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2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion

When I returned from the 384th Bomb Group’s 2018 reunion in Dayton, Ohio, I posted a few photos here.

I have now had a chance to sort through the three hundred-plus photos I took and have posted about five dozen in the group’s photo gallery. The link is to the main album, which contains all photos contributed by reunion attendees. My photos, at least for now, are in the sub-album “Cindy Bryan’s Photos.” These may be rolled up into the main album in the future, so if you don’t see my sub-album, you can assume all my photos have been moved into the main album.

Here are just a few more of my photos from the 2018 Reunion in Dayton, but you can see lots more using the photo gallery link to the group’s online photo gallery.

Friday, October 19 – Our visit to the National Museum of the US Air Force

After a short bus ride from our reunion hotel, we gathered around the 384th Bomb Group memorial outside the museum. An honor guard presented the colors and taps was played.

Honor guard at the 384th Bomb Group memorial at the National Museum of the USAF

The five 384th Bomb Group veterans who attended the reunion posed for a photo on this cold Dayton morning.  Attending were (left to right):

  • Peter Bielskis, Ball Turret Gunner, 27 Missions
  • Henry Sienkiewicz, Navigator, 35 Missions
  • William Wilkens, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, 30 Missions
  • John DeFrancesco, Pilot, 35 Missions, POW
  • Donald Hilliard, Radio Operator, 16 Missions

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group pose behind the group’s memorial at the Museum of the USAF
Left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, William Wilkens, John DeFrancesco, and Donald Hilliard

Never missing an opportunity to photograph our veteran heroes, our group posed inside the museum in front of the Memphis Belle (see previous post), and with UK friend of the group, Neill Howarth, in front of the museum’s soaring stained glass backdrop.

In the Museum of the USAF, left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, Neill Howarth, John DeFrancesco, William Wilkens, and Donald Hilliard

Saturday, October 20 – Our visit to the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio

Our group got a close look at the restoration work on the museum’s B-17 Champaign Lady, getting a hands-on educational opportunity in our favorite subject, the Flying Fortress. We held parts in our hands, crawled through the work-in-progress fuselage and ball turret, and, of course, took more photos.

We even had the opportunity to meet two local WWII Army Air Forces veterans from different bomb groups, Red Ketcham and Art Kemp, who were also based in England during the war. You can see their photos in the gallery.

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: Neill Howarth and John DeFrancesco

Our 384th veterans gathered in front of Champaign Lady

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: William Wilkens, Henry Sienkiewicz, John DeFrancesco, Peter Bielskis, and Donald Hilliard

The obvious “stars” of our group are our veterans, but as the number of surviving veterans dwindle, it is up to the next generation of children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in our group to carry their memory forward.

In addition to our five veterans, twenty-seven family members and five friends of the group gathered in Dayton this year. It is not just our country’s history we celebrate when we gather, it is our family history, too. Others like me seek to learn everything we can about our relatives’ involvement in that time long ago, not just for ourselves, but so that we can pass this knowledge down for generations to come.

Left to right: Fred Preller (son of 384th pilot Robert Preller), Cindy Farrar Bryan (daughter of 384th waist gunner George Edwin Farrar), John DeFrancesco (384th pilot), and Keith Ellefson (nephew of 384th ball turret gunner Raymond Orlando Wisdahl)

It took several days for me to return to “normal” from the travel between Florida and Ohio, and the reunion itself. But after my immersion of several days into the WWII air war over Europe, it will take me much longer to return to 2018 from 1945. Part of me is still there in that different world in that long ago time.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion – A Teaser

I recently returned from the 2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group in Dayton, Ohio. I plan to share more about the reunion in the coming weeks, but for now only have time for a few photo highlights.

The group’s first tour was the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton. What better place for a photo op than in front of the Memphis Belle, probably the most famous of the type of aircraft our veterans flew in WWII, the B-17.

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group in front of the Memphis Belle at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio.
Left to right: Peter Bielskis (ball turret gunner), Bill Wilkins (engineer/top turret gunner), Henry Sienkiewicz (navigator), John DeFrancesco (pilot), and Don Hilliard (radio operator)

We had about four hours to explore the museum, but probably needed four days.

Our second tour was the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio. It is the site of of an active B-17 restoration. Our group had a more hands-on experience here. Veteran pilot John DeFrancesco had the chance to show us how to fly our favorite warbird…

384th veteran pilot John DeFrancesco at the B-17 controls at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

…and I had the chance to see if I could fit into the ball turret. I did, but now can’t understand how those WWII ball turret gunners endured entire missions in that tiny capsule.

384th Bomb Group webmaster Fred Preller and veteran ball turret gunner Peter Bielskis help Cindy Bryan into the ball turret at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

I did also manage to get out of the ball turret. Afterwards, it dawned on me that I had a WWII ball turret gunner, Peter Bielskis, who had survived twenty-seven missions seventy-three years ago in the ball turret, helping me in and out of the one at the Champaign Aviation Museum!

Left to right: Bill Wilkens, Cindy Bryan, and Peter Bielskis at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio.
2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group

What a day!

