendezvous Dinner. Frank Alfter, the group’s very first NexGen member, emceed. Christopher Wilkinson and Fred Preller made presentations. And all of us enjoyed the dinner and camaraderie of the evening.

Frank Alfter
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson

L to R: Don and Donna Hilliard, and Bill Wilkens
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

L to R: Hedwig Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Dave Lustig
Photo courtesy of Cindy Farrar Bryan

Saturday, September 30, 2017

On Saturday, reunion attendees were given the option of taking a New Orleans City Tour or touring the Oak Alley Plantation. John, Bill, and I opted for a more casual day starting with breakfast at Café du Monde, New Orleans’ original French Market coffee stand since 1862. Black coffee with chicory washed down a plate of Beignets covered with a mountain of powdered sugar.

By the time we returned to the hotel, the 384th’s hospitality suite was in full swing. We joined in until lunchtime when John, Bill, John Edwards, and I took a break to check out the Kenner Seafood Market for some good local seafood. Back to the hospitality suite for the afternoon and then a break before the veterans’ group photos and dinner.

WWII 8th AF Veterans Group Photo
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion who were POWs during WWII
Photo courtesy of Michael Carr

The reunion’s gala dinner banquet was held at the National WWII Museum in the US Freedom Pavilion right underneath the B-17 suspended from the ceiling. What better venue for veterans of the 8th Air Force than dining under a WWII Flying Fortress! Over five hundred attended the banquet and we were entertained by the New Orleans singing group, the “Vintage Vocals.”

Gala Banquet at the WWII Museum
Photo courtesy of Bill Bryan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Most folks, including Bill, John, and I, headed home Sunday morning. I think whether driving or flying, all were thinking about the announcement of the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion plans for next year on their return trip home. It is scheduled for October 10 – 14, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. The National Museum of the USAF is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and will be one of the reunion’s star attractions, second only to the main attraction, the group’s WWII veterans. Hope to see you there!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017 (with the exception of the photos of others)

2017 8th Air Force Reunion Photos

As I still haven’t had enough time to sit at my desk and write about the 8th Air Force Reunion in New Orleans, today I’ll share a few photos. The story will just have to wait…

The 384th Bomb Group’s Hospitality Suite

The 384th Bomb Group’s hospitality suite
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

Keeping the Show on the Road for the 384th Bomb Group
L to R: Keith Ellefson (combat data specialist and researcher), John Edwards (group historian), Marc Poole (384th web site originator, researcher, and aviation artist), and Fred Preller (384th Bomb Group webmaster)
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

John DeFrancesco in his original A2 jacket.
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

Friends reunited, 8th Air Force Veteran and NexGens

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs with 384th Bomb Group veteran John DeFrancesco
Standing L to R: Laura Edge and Cindy Bryan
Seated L to R: Ellen Hartman, John DeFrancesco, and Candy Brown
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

The National WWII Museum

B-17 at the WWII Museum
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

 

B-17 in the WWII Museum
Photo by Cindy Farrar Bryan

Gala Dinner and Program

WWII 8th AF Veterans Group Photo
Photo courtesy of Craig Dubishar, 8thAFHS Official Photographer

 

Gala Banquet at the WWII Museum
Photo by Bill Bryan

Next week…

…the story and more photos!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

2017 8th Air Force Reunion – A Teaser

I had hoped to be able to tell you all about the 8th Air Force Reunion that I attended last week, but I have barely had time to unpack and rest up from my excellent adventure in New Orleans with veterans, family, and friends of the 384th Bomb Group and other groups of the 8th. It will just have to wait until next week! For now, I’ll just leave you with this teaser…

Over five hundred folks attended the reunion, including seventy-five WWII veterans and eight former POW’s, two of which represented the 384th Bomb Group.

Eight 384th Bomb Group Veterans attended the reunion…

384th Bomb Group Veterans attending the 2017 8th AF Reunion.
Left to Right: Hank Sienkiewicz, Don Hilliard, John DeFrancesco, Burnia Martin, Len Estrin, Dave Lustig, Bill Wilkens, and Peter Bielskis

Seventy-five 8th AF Veterans attended (I don’t think they all made it into this photo)…

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion.

