Category Archives: 384th Bomb Group
Last month I published an update regarding Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Daniel Lucynski. Even after my latest search for information about Eugene, I still did not know if Eugene married and had children, and was not able to find where he might be buried.
Eugene Lucynski must have been married at one point in his life as he reported in the 1950 Federal Census that he was divorced. However, I can find no other record noting his wife’s name or if they had any children together. Past 1950, I cannot find any record that Eugene remarried or had any children after that date.
So, still wanting to learn more about Eugene, I turned to the owners of family trees on Ancestry.com that included Eugene in their trees. One very helpful family tree owner, Frannie Lada, responded to my request. While Frannie was not able to provide me with the information for which I had been searching, she did share a newspaper article and some information about Polish emigration.
Frannie Lada is distantly related to Eugene Lucynski, but not by blood, the first cousin once removed of the husband of a third cousin. But Frannie kindly assisted me in my search.
Frannie shared this newspaper article published following the crash of the Tremblin’ Gremlin on 19 September 1944, although the article notes an incorrect date of the incident.
The article reads:
Sgt. Eugene Lucynski Wounded Over France
Mt. Morris – Staff Sgt. Eugene D. Lucynski, tail gunner aboard a Flying Fortress based with the Eighth Air Force in England, was wounded Sept. 27 according to word received by his father, Gus Lucynski, 7307 N. Dort Hwy.
Through a letter from a Red Cross worker in France, the father has learned that his son and fellow crew members bailed out of their plane over France while returning from a raid on German targets. The men left the plane only seconds before it exploded in mid-air. Sgt. Lucynski is under treatment for arm and leg injuries.
The airman, who holds the Air Medal, was inducted in June 1942 and received his gunner’s wings from Ardmore Field, Okla. He has been overseas seven months.
In addition to a correction for the date, which should have been the 19th of September rather than the 27th, the article also overstates Eugene’s length of overseas duty by several months as he and the Buslee crew did not arrive in the UK until early July 1944 and did not participate in their first mission until August.
Frannie Lada also educated me regarding the interpretation of terminology found on census and immigration records as far as location origins and language of Germany vs. Poland are concerned. Frannie said,
Although ship and census records may say “Germany,” the Luczynski’s and Bruzewski’s [Eugene’s mother’s side of the family] were from Poland. Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation from 1795-1918. (Google the “Partitions of Poland”). The land was divided among Germany, Austria, and Russia. The Polish language and the culture was suppressed.
My grandma was baptized in the same Polish parish church where John Luczynski married Katherine Borowski [Gustave Lucynski’s (Eugene’s father’s) parents]. The village of Dobrcz (or Dobsch in German) is in the county of Bydgoszcz (Bromberg in German) in what is now the province of Kujawsko-Pomorskie.
By 1939, when Hitler invaded, Poland had been free from being part of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires for only a little over 20 years. (The Polish word for Germany is ”Niemcy” which is very close to the Polish phrase “niema nic” which means “there is nothing”).
The bottom line is that these families are from the Polish partition that was ruled by the German Empire.
Frannie also added “just a bit more for context,”
The Poles, even in this country, were fiercely nationalistic. During the first world war, as many as 20,000 Poles living in the US joined Haller’s Army. The memory of oppression was never far from their thoughts.
Read more about Haller’s Army in WWI here.
And Frannie shared that,
As a child, I recall standing with pride next to my grandma as we sang the Polish national anthem. The anthem, written in 1797 a few years after the last partition, is a military march but my favorite version is this one.
The version Frannie shared is lovely and performed by the Warsaw Philharmonia Orchestra. Today, in honor of Eugene Daniel Lucynski and all the Polish ancestors who came before him, I will conclude with this version, sung in Polish, with an onscreen English translation.
As Frannie pointed out to me, the opening line says it all: “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, Kiedy my żyjemy.” “Poland has not yet perished so long as we still live.”
Many thanks to fellow Ancestry.com member Frannie Lada for her assistance.
Previous post, Eugene Daniel Lucynski, Update
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
A new search has provided me with some new information regarding Leonard Wood Opie, flexible/waist gunner of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII.
To view my original post and other information about Leonard Wood Opie, please see the links at the end of this post.
Entry into World War II
Leonard Wood Opie registered for the WWII draft on 16 February 1942. He indicated that he lived in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois at the time of registration. Leonard’s draft card also notes he was twenty years old and his birthdate was 14 September 1921.
His father, Chester A. Opie of Trivoli, Illinois is the person who would always know his address. Leonard was 5’8” tall, weighed 158 pounds, had brown eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion.
At the time of his draft registration, Leonard’s employer was Altorfer Bros. & Co. in East Peoria, Tazewell County, Illinois. For an interesting WWII side story, please see the story about Leonard’s employer, Altorfer Bros. & Co., below.
A month after his twenty-first birthday, on 17 October 1942, Leonard enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Peoria, Illinois. He resided in Peoria County, Illinois at the time of enlistment.
After his training in the States, Leonard Wood Opie served his combat duty with the 8th Army Air Forces and the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England.
Leonard’s 384th Bomb Group Sortie record notes that his initial rank was Corporal, his duty was Arm-Gunner, and his pay was $140.40 per month. His sortie record also notes his home address as Mrs. Annie Opie (Leonard’s mother), Trivoli, Ill.
Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Leonard Wood Opie:
- On 26 JULY 1944, Leonard Wood Opie was assigned to the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944.
- On 2 August 1944, Leonard Opie was promoted to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #155.
- On 8 September 1944, Leonard Opie was transferred in grade to the Casual Pool, 8th AFRD, AAF Station 594.
According to “Army Air Forces Stations,” AAF Station 594 was “594 Stone Staffordshire 8, 14, 16, and 18, (Jefferson Hall) Replacement Control Ctrs.” “Army Air Forces Stations” was “A Guide to the Stations Where U.S. Army Air Forces Personnel Served in the United Kingdom During World War II.”
Being transferred to the casual pool likely meant that Leonard left Grafton Underwood and continued his WWII service elsewhere, although I have no information on where he served or what his new role in the war was. Leonard Opie served on only three missions with the 384th Bomb Group, all three in August 1944 and all three with the Brodie crew.
Leonard Opie married and continued his military career after WWII.
On 13 May 1946, Leonard Opie married Ellen Hise in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Leonard was twenty-four years old and Ellen was twenty-three and lived in North Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas.
The 1950 Federal Census notes that Leonard W. Opie was twenty-eight years old, married to Ellen T. Opie, who was twenty-seven years old, and living in Riverside, Riverside County, California. The kind of work he was doing was listed as Armed Forces.
The 1951 city directory for Riverside California lists Leonard W. and Ellen T. Opie living at 2643 Lime in Riverside. Leonard’s occupation was United States Air Force. Ellen’s occupation was listed as waitress at The Owl Cafe.
Leonard’s occupation for most of his working life, as noted on his death certificate, was Barber – Tech Sgt. and Kind of Business was U.S. Air Force – Retired. Leonard retired from the US Air Force in 1964 with a discharge date of 29 February 1964 according to his Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File.
Leonard and Ellen Opie moved to Longview, Gregg County, Texas in 1966, two years after he retired from the Air Force.
Leonard Wood Opie died on 20 May 1974 at the age of 52 of prostate cancer. Other information included on his death certificate notes his residence at the time of his death as Longview, Gregg County, Texas. His father was listed as Arthur Opie, mother as Annie Depperman, and wife as Ellen Opie.
Leonard’s obituary published on 21 May 1974 in the Longview (TX) News-Journal states,
L.W. Opie, 52, of Longview died Monday in a Longview hospital and funeral services are pending at Welch Funeral Home.
Opie was a retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant and he was a native of Illinois. He had been a resident of Longview since 1966 and was a member of the First Lutheran Church.
Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Ellen T. Opie; a son, Allen Hise of Tatum; and two daughters, Mrs. Sue Reeves of Longview and Mrs. Sue Hill of West Point, Iowa.
Also surviving are two sisters, Mrs. Marion Stewart of Pekin, Ill. and Mrs. Barbara Quick of Peoria, Ill.; the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Opie of Peoria, Ill.; and five grandchildren.
Welch Funeral Home is in charge.
I would love to connect with relatives of Leonard Wood Opie, especially to learn the nature of his WWII service after he left the 384th Bomb Group. Please e-mail me if you have more information to share about Leonard.
About Altorfer Bros. & Co.
When I performed an internet search to discover what type of employment Leonard was working in at the time of his draft registration, I discovered an interesting newspaper article from the Peoria Journal Star. To get all the details, please refer to the article, but I’ll summarize it here.
Before and at the beginning of World War II, Altorfer Bros. & Co. made appliances, including washing machines. This would have been their primary business at the time Leonard Wood Opie worked for the company.
However, due to shortages from war production, companies like Altorfer could no longer obtain steel to build their products. On 15 May 1943, Altorfer produced its last household appliances for the rest of the war. The company was forced to turn its production lines toward making armaments for the war effort.
At the time, one of the biggest challenges to the Allies military effort was the strength of the steel the Nazis had developed to use to build their tanks. The Allies’ shells would just bounce off the Nazi tanks. According to the article, “Gen. George Patton sent out a plea to the military to have a shell made that would pierce the Nazi tanks.”
Altorfer, and many of the country’s largest manufacturers like John Deere and General Motors, gathered for a brainstorming meeting in southern Indiana. They were tasked with the challenge to make an anti-tank shell, an armored piercing shell.
Clyde Ulrich, director of manufacturing of Altorfer Bros., took back a piece of German tank steel from that meeting to his plant and began work to produce a shell for our anti-tank guns that could pierce that steel.
It took him nine months, but Clyde Ulrich was successful in making a shell that could pierce the Nazi tanks. Altofer Bros. & Co., the company for which Leonard Wood Opie worked shortly before he enlisted in WWII, and Clyde Ulrich would go down in history for creating and producing the shell that could beat the German tanks.