Attendees of the 2018 reunion of the 384th Bomb Group: veterans, family, and friends of the group
Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

But the day’s fun didn’t end there. That evening our group enjoyed our gala banquet and finished this year’s reunion with a veteran group photo in front of the wing panel that over one hundred fifty of our 384th Bomb Group veterans have signed.

384th Bomb Group veterans at the 2018 reunion in Dayton.
Left to right: Bill Wilkens (engineer/top turret gunner), Henry Sienkiewicz (navigator), Peter Bielskis (ball turret gunner), John DeFrancesco (pilot), and Don Hilliard (radio operator)

As I mentioned earlier, more details are coming in a few weeks. But until then, I have to rest up. It’s really tough trying to keep up with super heroes!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Cataract Op by Edward Field

In last week’s post, I presented the video of Edward Field’s Veterans History Project interview. In his interview, Edward reads his poem World War II. Edward also mentions another WWII-related poem he wrote, Cataract Op, which he has yet to publish in one of his books. Edward has kindly given me permission to publish it here.

Cataract Op

by Edward Field

It felt so adult, at 83, going by myself to the hospital,
getting on the bus like others (all the young) headed for work
through the morning Manhattan streets
carrying umbrellas and newspapers, disappearing into subways,
lining up at carts for a (careless, cholesterol-rich) paper bag breakfast.

When the bus pulled up at the hospital stop,
I got out and walked in, calm,
like I remember in the war flying into combat
with maybe a touch of nerves, but no great anxiety,
more like excitement.

Then it all went efficiently, the procedures of pre-op,
as I was passed from station to station, each technician doing his job,
like once the squadrons of silver bombers
in wing to wing formation roared through the crystal sky,
each of the crew busy, me at my desk with my instruments
calculating our course and noting in the log
wind drift and speed and altitude,
courteously calling “navigator to crew…,”
to read out our position and estimated time of arrival.

Our goal of the mission that day was the Ruhr,
a land of mines and furnaces, with a cataract of thick black smoke
rising from the factories cranking out anti-aircraft guns
like the ones lobbing up the deadly black bursts at us.

Now I was being wheeled into the hall outside the operating room
where I joined a line of gurneys waiting their turn at the laser,
as the squadrons in stately procession wheeled
in a wide circle around the city, lined up for the bombing run,
the flak peppering the air thickly under us.

Finally, the moment, my moment —
and I was wheeled into the operating room under a spotlight,
my eye taped open, but my mind alert
as the surgeon went to work, the oh-so-delicate work, with his instruments…

and the earlier moment — our squadron’s turn —
we headed in tight formation right into the midst
of the bursting antiaircraft shells,
the bomb bay doors opening with a grinding whine.
Our wings were rocking perilously close to the neighboring planes,
while the pilot fought to keep the heaving plane on course
over the bulls eye of the target below,
and I too was busy, shards of flak rattling off the aluminum walls around me,
my hand jiggling as I recorded in my log
the burning buildings, planes going down, the exact time of…

bombs away —

now to get out of here!

It was over so fast.  The nurse was already taping up my eye
and I was wheeled back into the corridor feeling happy,
as on that day of the mission, we turned on a wing
and wheeled west toward home
with the late sun lighting up the heavenly landscape of clouds,
brighter than I had ever seen before.

Published by permission of the author

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018 (excluding Cataract Op by Edward Field)

Edward Field Veterans History Project

When poet Edward Field and I visited Washington, D.C. earlier this year to honor Jack Coleman Cook, Edward had the opportunity to sit for a Veterans History Project interview at the Library of Congress. Edward’s friend David Perrotta arranged for fellow Library of Congress staffer Owen Rogers to conduct and record the interview. My husband Bill and I were invited to sit in to watch the proceedings.

Ever so quietly with cell phones muted and seated comfortably out of camera range, we witnessed Edward recount his remarkable story of growing up in pre-WWII America as a gay Jewish man, his wartime service in the Army Air Forces, his post-war return to civilian life, and his journey to become a poet.

Owen Rogers was kind enough to share the recording with me and I was honored to have the opportunity to edit and present Edward Field’s Veterans History Project interview on YouTube.

Edward’s story is eye-opening. It shows us a time in America for which we can only feel shame for the actions of our forebearers upon a young man growing up in a neighborhood in which others felt his family didn’t belong. We see what it meant to be gay and Jewish in a long ago time that seems both so unlike our own time, yet so familiar, too. It is, at times, an emotional story. It is a story told through the heart of a poet.

Aside from being an award-winning poet, Edward Field is a WWII veteran who served as a navigator aboard a B-17 heavy bomber in the 546th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force.

Edward’s Veterans History Project interview was conducted and recorded by Owen E. Rogers, Library of Congress Liaison Specialist, at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., April 11, 2018.

Video photos courtesy of Edward Field, David Perrotta, Ryan Saylor, Delia Cook McBride, Ray Lustig and Susan Taylor.

Video editor Cindy Farrar Bryan of TheArrowheadClub.com.

Many thanks to Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman for honoring Jack Coleman Cook on the Floor of the House of Representatives April 12, 2018.

Links to information and previous The Arrowhead Club posts about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field

Next week I will present “Cataract Op,” the unpublished WWII-related poem by Edward Field which he mentions in his Veterans History Project interview.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

A Black March Combine

I have previously written several articles about the WWII Black March, the march of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV across Germany in the winter of 1945. Today, I want to explain a very important aspect of that march, the Combine.

