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The Little Girl in the Photo

For the longest time I wondered why my dad, George Edwin Farrar, had this photo of two airmen and three children is his small collections of photographs from WWII. There were no names or any other identifying marks on the back.

544th Bomb Squad area with Air Raid Shelter in the background. The children in the picture are the Denney children, left to right: Bert, Roy, and June.

I assumed the photo was taken on the airbase where he served in WWII, the home of the 384th Bomb Group in Grafton Underwood, England. I wondered who the airmen were, why there were children on the base, and what was in the background.

After many years of puzzling over the photo, I posted a copy of it on the 384th Bomb Group’s Facebook page. I learned that an air raid shelter was in the background of the photo. The airmen still remain to be identified, but to my surprise, a member of the Facebook group, area resident Richard Denney recognized the children.

The boy standing on the left is Richard’s father, Bert Denney. The other two children are Bert’s siblings, brother Roy and sister June. Roy had passed away, but Bert and June still lived nearby. Richard showed the photo to his dad. Bert remembered being on the base that day, but didn’t realize the photo was taken.

During WWII, the Denney family lived in the Keeper’s Lodge, which was on the base, although separated by a gate, very near the 544th Bomb Squadron living area where my dad and the rest of his crew, the John Oliver “Jay” Buslee crew was quartered.

Grafton Underwood Airfield with 544th Squadron Living Area circled – note the proximity to the Keeper’s Lodge/Denney family home

Now I knew what the structure was in the background of the photo and I knew the identities of the children. But I still didn’t know why my dad had the photo in his collection. I didn’t believe my father would have owned a camera at the time. A portion of his military service pay was being sent to his mother to help support the family as his dad was bedridden due to illness and couldn’t work. A camera would have been a luxury my dad wouldn’t have owned. So the photo was still somewhat of a puzzle.

The 384th Bomb Group Historical Association decided it was time for another junket to England and a visit to the 384th’s airbase at Grafton Underwood. As soon as the plans were completed, I signed up to go. I would have a chance to see the airbase where my dad served and maybe I could learn a little bit more about the mysterious photo.

In the time since I posted the photo to Facebook, sadly Richard’s dad Bert Denney also passed away. But the little girl in the photo, June, still lived nearby and would be in Grafton Underwood on the day of our group’s visit.

Meeting Richard Denney and his Aunt June was one of the highlights not only of the day in Grafton Underwood, but of my entire trip to the UK. It felt surreal to meet the woman who was the little girl in the mystery photograph.

Richard Denney, Cindy Bryan, and June Denney Moatt

But I still didn’t know why my dad had the photo. While visiting with Richard and June, I pulled out some photos I had brought with me of my dad and his crew. I showed June a photo of my dad and some of his enlisted crew mates and she didn’t recognize Dad or his crew mates. (Dad’s the one on the left in the photo below).

Left to right: George Edwin Farrar, Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin V. Foster, and Sebastiano Joseph Peluso.

Then I showed June the Buslee crew photo.

The Buslee Crew

She pointed to John Oliver “Jay” Buslee and thought she recognized him. (He’s standing on the far left in the photo). I told her his name was John Buslee and the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I told her he went by the name “Jay,” she said, “Yes, the pilot Jay. He used to come to our house for tea or a nip of wine.”

Their house. The Keeper’s Lodge. The Denney home of more than fifty years which was so close to the 544th Bomb Squadron living area. It was becoming clear. Jay Buslee took the photo of the Denney children because he knew them from visiting their home.

Bert Denney at the Keeper’s Lodge in Grafton Park Woods, home of the Denney family for nearly 50 years. Photo courtesy of Richard Denney.

June and I spent as much time as possible together on my visit to Grafton Underwood, but of course time was too short that day with a tour of the airbase planned and other people to meet. But she did share a few wartime memories with me. The window on the second floor at the end of the house (on the right in the above photo) was her bedroom window. And she remembers the day a 384th Bomb Group airman from a B-17 crashed through the then thatched roof of the shed (on the left in the photo) and survived with only a broken leg.