- Previous post, Leonard Opie
- Previous post, Timeline for Brodie Crewmembers and Substitutes, 545th Bomb Squadron
- Leonard Wood Opie’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
- Army Air Forces Stations
- MOS means Military Occupational Specialty
- Looking back: Altorfer Bros. Co. made shells to pierce German tanks during World War II
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist/flexible gunner with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in World War II. On 28 September 1944, the Buslee crew and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the same group became forever connected when the B-17’s they were aboard on a combat mission over Germany suffered a mid-air collision.
I am currently updating the biographical information of the men of these two crews, and I thought it would be a good time to explain the duties involved in each position of the airmen aboard the aircraft, the B-17. I have recently updated the information of the three 384th Bomb Group Tail Gunners who flew with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron.
Eugene Daniel Lucynski, assigned Buslee crew tail gunner
- Born 22 December 1919
- Died 14 April 1981, age 61
- Burial information unknown, but parents (Gustave and Dominica Lucynski) are buried All Saints Church Cemetery, Flint, Genesee County, Michigan, USA
- Also known as Eugene D. or Dan Lucyn
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Eugene D. Lucynski
- Eugene Daniel Lucynski, Update
Gerald Lee Andersen, Carnes crew tail gunner, but tail gunner of the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944
- Born 20 June 1923
- Died 28 September 1944, age 21
- Buried Fort McPherson National Cemetery, Maxwell, Lincoln County, Nebraska, USA, Section F, Site 1229
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Gerald Lee Andersen
- Gerald Lee Andersen, Update
Wilfred Frank Miller, assigned Brodie crew tail gunner
- Born 15 February 1925
- Died 29 June 1991, age 66
- Buried Saint Isidore Catholic Cemetery, Meeme, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, USA
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Wilfred Frank Miller
- Wilfred Frank Miller, Update
For a list of all of the airmen of the Buslee and Brodie crews, see permanent page The Buslee and Brodie Crews, which is maintained with new information/posts.
Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Tail Gunner
Training in the various phases of the heavy bomber program is designed to fit each member of the crew for the handling of his jobs. The tail gunner:
- Must have a fine sense of timing and be familiar with the rudiments of exterior ballistics.
- Should be familiar with the coverage area of all gun positions, and be prepared to bring the proper gun to bear as the conditions may warrant.
- Should be experts in aircraft identification.
- Must be thoroughly familiar with the Browning aircraft machine gun. They should know how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns.
- Should fire the guns at each station to familiarize himself with the other man’s position and to insure knowledge of operation in the event of an emergency.
- Had the primary duty to shoot down enemy planes.
- As the only constantly rear facing crewmember, he was responsible for passing along anything he saw behind the aircraft, including fighters, to the rest of the crew.
- Would relay information to the bombardier and navigator concerning bombing results as the formations left the target.
- Aided the navigator and radio operator by counting chutes from B-17s that were going down and the condition of stragglers that were lagging behind the formation.
- Was normally an enlisted man, but sometimes in the lead aircraft when the squadron commander was in the cockpit, the tail position would be flown by a co-pilot who was an officer. In this case, the co-pilot occupied the tail gunner position to allow him to relay information on the condition of the formation to the pilots to help to co-ordinate the formation and keep it as tight as possible.
Location of the Tail Position in a B-17
The tail gunner position of a B-17 is at the very back of the aircraft, a confined and cramped position in which the gunner must kneel on a modified bicycle-type seat with a view to the rear of the formation. Should the tail gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the emergency exit door in the tail of the aircraft.
In the following diagram, Gerald Lee Andersen is noted in the tail of the aircraft along with the other Buslee crew members in their positions on September 28, 1944.
B-17 Tail Position Photos
I took the following photos of the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine-O-Nine a few years before its tragic crash.
The 384th Bomb Group’s pilot John DeFrancesco stands beside the tail of the Collings Foundation’s aircraft. First, a view directly from behind the B-17…
And in a side view…
Stories of 384th Bomb Group Tail Gunners
I thought it might also be interesting to read stories, diaries, and journals written by or view video interviews of some of the 384th’s own tail gunners. You’ll find a chart of several tail gunners of the 384th Bomb Group below with links to their personnel records and their written and oral histories as are provided on the Stories page of 384thBombGroup.com.
Sources and Further Reading
B-17 Flying Fortress Queen of the Skies, Crew Positions, Tail Gunner
The Army Air Forces in World War II: VI, Men and Planes, Edited by W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, Chapter 19: Training of Ground Technicians and Service Personnel
Training to Fly: Military Flight Training 1907 – 1945 by Rebecca Hancock Cameron
Thank you to the 91st Bomb Group for granting me permission in 2014 to use and modify their B-17 diagram for use on The Arrowhead Club.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
I have one more story to tell about the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17 42-37982 Tremblin’ Gremlin on her last mission, the 19 September 1944 mission to Hamm, Germany. According to mission reports and personal accounts, all of the airmen aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin bailed out of the doomed aircraft over Binche, Belgium, leaving no one on board when Tremblin’ Gremlin crashed to the ground, reportedly in the vicinity of Binche-Charleroi.
Witnesses on the ground, however, thought differently and believed there were airmen aboard to rescue.
The Regimental HQ of the 389th Engineer General Service Regiment was located in the vicinity of Fontaine L’Eveque, Belgium. At the time, the Regiment was reinstalling the railway between Maubeuge – Mons – Charleroi, Belgium.
On 19 September 1944, Captain Morton Coleman Weinrib, a dentist, and Major Bruce Taylor Smith, a doctor, who were with the U.S. Army Medical Corps and served in the U.S. Army’s 389th Engineer General Service Regiment, were working in the vicinity of Fontaine L’Eveque when Tremblin’ Gremlin crashed to the ground.
Both Weinrib and Smith approached the downed aircraft to evacuate any wounded aboard when it exploded. In their attempt to save any souls on board, both men were killed in the explosion.
Reports of their deaths note that the two were evacuating wounded from the aircraft, however, we know that the crew had all bailed out before the plane crashed.
Sadly, not only did the U.S. Army Medical Corps and the U.S. Army’s 389th Engineer General Service Regiment lose two brave members, two families at home lost their sons, husbands, and fathers.
Captain Morton Coleman Weinrib was born 12 June 1916 in New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York.
Note: The above photo may or may not be Capt. Morton Coleman Weinrib. He is identified only as “M. Weinrib” in the Syracuse University 1942 yearbook and I find no corroboration that he attended that University.
Morton was the son of Samuel Weinrib and Bessie Coleman Weinrib and the brother of Leonard Weinrib. He married Therese (Terry) Marie Goldstein Weinrib (and later, Tapman) on 13 May 1939. Geni.com notes his descendants as one child, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Morton C. Weinrib attended and graduated from Columbia School of Dental and Oral Surgery, Columbia University, New York, New York.
Morton’s hometown was New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York when he entered the service. His service number was #O1690082.
Morton Weinrib died on 19 September 1944 at 28 years old in the vicinity of Fontaine L’Eveque, Belgium. He was first buried at US Temporary American Military Cemetery of Fosse, Belgium. His permanent resting place is at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial, Plombières, Liege, Walloon Region, Belgium, Plot G, Row 6, Grave 3.
Major Bruce Taylor Smith was born 14 July 1902 in Quebec, Canada. He lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada before immigrating to America in 1926.
Bruce was the son of Luther Lewis Smith and Mary Helen Macfie Smith and the brother of Robert Macfie Smith and Lewis Douglas Smith. He married Elin Karlsson McCartney Smith on Christmas Day 1929 and had three sons, Robert, Bruce, Jr., and Douglas.
Maj. Bruce T. Smith was a physician and surgeon before he enlisted. He had his own practice.
Bruce’s hometown when he entered the service was Fort Covington, Franklin County, New York. His service number was #O-490076.
Bruce Smith died on 19 September 1944 at 42 years old in the vicinity of Fontaine L’Eveque, Belgium. He was first buried at Temporary American Military Cemetery of Fosse, Belgium. His permanent resting place is at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial, Plombières, Liege, Walloon Region, Belgium, Plot G, Row 4, Grave 26.
The Demise of Tremblin’ Gremlin
While we are fortunate and thankful that all of the 384th Bomb Group airmen aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin survived on the 19 September 1944 mission to Hamm, Germany, let us not forget the sacrifice of Captain Morton Coleman Weinrib and Major Bruce Taylor Smith on that day. As we are so familiar these days with the actions of first responders rushing toward a scene of death and destruction, these two men put others first and risked their lives, only to become casualties of the day themselves.
Captain Weinrib and Major Smith, “thank you for your service to our country” does not begin to express the gratitude and honor you deserve for your actions. May you rest in peace and know that we are grateful that men like you served your country in World War II and defended our freedom.
Morton C Weinrib on Geni.com
Find a Grave memorial for Capt. Morton Coleman Weinrib
Fields of Honor database entry for Morton C. Weinrib
Find a Grave memorial for Maj. Bruce Taylor Smith
Fields of Honor database entry for Bruce T. Smith
B-17 42-37982 Tremblin’ Gremlin, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website
Previous post, The Fate of Tremblin’ Gremlin and Her Crew on Mission 196
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
Alfred David Benjamin was the navigator of the Joe Ross Carnes, Jr. crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group in World War II. He was aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin with the Carnes crew on 19 September 1944 on the mission to Hamm, Germany in which the Buslee crew’s tailgunner, Eugene Lucynski, was injured. Eugene was filling in for the Carnes crew’s tail gunner Gerald Lee Andersen, who was on sick leave.
The 384th Bomb Group website provides a concise summary of the events of the mission in regards to the Carnes crew aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin as,
Lead Squadron flying spare; joined formation; aircraft struck by flak just before the IP; after dropping bombs on target, left formation, apparently under control; crew bailed out over Binche, Bel.; all crew returned to duty except ball turret gunner and tail gunner who were seriously injured.
