On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, 43-37822 and 42-31222 (also known as Lazy Daisy.)
The Buslee crew, with my dad George Edwin Farrar as waist gunner, was aboard 43-37822. The Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy.
Dad told me the story of the mid-air collision many times when I was a child and he always said the reason for the collision was that the “other ship” was hit by ground fire, which caused it to veer off course and into his ship.
Many years later, I met Wallace Storey, a 384th Bomb Group pilot who witnessed the mid-air collision. I was surprised to hear Wallace say that Lazy Daisy could not have been hit by ground fire from flak guns as there wasn’t any flak over the target that day. As a result, I have been searching for the reason why Lazy Daisy veered off course ever since.
Two 384th Bomb Group researchers, Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson, have a special life mission – to obtain as many of the group’s mission documents as possible to share on the group’s website. On one of their trips to the National Archives, they copied the mission documents of Mission 201 and shared them with me. After reviewing the available information, I’m still not positive what caused Lazy Daisy to veer off course, but because of various post-mission statements and one pilot’s post-mission Tactical Interrogation report, I do see the possibility that my dad may have been right about the flak after all.
I’ll get to the pilot Tactical Interrogation reports in Part 2, coming two weeks from now, but first I want to share a few facts about the mission itself and a few things that may have contributed to the mid-air collision.
The mission map shared with the officers in the morning briefing showed the flight plan for the mission in red. The route actually followed was added in blue, post mission.
The Briefing Notes prior to the mission describe the primary and secondary targets.
P.T. [Primary Target] is the most important Krupp Steel Works in Germany. Located Magdeburg. It’s the main producer of the 25 ton Mark IV tank and also makes flak guns, armor plating and heavy sheels [shells?], it is a one plus priority. And employs 35,000 workers, there is a smoke screen N. of the city.
P.F.F. [Pathfinder Force] target is the Mar. [Marshalling] Yards, in the city of Magdeburg, and adjacent to your P.T.
Other Efforts. You are the last of 12 36 A/C Wing of First Div. The 1st 6 groups of the 1st A.B.C. and 40th A.B.C. attack oil plant 4 miles No. of your target. The 94th A.B.C. bomb A/C fact. [Aircraft Factory] 3 miles No. of your target, 94th C, 41st A.B.C. bomb your target. Should PFF be used all groups will attack your PFF RR M/Y [Railroad Marshalling Yards] at Magdeburg.
The Lead Bombardier’s post-mission narrative explains the first problem with the mission. George K. Smith, 2nd Lt., Air Corps, Deputy Bombardier, Combat Wing 41st C described how the bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point.
Turned short of I.P. because of cloud coverage. Opened bomb bay doors at I.P. to encounter complete coverage on the bomb run. Ships flew under us so we couldn’t release our bombs. We flew out and made a 180 degrees turn to put us on a heading of 260 degrees heading back over the target. There was a little opening in the clouds over a part in a river, which I believe the Lead Bombardier killed his course. We dropped the bombs PFF and shortly after the Lead aircraft was hit by flak. Then we took over from our deputy Lead position to reform the Wing and start home. No flak was encountered on the way home.
The Navigator’s post-mission narrative indicated that the 384th was not on schedule and also noted flak at the target. Lt. Clarendon George Richert wrote,
Route flown as briefed to target. Behind schedule 20 minutes. Two runs on target due to deputy taking over.
Flak concentrations encountered (not scattered bursts).
- Place: Target
- Time: 1208 – 1211
- Accuracy: Accurate
- Intensity: Moderate
In his Operational Narrative, Major W. E. “Pop” Dolan, Station S-2 Officer, wrote,
Flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate. CPF (Continuous Predictive Flak) and barrage type fire employed. Black, gray bursts being notes.
Two of our A/C is missing. These two ships collided at the target to reasons unknown. Both ships were seen to break up and go down in flames. No chutes were observed.
In these selections from his Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, “Pop” Dolan offered more detail.
Two (2) of our aircraft are known missing.
Two (2) aircraft of the High Section, A/C 337-822 (Lt. Buslee, pilot) and A/C 1222 (Lt. Brodie, pilot) collided over the target and both ships were observed going down on fire and out of control. No chutes were observed.
Assembly of the Group and Wing was accomplished fifteen (15) minutes before departure time from our Base at 0823 hours, 7,000 feet without difficulty. We were ahead of “Cowboy-Baker” but we swung wide on the first Control Point and got in our correct slot in the Division at 0920 hours over Cambridge, 7,000 feet. We left the coast of England on course and on time at 0937 hours, Clacton, 9,000 feet. Speeds were S.O.P.
The route to the Belgian Coast was without incident and we crossed it at 1001 ½ hours, 51°10’N.-02°44’E., 15,000 feet. From this point into the I.P. [Initial Point of the final bomb run to the target] the mission was flown as briefed and without difficulty. No flak was encountered prior to the target and no enemy fighter attacks were made on our Wing for the entire mission.
At the I.P., we were notified by Buckeye-Red that target weather would be approximately 8/10ths which was accurate. We made our run from the I.P. to the target in Wing formation on PFF. When we approached the target, there was another Section making a run 90° to us on the same target. They passed over the target at the same time we did directly underneath us and we were unable to drop because we would have dropped on them. We therefore made a turn and started a second run in Wing formation. Bombs were away on PFF at 1211 hours from 26,000 feet. However, in the opinion of Capt. Booska, Low Section Leader, it is possible that today’s bombing may have been visual as there was a break in the clouds directly over the target one (1) minute before bombs were away. As it is presumed that the Lead Wing Bombardier landed in Belgium, our reports will state that PFF bombing was accomplished. Magnetic heading of bombs away was 265 degrees. Some crews observed the results through breaks in the clouds and they state that the bombs hit in the target area. Flak at the target was moderate and accurate.