But first, as a refresher to the Black March itself, please refer to this previous post. It is the proclamation entered into the Congressional Record on May 8, 1995 by WWII veteran, Congressman John William Warner.

Congressman Warner was approached by three WWII veterans who were on the march and who brought this piece of WWII history to his attention – Cpl. Bob McVicker of Alexandria, Virginia; S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, Louisiana; and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, Florida. Rep. Warner wanted to tell their story and raise awareness of what the Stalag Luft IV prisoners endured on this little-known march in pursuit of freedom.

The proclamation explains that McVicker, Pippens, and Duchesneau each survived, “mostly because of the efforts of the other two – American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.” This statement is the definition of a Black March “Combine.”

In WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. His B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was put in Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, he was one of the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV who were marched out of the camp in several columns accompanied by German guards armed with rifles, and guard dogs. For Dad, the Black March lasted the full eighty-six days, covering approximately five-hundred miles.

From an old letter, I determined that the two men closest to my dad in the prison camp and on the Black March were the author of the letter, British airman Laurie Newbold, and American airman Cecil McWhorter.

Newbold’s letter adds much to what I know about who shared my father’s WWII experiences, especially these two sentences.

Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England.

In my research of my father during WWII, it is not enough to know who the members of my father’s air crew were. Although Dad’s WWII experience was shared with the other men of the John Buslee crew, 544th Bomb Squad, and the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, he had a connection that went beyond the usual military camaraderie of an air crew. He had a connection with two men with whom he had not served in the 384th, Laurie Newbold and Cecil McWhorter, on whom his life depended in that eighty-six day span of time he called “The March.”

Joseph O’Donnell, another Stalag Luft IV prisoner on the Black March, wrote a book about the march. In The Shoe Leather Express, O’Donnell explains how the prisoners joined forces in small groups in order to help each other survive. These small groups of two to four Kriegies (short for Kriegesgefangenen, which is the German word for prisoner of war) were created out of necessity, for survival. Joe wrote:

A combine usually consisted of three Kriegies, sometimes two, sometimes four, but the most logical number combination was three. Further explanation will confirm the logic of three men versus two or four men. Of all the reasons for a three man combine, there is no one reason to justify this combination, there are many reasons. As stated before, we each had two blankets, and with a combination of three Kriegies this gave us six blankets. After our arrival at a barn we would stake a claim to an area in the barn according to our arrival. First-in claimed the advantageous areas, usually near an exit.

Since we shared our food, it was imperative that we should stick together; but we usually marched in columns of fours and it always presented a problem at the end of a [day’s] march, when the guards would count off 150 or 200 Kriegies for one barn. This would usually split a combine. One hell of a lot of shuffling went on to get the combine together again. When trading, bartering or stealing detail; the other two would construct our bed of straw for the night. Our bed of straw was covered with the three German blankets, two lengthwise and one across the bottom and tucked in. The three GI blankets would cover us along with our GI overcoats.

The mention of trading, bartering, and stealing references the fact that the men had very little food and clean water on the road. They often attempted to supplement their meager rations by trading items like the watch my father traded for a loaf of bread, or stealing potatoes or chickens from the farmers in whose barns they slept.

The combines walked together, all day, every day, sometimes as far as twenty miles in one day. They shared food and ate together. They slept together and shared body heat in the unheated barns and under the stars in the sub-freezing temperatures of the winter of 1945. When one felt weak, the others helped him put one foot in front of the other, to take one more step, to keep up with the column. Falling behind the group meant the risk of being shot and left for dead beside the road as the group trudged forward. The combine gave the men someone to lean on in more ways than one.

How many men died on the march is not known. It is truly a miracle that any of them survived. They were covered in lice, were afflicted with dysentery and other diseases, and were close to the point of starvation. They have been described as walking skeletons. Thoughts of home and the support of each other must have kept them going.

But when it was all over, when Liberation Day came, the combines were split apart for good. Each man went his separate way, returning to his country and his family, to pick up with life as though his eighty-six day struggle for survival was all a bad dream. Laurie Newbold wrote:

I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].

Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think.

Is the past and that piece of history best forgotten? When I read pages from Joe O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express and read Laurie Newbold’s letter, their words trouble me. They unsettle me. It disturbs me deeply to know these things that my father endured. Things that he himself could not or would not tell me. I understand, at least I think I do, why he wouldn’t divulge these things. I was too young. I was too innocent. He did not want to burden me or anyone else with this horrible knowledge.

My father was right in not telling me. I should not know these things because as I’ve learned, now that I know them, I cannot un-know them. They rattle around in my head and pop to the surface at unexpected moments. These things that were a part of him, they are now a part of me. Not to the extent they were for him, of course, because he actually lived them and I only learned them. I cannot imagine the way the horrific memories crashed upon his shore of existence every single moment of every single day of the remainder of his life.

These are things that no being should ever have to endure. But at that time in history there were people who looked much like the rest of us, who underneath that layer of human-like skin were not human at all, but monsters.

When I was young, monsters lived under my bed and in my closet. I had to take a long-jump into and out of bed so the monster wouldn’t grab my feet and pull me under into a certain horrible death. I had to jump back when I opened the closet door so the monster inside couldn’t grab me and drag me in.

