Category Archives: Brodie Crew
Last week, in a post about 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger, I included a drawing of Harry titled “Sparks Liniger” that was drawn by J. G. Forster. I believe Forster was John Graham Forster, a fellow radio student of Harry’s at radio school at Scott Field, Illinois.
I believe “Sparks” was derived at radio school as a nickname for Liniger from the obsolete (today) type of radio equipment called a “spark-gap” transmitter which generated radio waves by means of an electric spark.
Liniger’s fellow radio student, John Graham Forster, did not serve in combat in the same bombardment group as Harry. While in training in the states, servicemen (and servicewomen) were transferred to various stations around the country for different phases of their training and most likely lost track of others they trained with over time.
Regardless of whether they stayed in touch or lost track of each other, Liniger thought enough of the drawing to save it and his son still has it almost eighty years after it was drawn.
It is easier to learn more about men who served in combat together if those historical records have been gathered and presented for future generations by a historical association. But finding someone who served with a relative in a training setting can be quite difficult. Generally, those types of records or lists don’t exist.
So since I have been able to identify the artist who drew Liniger as “Sparks,” I’m going to take the opportunity to look into where Forster came from and a little of his WWII history as it serves to illustrate the differences in the backgrounds of those who were brought together to fight a world war and the enormous movement of those personnel as part of the American war machine to various points across the globe.
I usually research and write about those who served in the Eighth Air Force in WWII, and mostly about the specific B-17 heavy bombardment group in which my father served, the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy). But there were many other divisions of the United States Air Forces serving in different parts of the world during WWII, and this is a good opportunity to introduce the subject, which I will write more about at a later date.
John Forster was a third generation American. He was named after his grandfather, John Graham Forster of St. Louis Parish, Kent County, New Brunswick, Canada. Grandfather John immigrated to America at eighteen years old, settled in Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and married and raised a family there. Grandson John was born there in 1922.
In the 1940 Waltham High School Yearbook, John’s Senior year, he noted his first ambition was to,
Go round the world and see our 48 states
He liked nice girls and baseball, planned to enter an art career, and was Art Manager of the Senior Play.
In 1942, John enlisted in the United States Air Corps. After his training, including his and Harry’s time at radio school, John was assigned to the 764th Bomb Squadron of the 461st Bomb Group.
But the 461st was stationed nowhere near Harry’s 8th Air Force base with the 384th in Grafton Underwood, England. In fact, the 461st was not even part of the 8th Air Force, but was instead part of the 49th Bombardment Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force. The 461st flew B-24 Liberators and the group was known as the “Liberaiders.”
The Fifteenth Air Force operated in the WWII Mediterranean Theater of Operations and mainly operated out of bases in southern Italy. The 461st was based at Torretto Field, about 12 km (about 7 1/2 miles) south of the town of Cerignola, Italy.
John Forster was assigned to the Carl J. Schultz crew as radio operator/gunner. The Schultz (#3-1) crew consisted of:
- Carl J. Schultz, Pilot
- William R. Baird, Co-Pilot
- James R. Merkel, Navigator
- Joshua Loring, Jr., Bombardier
- John G. Forster, Radio Operator/Gunner
- John W. Rice, Engineer/Gunner
- William F. Sanders, Gunner
- Glenn A. Sligar, Engineer/Gunner
- Don R. Trail, Gunner
- William R. Vaitkunas, Gunner
On 23 March 1945, John Forster participated in the 461st’s Mission 200 to bomb a high priority target, the Kagran Oil Refinery in Vienna, Austria. Thirteen of the 461st’s thirty aircraft were hit by flak over the target and the lead bombardier, Lt. Rosulek, was wounded just before bombs away.
On this mission, William Baird was pilot of the unnamed B-24J 44-41091 with Dwight B. Olson serving as his co-pilot. Other original crew members included John Rice, Glenn Sligar, William Sanders, William Vaitkunas, and of course, John Forster. Substitutes, besides Olson, included Edward T. Wenslik as Bombardier, Richard C. Davis as Navigator, and Marlin R. Smith as Gunner.