And eight of the veterans attending were former POWs including the 384th’s John DeFrancesco and Burnia Martin…

8th Air Force Veterans attending the 2017 Reunion who were POWs during WWII (Burnia Martin sits third from left and John DeFrancesco sits fifth from left).

Check back next week for more details about the reunion.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Road Trip to the Big Easy

Today I am on the road. John DeFrancesco, WWII Veteran of the 8th Air Force and 384th Bomb Group, my husband Bill, and I are heading to New Orleans. By this evening, we will be in the company of many other WWII Veterans of the 8th Air Force, and their families and friends. I’m looking forward to reuniting with old friends and making new ones.

It is the first day of our 2017 Reunion, which opens tonight with a Welcome Reception. We have three more days to look forward to with tours of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans City Tour, and Plantation Tour. We also have special dinners to anticipate – an 8th Air Force dinner buffet and speaker, an intimate Rendezvous Dinner with everyone dining with their individual bomb group, and the Gala Dinner and Program at the World War II Museum at the end of the week.

This year will probably be one of the largest turnouts for an 8th Air Force Reunion as we all gather in New Orleans. The Veterans, their spouses, NexGen (Next Generation) family, and friends who will meet this week to remember the Mighty Eighth represent 8th AF HQ (Headquarters), the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah, Georgia, and over thirty bombardment and fighter groups of the 8th Air Force which were based in England during WWII.

B-17 Heavy Bombardment Groups

  • 91st Bomb Group, based in Bassingbourn
  • 92nd Bomb Group, based in Podington
  • 95th Bomb Group, based in Horham
  • 96th Bomb Group, based in Snetterton Heath
  • 100th Bomb Group, based in Thorpe Abbotts
  • 303rd Bomb Group, based in Molesworth
  • 305th Bomb Group, based in Chelveston
  • 306th Bomb Group, based in Thurleigh
  • 351st Bomb Group, based in Polebrook
  • 379th Bomb Group, based in Kimbolton
  • 381st Bomb Group, based in Ridgewell
  • 384th Bomb Group, based in Grafton Underwood
  • 385th Bomb Group, based in Great Ashfield
  • 401st Bomb Group, based in Deenethorpe
  • 447th Bomb Group, based in Rattlesden
  • 452nd Bomb Group, based in Deopham Green

B-24 Heavy Bombardment Groups

  • 34th Bomb Group, based in Mendlesham
  • 44th Bomb Group, based in Shipdham
  • 389th Bomb Group, based in Hethel
  • 392nd Bomb Group, based in Wendling
  • 445th Bomb Group, based in Tibenham
  • 446th Bomb Group, based in Bungay
  • 448th Bomb Group, based in Seething
  • 453rd Bomb Group, based in Old Buckenham
  • 458th Bomb Group, based in Horsham St. Faith
  • 466th Bomb Group, based in Attlebridge
  • 487th Bomb Group, based in Lavenham
  • 489th Bomb Group, based in Halesworth
  • 491st Bomb Group, based in Metfield
  • 493rd Bomb Group, based in Debach

B-26 Marauders Medium Bombardment Group

  • 386th Bomb Group, based in Snetterton Heath, Boxted, and Great Dunmow

Fighter Groups

  • 352nd Fighter Group, based in Bodney, Norfolk
  • 479th Fighter Group, based in Wattisham

We will mix and mingle in the hospitality suites and listen to many stories of courage and determination in the face of a long ago enemy.

From previous reunions, I know I will marvel at these men, now in their nineties, who in their teens and early twenties, fought for us in WWII and won our freedom. When I look these ninety-something-year-old Veterans in the eye, their wrinkles disappear, their backs straighten, and I can see directly into their past, see the boys from long ago who were warriors, patriots, and heroes.

It is as though time travel were possible and I am ducking flak and dodging German fighter bullets as I listen to the recollection of a particularly rough mission. I am not standing in an air-conditioned New Orleans hotel hospitality suite. I am in the skies over Germany and I am afraid. I am there because they are there. They will tell me what they experienced all those years ago as if it were yesterday. I don’t want to miss a word.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Faith

In researching WWII chaplains for previous articles, I wondered how a man of the cloth viewed war and his own involvement in it, how he reconciled the brutality of war within his own faith. How could these men of God, who volunteered to stand beside the officers and enlisted men of the various branches of service, rationalize and justify the killing of his enemies and destruction of his enemy’s homeland?