Alfred Benjamin completed his combat duty with thirty-one combat missions and this one particularly stuck with him as he wrote a play that included the experience seventy-three years later, in 2017. His play is named In the Dark of the Night, a name he resurrected from a poem he wrote with the same name, although the subject of the poem is not of the Hamm mission. The subject of the poem seems to be Alfred’s 6th mission as mentioned in the play, a poem the play notes that he sent into Time Magazine for publication in their 50th anniversary issue.
The play is set many years after the war, in the year 1995 with the airmen in their seventies. They reminisce about the war, their bomb group, and the mission. Alfred includes a list of the play’s characters on the second page and calls the tail gunner of the crew “Vinnie.” I believe “Vinnie” is a blending of Gerald Lee Andersen, the original tail gunner of the crew, and Eugene Daniel Lucynski, the Buslee crew tail gunner who participated with the Carnes crew on the 19 September 1944 mission.
Early in the play, each character introduces himself and the character “Vinnie” describes himself as,
My moniker is Vincent Adams, former tail gunner. I am 72 now and glad I reached this age. After service I was very ill and went to the VA for medical services. I have a service connected disability and have lived on my government pension since.
Clearly, the character is fictional with a dose, or several doses, of fact. Gerald Andersen died in the Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision on 28 September 1944 at the age of twenty-one and Eugene Lucynski died on 14 April 1981 at the age of sixty-one.
The airmen go on to describe their personal histories and what led them into the US Army Air Forces in World War II. It’s clear that WWII bomber crew members came from all parts of the country and all walks of life. But they learned to depend on each other for their survival. Where a crew mate was from and how he previously earned his living was not important in the brutal existence of war.
Alfred Benjamin walks us through several missions and clues us into what it was like to serve in World War II back in the 1940’s and the entire play is well worth the read.
The story of the 19 September 1944 mission begins on page 23 of the play and continues to page 29. Alfred Benjamin expertly, and in detail, describes the mission through his characters. At this point in the play, I believe “Vinnie” is a portrayal of Eugene Lucynski, as Eugene is the tail gunner who flew this mission with the Carnes crew.
I urge you to read Alfred’s play in its entirety, and especially these pages to hear the story from one who lived it, but I will include here information I learned about his and Eugene Lucynski’s and the other airmen’s experience aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin on 19 September 1944. I’m paraphrasing here rather than quoting Alfred’s poem verbatim, so read the play to hear Alfred’s story in his own words.
The crew was flying spare and joined up with the 303rd Bomb Group, a sister group in their Wing. They were in the tail end position of the formation.
Being at the tail end, the tail gunner had to watch for enemy attack from the rear. He test fired his guns and one jammed, requiring him to work to fix the jam for half of the mission.
They ran into flak crossing the coast from England and again as they crossed the Rhine River in Germany.
Flak was also very heavy approaching the target and was decimating the formation during the eight-minute bomb run.
At bombs away, the plane jumped with a tremendous explosion on the left side of the plane resulting in a fire in Engine 3. The pilot feathered the prop and they fell away from the group. Engine 2 was leaking oil and also had to be feathered. At this point they were about a thousand feet below the group, falling back, and struggling to maintain altitude.
The pilot asked the navigator to find a route to the nearest known American battle line.
It was time to lighten the load by throwing everything possible overboard including machine guns, ammunition, flak suits, and even the ball turret.
Armed with information from the pilot, the navigator (Alfred Benjamin) calculated how much time they had until the ship would crash – 77 minutes – and how far they could travel – about 200 miles – if everything stayed the same. He plotted a zig-zag course to miss known flak fields and passed an initial course to the pilot.
The pilot noted one of the two remaining engines running rough and the temperature rising to the danger point. Engine failure at this point would doom them. Dropping to 15,000 feet and below, the pilot ordered the crew to remove their oxygen masks for more freedom of movement.
The engineer knew of a trick to make the balky engine clean itself up and explained it to the pilot – cut way back on the throttle and after the engine slowed, apply full throttle. This worked, just like it would on a Model T, with the engine backfiring and then roaring to full power by cleaning the spark plugs.
As the ship was losing altitude, the crew attempted to avoid the flak fields by flying a zig-zag pattern, but four flak blasts blew out their Plexiglas nose and the navigator was hit by a jagged piece of flak in the left hand.
The bombardier grabbed the navigation maps and he and the bloodied navigator headed for the waist of the aircraft. They kept up with their progress by watching out the waist portal for landmarks.
The flak burst that had shattered the nose also hit the prop of Engine 1 causing the plane to wobble and shake. The pilot had to feather that engine and realized they would not be able to land the plane and would have to prepare to bail out.
The navigator felt they needed only a few more minutes of flying to be over allied territory. He was Jewish and concerned for his survival if he bailed out over German-controlled territory. He asked the pilot to attempt to activate Engine 2 and reverse the feather, which the pilot did, and it came back to life.
The act saved not only the Jewish navigator, but the whole crew, as Germans were still in the area as the Allies advanced. At the time they finally jumped from the plane, there were in territory controlled mostly by Belgian Freedom Fighters, but the Nazi’s were still around.
At an altitude of about 10,000 feet, Engine 2 was running out of oil. One of the cylinders blew off through the cowling and it burst into flame. The pilot rang the bailout bell and the airmen jumped.
The navigator was in pain from the landing and was surrounded by men with machine guns pointed at him.
The ball turret gunner injured his ankle upon landing and was also in pain. But he announced they were American and their “rescuers” took them to a farmhouse to hide out as the Nazis were still in the area and would be looking for the flyers.
After nightfall, they were driven to the town hospital for treatment, where they were also fed and housed.
In the night, the tail gunner was brought into the hospital, too. He had been hit by shrapnel in the tail and needed medical attention. That would make three of the crew back together in the Belgian hospital.
The three were the first Americans the townspeople had seen since the Nazi occupation started and they were lining up outside the hospital to visit and thank them – with little gifts, tears, and joy.
The pilot learned the three were in the hospital and came to see them, then reported to the Army that the three were there and needed to be evacuated. They were moved by ambulance to a Paris hospital and then returned to their base at Grafton Underwood, England.
Alfred Benjamin ends his play on this note…
(Joe, the pilot) I hope that the Time article and this play will help to remind people of the sacrifice of our flying crewmembers.
Everybody gets up and they shake hands all around. One by one they exit through the doorway. Benny’s last in line to leave. He reaches the doorway, pauses, turns and walks to the front of the stage.
(Benny, the navigator, addressing the audience)
We leave one by one and soon we will all be gone. None of these men, they are men now but they were really just boys, they came from all corners of the country and all walks of life. They left behind homes and families and loved ones. Many went to serve and many never returned. They fought for America and the world. Their mission was to win a war. Our mission is to never forget.
Benny turns and slowly walks through the door. The stage is empty.
After bailing out over Belgium on the 19 September 1944 mission, Alfred returned to combat duty on 17 October 1944. He completed his combat tour of thirty-one missions on 20 January 1945.
Alfred Benjamin served on two missions with Eugene Lucynski and served on one mission each with two other Buslee crew members, ball turret gunner Erwin Foster in January 1945 and bombardier James Davis in September 1944.
Navigator Alfred David Benjamin of the 384th Bomb Group signed the Association’s commemorative wing panel in 2015.
Alfred David Benjamin’s Personnel Record with the 384th Bomb Group
In the Dark of the Night, a poem by Alfred David Benjamin
In the Dark of the Night, a play by Alfred David Benjamin
Previous post, The Fate of Tremblin’ Gremlin and Her Crew on Mission 196
The Coastal Star article: South Palm Beach: WWII plane wing noses its way around nation for autographs
Except for excerpts and paraphrasing from Alfred Benjamin’s play, In the Dark of the Night ©2017 Alfred D. Benjamin, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
A new search has provided me with some new information regarding the original tail gunner, Eugene Daniel Lucynski, of the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group in World War II.
To view my original post and other information about Eugene Daniel Lucynski, please see the links at the end of this post.
Combining information from several sources including the Federal censuses of 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950, and Eugene Lucynski’s Person page from an Ancestry family tree, I find that the Lucynski family consisted of parents,
- Father – Gustave K. (Kanstantaius or Konstantiane) Lucynski (or possible alternate spelling of Luczynski), born 1 October 1890 in Oscoda, Michigan, died 21 February 1948 in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan
- Mother – Dominica C. Bruzewski, born 13 February 1896 in Beaver Township, Bay County, Michigan, died 23 February 1941 in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan
and their four children (one boy and three girls),
- Daughter – Gertrude Constance Lucynski Hogue, born 8 March 1917, died 7 August 1990
- Daughter – Virginia Josephine Lucynski Plunkey, born 1 June 1918, died 27 September 1988
- Son – Eugene Daniel Lucynski, born 22 December 1919, died 14 April 1981
- Daughter – LaWretha Marie Lucynski, born 27 July 1924, died 23 April 1925, at almost nine months old, of meningitis and influenza
In various census records, Gus Lucynski reported that his parents were born in Prussia or Poland and spoke German as their native language. Eugene Lucynski’s grandparents, Gus Lucynski’s parents, Joseph Lucynski and Catherine Rakowski, immigrated to the United States in 1884.
Their European residence was in Bromberg, Posen, and they boarded the German ship the Wieland (a “dampfschiff”, steamship, with accommodations in “zwischendeck”, steerage) and departed Hamburg, Germany on 3 February 1884 for their journey to America, arriving in New York. Joseph’s occupation was listed as “stellmacher” which translates to “wheelwright.”
Dominica Lucynski’s parents were Stanley Bruzewski and Josephine Reeder. On census records, Dominic reported that her father was born in Germany and spoke German and her mother was born in New York.
The ancestry of Eugene Lucynski clearly shows that he was fighting a war in which two generations prior, grandparents on both sides were from current day Poland and Germany. This likely made World War II very personal for him, considering two possibilities, that Eugene was fighting against some German relatives and fighting for Polish relatives still living in those areas. Read more about the history of Bromberg and Bloody Sunday of 1939 here.