At about the time of bombs away, the Number 2 engine of 44-41091 was hit by flak and knocked completely off the ship. They dropped back in the formation with a fire in the wing. Following an unsuccessful attempt to put out the fire, they lost altitude and dropped about 5,000 feet. Five chutes were seen to emerge before the plane went into a dive and exploded.
Davis, the Navigator of the crew, reported that he was reunited in the next few days with all of the crew except for Lt. Baird, the pilot. A German guard reported that Baird was found dead with an unopened chute some distance from the wreckage of the aircraft.
One of the crew wrote in his Individual Casualty Questionaire that,
Lt. Baird … went beyond the “call of duty” that day in fighting the ship to keep it from going into a spin, and then momentarily leveling it out with the trim tabs giving us all, the nine of us, time to jump.
With the exception of Baird, the entire crew was held prisoner of war at Moosburg, Stalag VIIA. All were liberated from Moosburg on 29 April 1945 and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike in La Harve, France to begin their journey back to America.
Forster did become an artist after the war. In the 1952 Waltham Massachusetts City Directory, he listed his occupation as artist. He married a nice girl and had seven children.
John Graham Forster died on 24 June 1982 at the age of 59 in Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, Middlesex County, Massachusetts in Section 23-N, Lot 48-A.
I don’t know if he ever saw all of our “48 states” (or additionally Alaska and Hawaii), but he did see quite a bit of the world, including Italy, France, Austria, and Germany, and saw things he couldn’t imagine during high school from the radio room of a B-24.
Thank you to Chuck Parsonon, Admin of the 461st Bombardment Group’s Facebook group for providing me with information for this post.
Thank you to the folks running the 461st Bombardment Group website for the excellent information on the group and its service members you provide.
Last week’s post, Harry Liniger’s Letters and Guardian Angel
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
Harry Allen Liniger was a waist gunner with the 384th Bomb Group in WWII and was on the B-17 42-31222 Lazy Daisy on September 28, 1944 when it, carrying Harry and the James Brodie crew, suffered a mid-air collision over Magdeburg, Germany with my father’s unnamed B-17 43-37822. Both Harry and my dad, along with two other crew members on the Lazy Daisy, survived. The other fourteen airmen aboard the two fortresses were killed.
Recently, I have been looking into the pre-combat/training phase of the men who transferred into combat at the same time as my dad, George Edwin Farrar. I have traced their path to the European Theatre of Operations (the ETO) through my dad’s letters home and through fellow 384th Bomb Group service member Frank Furiga’s diary. And recently Harry Liniger’s son, Harry Liniger, Jr., shared a few letters with me that his father wrote to his future bride during his pre-combat military training in the United States.
The postmarks of some of those letters put Harry Liniger in Ardmore, Oklahoma for combat crew training at the same time as my dad and Frank Furiga were there, and in Kearney, Nebraska picking up a brand new B-17 to ferry across to the ETO, also at the same time as Dad and Frank.
But Harry’s letters start earlier than combat crew training, at the time he was in Radio School at Scott Field, Illinois, and during Gunnery School in Harlingen, Texas. I’m sharing, with Harry’s son’s permission, excerpts from those letters to illustrate the intensity of military training before the airmen of WWII were ready to go into combat, and to show the emotional toll inflicted from being away from home and family and other loved ones while these young men were preparing for a war from which they were unsure of their return.
On 29 August 1943, future 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Liniger was a PFC in Radio School at Scott Field, Illinois. I know this because a letter he wrote to his future wife, Miss Carrie Belle Carter of Hilton Village, Virginia, was mailed on this day from Belleville, Illinois with his return address of Barracks 797 of the Army Air Forces 30th Technical School Squadron at Scott Field.
Scott Field is now known as Scott Air Force Base and is about seventeen miles east-southeast of St. Louis, Missouri. During WWII, training skilled radio operators and maintainers was the primary wartime mission of Scott Field.