I wondered especially about the chaplains of the 384th Bomb Group and how they felt at the end of the day when many of the men that they had blessed that morning before the day’s mission didn’t return with the group that afternoon. Did they feel helpless knowing that they couldn’t protect or save every one? Did they wonder, when they looked into the faces before them on the morning of the next mission, which of these faces they were looking into for the last time?

It would not be surprising for the men who flew and returned from mission after mission to suffer from “shell shock,” or what we call today PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). They had flown through flak fields, faced enemy fighter attacks, watched other crews go down, and seen their own bombs’ destruction below on the enemy’s soil. But I would expect a military chaplain who had to witness the hell of war through the eyes of those he was shepherding could be as consumed with the guilt, terror, and grief as his flock.

When I read that the 384th’s Catholic chaplain Herbert Butterbach died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-five, shortly after returning to the States after the war, I wonder if his heart had been broken so severely from the many losses of his Group that he could no longer go on.

I began by looking at the rules and regulations the military set forth for these men, their guidelines of service. The US War Department’s AR (Army Regulations) 60-5 Chaplains General Provisions, spelled out the duties of a military chaplain, which included their duties to:

  • Hold religious services
  • Serve as friends, counselors, and guides, without discrimination, to all members of the command to which they are assigned, regardless of creed or sect
  • Strive to promote morality, religion, and good order
  • Conduct ceremonies including burial services, marriages, baptisms, etc.
  • Interview or address new recruits in matters pertaining to morals and character
  • Advise enlisted men under arrest or in confinement
  • Make regular visits to the sick in the hospital
  • Encourage correspondence between enlisted men and their relatives and friends

The 384th’s Protestant Chaplain, Dayle Schnelle, who was with the Group from the beginning, wrote an article for the Group’s very first WWII edition of their news publication, The Plane News, on April 17, 1943. This issue was published while the Group was still in the States, in Sioux City, Iowa. (Transcription below).

Published in the April 17, 1943 issue of “The Plane News”

The Chaplain Says… by Chaplain Dayle R. Schnelle

Some time ago a very famous American was giving an address in the interest of public morale. In this speech he made this remark, “We are fighting God’s war for Him.” The two following questions may help us clarify our thinking.

First, what kind of war is God waging? This is no difficult question. His is a war against Sin and all the forces of Evil. Surely, we say, this describes Hitler. But God’s war is not against a man or men. His war is for them. He would destroy the evil that makes men like Hitler possible.

Second, who can fight God’s war? Naturally, the only soldier who can fight for the United States are soldiers of the United States. In like manner, God’s war is fought by His soldiers. Just any man cannot claim that honor. God has laid down certain requirements to which we must conform if we are to be in His army.

From this we may draw our conclusions. We must not blame God for our failures and our weaknesses. We cannot force God to join “our side” and exclude another. Our only hope for a final victory and a lasting peace is not in getting God on our side but for us to join “God’s side.”

The Christmas 1943 edition of The Plane News included a photo of Protestant chaplain Dayle Schnelle (on the left) and Catholic chaplain Method Billy (on the right) standing in front of the Group’s chapel at their base in Grafton Underwood, UK with Major Roy Dier, who supervised the church’s construction.

Published in the Christmas 1943 issue of “The Plane News”

During my research, I ran across a paper written by a History Department Undergraduate at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Jeremiah Snyder. The title of Jeremiah’s paper, which was published in the Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS in the Spring of 2009, is Let Us Die Bravely: United States Chaplains in World War II. (I’ve included a link at the bottom of this article).