Eugene’s sister Gertrude was married to Charles M. Hogue and they had at least two children, sons Gerald and Ronald.
Eugene’s sister Virginia was married to John (alternately referred to as Steve) Plunkey and they had at least three children, daughters Judy Marie and Virginia, and son John.
In the recently-released 1950 census, Eugene Lucynski is listed as a Lodger living in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan. He reported his age as 26 and his marital status as divorced. He worked 40 hours a week as a mechanic for a retail electrical company. With his age listed as 26, this would indicate his birth year as 1924 rather than 1919, as stated elsewhere.
While I cannot find a burial record for Eugene Daniel Lucynski, I have noted that his parents Gustave and Dominica and sister LaWretha are buried in the All Saints Church Cemetery of Flint, Genesee County, Michigan. Dominica‘s Find a Grave memorial does not specify a gravesite and Gustave‘s and LaWretha‘s memorials note that they are buried in unmarked graves. I believe it is possible that Eugene is also buried in the same cemetery, possibly in a Lucynski family plot, but without any record of such or memorial.
Entry into World War II
A few months after the death of his mother, Eugene Daniel Lucynski registered for the World War II draft on 1 July 1941 at Local Board No. 3 in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan and recorded the following information on his draft form.
His place of residence at the time of registration was 1484 Oregon Ave, Flint, Genesee, Michigan. His date and place of birth was 22 December 1919 in Bay City, Michigan, and he was twenty-one years old at the time of registration.
The name and address of the person who would always know his address was his father, Gustave Lucynski. His employer’s name and address was A.C. Manufacturer of Flint, Michigan.
Eugene was 5’ 6 1/2″ tall, 130 pounds, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion, and had no other obvious physical characteristics.
Although I do not find an enlistment record for Eugene Lucynski, the US Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File notes his WWII enlistment date of 23 June 1942.
Morning Reports and other military documents of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Eugene Daniel Lucynski:
- On 22 JULY 1944, Eugene Daniel Lucynski was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #144 dated 22 July 1944 as a tail gunner (classification AAG, Airplane Armorer/Gunner, with the MOS, military operational specialty, of 612), for the John Oliver Buslee crew. His pay per month was $172.80. His rank when assigned was Staff Sergeant. He listed his home address as Mr. Gustave Lucynski, 7307 N. Dort Highway, Mt. Morris, Michigan.
- On 19 SEPTEMBER 1944, on Mission 196 to Hamm, Germany (Target was Transportation, the Railroad Marshalling Yards), Eugene Lucynski, flying as Tail Gunner with the Joe Carnes crew, went (MIA) Missing in Action when he was forced to bail out over Allied Territory. Seven of the crew returned to duty. The ball turret gunner was injured by flak and transferred to the Detachment of Patients, 4178 U.S. Army Hospital Plant. Lucynski was injured by flak and hospitalized from 19 September 1944 until 10 November 1944. Lucynski had replaced the Carnes crew Tail Gunner Gerald Andersen, who was on sick quarters.
- As noted in my recent update regarding Gerald Lee Andersen, on 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, Eugene Lucynski had not returned to duty since he went MIA on 19 SEPTEMBER. With Gerald Andersen more than a week off sick leave, he replaced Lucynski as tail gunner with the Buslee crew on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Target was Industry, Steelworks. On this mission the James Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 coming off the target. The Buslee crew, as well as the Brodie crew, were declared MIA. Subsequently, all airmen on board the Buslee crew’s B-17, including Eugene Lucynski’s replacement, Gerald Lee Andersen, were declared KIA (Killed in Action) except for George Edwin Farrar who was declared POW (Prisoner of War). By the time Eugene returned to Grafton Underwood, the only members of his original crew still serving there were navigator Chester Rybarczyk, engineer/top turret gunner Clarence Seeley, and ball turret gunner Erwin Foster. Eugene never returned to combat duty, and it is unclear what duty he did perform following his return.
- On 4 JUNE 1945, Eugene Lucynski was recommended for the DFC (Distinguished Flying Crosss) for Ex. Achiev.
- On 12 JUNE 1945, Eugene Lucynski was placed on DS for an indefinite period at Y-17, Marseilles/Istres, France, effective o/a (on or about) 13 June 45 and will report to COL SAULT upon arrival at Y-17.
- On 22 JUNE 1945, Eugene Lucynski went from DS, Y-17 Marseilles/Istres, France to duty, effective 22 June 1945.
Eugene Daniel Lucynski was credited with 14 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group.
A Hospital Admission Card for Eugene was included in his personnel record at the NPRC and noted his battle injury from the 19 September 1944 mission as “Wound(s), Penetrating” location “Hand, generally.” The disposition date was October 1944 and disposition was “not death nor transfer to the Zone of Interior.” In other words, he was wounded, but not wounded seriously enough to be sent home. The hospital was identified as the 53rd General Hospital.
The 19 September 1944 mission was Eugene’s second mission aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin. His first mission aboard that ship was his second mission of the war on 5 August 1944. On that mission, he was one of a very few airmen aboard who were not struck and injured by flak. The gremlins were not to forget their oversight of 5 August when on 19 September, they finished their business with Buslee crew member Eugene Lucynski.
Medals and Decorations
Eugene Lucynski was awarded the Purple Heart on 7 December 1944 for wounds received on the 19 September 1944 mission aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin. In the medal recommendation paperwork, the circumstances surrounding the receipt of wounds were,
S/Sgt. Lucynski was WIA by flak while serving as Tail Gunner in a B-17 aircraft on an operational mission over enemy territory.
The wounds consisted of multiple lacerations of right hand and left wrist. Hospitalized from 19 Sept. to 10 Nov., 1944.
Eugene was previously awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Eugene’s Individual Sortie Record also notes he was recommended for a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) on 4 June 1945 for “Ex. Achiev.” (extra achievement).
However, I find no record of Eugene receiving the award except on his Final Payment Worksheet completed at his military discharge of 30 October 1945 at Separation Center #32, Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. This record was in Eugene’s file at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. Very little else was included in Eugene’s file, leading me to believe his was one of the files burned in the 1973 fire.
On this document is listed a $4.00 (yes, a four dollar) “Pay for Awards” specified as “D.F.C.” Underneath that entry is an unspecified entry of FR 235.04 and TO 103.30, with a net of $131.74. I do not know if this additional entry refers to his “Pay for Awards” or not.
Eugene D. Lucynski arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary on 16 October 1945. He was included in a list of personnel for Separation Center No. 32, Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. The US Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File notes his discharge date of 30 October 1945.
Eugene Daniel Lucynski died on 14 April 1981 in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan at the age of 61.
Eugene Daniel Lucynski is listed in the Michigan Death Index under the name Eugene D. Lucyn. This record lists his birth date as 22 December 1919 and his death date as 14 April 1981, residence and place of death as Flint, Genesee, Michigan.
He was listed in the US Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File also under the name Eugene D. Lucyn. This record confirmed his same birth and death dates as the Michigan Death Index and added his WWII enlistment date of 23 June 1942 and discharge date of 30 October 1945.
I find two Social Security records for Eugene in the National Archives. Both list the same Social Security Number and date of birth, but the different names of Eugene Daniel Lucynski and Eugene Dan Lucyn.
I would love to connect with relatives of Eugene Lucynski. I have been unable to find much information about Eugene Daniel Lucynski (aka Eugene, Gene, or Dan Lucyn) after the end of the war. Please e-mail me if you have more information to share about Eugene’s life after World War II.
Previous post, Eugene D. Lucynski
Eugene Daniel Lucynski’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
MOS means Military Occupational Specialty
Press release from 5 August 1944 mission aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin
Previous post, The Fate of “Tremblin’ Gremlin” and Her Crew on Mission 196
Wikipedia: Bloody Sunday (1939)
Thank you to the 384th Bomb Group and especially Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson for their research and obtaining and presenting records of the servicemen of the Group.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
A new search has provided me with some new information regarding the tail gunner, Gerald Lee Andersen, who was onboard my father’s (George Edwin Farrar’s) B-17 the day of the Buslee crew’s mid-air collision with the Brodie crew’s B-17, 28 September 1944.
Gerald Andersen was the tail gunner of the Joe Carnes crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII and filled in for Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Lucynski on that date.
To view my original post and other information about Gerald Lee Andersen, please see the links at the end of this post.
Combining information from several sources including the Federal censuses of 1930, 1940, and 1950, Gerald Andersen’s Person page from an Ancestry family tree, Gerald’s memorial on Find A Grave, and the obituaries of two of Gerald’s brothers (Dale and Jimmie), I find that the Andersen family consisted of parents,
- Father – Ernest William Andersen, 1899 – 1982
- Mother – Verna Esther Yost, 1900 – 1950
and their fifteen children (ten boys and five girls),
- Daughter – Betty Joyce Andersen, 1921 – 2005
- Son – Gerald Lee Andersen, 1923 – 1944
- Daughter – Lila Mae Andersen McLaughlin, 1925 – 2002
- Son – Dale E. Andersen, 1927 – 2013
- Son – Billie LeRoy Andersen, 1928 – 2019
- Son – Don DeVern Andersen, 1929–1991
- Son – Lon Wesley Andersen, born 1931
- Daughter – Verna Elagene Andersen, 1932–1941
- Son – Edwin Ernest Andersen, 1934–2013
- Daughter – Charlene Andersen Taylor, born approx. 1938
- Son – Jimmie Ray Andersen, 1939–2016
- Son – Jack Wayne Andersen, 1940–1990
- Daughter – Althea Kay Andersen Wolfenden, born approx. 1941
- Son – Larry D. Andersen (alternately reported as having the surname Yost), possibly 1944 – 1991
- Son – Dennis L. Andersen (alternately reported as having the surname Yost), possibly 1947 – 2012
Marriage of Gerald Andersen and Esther Coolen
According to marriage records on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen (born 20 June 1923) and Esther Elaine Coolen (born 16 June 1916 – seven years older than Gerald), both of Seneca, Nebraska, married on 24 May 1942.