In his letter, Harry described the area around the base as “Nothing but Cocktail Lounges and Bars. Ever other building.” But, he said, “I never frequent those disreputable haunts. I try to be a model soldier which at times seems to be rather foolish, but just the same, I keep my head high and go on.”
Like most of the boys in the service, Harry was homesick for familiar places and faces and said, “I like this place swell. The only thing I dislike about it is it’s so damn far from home and I won’t get a chance to get there.”
Radio school was pretty tough and required a lot of work from serious students and not much time for anything else. Fellow 384th Bomb Group airman Lenard Bryant, a waist gunner (and later top turret gunner) and crewmate of my dad, also had a tough time at radio school and wrote home once that “I don’t think me and radio is getting along too well together.” He later wrote, “I washed out today. I will go to gunnery school when I ship out of here…”
On 18 September 1943, Harry wrote to Carrie again from radio school at the same station.
In the letter, Harry related that he had been on a B-24 mission over the Gulf. I assume Harry meant that he was doing some airborne training over the Gulf of Mexico as by late 1943, students of the Radio School at Scott Field were in the air practicing code transmission under actual flight conditions.
On 25 September 1943, Harry wrote to Carrie, again from Radio School at Scott Field.
In this letter he didn’t talk much about his training. He was more concerned about trying to keep his relationship with Carrie going through the mail as I’m sure was the concern of many servicemen far from home in wartime.
On 5 February 1944, Harry wrote to Carrie, this time from the Student Reception Pool at H.A.A.F. (Harlingen Army Air Field), Harlingen, Texas. Harry was at Army Gunnery School. I suppose, like Lenard Bryant, Harry and Radio School hadn’t gotten along too well together.
Believe me, my life has changed, I am working harder than I ever thought I would. Right now I am taking advanced Gunnery. I will go to P.O.E. from here. I am getting a ten day furlough before I go over. I will be home in about 2 months. I am looking forward to seeing you. There are some things I would like to tell you someday.
Combat Crew Training
On 16 May 1944, Harry wrote to Carrie from Combat Crew Detachment at Ardmore Army Air Field in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
While I haven’t included many of the more personal aspects of Harry’s letters to Carrie up to this point, it is clear to me that his love for her had been growing over his period of stateside training, while he was preparing to go to war. Although he was able to enjoy a few in-person visits during furloughs, Harry and Carrie were able to continue their relationship mainly through their letters to each other.
In this letter, now that his transfer into combat was fast approaching, Harry shared with Carrie the rigors of the training involved, the reality of entering combat, and thoughts of his own mortality.
Your sweet and most welcome letters have been coming daily; or almost daily. I sure do appreciate you writing so often. It seems to give me a “lift.” I try to answer as many of them as I possibly can. I hope you will try to understand when my letters are few and far between. I fly all day and go to school all night and I am so damn tired when I get back to the barracks I can’t seem to do anything but flop on my “sack” (bed).
In regards to my meeting you someplace I don’t think it will be possible for me to get any days off. I can get out almost every night if I pass all my subjects. And I think if seeing you were my reward I could pass anything. If you could only come out here. But that would be asking too much. I love you even though I may never see you again.
I will have to close for now darling. “I love you.”
A week later, on 22 May, 1944, again writing from Ardmore, Harry expressed his deep appreciation for all of the letters Carrie had written him, telling her,
You will never know how important mail is to a guy who is away from home, and being in the army makes him appreciate it even more. But the main thing is when you hear from someone you care for as much as I care for you. I really love you. I love you more than anyone or anything else in the world.
On the way to the ETO
On 28 June 1944, Harry wrote to Carrie from Kearney Army Air Field in Kearney, Nebraska.
The date of Harry’s letter coincides with a letter written by my dad to his mother, and a diary entry of fellow 384th service member Frank Furiga, putting them all in Kearney at the same time, picking up the B-17’s they would ferry to the European Theater of Operations.