My monsters vanished over time. They probably tired of not being able to catch me and moved on to the bed and closet of another child. But my father’s monsters never left. He died thirty-seven years after his time in the prison camp and Black March were over. Dying was the only way to end the war for him and banish his monsters.

Notes

Joe O’Donnell inadvertently used the word “concubine” to define the groups of marching prisoners in the text of The Shoe Leather Express rather than the word “combine.” I have published Joe’s passages substituting the word “combine,” which Joe points out in a correction at the top of the Table of Contents page. He states:  “CORRECTION. The word ‘concubine’ was misused, it should be ‘combine.’

The Preface and first two chapters of Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express may be read courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

To be continued with more information about Cecil McWhorter and Laurie Newbold and my search for their relatives…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

More About Buslee Ball Turret Gunner Erwin Foster

Erwin Vernon Foster

I previously wrote about Buslee crew ball turret gunner Erwin Vernon Foster in this article. However, after visiting the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, I found some additional information about him.

In his personnel file at the NPRC, I found several forms relating to Erwin’s service in the Air Force Reserves after WWII and his active duty in the Korean War. They are also a window into what Erwin did for a living, as he had to fill out employment information on several forms. For instance, Erwin noted he was in auto sales for three months, roofing and siding sales for a home improvement company for seven months, and in office equipment sales for Pitney-Bowes, particularly mailing machines, for one month.

As a reservist, Erwin filled out a form for a voluntary application for recall of USAFR Airmen to Active Duty on July 8, 1950, volunteering for a 12 month tour in the Korean War.  At the time he was living at 15 Park St. in Oswego, NY, was married and had a child.

On this form, he listed his education as:

  • High School:  Elmira Free Academy (graduated 1939)
  • College:  Simmons School of Embalming, 6 month course of Funeral Director, degree of Embalmers, Undertaker (1940)
  • Military:  Scott Field, IL, 4 1/2 months, radio course, no degree
  • Military:  Harlingen Gunnery School, 1 1/2 months, aerial gunner course (3 mos), degree aerial gunner

This form also noted:

  • Unit and Location:  unassigned (enlisted Elmira, NY)
  • Duty Assignment:  none
  • Military Occupational Specialty:
    • Primary:  611, April 1944 – October 1945
    • Additional:  612, July 1944 – May 1945
    • Additional:  847, June 1945 – October 1945
    • Additional:  Embalmer

He noted his WWII service as:

  • 8th AF, 384th BG, 544th BS, 4 July 1944 – 28 Feb 1945, 35 combat missions, aerial gunner, B-17
  • Active service from 4 Dec 1942 to 20 Oct, 1945 (2 Dec 1942 to 23 Oct 1945 on another form)
  • 10 months of overseas service (11 months on another form)

He noted his last 3 civilian occupations as:

  • March 1945 – Jan 1947, salesman, automobile, W.D. Schwenk Inc, Elmira, NY
  • Jan 1947 – June 1949, undertaker, embalmer, J.E. Baird Funeral Service, Wayland, NY
  • June 1949 – Present, undertaker, embalmer, Emens Funeral Home (self), Oswego, NY (uncertain of this name written in Erwin’s handwriting)

Forms that Erwin signed on December 4 and 5 of 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey – apparently as he was re-entering active duty – indicated quite a bit of personal information, too.

  • His home address was 452 W. Church St., Elmira, New York (his mother’s home).
  • He was born in Horseheads, New York.
  • He weighed 150 lbs and was 5’6” tall.
  • His wife, Virginia S. Foster, was 26 years old.
  • He had a three-year old daughter.
  • His mother, Mary C. Smith, was 56 years old.
  • Ruth Carpenter was an aunt living at 454 W. Church St., Elmira, New York (right next door).
  • His father was deceased, having died at 30 years old of meningitis.
  • In 1934 at age 14, Erwin had had an appendectomy in Elmira.
  • In 1944, while in England, Erwin had jaundice.

On other forms, Erwin provided this further information about himself:

  • His military address was 306th Bomb Group, 368th Bomb Squadron.
  • At Elmira High School, he played football.
  • He considered his main occupation to be Salesman, retail, selling postal machines (stamping). His employer was Pitney-Bowes, Inc of Stamford, CT. At the time he filled out the form, he had been doing this for 1 month.
  • He considered his second best occupation to be an embalmer for 8 years, working for himself. His last date of employment at this occupation was October 1950. In this job, he made arrangements for and conducted funerals. He attended such details as selection of coffin, site, flowers, adjusting of lights, transportation, etc. He did embalming work. He worked at this occupation from 1939 – 1942 and 1946 – 1950.
  • His listed an additional occupation or hobby as hunting.
  • The dates of his last civilian employment were July 1949 to October 1950 as a self-employed Funeral Director.
  • His original induction date into the military (in WWII) was November 28, 1942.
  • His date and place of entry into active service in the Korean War was December 1, 1950.

During the Korean War, Erwin’s most significant duty assignment was the 305th Air Refueling Squadron, 305th Bomb Wing (M), MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He was in Operations. On October 22, 1951, he was granted Top Secret Clearance (only a month before his release).