Entry into World War II
A little over a month after he and Esther married, Gerald Lee Andersen registered for the World War II draft on 30 June 1942 at the Thomas County Court House in Thedford, Nebraska and recorded the following information on his draft form.
His place of residence at the time of registration was Seneca, Thomas County, Nebraska. His date and place of birth was 20 June 1923 in Dunning, Nebraska, and he was nineteen years old at the time of registration.
The name and address of the person who would always know his address was his wife, Esther Andersen of Seneca, Nebraska. His employer’s name and address was E.W. Andersen (his father) of Seneca, Nebraska.
Gerald was 5’8″ tall, 135 pounds, with blue eyes and black hair, with a dark complexion, and had no other obvious physical characteristics.
WWII Induction and Active Duty
According to a US National Cemetery Interment Control Form entry found on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen was inducted into the US Army Air Forces on 6 May 1943 and began active duty on 13 May 1943. The form specifically notes the 6 May date as an “induction” date rather than an “enlistment” date.
Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Gerald Lee Andersen:
- On 26 JULY 1944, Gerald Lee Andersen was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944 as a tail gunner (classification AAG, Airplane Armorer/Gunner, with the MOS, military operational specialty, of 612), for the Joe Ross Carnes, Jr. crew. His pay per month was $140.40. His rank when assigned was Sergeant. He listed his home address as Mrs. Esther E. Andersen, Box 282, Stromsberg, Neb.
- On 1 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen was promoted to Staff Sergeant on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #175.
- On 6 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from sick quarters (LD) to absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital Thrapston.
- On 11 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital Thrapston to duty.
- On 16 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from duty to sick quarters (LD).
- On 19 SEPTEMBER 1944, with Gerald Andersen on sick leave, Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Lucynski flew in Gerald’s place with the Joe Carnes crew on Mission 196 to Hamm, Germany. Target was Transportation, the Railroad Marshalling Yards. Aboard B-17G 42‑37982, Tremblin’ Gremlin, the crew went MIA (Missing in Action). Lucynski was forced to bail out over Allied Territory. Seven of the crew returned to duty. The ball turret gunner, James Bernard King, Jr., was injured by flak and transferred to the Detachment of Patients, 4178 U.S. Army Hospital Plant. Eugene Lucynski was injured by flak and hospitalized from 19 September 1944 until 10 November 1944.
- On 20 SEPTEMBER 1944, Gerald Andersen went from sick quarters (LD) to duty.
- On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, Eugene Lucynski had not returned to duty since he went MIA on 19 SEPTEMBER. With Gerald Andersen more than a week off sick leave, he replaced Lucynski as tail gunner with the Buslee crew on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Target was Industry, Steelworks. On this mission the James Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 coming off the target. The Buslee crew, as well as the Brodie crew, were declared MIA. Subsequently, all airmen on board the Buslee crew’s B-17, including Gerald Lee Andersen, were declared KIA (Killed in Action) except for George Edwin Farrar who was declared POW (Prisoner of War).
Gerald Lee Andersen was credited with 12 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group.
Gerald Andersen’s WWII service as remembered by fellow crew mate Alfred Benjamin, the Carnes crew Navigator
In 2016, I connected with 384th Bomb Group navigator Alfred Benjamin. He and Gerald were crew mates on the Joe Ross Carnes, Jr. crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron. As Alfred stated at the time, “Although I am 92, I can still remember most things about the War.” He admitted, though that after seventy-two years, he “could not remember a great deal about Gerald,” but he did recall that,
I believe that Gerald joined the Carnes crew in Sioux City AAF Base in early 1944. I was the last person to join the crew and they had been training there for some period. We completed our training in early June and picked up a B-17 in Kearney, Neb. And proceeded across the USA to New Hampshire, Maine and then to Labrador, Iceland and England. We eventually were assigned to the 384th BG 544th SQ. and started our familiarization phase. As I remember, Gerald was a serious young man intent on being a positive asset to our crew of 9.
Like me he had certain trepidations about the mission we were on. At this time in the War the 8th [AF] was still undergoing heavy casualties and this certainly affected our thinking.
Gerald flew with us on 9 missions but as things go I believe that he went on sick call and did not fly with our crew again until September 9th. [Correction: September 13th]. The Carnes Crew ran into Heavy Flak and we were forced to Bail out over Binche Belgium on Sept 19th and Gerald did not fly with us on that mission. I personally was injured and did not return to Grafton Underwood for 29 days and then learned that Gerald was shot down during my absence.
These were the Missions we flew together.
- 7 Aug 1944—Aircraft Fuel Depot, Dugny France
- 8 Aug 1944—Tactical Mission, Bretteville-sur-Laize, France
- 9 Aug 1944—Erding Luftwaffe Base, Erding Germany
- 11 Aug 1944—Coastal Artillery Emplacements, Brest France
- 16 Aug 1944—Delitzsch Luftwaffe Depot, Delizsch, Germany
- 18 Aug 1944—Bridge, Vise, Belgium
- 24 Aug 1944—Synthetic oil plant, Merseburg, Germany
- 25 Aug 1944—Luftwaffe Airfield, Anklam, Germany
- 13 Sept 1944—Synthetic Oil Refinery, Merseburg, Germany
According to a US National Cemetery Interment Control Form entry found on Ancestry.com, Gerald Lee Andersen’s Date of Interment on American soil is noted as 23 August 1949. The form also notes that Gerald earned the Purple Heart and an Air Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster.
The airmen of the Buslee and Brodie crews who had been killed in the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision were initially buried in the cemetery at Ost Ingersleben, Germany, a village near the crash site of the two B-17’s.
Their bodies were later reinterred in the United States Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland, and Gerald was buried in Plot R, Row 3, Grave 51.
In 1953, Gerald Andersen was brought home and on 23 August 1953, was reinterred in the Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell (Lincoln County), Nebraska, Section F, Site 1229.
Connections with Andersen family members
Since initially writing about Gerald in 2015, I have heard from several family members who found my original article about Gerald.
Gerald’s youngest sister, Kay Andersen Wolfenden, wrote to me in 2016. At the time, the most current Federal census available was the 1940 census, which was taken before the youngest four Andersen children were born, including Kay. Kay informed me that,
There were fifteen children altogether, 10 boys and 5 girls. I am number 13 and lost my mother to cancer when I was 8 years old. The rest of the family always said that mother never got over losing Gerald.
Kay’s son Cyrus is researching her brother Gerald.
The son of Gerald’s brother Dale, Myron Andersen, also contacted me in 2016 and noted that Dale often spoke of Gerald. Dale’s obituary (he died in 2013) provided some interesting family information. It mentioned that,
Dale learned many fine things from his dad, not the least of which was the value of hard work…a great deal of hard work.
Early in his working career, Dale worked with his dad in his tank wagon business.
Remember, Gerald worked for his dad at the time of his draft registration, and I assume it was also in the “tank wagon business.”
Also, Janelle Sommer Davis connected with me just after the Fourth of July in 2018. While not related to Gerald, Janelle is the daughter of Esther Coolen, Gerald’s widow. Janelle told me that Esther remarried and had a daughter, but Esther’s second husband died when their daughter was still a newborn. She married again in 1953 and had a second daughter, Janelle, and a son, Rob.
In honor of July 4th, I get out the flag and the purple heart and medal of honors my mom kept in an attic. As a little girl, I would ask about the medals and she was silently mysterious about them.
They stayed in the attic when she passed in 2002.
I got them out again, and since I was off this week from work, I decided to look at the medals closer. Who was this man of mystery that married my mom, and was so tragically KIA over France [correction: Germany]?
I looked closer and noted that the name on the purple heart had his name on the back. I started to research his name. Wondering when he died, wondering how he looked and wondering what he did. 4 hours later today, I found he was a part of the 384th bomb squad [Group]. He ran 12 missions and was missing Sept 28, 1944. He was a part of the arrowhead club. He was the tail gunner and his name was Gerald L Andersen.
I am writing to you because I found the Andersen letters written by my mom, Esther Coolen Andersen. It was with joy, to see her writings of concern and sadness at the same time. It was an honor to know she was once married to a man of courage and of valor.
Esther’s life post-World War II
Esther married Benjamin Carl Bilhorn, who was twenty years her senior and a veteran of World War I, on 2 June 1946. Their daughter was born 15 July 1948. Benjamin Bilhorn’s obituary states that he died 27 August 1948 in the hospital after a two weeks’ illness.
Esther Elaine Coolen remarried 16 January 1953 to William A. Sommer, who was three years older than Esther. William died 29 October 1992 and Esther died 6 March 2002 at age 85.
I love connecting with family and friends of the men who served with my dad, George Edwin Farrar, in the 384th Bomb Group during World War II. It warms my heart to know that the men who never made it home are not forgotten, even more than seventy years after we lost them in the war.
Esther Elaine Coolen, who married Gerald Lee Andersen on 24 May 1942, became a war widow on 28 September 1944. Even though she was married to Gerald only a little over two years, and remarried twice after losing Gerald, she kept his burial flag and war medals for the rest of her life, through marriages to two other men.
The letters Esther wrote to my grandmother after the mid-air collision tell how deeply she loved Gerald and it is easy to see how she could never forget him. Now that Esther is gone, it is up to us to remember him and keep his memory alive so future generations know what Gerald and others who lost their lives fighting World War II and their families sacrificed for our freedom.
Esther Andersen’s letters to my grandmother,
Previous post, Gerald Lee Andersen
Gerald Lee Andersen’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
MOS means Military Occupational Specialty
Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
Gerald Lee Andersen on Find a Grave
Esther Elaine Coolen (Andersen Bilhorn) Sommer on Find a Grave
Alfred Benjamin’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
I recently connected with family of 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squadron navigator George Alan Purchase. Scott Hahn and Fred Terzian shared a story of Alan Purchase’s wartime experiences with me, a story Alan had shared with them and that Fred had polished up as part of a WWII documentary that Alan was presenting to the residents of a senior living center in California.