According to Frank Furiga’s diary entries, they left Kearney the next day, on 29 June 1944. (Use the link below in the Sources section to follow the trail to the ETO of Liniger, Farrar, Furiga, and the rest of the servicemen in their crossing group).
On this date, Harry wrote,
My last letter in the States. I don’t know where the next one will be from but I will write to you as soon as I reach my destination. Your letters will be cherished more now than they ever were, and they were always more important than anything else.
I sure would like to open one and find you there. I am afraid my love for you is growing day by day now that I know I am not going to be able to see you.
I don’t have a date for the last of Harry’s letters that his son shared with me, but in it he gave Carrie an A.P.O. address care of the Postmaster in New York City. He may still have been in combat crew training in the States or he may have been overseas at this point.
In addition to Harry professing his deep love for Carrie with,
I love you more and more each day.
I don’t think I could possibly love you more than I already do.
Harry wrote about a landing accident, but also spoke as though he had not reached combat duty yet.
Nothing new except we had a plane make a belly landing the other day. No one was hurt. One of the guys had a nervous breakdown after the crash.
You would be surprised at the number of guys in a crew like this who go to pieces before they reach combat.
Training missions had their risks, but they were nothing like what the airmen would face in combat. Those men who could summon the courage to fly combat missions against their enemies faced brutal cold and lack of oxygen in the high altitude flying of unpressurized bombers, necessitating heated flying suits and an oxygen system to survive. Over enemy territory, they faced German fighters and flak from the ground guns.
Harry endured all of these challenges and horrors, a true assault on the senses, mission after mission, climbing right back in the B-17 day after day sixteen times. He didn’t break down. He didn’t go to pieces.
During the time Harry Liniger served his combat duty in the Army Air Forces, a combat tour with the 8th Air Force consisted of thirty-five missions. He had made it almost halfway through earning his ticket home, until the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944 ended Harry’s duty as an airman in combat.
Prisoner of War
What Harry had seen up to this point serving as a waist gunner on a B-17, with flak bursting around him, attacks from German fighters, watching nearby fortresses exploding and plummeting to the ground, counting parachutes coming out of those planes as they went down, was only the beginning of the horrors of war for Harry.
Nothing could prepare one captured by the Nazis physically or mentally for what came next. Harry needed to survive over four months starving in a prison camp and another eighty-six days with little food and water on a march of over five hundred miles across Germany before he would gain his liberation and freedom.
Home and Marriage
Harry’s son also shared with me a photo of his dad’s Guardian Angel, who apparently did a fine job protecting Harry while he served his country – in his training in the States, in his overseas combat, and during his POW experience. Harry Liniger was one of the lucky ones to return home.
Harry survived it all and returned home during the summer of 1945 to marry the girl he exchanged letters with, the girl he fell in love with and who fell in love with him during such a dark time in our American history. Harry arrived back in the States on 9 June 1945 and he and Carrie Belle Carter married a little over a month later on 26 July.
Thank you, Harry Liniger, Jr., for sharing photos, letters, and stories of your dad from WWII.
Wikipedia: Scott Air Force Base
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
I previously wrote about the special orders, Special Orders 86, for the John Oliver Buslee crew (Crew #4679) of the 384th Bomb Group (of which my dad was waist gunner). The orders, dated 23 JUNE 1944, released the airmen from their combat crew training assignment and duty at the 222nd Combat Crew Training School (H) at the Ardmore Army Air Field and transferred them to AAB, Kearney, Nebraska, the next leg of their journey to their permanent duty station in England.
The James Joseph Brodie crew (Crew #4659) was assigned on the same special orders, on page 4 of the same document.