Jeremiah looks at the role of military chaplains in WWII and how they fit into “America’s War Machine.” For those interested in more information on the role of military chaplains, I urge you to read Jeremiah’s entire paper. I will include only an excerpt here:

World War II chaplains served in the military for a number of reasons. One staunch pacifist clergyman turned military officer, Russell Cartwright Stroup, eloquently articulated the Christian justifications for the war. In a letter home to his brother and mother, Chaplain Stroup wrote:

I have asked myself so many times, “What am I doing here?”…I love peace so passionately and hate war so utterly. More than a hatred: I am convinced that war is utterly futile and senseless…yet here I am in the midst of it, feeling that it is right for me to be here and that, indeed, I could be nowhere else—even though this might cost me my life…

There is the challenge of the work. Here are men who need me…I feel that the church has never faced a greater opportunity, a heaven-sent chance to touch tomorrow’s manhood and to save America for Christ…

…I may be mistaken, but I doubt that there can be effective leadership in the church of tomorrow by men who, able to serve in the war, chose not to do so. Too many of our church men will be veterans…

…I must follow the Master: He would be found where mankind is suffering, and He would be sharing that suffering.

There is also the motive of “patriotism.” I have always loved America deeply…I cannot be indifferent to the call of my country, even though I may hate what we are called upon to do…

We are compelled to halt the aggression of an evil movement in the world. I do not think war will make a better world…But if we had stood by and allowed the Nazi, the Fascist, and the militarist to run wild in our world, the darkness would become deeper and the night longer…

…I want to be found on the side of the dignity and worth of human personality, of liberty, of the rights of man. I want to be found opposing tyranny, oppression, bigotry, and the exultation of materialism. I do not think that God blesses war, but I do hope that He blesses those who, in good conscience, are willing to sacrifice, in peace or war, for what they believe are principles in accord with His Holy Will.”

Jeremiah quoted Chaplain Stroup’s letter from Letters from the Pacific: A Combat Chaplain in World War II (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000).

I also wondered about the faith of the men who served in WWII in other capacities. The faith of some, it seems, strengthened. They believed God brought them through their ordeal. But some lost their faith in God. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was a Sunday School teacher in the Presbyterian church. I’m sure she believed that God brought her son home from the war. God guided him through his missions, watched over him in the prison camp, and held his hand on the Black March through Germany. But after WWII, I don’t believe my dad had the same relationship with God that he did before he fought in it. I think he may have felt abandoned by God and wondered how his God could leave him as the only survivor of his ship while taking the lives of all the others, how God could let him nearly starve to death, and why his God would let the memories visit him every day and every night for the rest of his life.

At the end of my dad’s military training, just before he was shipped overseas to his air base, he wrote his mother…

I’ll write you as often as I can, and I want you to know that I haven’t waited this long to start asking God to help me.  That is one thing I have never been too proud to do, and I think it helps a lot, too.

But after the war, I think he lost his faith. I never knew my dad to step foot in church when I was growing up except for a handful of weddings and funerals. He and my mother were married by a Justice of the Peace in the county courthouse, not by a Minister in a church. We blessed God and thanked him for the food on our table every night before dinner, but other than that, God was not invited into our home. I was sent to Sunday School in the Presbyterian Church, the church of Dad’s mother, only sporadically, and never taken to a church service, although I went once by myself. I chose not to go back after the preacher’s sermon taught me that I was surely going to Hell and that my God was a vengeful God, not the kind and loving and caring God that I had imagined him to be. Upon announcing one day when I was in my teens that I didn’t believe in God, Dad told me, “Don’t you ever say that again.” End of discussion. Apparently his belief in God was still strong, the relationship just strained.

I found God later on my own. I consider myself spiritual, though not religious, meaning that I do have my belief in a kind and loving God, but do not care for organized religion and the structure of the church. I feel God outside in the fresh air among the flowers and trees. I hear God in the gentle breeze and see Him in the sunrise, in the sunset, and in the faces of friends. I feel His presence in the roar of the ocean and the first cry of a newborn. I feel my closest connection to God when I walk alone on a beach, not sitting in the pew of a church. I don’t talk to God often, but when I do, I thank Him for another beautiful day in this world. I do believe in God. I have Faith in God. But then, I’ve never been to war.

Notes

To read the entire AR 60-5 Chaplains General Provisions document, click here.

The Plane News was brought out of retirement from WWI, where it originated aboard the warship, The Baltic. To read the entire story or more of this issue and others on the 384th Bomb Group’s web site, click here.

To read Jeremiah Snyder’s Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS paper, Let Us Die Bravely: United States Chaplains in World War II, click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017 (with the exception of Jeremiah Snyder’s excerpt)