On November 29, 1951, Erwin Foster received an honorable discharge and was released from assignment with the 305th Air Refueling Squadron, 305th Bomb Wing (M), MacDill AFB, Florida.  At that time, he transferred back to the Air Force Reserves. On July 26, 1953, Erwin was discharged from the Air Force Reserves.

Some of the interesting things I deduce from this information and information from my previous post are:

  • Like Buslee crew top turret gunner, Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin must have washed out of radio school before going on to become an aerial gunner.
  • Erwin’s wife and child must have gone to live with his mother in Elmira, New York while he was on active duty in the Korean War.
  • Ruth Carpenter, who showed up living with Erwin and his mother along with her own son, in earlier census records was still living close to Erwin’s mother (right next door).  Ruth’s son, Raymond, was three years older than Erwin.
  • Erwin’s father died at 30 years old of meningitis. In WWI, he served on the USS Guantanamo from October 9, 1918 until the end of WWI on November 11, 1918.  Navy records show that he died on March 10, 1921.  It is unclear if he was still serving with the Navy at the time. Erwin was only one year old when his father died.
  • In 1944, while in England, Erwin had jaundice. This is one of the most interesting pieces of information for me in Erwin’s personnel file. I had been wondering why he missed so many missions with the Buslee crew in September of 1944. I believe this could be the reason. Fortunately for him, he was unable to fly on the September 28, 1944 mission to Magdeburg where the Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s flying fortress. As a result, Erwin was able to finish his thirty-five required missions to complete his tour and return home. Erwin Foster was one of only three of the original Buslee crew members to complete his missions without being killed, seriously wounded, or taken prisoner during WWII.
  • I don’t understand his mention of the 306th Bomb Group, 368th Bomb Squadron as his military address on one form although I supposed it could have been his designation during his Air Force Reserve duty.

Now I have some more Buslee crew NexGens to search for: Erwin Foster’s daughter, who would be in her early 70’s today, and descendants of his cousin Raymond Carpenter.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Special Orders Number 144

A continuation of my previous post, Special Orders Number 86.

The eleven Ardmore Army Air Field B-17 combat crews sent on their way to Grafton Underwood via Special Orders Number 86 were not all assigned to that air station at one time.

Special Orders Number 202 from HQ AAF Station 112, dated July 20, 1944, assigned seven crews (three of them from Ardmore and four others – see Note below) to the 384th Bomb Group effective July 21.

On Saturday, July 22, 1944, three of the eleven Ardmore crews, including my dad’s (George Edwin Farrar), were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group per Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) Special Orders Number 144. These three crews were headed by pilots:

Special Orders 144

The Proctor and Buslee crews were assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron and the Wood crew was assigned to the 545th.

On Monday, July 24, 1944, two of the eleven crews from Ardmore were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group. These two crews were headed by pilots:

The Bills crew was assigned to the 547th Bombardment Squadron and the Plowman crew was assigned to the 546th.

On Wednesday, July 26, 1944, the remaining six Ardmore crews were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group. These six crews were headed by pilots:

The Jung crew was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron. The Brodie and Kinnaird crews were assigned to the 545th. The Cline and Duesler crews were assigned to the 546th. And the Brown, Jr. crew was assigned to the 547th.

Of these eleven crews, only a little over half completed their tour with the 384th Bomb Group. Here’s how the statistics added up for these 110 men:

  • 62 (56%) completed their tour with the 384th
  • 1 (1%) was wounded, non-combat
  • 14 (13%) were killed in action
  • 3 (3%) were killed in a flying accident (non-combat)
  • 11 (10%) became POWs, taken prisoner by the Nazis
  • 3 (3%) were wounded in action
  • 16 (14%) were transferred

Note

In addition to the three Ardmore crews assigned to the 384th Bomb Group on July 22, 1944, four other crews were assigned to the 547th Bombardment Squadron on the same Special Orders Number 144. These four crews were headed by pilots:

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Special Orders Number 86

Dad (George Edwin Farrar) spent his last training days in the States in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He did his combat crew training at the 222nd Combat Crew Training School (H) at the Ardmore Army Air Field.

Dad received his Combat Orders on June 8, 1944, followed by Special Orders on June 23, releasing him from assignment and duty at Ardmore and transferring him to AAB, Kearney, Nebraska.

Special Orders #86, Buslee crew (* indicates married)

Special Orders Number 86 sent fifty-five ten-man B-17 crews from Ardmore Army Air Field on the first leg of their journey into combat. These five hundred fifty airmen traveled to Kearney not by air, but by rail, arriving on June 24, 1944.

In Kearney, Nebraska the crews were assigned brand new B-17’s to ferry to England. The crews all likely considered that shiny new B-17 “theirs” as I know my dad did, but that new ship would not follow them to their base. Once it arrived in England, it would be assigned to whichever bomb group needed a replacement aircraft.

Of those fifty-five crews transferred on Special Orders Number 86, eleven, including my dad’s, were eventually headed to Grafton Underwood and the 384th Bomb Group. These eleven crews were headed by pilots:

  • Edgar L. Bills
  • James J. Brodie
  • Bert O. Brown, Jr.
  • John O. Buslee
  • Walter W. Cline
  • Donald B. Duesler
  • Howard A. Jung
  • William R. Kinnaird
  • Noel E. Plowman
  • John R. Proctor
  • Rodney J. Wood

I have written previously about the information I have on Dad’s journey to the ETO from Kearney, Nebraska, which you can read here.