I had a chance recently to review those orders and pull some more information from them, specifically (at time of the orders),
- Assigned occupation in the B-17 and MOS (Military Operational Specialty)/Job Assignment number
- Whether Married or Single (Married status was indicated by the * preceding their rank in the list)
The MOS (Military Operation Specialties)/Job Assignments, of which there were many in the United States Military, of the Buslee and Brodie crews at the time of these Special Orders were limited to these:
- 1022 Pilot – Twin Engine (A-20, B-25, B-26, etc)
- 1024 Pilot – Four Engine (Usually Transport Pilots)
- 1034 Bombardier
- 1035 Navigator
- 748 Aerial Engineer Gunner, specifically Top Turret Gunner/Flight Engineer. Earlier, 748 was Airplane Mechanic Gunner, but the MOS changed when TM 12-427 (see Sources below) was updated/revised.
- 757 Radio Operator/Mechanic/Gunner, the radio operator who could man a weapon and perform some basic repairs in flight as well as basic maintenance tasks.
- 611 Aerial Gunner (Waist, Ball & Tail), a general classification for aerial gunner. That indicates the service member did not have additional formal school training on a specialty like RO (radio operator) or flight engineer. Typically WG (waist gunners) and BT (ball turret gunners) are listed as assistant armorers, flight engineers or radio operators. They are the fill-in guy to attempt to fulfill one of those jobs if needed.
- 612 Armorer Gunner (Togglier), an Airplane Armorer Gunner. He performs basic maintenance and repairs on various weapons-related equipment. A togglier could be a guy – someone who isn’t busy with constant duties, performing a specific role on the bomb run (to toggle the switch to release the bombs at the same time as the lead bombardier), and someone who can get back to another position quickly.
Specific details in the above list were provided by 384th Bomb Group Historian John Edwards.
* * * * *
From the crew lists on Special Orders 86, I can produce a “Who’s Who” for the Buslee and Brodie crews at the time of those orders.
P – Pilot, classified as MOS 1024 Pilot – Four Engine (Usually Transport Pilots), but later, according to 384th Bomb Group records, re-classified as MOS 1091, Pilot, B-17
- 2nd Lt. John O. Buslee, SN O-764209, marital status Single
- 2nd Lt. James J. Brodie, SN O-1012186, marital status Married
CP – Co-pilot, classified as MOS 1022 Pilot – Twin Engine (A-20, B-25, B-26, etc), but later, according to 384th Bomb Group records, re-classified as MOS 1091, Pilot, B-17
- [Buslee crew] 2nd Lt. David F. Albrecht, SN O-767423, marital status Married
- [Brodie crew] 2nd Lt. Lloyd O. Vevle, SN O-768760, marital status Single
N – Navigator, classified as MOS 1035 Navigator
- [Buslee crew] 2nd Lt. Chester A. Rybarczyk, SN O-0720014, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] 2nd Lt. George M. Hawkins, Jr., SN O-719944, marital status Single
B – Bombardier, classified as MOS 1034 Bombardier
- [Buslee crew] 1st Lt. Marvin [NMI] Fryden, SN O-731492, marital status Married
- [Brodie crew] 2nd Lt. William D. Barnes, Jr., SN O-768921, marital status Single
Marvin Fryden was a stateside instructor in the Army Air Forces before joining a combat crew, likely explaining why his rank was greater than the other officers of the two crews at the time of these orders.
AEG – Army Airplane Mechanic/Gunner, Flight Engineer (Top Turret Gunner/Flight Engineer), classified as MOS 748 Aerial Engineer Gunner
- [Buslee crew] Sgt. Clarence B. Seeley, SN 39270874, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] S/Sgt. Robert D. Crumpton, SN 19056991, marital status Single
ROG – Radio Operator/Mechanic/Gunner, AAF, classified as MOS 757 Radio Operator/Mechanic/Gunner
- [Buslee crew] Sgt. Sebastiano J. Peluso, SN 12182596, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] Sgt. William E. Taylor, SN 16115332, marital status Single
AAEG – Assistant Aerial Engineer Gunner (Assistant Flight Engineer/Gunner), classified as MOS 611 Aerial Gunner (Waist, Ball & Tail)
- [Buslee crew] Cpl. Lenard L. Bryant, SN 38344446, one of the crew’s two waist gunners, marital status Married (although not indicated on SO 86)
- [Brodie crew] Cpl. Leonard W. Opie, SN 36431961, one of the crew’s two waist gunners, marital status Single
Lenard Bryant later became the Buslee crew’s top turret gunner after Clarence Seeley was seriously injured.