Now the mystery of the photo was clearing even more. I believe the 1944 photo was taken by pilot John (Jay) Buslee and given to my father, George Edwin Farrar, who was the waist gunner on Buslee’s crew, by Jay’s father. Jay was killed in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision in which my father, the only survivor, became a POW. My father lived with Jay’s family for almost 4 years after the war. Jay’s father must have wanted my dad to have some of the photos Jay had taken at Grafton Underwood and this was one of them.

I didn’t have this photo of Jay Buslee with me in England, but I’m sending June a copy so she can have a photo of the man who was a friend to her family.

John Oliver “Jay” Buslee. Photo courtesy of John Dale Kielhofer, nephew of Jay Buslee

In undoubtedly one of the highlights of my year, I was delighted to meet the little girl in the photo and learn its story while I was in the same village it was taken, where my dad was stationed seventy-five years before.

In fact, our meeting occurred on September 21, 2019, just one week short of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the day Jay Buslee lost his life in the mid-air collision, the day he left Grafton Underwood at the controls of a B-17, never to return. Though he’s been gone seventy-five years, that little girl from 1944, June Denney, still fondly remembers him.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The 75th Anniversary of Dad’s Last Week at Grafton Underwood

George Edwin Farrar

The last seven days my dad, George Edwin Farrar, spent at the 384th Bomb Group’s Grafton Underwood air base were pretty busy, although the previous week, he only flew one mission (number 196), targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Hamm Germany.

He spent the weekend of September 23 and 24, 1944 enjoying the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th Mission Celebration.

Saturday, September 23 events included an award banquet in the Officers’ Mess with guest speaker Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, dancing in Hangar #1 for the enlisted men with music by George Elrick & his BBC Orchestra and other entertainers, dancing in the Officers’ Club for the officers with music by the Flying Yanks Orchestra, and dancing in the Zebra Club for Zebra Club members with music by the Stratton-Audley G.I. Band.

Transportation to the party was provided from several locations (Northampon, Kettering, Woodford, Corby, Brigstock, Lilford, Newport Pagnell, Finedon, and Geddington) for civilian guests.

Sunday, September 24 was a day of “novelty events,” including a sack race, a three-legged race, a relay race, a piggy-back race, a wheelbarrow race, and a slow bike race. Also on the schedule were a bicycle derby, a baseball game – Station 106 vs. 8th AF All Stars, Scotch bagpipe band & Highland dancers, and a U-S-O stage show at the Station Theater featuring an all-American cast including MC & comedian Artie Conray, comedy act Drohan & Dupree, and accordionist Ferne Downes.

The 200th Mission Celebration weekend was in advance of the actual 200th mission date, and in fact, occurred between Mission 197 to the railroad marshalling yards in Mainz, Germany on September 21 and Mission 198 to the railroad marshalling yards in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on September 25. Daddy flew Mission 198, but then missed Mission 199 on September 26 to a steelworks factory in Osnabrück, Germany.

Mission 200 finally arrived on September 27, targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Köln (Cologne), Germany. Dad flew that one and that was the last mission on which he returned to Grafton Underwood.

The next day, on September 28, 1944, Mission 201, targeting a steelworks factory in Magdeburg, Germany, would be his last, cut short by a mid-air collision between his and another of the groups B-17’s. His next stop, after interrogation and a hospital stay, would be the Stalag Luft IV POW camp in Gross-Tychow (now Tychowo), Poland, and then the long walk home, a five-hundred mile, eighty-six day march across Germany to liberation.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

544th Bomb Squadron Living Area at Grafton Underwood

The map of the living area of the 384th Bomb Group’s 544th Bomb Squadron shows the air raid shelter, living quarters, latrines and ablutions (showers). I have highlighted the air raid shelters, latrines, and shower buildings (or at least which ones I think they are) to try to identify the locations of the following photos.