To be continued with more information about the next assignment to Grafton Underwood for these eleven crews…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

The Cook Family Scrapbook Holds the Answers

The continuation and conclusion of the past two weeks’ posts about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field…

Part 1: A Hero’s Hero

Part 2: The Boy Who Took My Place in the Water

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII was Delia Cook McBride’s uncle. Delia never had the chance to meet her mother’s brother because he died in WWII. He was a family legend, only known to her through the memories of her family and the scrapbook her grandmother made with photos, newspaper articles, and letters. The scrapbook was the last connection Jack’s mother, Mary Ellen Cook, had to her son. Like so many others, Jack went off to war and never came back.

In my lengthy research of Jack Cook, I had two main questions surrounding his death. One, did Jack receive any awards recognizing his actions on February 3, 1945 when his shot-up B-17, the Challenger, was forced to ditch in the North Sea? Jack’s pesonnel record was burned in the big fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in 1973, leaving no record of any awards.

And, two, did Jack’s family know of his bravery and heroism on that day? Jack’s Individual Deceased Persons File (IDPF) was not stored at the NPRC at the time of the fire, although it is now. A letter from Brigadier General Ray L. Owens is included in that file. It is dated May 2, 1945 and notified Jack’s parents that:

The crew had to swim for life rafts, and three of the crewmen did not reach any of the rafts. These three crew members were the pilot, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Long, the radio operator, Sergeant Fred A. Maki and your son. The bodies of your son and the pilot were recovered.

Was this all that the Cook family knew about the ditching? They were led to believe that Jack died in the North Sea without ever reaching a life raft. Did Jack’s parents go through their entire lives without knowing of Jack’s heroism?

Finding Jack’s niece, Delia, and Mary Ellen Cook’s scrapbook led to the answers.

Many newspaper articles reside in the Cook family scrapbook, and though they are old and yellowed, play their part in keeping Jack’s memory alive. Most of them report the same story of the sad day when Jack lost his life in the North Sea, how Jack, fearing the life raft overcrowded with most of the crew would capsize, got into the North Sea and maneuvered it “acting as a human propeller” to come alongside the raft containing the unresponsive pilot.

Most of the newspaper stories were likely written from the Stars and Stripes account of the ditching of the Challenger on February 3, 1945. None of them mention specifically that Jack Coleman Cook gave his place in the life raft to Edward Field, but some do note that Jack rescued another member of the crew, likely a reference to Jack’s trading places in the water with Edward.

Navigator Edward Field, 384th Bomb Group
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

As for awards, the August 26, 1945 edition of the Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported the news of a ceremony presenting Jack’s medals to his family with this accompanying photo:

Prince and Mary Ellen Cook and their children Prince Jr and Princella receive Jack Cook’s medals from Col. John P. Wheeler
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Col. John P. Wheeler, commandant of the Army Redistribution Station, is presenting Princella Cook the Air Medal, awarded posthumously last week to her brother, Sgt. Jack Cook, U.S. Army Air Forces, as her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. Prince Cook, and brother, Prince Cook, Jr., look on. The latter is wearing the Bronze Star medal presented at the same ceremony as a posthumous award to Sergeant Cook.

The young airman, ball turret gunner on a B-17, died of exposure in the icy waters of the North Sea where his plane crashed February 3. He was cited for his courage and heroism in rescuing another member of the crew and in making himself a human propeller to keep rafts holding the remainder of the crew together until a rescue craft arrived. This action won him the Bronze Star award. The Air Medal was for meritorious action in raids over enemy territory from January 29, 1945 to February 3.

But it was the family of pilot Robert Long who likely were the Cook family’s original source of the news of Jack’s bravery on February 3, 1945.

The Hot Springs, Arkansas Sentinel Record reported (date unknown) in an article entitled Sgt. Jack Cook Died of Exposure in North Sea in Effort to Save Other Members of Fortress Crew, that Mr. and Mrs. Prince Cook, parents of Sgt. Cook, were sent a newspaper clipping about the ditching by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Long, parents of Lt. Robert Clay Long, 24, pilot of the Challenger, who lost his life at the same time as Sgt. Cook. It stated:

In their letter to Mr. and Mrs. Cook, the parents of Lt. Long said their son had sent them the address of every member of his crew.  They were not certain that Mr. and Mrs. Cook had learned details of their son’s death, so forwarded them the newspaper clipping. Until its receipt, Mr. and Mrs. Cook had not received any detailed information from the government.

Left to right: Lt. Robert C. Long (Pilot) and Sgt. Howard J. Oglesby (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner)
Photo courtesy of Jon Selle

Another important source of information for Jack’s parents was Jack’s crewmate, Howard J. Oglesby, who had survived the ditching. Howard, like Jack, was originally from Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of the newspaper stories told of letters Howard Oglesby wrote to Jack’s parents. One story shared an excerpt of a letter from Howard to the Cooks:

Your son died a hero’s death. He died in an effort to save the other crew members, and did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.