GUN – Airplane Armorer/Gunner (classified as a 612 MOS) or Aerial Gunner (classified as a 611 MOS)
- [Buslee crew] S/Sgt. Eugene D. Lucynski, SN 36507488, the crew’s tail gunner, classified as MOS 612 Airplane Armorer/Gunner, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] Cpl. Gordon E. Hetu, SN 16189148, the crew’s ball turret gunner, classified as MOS 611 Aerial Gunner, marital status Single
AG – Aerial Gunner (Waist, Ball & Tail), classified as a basic 611 MOS
- [Buslee crew] Cpl. Erwin V. Foster, SN 32588280, the crew’s ball turret gunner, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] Cpl. Harry A. Liniger, SN 34670187, one of the crew’s two waist gunners, marital status Single
AAG – Airplane Armorer/Gunner (classified as a 612 MOS) or Aerial Gunner (classified as a 611 MOS)
- [Buslee crew] Sgt. George E. Farrar, SN 14119873, one of the crew’s two waist gunners, classified as MOS 612 Airplane Armorer/Gunner, marital status Single
- [Brodie crew] Cpl. Wilfred F. Miller, SN 36834864, the crew’s tail gunner, classified as MOS 611 Aerial Gunner, marital status Single
George Farrar was a stateside instructor in the Army Air Forces before joining a combat crew (with his last assignment as an instructor at Ardmore Army Air Field), likely explaining why his rank was Sgt. at the time of these orders.
Buslee crew tail gunner Eugene Lucynski was assigned on the same Combat Crew Detachment Orders Number 52 as George Farrar, possibly indicating that he also held a position (maybe also instructor) at Ardmore, and possibly explaining why he held the rank of S/Sgt. at the time of these orders.
In some cases, the makeup of the airmen assigned to a bomber crew changed before the crew reached the final destination of its overseas duty station. For instance, if one of the airmen became ill en route, he might be left behind while the remainder of the crew continued on with a replacement assigned in his stead. In this case, both the Buslee and Brodie crews arrived intact, as assigned on Special Orders 86, at the 384th Bomb Group’s Station #106 in the English midlands village of Grafton Underwood, and began flying missions as assigned in Special Orders 86.
[NMI] indicates No Middle Initial in name.
After discovering that Lenard Bryant’s marital status was incorrect on the SO, I realize that I need to review the marital status of the other airmen on these two crews, but will do so at a later date.
384th Bomb Group Historian John Edwards, referencing “TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel” dated 12 JULY 1944.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020
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.
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
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
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
The co-pilot of the James Brodie crew was Lloyd Vevle. He lost his life in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between his B-17, Lazy Daisy, and the Buslee crew’s B-17, Lead Banana. I have written about Lloyd previously here.
Lloyd had a twin brother named Floyd in the 390th Bomb Group. Floyd lost his life early the next year on January 14, 1945. I have also previously written about Floyd here.
The reason I am returning to the story of the Vevle twins at this time is that 384th Bomb Group Combat Data Specialist Keith Ellefson has informed me that the American Air Museum in Britain website has found and added photos of the Vevle boys.
Since the AAM so kindly shares their photos, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share them here.
As I’m digging into research again on the Buslee and Brodie crews, I need to revisit sources like the American Air Museum in Britain for updated information on all of the boys of both crews. I also will be digging into the research records that I obtained from the National Personnel Research Center during my visit last October.