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 356-358 Officers’ Quarters
  • 359-360 Officers’ Latrines
  • 361 Picket Post
  • 362 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 363-367 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 368-370 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 371-375 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 376-377 Airmen’s Latrines
  • 378-380 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 381-383 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablutions
  • 384 M & E Plinth

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, saved several photos that I believe must have been taken in this area. A few show an air raid shelter with what looks like barracks to the left a tent to the right.

This photo shows the air raid shelter in the background with a tent to the right. The children in the photo are the local Grafton Underwood children of the Denney family, Bert, Roy, and June.

544th Bomb Squad area with Air Raid Shelter in the background. The children in the picture are the Denney children, left to right: Bert, Roy, and June.

This photo was taken from a different angle and shows barracks to the left and shows a walkway leading to a tent to the right. That’s Bert Denney climbing the air raid shelter in the background.

L to R: (I believe) David Albrecht and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

In the next photo, Lenard Bryant and Carl Guinn stand in the same area with Bert and June Denney standing at the top of the air raid shelter in the background.

L to R: Lenard Bryant and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

A couple of other photos, which I believe were also taken in the 544th Bomb Squad living area have different backgrounds. In this first one, my dad and three other members of the John Buslee crew look to be standing in front of a latrine or shower (ablutions) building with tents in the left of the background. This also leads me to believe Dad’s enlisted crew was housed in a tent rather than a Nissen hut.

Left to right: George Edwin Farrar, Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin V. Foster, and Sebastiano Joseph Peluso. In the background (left) are tents, and (right) a latrine.

This photo looks to have the same tents in the background.

L to R: Carl Guinn and (I believe) John Bregant
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

The buildings in the first photos are not Nissen huts, so I could be wrong about where on the base the photos were taken. I’d like to be able to find the location of these photos on the base. I’ll have that opportunity later this month when I visit the UK and hope to have some current day views of these locations to post when I return.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Next Generation Meets

On Sunday, June 2, 2019, the children of the waist gunners of both ships involved in the 384th Bomb Group’s mid-air collision of September 28, 1944 over Magdeburg, Germany met for the first time.

L to R: George Edwin Farrar, Cindy Farrar Bryan, Harry Allen Liniger, Jr., and Harry Allen Liniger, Sr.

That’s me, Cindy Farrar Bryan, daughter of George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, on the left and Harry Liniger, Jr., son of Harry Allen Liniger, Sr. of the Brodie crew, on the right. Harry is pointing to his dad’s name on a plaque in the garden of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA. The plaque is dedicated to the James Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group.

On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, the Buslee crew’s 43-37822 and the Brodie crew’s 42-31222 (also known as “Lazy Daisy.”)

The only survivors of the Brodie crew were navigator George Hawkins, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and waist gunner Harry Liniger.

The front section of the nose of the Brodie crew’s “Lazy Daisy” was carried away, and with it, the togglier. Hawkins managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun. Waist gunner Harry Liniger was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. The explosion also severed the tail of the ship and tail gunner Wilfred Miller rode the tail assembly down and later chuted from the tail section.

The only survivor of the Buslee crew was waist gunner George Edwin Farrar, my dad.  He believed that the other ship must have hit right in the center of their ship, as they were knocked half in-to.  At the time they were struck, Dad was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet, before he knew he was even out of the ship.

Both Liniger and Farrar (and also Miller) were confined as POWs in Stalag Luft IV and survived the 500-mile, 86-day Black March across Germany to their liberation in May 1945. Hawkins was so severely injured in the collision that he was confined to the hospital during the whole of his time as a prisoner of war.

Now that Harry and I have finally met, we’d like one day to meet the children of George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, the only other survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision over Magdeburg. To those children, if you feel the same, please contact me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

A B-17 Navigator Oversleeps

In the overnight hours between Thursday, July 20 and Friday, July 21, 1944, the 384 Bomb Group prepared for Mission #163 to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Airfield at Schwäbisch Hall, Germany.

Air personnel were awakened to begin their preparation process – breakfast, briefing, picking up flight gear and equipment, and assembly at their designated aircraft – as usual for each mission.