Another article notes that Howard also wrote in a letter to the Cooks:

No doubt by now you have received notice of your son’s death and of the brave way in which he died. I was with him when it happened and I saw him die. Mr. Cook, Jack was a fine boy and everyone thought well of him, and he thought there was no one like you.

I know it is very hard to take and you may think this is easy for me to say, but it isn’t, for I have experienced the same thing twice. We will have to look at everything for the best, though it is very hard to do.

Mr. Cook, if you only knew about Jack’s death as I do you wouldn’t feel near as bad. He died a hero’s death in a effort to save or trying to save other crew members. He did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a man do.  That boy had great courage and plenty of it.  I will always admire him for his courage and bravery. He did things that no one thought was humanly possible.

Howard J. Oglesby and one of the letters he wrote to Jack Cook’s parents
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack’s mother’s scrapbook contains another letter Howard Oglesby wrote to Prince Cook in which he tells Jack’s father:

Mr. Cook it was rough Feb 3 and only men like Jack Cook can stand it.  Jack and I were big pals…I will never forget him.

Howard also wrote that he would like to pay Prince Cook a visit. Howard stated he had a lot to tell Mr. Cook that he couldn’t write. If Howard did pay Prince Cook a visit, I suppose he told Jack’s father all of the details of their time in the North Sea, the details a father would want to know about the day his son died.

Because of Jack Coleman Cook’s heroism and bravery in the February 3, 1945 ditching of the Challenger, the navigator he saved, Edward Field, has enjoyed a long, wonderful life and will turn ninety-four next month. Edward was able to pursue his dream and have a lifelong award-winning career as a poet.  Edward was recently inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. His Hall of Fame plaque honors the man who gave his life to save Edward, Jack Coleman Cook.

384th Bomb Group Navigator Edward Field was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in May 2018
Photo courtesy of Edward Field

Now I know. I know Jack was honored for his bravery and heroism in 1945 and in 2018. I know Jack’s parents learned of their adopted son’s heroic actions and the details of his death on February 3, 1945. But I also know how a family who claimed Jack Coleman Cook as their own for a mere dozen years suffered his loss for very much longer than the time he was part of their lives. Earlier this week on Memorial Day 2018, I remembered Jack Coleman Cook. Like Howard Oglesby and Edward Field, I will never forget him.

Jack’s niece Delia plans to have the contents of the family scrapbook scanned and when I receive the scanned images, I will upload them to the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery. In the future, be looking for the Jack Coleman Cook collection in the Robert Long crew album courtesy of Delia Cook McBride. Thank you so very much for sharing these family memories with us, Delia.

Links to previous posts and other info about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field

Thank you to 384th Bomb Group researcher and combat data specialist Keith Ellefson for contributing to this article.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

The boy who took my place in the water…

…who died instead of me

~Excerpt from World War II by Edward Field

The boy who took Edward Field’s place in the water and gave Edward his place in the life raft after the ditching of their B-17 The Challenger in the North Sea on February 3, 1945 was Jack Coleman Cook.

Jack Coleman Cook, year unknown
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

Jack Coleman Cook, who had previously been a mystery to me, is now coming into focus. For a very long time I had only known some basic facts about Jack. For instance…

Jack’s WWII enlistment record told me:

  • His name was Jack C. Cook.
  • His Army Air Force serial number was 38601019, which matches the personnel record for the 384th Bomb Group’s Jack Cook.
  • He enlisted in WWII on December 10, 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • He was a resident of Garland County, Arkansas (Hot Springs).
  • He was born in Tennessee in 1925.
  • He had 1 year of high school.
  • His civilian occupation was “skilled mechanics and repairmen, motor vehicles,” which leads me to believe that before enlistment he worked for his father at Prince Cook Motors.
  • He was single when he enlisted.

Jack’s 384th Bomb Group personnel record and accompanying missing air crew report told me:

  • He was assigned to the Robert Clay Long crew of the 546th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) Special Orders #8 dated 9 January 1945.
  • He served with the 384th Bomb Group on three missions as a ball turret gunner.
  • He died on February 3, 1945 in the North Sea on his crew’s return from a mission to Berlin aboard the flying fortress, The Challenger.
  • He saved the life of Edward Field by giving Edward his place in the life raft on the mission to Berlin.
  • The crew’s pilot, Robert Clay Long, and radio operator, Frederick Arnold Maki, lost their lives the same day in the North Sea.

I learned more about Jack Cook through searches on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. The census and marriage records I found told me:

  • His parents were William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook.
  • William Prince Cook, Sr. and Mary Ellen Cagle married on March 23, 1933 at the Union Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, when Jack was around seven years old.
  • In 1935, the Cook family lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • In 1940, the Cook family lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  • He had a younger brother and sister, William Prince, Jr. and Mary Princella.
  • On August 12, 1944, at 18 years old, he married Lucille Hutzell in Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas.
  • His birth month and day was October 18, but his birth year is in question.  It was either 1925 or 1926. The birth year on Jack’s marker in Hot Spring’s Greenwood Cemetery reads 1926, a date which I must assume was provided by his father. But the birth year on his enlistment and marriage records is 1925.
  • If 1925 is correct, Jack would have been 18 years old when he enlisted, but if 1926 is correct, he would have only been 17 at the time of enlistment and 18 at the time of his death.