The picture of these two crews and their families becomes clearer to me with every bit of information I find. Thank you to all of them for the sacrifices they made in WWII.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
Thank you to Keith Ellefson, combat data specialist and volunteer for http://www.384thbombgroup.com, and Bobby Silliman, of the Carlsbad Army Airfield’s Facebook community, for finding “our” William D. Barnes, Jr. Bobby Silliman has a master list of all 47,466 bombardier graduates who earned their wings in America during WWII and the only William D. Barnes Jr. was from Hastings, Michigan. There were no other bombardiers with this name, so this has got to be our guy.
Now that we found the right Barnes, I can tell you more about him.
William Douglas Barnes, Jr. was born on May 20, 1919 in Charleston Township, Pennsylvania to Williams D. Sr. (b. August 4, 1884 – d. September 27, 1965), and Carrie M. Vandegrift Barnes (b. November 8, 1887 to d. July 6, 1970).
In 1920, the Barnes family lived on a farm on Elk Run Road in Charleston Township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. William Sr. was a farmer. William Sr. was 35, Carrie was 33, and William Jr. was only 7 months old at the time of the census on January 2 or 3, 1920.
In 1930, the family had moved to Eastmanville Street in Polkton Township, Ottawa County, Michigan. The Barnes’s second son, Charles F., had been born in 1920 and was now nine years old. William Sr. was a machinist in a condensery and Carrie was a clerk in a dry goods store in 1930. William Jr. may have been called by his middle name “Douglas” as he is listed on the census as “W. Douglas.”
In 1940, the family lived in Hastings, Barry County, Michigan at 135 S. Jeff Street. They moved to Hastings some time after 1935. William Sr. was a pattern storage foreman for a press and tool manufacturer. Carrie was no longer working outside the home. William Jr., at 20, was a commercial teller for a city bank. Charles was a clock repairman and salesman for a jewelry store.
Younger brother Charles was the first of the Barnes boys to enlist in the Army Air Corps on January 10, 1942. William Jr. enlisted in the Air Corps a few months later, on May 21, 1942. Born only about a year apart, the brothers must have been very close.
William D. Barnes, Jr. was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26,1944 as bombardier of the James Joseph Brodie crew. For more information about his military career with the 384th, see my previous post.
Charles married Dorothea E. Kolch on October 22, 1950 in Marshall, Calhoun County, Michigan, but I can find no record of a marriage for William Douglas, Jr.
William Douglas Barnes, Jr. died on December 6, 1990. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Hastings, Michigan. His parents are also buried in the same cemetery.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015
George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. was born on November 26, 1918 in New York to George Marshall, Sr. and Mildred Sonnenthal Hawkins. George Jr. was their only child. George, Sr. was born on June 16, 1893 in La Plata, Maryland. His parents were also Maryland natives. Mildred was born on December 16, 1898 in Queens, New York. Her parents, William and Clara Sonnenthal, were of Hungarian or German descent and immigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s. Aside from Mildred, they had four other children – Adolph, Elsa (or Elsie), Leah, and Elwood. The 1900 census reported that Mildred’s parents resided in Queens, New York.
George Sr. and Mildred lived on Laurel Street in Ridgefield Park, Bergen County, New Jersey in 1920. George Sr. (who may have gone by his middle name “Marshall” as recorded by the census) was twenty-five and Mildred was twenty-one. Mildred’s parents were reported to have been born in Vienna (her father) and Hamburg (her mother). George Jr. (who it seems also went by his middle name “Marshall”) was one and a half years old. George Sr.’s occupation was listed as a chemist in the field of medicine.
By 1930, the Hawkins family had moved to Woodbridge in Middlesex County, New Jersey, where they lived at 35 William St. George Jr. was now eleven years old.
By 1940, the family had moved to 52 Burchard Street in Raritan Township (since renamed to Edison), Middlesex County, New Jersey. George Jr. was now twenty-one and in college. George Sr. was working as a foreman of a chemical factory. (According to George Sr’s WWII draft registration card, he worked at Heyden Chemical Corporation in Fords, New Jersey).