George Alan Purchase was assigned to the 546th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #18 on 21 January 1945 as a Second Lieutenant. He was later promoted to First Lieutenant. Alan completed sixteen combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group from his first on 14 February 1945 to his last on 20 April 1945.
Alan’s story, “My First Mission with the 8th Air Force During World War II,” is an excellent story and provides a great deal of detail regarding the life of an airman in WWII. It is now a part of the 384th Bomb Group website’s Stories page.
Alan’s story covers his stateside training before entering combat, his journey to the European theater, acclimating to England, his pre-mission routine, details of his very first mission, which was a rough one, details about a few more difficult missions, and a post-war visit to Germany.
While I strongly advise you to take a few minutes and read Alan’s entire story, as it’s a great read and very well written, I am going to concentrate here on the detail Alan has provided regarding the accommodations at Grafton Underwood, the pre-mission routine an airman experienced getting ready for a combat mission, and what participating in a mission was like.
Keep in mind, this detail is from the perspective of an officer and the enlisted man’s routine would be slightly different.
Also, keep in mind the following quotations are from George Alan Purchase as he wrote them and then documented by Fred Terzian.
Alan described his living accommodations in a Nissen hut on his base at Station 106, Grafton Underwood in the English Midlands as,
Officer’s quarters were in prefab buildings with corrugated metal sides and roofs. Each housed 24-32 officers in double deck bunks, heated by a central coal fired potbellied stove. Because the midlands are very cold and damp in winter, I “requisitioned ” extra blankets, folding some double, so I had eight layers to crawl under. They were heavy but I was reasonably warm. Unfortunately, earlier residents had shot holes in the roof of our building, so rain and snow leaked in.
Nissen huts can be seen in this photo of 384th Bomb Group airplane armorer Paul Bureau at Grafton Underwood.
Some enlisted quarters were similar, Nissen huts with bunk beds, with or without holes in the roof, but some of the enlisted men lived in large tents rather than corrugated metal buildings. One of those tents housed the enlisted crew of John Hunt. The crew decorated the doorway of their tent with their crew name, Hunt’s Henchmen.
After arriving at Grafton Underwood, Alan Purchase learned to drink “warm, weak, and bitter” English pub beer, and also “had to learn to drink scotch since bourbon was in very short supply.” He explained that the base always had an ample supply of scotch from the regular B-17 “training missions” to Scotland.
After a week of flying around the area to get familiar with the terrain, base location, and weather conditions, his crew was ready for their first mission. By then, Alan could finally consider himself a “fly boy” and was,
…ready to go out and help save the world from the evil empire. At age nineteen the thought of injury or death was not a consideration. I felt fatalistic. What was going to happen would happen.
In his story, Alan goes on to describe what it was like to prepare for and participate in a B-17 combat mission.
Wake up and briefings
Wake up came at 3:30 in the morning, breakfast at 4:00, briefing at 4:30. The briefing room was a long building with folding chairs and a raised platform at the end. A map of northern Europe, hidden by a curtain, covered the wall. The briefing officer pulled the curtain back dramatically and a loud groan came from the audience. Our target was to be Nuremberg, about as far into Germany as we could go, with a route that zigzagged diagonally across the country to cause confusion about what would be our ultimate target. We would be flying over Germany for a long time. That was heady stuff for a wet behind the ears 19-year-old.
The separate navigator’s briefing was at 5:30 where I was issued maps before going to the flight line by 6:00 am. We picked up our flight gear, parachutes and escape packages and reported to our plane. Being the newest crew, we were assigned the oldest and coldest B-17 on the base, but we were excited to finally be flying a real mission.
Get dressed and outfitted for high-altitude flying
First, we put the flight suit over our uniform wool pants and shirt. It was followed by the electrical suit, the insulated flight jacket, pants, and boots, plus gloves with silk liners. It regularly gets to minus 30-50 degrees F at 25-30,000 feet, in an uninsulated cabin with undependable heat. The only thing between us and the outside was a thin aluminum skin. Next came the helmet with earphones, throat mike, the “Mae West” flotation vest and then the parachute harness. Finally, the oxygen mask was clipped to the helmet. The whole process took a while, and everything had to be done just so. It is hard to make corrections in the air.
Board the B-17 Flying Fortress
After pulling ourselves up through the front escape hatch, (something I could never do today), the pilot, copilot and engineer climbed up to the cockpit while the bombardier and I [the navigator] went into the nose compartment. The radio man, waist gunners, belly gunner and tail gunner had an easy entrance to the rear of the aircraft behind the bomb bay. It was time to get organized with maps and other items, and get plugged in. The electric suit went into one jack, the nose mike into another, the headset into a third and the oxygen mask hanging from my helmet will go into a fourth when we reach 10,000 feet. With three or four lines connected I am careful when moving about, but I was able to reach the “cheek” gun across from my navigator’s desk in case of fighter attack.
Taxi, take-off, and join the formation
At seven am we rolled onto the taxi strip with other members of our squadron. After takeoff climbing to higher altitudes, we circled our field numerous times as we formed our squadron and then group formations. Through the clouds we can see aircraft from neighboring fields and hope they are able to keep in their areas of the sky.
After forty minutes of circling, we headed for the rendezvous point to join our wing and other groups participating in the mission. With several hundred planes in the air precision timing is mandatory.
Leave the safety of England for the continent and enemy territory
The English Channel looked rough, France itself was quite pretty, and then, after another hour in the air, we enter Germany. During this time, we had been escorted by what we called “our little friends”, P 51 fighters based in France. But shortly after entering Germany we are on our own. Looking down, the German countryside was peaceful and pastoral with neat farms and small villages appearing from time to time. But we knew we’d meet with hostility if we were forced down.
There are heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft guns in the region we entered Germany and “flak” (small pieces of steel) darkened the sky. Fortunately, we are high enough so most of the guns could not reach us. We then faced flying for more than two hours from the northwest to the south east of Germany, with the threat of fighters all the way.
Finally, we saw Nuremberg, surrounded with more anti-aircraft guns. We drop to 23,000 feet in altitude for better bombing accuracy, within range of the guns. Our target was the railroad marshaling yards on the edge of the city. The dangerous part is the long two- or three-minute bombing run [from the Initial Point of the run to the Target] when the plane is under the control of the bombardier. For accurate bombing it must be very steady, maintaining constant altitude, speed, and direction. That day everything worked as planned with a good bomb drop.
During the bomb run, the formation and each plane in the formation could not waver, could not attempt to evade enemy action. They had to maintain their steady course to the target in order to drop their bombs at the right moment in the right location to make the mission count. This action took bravery, courage, and nerves of steel of every airman to carry out his task.
Bombs away and head home
As we turned away from the target, preparing for our flight home, things changed very rapidly. Our far-right engine failed, and we had to drop out of formation since we could no longer keep up with the other planes.
Here, I leave you with a cliff-hanger. To find out what happened to Alan Purchase and the rest of the Leif Robert Ostnes crew of the 546th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group, you may read the rest of Alan Purchase’s story on the 384th Bomb Group website.
And if you want to check out some of the other stories of the 384th Bomb Group, you will find many more presented on the website’s Stories page. You will find many personal stories, diaries, Veteran’s History Project interviews, videos, and more
This kind of information is always best presented by someone who lived it like 8th Air Force Navigator George Alan Purchase. Thank you, Alan, for recording your story to share with future generations. And thank you Scott Hahn and Fred Terzian for bringing it to my attention and sharing it with me.
George Alan Purchase personnel record, courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com
MY FIRST MISSION with the 8th Air Force During World War II by George Alan Purchase, courtesy of Fred Terzian, as published on 384BombGroup.com
384th Bomb Group Stories Page
With the exception of quotations from George Alan Purchase’s “MY FIRST MISSION with the 8th Air Force During World War II,” © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.
My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor of the Buslee ship. George Hawkins (navigator), Harry Liniger (waist gunner), and Wilfred Miller (tail gunner) were the only survivors of the Brodie ship. As an officer, Hawkins would have been sent to an officers’ POW camp in Germany, but he was seriously injured and was held in a hospital setting for prisoners instead.
Farrar, Liniger, and Miller – all enlisted men of the USAAF – were sent to a POW camp for enlisted men only, Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland). With the Russian Army advancing toward the camp in January 1945, the Germans made the decision to evacuate the camp. The majority of the prisoners in the camp were marched out the gates of the camp on February 6, 1945 and were herded at gunpoint across Pomerania and Germany for the next 86 days, covering over 500 miles on foot and by boxcar.
However, not all of the POW’s of Stalag Luft IV made this march. Many were too sick or injured to undertake the trek and other prisoners who were able-bodied enough to do so were selected to be moved, mostly by train, to another POW camp, Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany.
George Farrar and Harry Liniger were both part of the group of POW marchers. Wilfred Miller was part of the POW group sent to Barth. I have written previously about the march and will write more about it in the future, but today I want to share recent information I have learned about the evacuation to Barth by train.
The POW camp of origin of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller was Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now known as Tychowo, Poland). It was about 25 miles or 40 km south of the Baltic Sea coastline.
Stalag Luft I was located two miles northwest of the village of Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. The direct distance, “as the crow flies”, between Luft I and Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow is approximately 144 miles or 232 km, with Luft I being northwest of Luft IV.
Train Ride to Barth
However, the prisoners were not marched to Barth. Rather they were moved by rail in boxcars. According to former Stalag Luft IV prisoner Joseph P. O’Donnell’s book, The Shoe Leather Express – The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany on pages 34,
Stalag Luft I was located on the Baltic Sea at Barth at 13° Longitude and 54° Latitude and approximately 175 miles from Grosstychow by the 40 and 8 via Stettin.
The prisoners were moved from Luft IV to Luft I by train, and more specifically in “40 and 8” boxcars. A Forty-and-Eight boxcar is of a size that should hold 40 men or 8 horses. Stettin refers to today’s Szczecin, Poland.