Jack Coleman Cook’s marker, Greenwood Cemetery, Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas, Plot: Block C

Those are the only bits of information I knew about Jack Coleman Cook until just a few weeks ago.

Last week, I wrote of the recent discovery of some of Jack’s relatives. Jack’s niece, Delia McBride, and great-nephew, Jamie Melton, have given me a glimpse into Jack’s childhood.

William Prince Cook and Mary Ellen Cagle met on a blind date. Prince was a car salesman who was already in his late thirties and nine years older than Mary Ellen. He spent his spare time helping out at a church in Memphis. Through his work at the church, he met a young boy, an orphan. The orphan, Jack, would have been around six or seven years old at the time. After Prince and Mary Ellen married in 1933, they adopted Jack.

Even though Prince and Mary Ellen were not Jack’s birth parents, they became his loving mother and father and he their beloved son. In February 1945, Mary Ellen heard a knock at the door. Before she opened the door, she knew Jack was gone.

The news of Jack’s death confirmed her mother’s intuition and her deepest fear. Mary Ellen and Jack did not share a bloodline or DNA, but a mother’s love for her son transcends all things biological. Family is not made of flesh and bone, but of heart and soul. The Cooks were another family destroyed by a tragedy of war.

Three weeks after Jack’s death, Miss Agnes W. Grabau, Executive Secretary of the Memphis branch of the Church Mission of Help in Tennessee wrote a condolence letter to Prince Cook. The organization’s letterhead described them as performing “case work service to young people.” In the letter, dated February 26, 1945, Miss Grabau wrote, in part:

I was shocked and grieved to read in yesterday’s paper about Jack’s death in action.  As I saw the boy’s picture and read the article it brought back a flood of memories and I called Mr. Armstrong today to find out how to get in touch with you.

I know there is very little that anybody can say to you, but I want to tell you that I realize what a grand job you did with that boy and know that your sorrow must be tempered with pride that he came through in such a splendid way and was able to give this service to his country.  Mrs. Livaudais and I share with you in your sorrow and your pride and we want you to know that we are thinking of you and that it is a real inspiration to us to have known you and to have seen the splendid results of your affection for this boy and your fine sympathetic understanding of him.

The Cook family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1940, seven years after Prince and Mary Ellen adopted Jack. In 1940, they had three children, with the addition of son Prince, Jr. and daughter Princella. Prince Cook, Sr. opened his own Ford car dealership in Hot Springs.

Jack Coleman Cook with younger sister Princella and younger brother Prince, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Delia Cook McBride

It is unclear if the Church Mission of Help was involved in Jack’s life before his adoption or as he grew up, but it is clear that the people of the Church Mission of Help fondly remembered Jack and Prince Cook for many years afterwards.

The Church Mission of Help’s website today (if this indeed is the same organization) defines them as “A counseling agency founded in 1922, CMH Counseling is a private, not-for-profit organization providing counseling services to individuals, couples and families.”

When the news media told America the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field, several old newspaper articles about Jack also surfaced.

KARK 4 News of Little Rock reported that a February 1945 newspaper article reporting Jack’s death stated:

Sergeant Cook was well known here. He came to Hot Springs from Memphis with his parents about five years ago. He attended Gulfport Military Academy and Subiaco Academy. He was a member of the First Baptist Church and his parents are leaders in civic and church work. He had been overseas since December.

The Sunday, May 27, 1945 Arkansas Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas reported:

The Air Medal and the Bronze Star Medal have been awarded posthumously to Sgt. Jack Cook, aged 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Prince W. Cook, according to information received by Senator J.W. Fulbright from Brig. Gen. Miles Reber, acting chief of the Legislative Liaison Division.

Sergeant Cook, ball turret gunner on a B-17, was shot down in action over Germany. When their Fortress crash-landed in the North Sea, one of the life rafts got away. Sergeant Cook “acted as a human propeller,” the citation said, and refused to get on the other rubber float, fearing it would sink. Later he died from exposure.

Fellow 384th Bomb Group researcher Keith Ellefson notes that Jack would have also been eligible and his name submitted for award of the Purple Heart at the time that the other recommendations were submitted, even though the article doesn’t mention that medal. Jack’s relatives, Delia and Jamie, confirm that Jack was awarded the Purple Heart. Delia was in possession of her Uncle Jack’s medals until they were stolen from her home in 1995.

KARK 4 also reported that a July 1948 Arkansas Democrat article was published when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial. It stated:

When war was declared, Cook, not yet 18, volunteered. He went overseas just before Christmas 1944, and was assigned to a flying fortress, The Challenger.

Since connecting with Jack Coleman Cook’s niece, Delia Cook McBride, Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman’s office is working to replace Jack’s medals and to add Jack’s name to the Veterans Memorial of Garland County in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Just days before Delia discovered that her Uncle Jack had been honored on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Westerman, Delia had visited the Veterans Memorial and thought she should add her Uncle Jack’s name. Now Delia will receive replacements for Jack’s stolen medals and will see him honored at the memorial in his home town of Hot Springs thanks to Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman.

Jack’s niece Delia shared several newspaper articles with me, but I ran out of time to include them in this post. Check back next week for more about Jack Coleman Cook…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018