On July 17, 1941, George Jr. enlisted in the service in Trenton, New Jersey. According to his enlistment record, he was single, had three years of college, and his civilian occupation was as an actor. After training in the states, he was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26, 1944, as navigator of the James Joseph Brodie crew. He served as navigator on nineteen missions, sixteen of them with the Brodie crew. It is unknown why he flew those three missions on different crews as the Brodie crew did fly those missions, but with a replacement for Hawkins.
George Jr. was aboard Lazy Daisy with the Brodie crew on September 28, 1944, when their B-17 collided over Magdeburg, Germany with the Buslee crew’s Lead Banana. George Jr. was one of only three men aboard Lazy Daisy to survive and became a prisoner of war. As an officer, he was not held in Stalag Luft IV with the other two survivors, enlisted men Wilfred Frank Miller (tail gunner), and Harry Liniger (waist gunner). George Jr. was held as a prisoner at Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (Serves Stalag 9-C), Obermassfeld Thuringia, Germany 50-10.
Hawkins wrote what he knew of the accident after he returned home from the war in 1945. His account, as follows, is included in MACR9366:
Following “Bombs away” at our target over Magdeburg, Germany, our B17-G and another ship in our formation collided. At the time of the accident our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.
At the time of the collision, the front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner, S/Sgt Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.
Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.
Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground. While floating downward, I saw one other chute below me.
I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.
The following evening I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.
To the best of my knowledge, All other five members of the crew were at their positions on the plane and failed to leave the ship. All were uninjured up till the time of the collision.
In the Casualty Questionnaire section of MACR9366, Hawkins adds that Miller, the tail gunner, rode the tail down some distance following an explosion which severed the tail from the ship. Miller later bailed out of the tail section. Also, in the Casualty Questionnaire section, Wilfred Miller adds that he heard through Hawkins that the wing of the other plane knocked Atkins out the nose without his chute.
George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. survived WWII. The fact that he was held at a hospital indicates that he was very seriously wounded, although the extent of his injuries is not known. After the end of the war, he returned to the states. In 1959, George moved to Central Florida and became a publications manager for NASA at Kennedy Space Center. He was a member of the Cape Canaveral Chapter of The Retired Officers Association. He was also a licensed amateur radio operator and a member of the Indian River Amateur Radio Club. He died on January 4, 1998 at the age of seventy-nine. He was living in Cocoa Beach, Brevard County, Florida at the time. His wife, Helen (born March 1, 1916), died on May 9, 2008. (Information from his obituary in the Orlando Sentinel and Ancestry.com.)
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015
William D. Barnes, Jr. was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26,1944 as bombardier of the James Joseph Brodie crew. The target of his first mission on August 7, 1944 was a German Luftwaffe fuel depot in Dugny (Paris), France.
He flew a total of fifteen missions as a bombardier, the majority of them with the Brodie crew. His last mission as a bombardier was on September 13, 1944. At that time, Barnes retrained as a navigator.
He was not flying, as he was still in training, on September 28, 1944 when the Brodie crew’s B-17 Lazy Daisy was involved in the mid-air collision with the Buslee crew’s B-17 Lead Banana. His decision to retrain as a navigator may very well have saved his life.
Barnes’s next mission was not until October 17, 1944, when he flew his first mission as a navigator. He flew his last twenty missions as a navigator, completing his thirty-five missions on December 28, 1944, earning him a ticket home. His decision to extend his service by the month he spent in training allowed him to survive WWII, complete his tour, and return home.
I wish I could tell you about his family life growing up and the future he had after the war, but unfortunately there were too many men named William D. Barnes that served in WWII to uncover which one of them served with the 384th Bomb Group by the time of this post. If anyone out there can provide any information on “our” William D. Barnes, Jr., please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll keep digging…
To view the personnel record of William D. Barnes, Jr. on the 384th Bomb Group’s website, click here.
Note: Barnes’s replacement, Byron Laverne Atkins, as togglier of the Brodie crew on September 28, 1944, did not survive the mid-air collision.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015