Today the trip from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I would be about four hours by automobile or about fifteen to seventeen hours by train (from Tychowo, Poland to Barth, Germany).
On January 29 or 30, 1945 (or perhaps over multiple days in multiple groups considering the large number of POW’s being transferred), the prisoners selected to be moved to Barth were moved out of Stalag Luft IV. Wilfred Frank Miller of the Brodie crew was one of them.
In Chapter 31, “Train Ride to Barth,” of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown describes the transfer of POW’s, including her father, John Kyler, from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I. Candy writes,
On page 279:
…between two to three thousand inmates of Stalag Luft IV, approximately one-third of the camp population…were marched out in polar weather for the two-mile trek to the Kiefheide train station on January 29, 1945 [to evacuate] the camp. Many among the selected group were ill or injured, but prisoners who were fairly healthy were included in the draw.
On page 281:
On February 8, 1945, [the] train arrived in Barth, Germany, where [the Stalag IV P.O.W.’s] would next take up residence in Stalag Luft I, a POW camp for Allied officers, located on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
In Chapter 32, “The Walk to Stalag Luft I,” on pages 283 and 284 of her book, Candy describes the walk of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners from the Barth railroad station at the end of the “eleven grueling days of boxcar travel,” to the new POW camp at Barth. The POW’s were marched through “a quaint storybook village in a seaside setting,” on “a cobblestone road past open fields and farmland,” and past “an anti-aircraft artillery (flak) school.”
In Joe O’Donnell’s first Shoe Leather Express book, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, pages 34 – 35, POW Paul B. Brady, Sr. of the 15th Air Corp, 465th Bomb Group, 781st Bomb Squadron, recalled he was moved to Barth, Stalag Luft I, on January 30, 1945. Brady stated that fifty-two POW’s were loaded into his boxcar for the evacuation from Grosstychow to Barth.
Brady also said,
It took us eight days to reach Stalag Luft I, we were seldom let out of the boxcars and only had two buckets for relief purposes, we had to bribe the guards with a few cigarettes when we stopped on the sidings to push some snow through the crack of the door so we could let it melt for drinking water. Of course this was the same opening all of us had been using to urinate through for days to try to conserve the two buckets for the P.O.W.’s with dysentery that most of us had.
Another Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm, added that before the arrival of the POW’s from Stalag Luft IV, Stalag Luft I was only for Air Force officers (multi-national, mostly American, British, and French) and their orderlies. Yes, it seems in Stalag Luft I, American POW officers had American G.I. (soldiers, ground forces rather than airmen) POW’s as orderlies.
Life at Stalag Luft I, Barth
I am providing a summary of information about the prison camp at Barth, Stalag Luft I, in this article. For an in-depth look at life in Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany, please check out the extensive information on B24.net and Merkki.com.
The following information was prepared by the Military Intelligence Service War Department on 1 November 1945 and was compiled and presented by Greg Hatton on the 392 Bomb Group’s B24.net website. Follow the link for Greg’s full report.
Reproduced from the introduction (general) of camps:
Source material for this report consisted of interrogations of former prisoners of war made by CPM Branch, Military Intelligence Service and Reports of the Protecting Power and International Red Cross received by the State Department (Special War Problems Division).
The first prisoners of Stalag Luft I, which was for Air Force officers, were French and British POW’s who arrived at the camp on 10 July 1940, before the entry of the Americans into World War II.
By early 1944 the camp consisted of 2 compounds, the South & West compounds, with a total of 7 barracks, housing American officers, and British officers and enlisted men. A new compound (North 1) opened the last of February 1944 to which an increasing number of American officers were housed. North 2 opened on 9 September 1944 and North 3 opened on 9 December 1944. The North compounds completed the camp and this is how the camp remained until liberation of the prisoners in May 1945.
As far as “amenities” in the separate compounds went,
- The South compound lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.
- The West compound had latrines and running water in the barracks.
- The North 1 compound was considered the best compound with a communal mess hall, inside latrines, and running water.
- The North 2 and 3 compounds were constructed the same as the South compound and also lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.
The completion of North 2 and 3 gave the camp an L-shape appearance. Guard towers were placed at strategic intervals.
As for housing, the barracks in each compound had,
- Triple-tiered wooden (bunk) beds with wood chip-filled mattresses
- (Or at least almost every barracks had) a communal day room but without much equipment
- Inadequate lighting
- Insufficient ventilation due to the requirement that the barracks’ shutters remain closed from 2100 (9pm) to 0600 (6am)
- Inadequate stoves for heating and cooking
- Poor weather-proofing for the bitterly cold northern Germany climate so close to the Baltic Sea
In addition to barracks for housing, the West and North 1 compounds each had the following facilities which were used by all compounds,
- One kitchen barrack
- One theater room
- One church room
- One library
- One study room
Before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners, the POW’s of Stalag Luft I were fed with Red Cross parcels plus German food prepared in separate kitchens in each compound.
Up until 1 October 1944, the German food ration provided 1200 to 1800 calories per day per man. However, by September through November 1944, the German food ration had been cut to 800 calories and Red Cross supplies became so low, they were also cut, except for the month of December 1944 when the supply returned to the normal amount. In January 1945, the Red Cross supplies were cut again.
In March 1945, no Red Cross parcels were distributed, and German rations were also severely cut. Per the information provided by Greg Hatton, during this “starvation period”, “…Men became so weak that many would fall down while attempting to get from their beds. American ‘MPs’ were placed around garbage cans to prevent the starving PW from eating out of the cans and becoming sick.”
From around the beginning of April 1945, a sufficient supply of Red Cross parcels was received and the POW’s were better fed until the time of the evacuation of the camp.
The medical staff of the camp consisted of two British doctors and six orderlies until 1 March 1945 when an American doctor, Capt. Wilbur E. McKee, arrived. Keeping the POW’s healthy was difficult because of a lack of medical supplies and facilities to handle a large number of patients.
Even before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s, the biggest challenge was the poor sanitation in the camp. The camp had only one bathhouse with ten shower heads. Early in 1945, though, another bathhouse with ten shower heads was added.
Still insufficient for the number of POW’s in the camp, there was also an insufficient quantity of wash basins and soap, which not only challenged personal cleanliness, but also the ability to launder clothing and bed linens. Disposal of garbage was also a challenge and the poorly working latrine and wash drains often caused flooding around the barracks.
The number of stoves and amount of fuel was not sufficient to battle the extreme cold of the climate in the area, resulting in upper respiratory illnesses. The requirement that barracks shutters remain closed at night also did not allow for sufficient ventilation in overcrowded conditions inside the barracks.
Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm said that on May 1, 1945, Russian guerrillas overran the camp. Paul Brady, Jeff Boehme, John Kyler, Wilfred Miller, and the other POW’s at Stalag Luft I were liberated by the Russians.
The German Commandant of the camp had been ordered to move the camp to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Russians, but the POW’s were determined not to move unless they were forced to do so. On the night of April 30, to avoid bloodshed, the Commandant and guards of the camp turned out the lights and left the camp, leaving the gate unlocked.
The POW’s took over the camp, taking over the guard stations to keep the POW’s orderly and from leaving the camp and to keep other Germans from coming into the camp. On May 1, contact was made with Russian advance troops and Russian scouting parties visited the camp. After two or three days, the Russian commander made arrangements to feed the Stalag Luft I prisoners.
Jeff Boehm reported,
The Russians had the airfield cleared in three days so we could be evacuated but it was thirteen days before the sky was crowded with B-17’s for our mass move to Camp Lucky Strike in LeHarve, France. We had a couple of guys who spoke Russian so we spent quite a lot of time visiting with the Russians.
Although the actual liberation was performed by the Russians, they did not attempt to evacuate the POW’s from the camp other than clearing the airfield. On 6 May 1945, American POW Colonel Jean R. Byerly left camp with two British officers and flew to England the following day. They reported to 8th Air Force headquarters regarding the conditions at the camp, and arrangements were made to evacuate the liberated POWs.
In Chapter 24, “Liberation,” of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown notes that at the time of liberation of the camp, the sick and injured left Barth on May 12 and everyone else starting on May 13, 1945. Candy’s dad flew out from the POW camp at Barth on May 13. This is the same date Wilfred Miller notes on his POW application as the date he was released as a POW. He must have been in the same group to be liberated as John Kyler.
In “Operation Revival,” the 8th Air Force evacuated nearly 8,500 Allied POW’s between May 13 and 15, 1945 using mainly stripped-down B-17’s, with some C-46’s and C-47’s. This article on the website of the National WWII Museum provides a great deal of detail about the operation to evacuate the prisoners of Stalag Luft I at Barth. For more information about the liberation, the National WWII Museum provides this article.
Kriegsgefangenen Lagers: Home of the “Kriegie” Airmen, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group
STALAG LUFT I – Barth Germany (Air Force Officers), courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group
Stalag Luft 1 Images, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group
Stalag Luft 1 Stories, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group
Stalag Luft I Online – World War II – Prisoners of War – Stalag Luft I
“What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father” by Candy Kyler Brown
A selection from The Shoe Leather Express Book 1, courtesy of Gregory Hatton’s Stalag Luft IV website
Operation Revival: Rescue from Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum
The Liberation of Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum
Previous post, Wilfred Frank Miller, Update
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
Five years ago, in February 2017, I posed a question to my readers. Do you think the bombardier in the John Buslee crew photo is Marvin Fryden or James Davis? I am referring to the airman standing in the back row on the far right.
Marvin Fryden was the John Buslee crew’s original bombardier. Fryden was killed on his second mission on 5 August 1944 aboard the B-17 Tremblin’ Gremlin by a burst of flak. James Buford Davis replaced Fryden as the Buslee crew’s bombardier on 9 August 1944.
On the back of the Buslee crew photo that I have, the man standing on the far right is identified as James Davis. I have always questioned the accuracy of that identification. I have always believed that the bombardier in the photo is Fryden.