But one navigator fell back asleep after being awakened. William Alvin Henson II was awakened at 0150 – that’s 1:50 in the morning. After the orderly who awakened him told him that breakfast was at 0230, Bill Henson fell back asleep.

No one missed Henson or reported him missing until the pilot of his aircraft did so at engine time. Pilot, Lt. Alfred H. Cole, who had recently been promoted from co-pilot to pilot of his own crew, called the tower. Cole’s usual navigator, Harry Simons, wasn’t assigned to Cole’s crew that mission and Bill Henson was to replace him.

The tower advised Cole to taxi on time and he did so until he was nearly in takeoff position. Cole called again and was advised to wait in the dispersal area.

Someone found Henson still asleep in bed and awakened him at 0620. Henson must have had to skip breakfast and hustle to operations to get his briefing materials, control points and maps, but didn’t receive a flight plan. He headed to the Tremblin’ Gremlin with the rest of the Cole crew aboard and waiting for him to take off. Henson arrived at 0645 and they took off at 0655.

Henson had to put his navigation skills to work to search for the formation, but without success. The formation crossed the English coast at Felixstowe at 0821, altitude 15,000 feet, without them. By 0835, Cole realized they were not going to locate the formation and decided to turn back. They landed back at Grafton Underwood at 0954.

544th Bomb Squadron Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Alfred Charles “Coach” Nuttall determined the abortion was justified on the part of the pilot, but stated that the…

Navigator is held responsible and will be required to fly an extra sortie to complete his tour. The Squadron duty operations clerk is also held partly responsible since he did not double check barracks. He will do night duty for one week. It is also felt that the Group Duty Navigator should have discovered that this navigator was not present at briefing. In calling roll at Navigators briefing, he should have discovered that this navigator was absent.

544th BS Operations Officer Major George H. “Snapper” Koehne, Jr. agreed with the abortion justification ruling.

What did the punishment of flying one extra sortie (mission) for the simple act of falling back asleep mean for navigator Bill Henson? Well, if Henson had begun his tour earlier in the war, he would have completed his tour of duty of 25 missions on September 27, 1944 with the 384th’s Mission 200, and been sent home. As it turns out, on his 26th mission, Henson was aboard 43-37822 with my dad’s crew and was killed in the mid-air collision over Magdeburg.

As horrific as the thought of dying because you fell back asleep is, that wasn’t the case for Henson. By the time Bill Henson was assigned to the 384th, the number of missions to complete a tour had been increased to 30, and he still had several more to go before he could return home. He did get awfully close, though.

Navigator William A. Henson’s Statement in Full

I was awakened at 0150. The orderly told me that breakfast was 0230 so I went back to sleep and was awakened a second time at 0620. Came to operations and obtained control points and necessary maps but no flight plan. Went to ship and took-off as explained by pilot. Gave heading of 130° in order to meet formation at Splasher # 7. Couldn’t get Splasher # 7 on radio compass. Circled in what I thought was apparent area of Splasher # 7. Saw balloon barrages at approximately 0800 and realized we were sout[h] of London. Gave heading to Felixstowe and arrived there approximately 0830 and realized formation had left. Plane was equipped with gee box but on my first gee fix plotted west of Northampton, so I thought it was inoperative. Later fixes proved to be correct. Request all responsibility of abortion.

Pilot Alfred H. Cole’s Statement in Full

At engine time the navigator had not yet arrived. I called the tower and was advised to taxi on time – I taxied until nearly in take-off position at which time I called Cherub again and was told to wait in Dispersal #46.

The navigator arrived at 0645 and we took off at 0655. At 0835 we had not yet located the formation and it became apparent that were not going to find it. I decided to turn back.

Other Sources

William A. Henson’s personnel data from the 384th Bomb Group website

384th Bomb Group Website mission data

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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

Lingering Shadows of an Aluminum Overcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

One Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Back to My Dad’s Story

George Edwin Farrar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018