I have positive identifications of the remaining members of the crew in the photo. These are the identifications provided on the back of the photo in my mother’s handwriting.
Back row, left to right:
• 2Lt. John Oliver Buslee, Pilot, from Park Ridge, Illinois
• 2Lt. David Franklin Albrecht, Co-Pilot, from Chico, California
• 2Lt. Chester A. Rybarczyk, Navigator, from Toledo, Ohio
• 2Lt. James B. Davis, Bombardier, from New Castle, Indiana
Front row, left to right:
• Sgt. Erwin V. Foster, Ball Turret Gunner, from Elmira, New York
• Sgt. Sebastiano Joseph Peluso, Radio Operator/Gunner, from Brooklyn, New York
• Cpl. Lenard Leroy Bryant, Waist Gunner, from Lubbock, Texas
• Sgt. Clarence B. Seeley, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, from Halsey, Nebraska
• S/Sgt. Eugene D. Lucynski, Tail Gunner, from Detroit, Michigan
• Sgt. George Edwin Farrar, Waist Gunner, from Atlanta, Georgia, (my dad)
I have been able to verify through other photographs of these men that those identifications are accurate. I only questioned the identification of Davis as the bombardier and hoped I could eventually determine if that identification is accurate as well.
Unfortunately, at the time I was attempting to analyze the faces in the photo, I only had a photo of James Davis, no photo of Marvin Fryden. On my visit to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in October 2016, I found this photo of James Buford Davis in uniform in his Army Air Forces personnel file.
To my eye, when comparing the photo of Davis to the bombardier in the crew photo, I could not determine that the airman in the crew photo was Davis, and so concluded that it was Fryden. But I still felt a great deal of uncertainty without a photo of Fryden to use for the comparison.
I had another reason to believe Fryden was in the photo. I believed that James Davis would not have appeared in a Buslee crew photo that also included Clarence Burdell Seeley.
James Davis did not join the Buslee crew until the 9 August 1944 mission and would not have appeared in a crew photo until, at least, he had been named as the bombardier replacement for their crew. So James Davis would not be in a Buslee crew photo on or before 5 August, when Marvin Fryden was killed. Add to that, Clarence Burdell Seeley looks very healthy in the crew photo, not what I would expect after 5 August 1944.
On the 5 August 1944 mission in which Marvin Fryden was killed, the Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Clarence Burdell Seeley was hit by flak and seriously injured. A jagged piece of steel ripped through the lower part of his right leg above the ankle. He was taken to the 65th General Hospital for treatment and was hospitalized there for 35 days.
The 65th General Hospital was at Redgrave Park in Suffolk County, England. Redgrave Park is about 85 miles/137 km from Grafton Underwood, home of the 384th Bomb Group. During his period of hospitalization, Seeley would not have been in the Grafton Underwood area for a crew photograph.
Back in 2017, I enlisted 384th Bomb Group Combat Data Specialist Keith Ellefson in my research and he speculated that,
I suspect the 65th General Hospital was the general hospital closest to the field (Halesworth, Station 365) that they [the Buslee crew] landed at upon return from the [5 August 1944] mission. Once he [Seeley] was ambulatory and it was determined that he would possibly recover well enough to go back on flight status, I imagine he would be returned to GU [the 384th’s base at Grafton Underwood] for convalescence and evaluation by the squadron flight surgeon.
If I recall correctly, five years ago Keith believed the bombardier in the photo to be Davis and believed the photo was taken at Grafton Underwood. At the time, I was under the assumption that the photo was a photo of the original crew taken at Ardmore, Oklahoma at the end of their crew training before they left the States for England.
In the past few years, I have found more information in the records of the 384th Bomb Group which provides more detail about the timeline of Seeley’s hospitalization and recovery period.
According to military records, on 13 August 1944, Seeley was moved from the 65th General Hospital to the 4209 U.S. Army Hospital Plant, APO 587. APO (Army Post Office) 587 was located at Knettishall, England, which was about 5.5 miles/8.8 km from the 65th General Hospital at Redgrave Park, still far from Grafton Underwood.
But on 11 September 1944, Seeley went from absent sick (LD) 65th General Hospital to duty. Even though he would not return to flight duty until Mission 203 on 2 October 1944 (four days after the Buslee crew went MIA on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany), Seeley was likely back at Grafton Underwood on or shortly after 11 September.
Now I see a window of opportunity for the Buslee crew photo to include both James Davis and Clarence Seeley that I did not previously see. The crew photo could have been taken sometime during this period between 11 and 28 September. That is the only way I can see both James Davis and a healthy Clarence Burdell Seeley appearing in the same photo.
Sounds like the issue of all the parties being available at the same time for a photo op between 11 and 28 September 1944 works out fine, right? Not so fast. I also discovered that ball turret gunner Erwin Foster was out on sick leave at the 303rd Station Hospital at Thrapston between 10 and 26 September. And tail gunner Eugene Lucynski went MIA with another crew on 19 September, bailing out of Tremblin’ Gremlin over Belgium. He was injured and hospitalized at an unknown location reportedly until 10 November.
Thrapston was only about 5.5 miles/9 km from Grafton Underwood. So I see a possibility that Foster was still close by, maybe even still at Grafton Underwood and being treated on an outpatient basis. If he was on base or able to travel to the base long enough for a photo, perhaps the crew photo was taken during a narrower window of between 11 and 18 September 1944. By 19 September, Lucynski would not have been in the photo.
And recently my other issue – that I had no photo of Marvin Fryden for comparison purposes – was also resolved. Ash Samet, Marvin Fryden’s widow’s grandson (of Marilyn’s second marriage to Jerome Samet), contacted me just a few weeks ago and sent me a portrait of Marilyn and Marvin Fryden. The grandson’s name is Ash Samet. Ash is a computer graphics artist.
I ran the question by him of who he thinks the bombardier in the Buslee crew photo is – Fryden or Davis – and he created this very elaborate comparison of the facial features of both Davis and Fryden to the bombardier in the crew photo.
If you click the comparison graphic, then click again to enlarge, you can review the detailed comparison that Ash performed. I am going to note Ash’s findings here, too, but please keep in mind, this is Ash Samet’s work and Ash’s words, and I credit Ash Samet fully with this expert analysis.
One of the first things I notice between the pictures are their ear-shapes! The greyscale photo has an almost angular feel to it, matching James, where Marvin’s ears (for lack of a better word) are almost bean-shaped. Silhouette aside, the greyscale image has an attached earlobe, like James, where Marvin’s earlobes are detached.
It’s hard to see since it’s in shadow, but I thought it was interesting how James’s eyelid falls so low that it’s almost giving the appearance of a monolid, where Marvin has a definitively double eyelid. The greyscale image is squinting, but since the brows are lower/not raised, the skin above the eye isn’t being stretched. If he had a double eyelid as defined as Marvin’s, it would be more exaggerated as the folds compress with a squint!
Another landmark I notice between these pictures is the lips- Marvin has very full lips, and while they could pull to be thinner in a smile/squint, I’d estimate the corners of his mouth would have to reach more towards aligning with the outsides of his eyes. The middle photo’s mouth is pulled slightly wider, but still close enough to a neutral position that I’d say the lip thickness matches James more!
James’ mouth also has more of a natural curl at the corners, which is accentuated by the expression in the middle photo.
A more subtle detail in the photo is the “smile-lines” look very angular- even seeming to make a diamond-shape! Though the left picture of James is a neutral expression, you can see a natural indent that looks similar.
Based on the fat distribution on Marvin’s face, I’d imagine if his mouth pulled wider he’d show dimples.
The picture of James has a nose with noticeably round features matching the greyscale photo more closely than the picture of Marv, but aside from that, it looks like the eye-to-nose proportions of Marv’s nose is longer than the other images.
Also a minor detail that’s harder to see- but the eyebrows of the greyscale image seem to reach much closer to the middle of the face than Marv’s- it could possibly be shadow, but they’re dark enough that I’d wager the actual hair itself is darker than Marvin’s!
Well, that kind of does it for me. Ash Samet has me convinced. I’m going with identification of the bombardier in the Buslee crew photo being James Buford Davis.
Keith Ellefson was trying to lead me down that road, but I resisted. I was so convinced that the Buslee crew photo was taken in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where the crew performed their final training. But Keith said, no, the background looks more like England than Oklahoma. To me, if the location was Ardmore, it had to be Fryden in the picture. I wanted to believe it was Oklahoma and I wanted to believe it was Fryden.
And Keith thought the bombardier looked like Davis, too. I should have listened. I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that the crew photo may not have been taken before the crew’s first mission with all ten original crew members. I took the wrong road. I took the scenic route instead, leading me about five years in the wrong direction. Sorry for not listening to you five years ago, Keith. And thank you Ash Samet for taking me by the hand and showing me the proper path step by step to the correct identification of James Buford Davis, the airman, the bombardier, in the photo.
Previous post, Davis or Fryden?
Previous post, A Photo of Marvin Fryden, Bombardier of the Buslee Crew
Previous post, August 5, 1944 Mission 173 Press Release – Transcription
Numerical Listing of APO’s January 1942 to November 1947
Notes about the 65th General Hospital link: the American Air Museum in Britain website will be down from 30 June 2022 until September 2022 for reconstruction. A notice on their site reads:
The American Air Museum archive is temporarily closing for reconstruction. We are working on a site-wide upgrade which will be completed in September 2022. To allow the American Air Museum team time to process the database, we will be stopping crowdsourced contributions from 30 June 2022. This means that from 30 June 2022 you will not be able to search, add or edit information in the American Air Museum archive. You can find out more about our plans here.
Thank you to the 384th’s Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson for obtaining and sharing WWII reports from the National Archives for the 384th Bomb Group. Thanks to Keith, also, for his superb research, analysis, and advice, and thank you to Ash Samet for providing me with the photo of Marvin Fryden and his photo analysis.
Except for the work – image, graphics, and text – of Ash Samet, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022