After we dropped our bombs, and swung off the target, the Wing Leader informed the Deputy to take over as the former had been hit by flak. At this point, the entire Lead Section started to break up. We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing and the Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section. The High and Low reassembled and flew alone until we finally picked up the Lead Section ten (10) miles ahead of us. I called the Deputy Leader to slow down, which he did, and we assembled back into Combat Wing formation. After this, we had no other difficulties and the rest of the mission was flown as briefed and without incident. We departed the Belgian Coast at 1437 hours, 10,500 feet and recrossed the English Coast at 1508 hours, 1,000 feet.
And finally, the 384th Bomb Group’s S-2 Summary of Eye-witness Accounts summarized what happened to the two aircraft in the mid-air collision.
Brodie: Aircraft broke up near tail assembly and went down in flames. Aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the clouds.
Buslee: Pieces of tail and wings falling off. Plane in flames from engines. Going down in flames spinning into the clouds.
As for the statement, “We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing,” in “Pop” Dolan’s Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, one of the pilots’ Tactical Interrogation reports described the tail symbol of the 351st Bomb Group. The 351st’s Intelligence S-2 Report for what was their group’s Mission 211 noted,
Two Triangle “P” ships were observed to collide just after the target. One chute was seen.
And a 351st combat crew comment from their aircraft 956-L remarked,
Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of formation, creating much prop wash.
Summary of information from the September 28, 1944 Mission 201 documents:
- Bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point
- A second bomb run had to be made on the target
- The group was behind schedule 20 minutes
- CPF (Continuous Predictive Flak) and barrage type flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate
- The Wing leader was hit by flak and the deputy had to take over the lead, causing the Lead section to break up
- The Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section
- Coming off the target, the Wing was on a collision course with another unidentified Wing
- As reported by a 351st Bomb Group crew member, a Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of formation, creating much prop wash
To be continued with the mission’s individual pilot Tactical Interrogation Form visual observations and combat crew comments…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
When can I go home? The answer to the most important question most WWII airmen wanted to know differed depending on when they began their service.
For the airmen of the 384th Bomb Group, those who began their service “early on,” starting with Mission 1 on June 22, 1943, a tour was twenty-five missions per John Edwards, the 384th Bomb Group’s historian. But that magic number of twenty-five only lasted until the end of March 1944.
The number of missions to mark a completed tour and a ticket stateside was upped to thirty on April 1, 1944, but this number lasted for only a couple of months.
By June 6, 1944, a 384th Bomb Group airman had to survive thirty-five missions to complete his tour.
But the magic number of 25, 30, or 35 wasn’t set in stone. The 384th’s webmaster, Fred Preller, adds,
For those affected by the change during their combat tour, some increase was inevitable. I know of some (my Dad, for instance) who were required to fly some more missions based on how many they had already completed – but not the full increased number.
For Fred’s dad, Robert Preller, a completed tour meant thirty-three missions. Flying his first mission on May 27, 1944, he probably expected to wrap up his tour at Number 30, as that was what was in effect on his first mission. But thirty was changed to thirty-five by his seventh mission, and though he didn’t have to fly the full thirty-five, he did fly three more for his total of thirty-three.
Michael Faley, historian of the 100th Bomb Group (the group famously known as the Bloody Hundredth), notes similar dates for the increase in missions for a completed tour,
From June 1943 to March 19, 1944 the tour of duty was 25 missions. From March 19, 1944 – July 1944 it was 30 missions and from July 1944 to the end of the war it was 35.
By the time my dad, George Edwin Farrar, got to Grafton Underwood, home of the 384th, he knew he would have to fly thirty-five missions before he went home.
When he wrote home on August 14, 1944, Dad had only flown four missions, but he wrote,
I sure hope I can finish up and get home by Christmas, or the first of the year.
It is the only letter I have from his time at Grafton Underwood, but I know every letter must have mentioned his desire to come home, and he must have thought he could complete thirty-one more missions in the next four months.
But, of course, he didn’t come home by the end of the year. He spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and his mother’s birthday as a prisoner of war and didn’t make it home until the middle of 1945.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
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.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
The last time I caught up with Mark Meehl was in October in Dayton, Ohio at the latest 384th Bomb Group Reunion. Both Mark and his brother Jerry attended as they have for many years. Mark and Jerry’s dad, Paul Edwin Meehl, was a ground crew chief assigned to the 384th’s 547th Bomb Squadron from early 1943 through the end of the war. He also transferred with the group to Istres, France at the end of the war in Europe.
Mark is the group’s archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s brother Jerry (Gerald) is also interested in military history and has written or co-written three books, one with 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Jack Goetz.
At the reunion, I mentioned to Mark that I wanted to attend the group’s next junket to England – in September 2019 – and hoped to find the site of some air base photos in my dad’s collection. Mark shared scans of a couple of maps of the Station 106 site plan at Grafton Underwood with me and using them I believe I may be able to stand in the very same area the photos were taken when I visit.
For starters, this map that Mark shared with me shows the entire site with runways, living areas, and the small village of Grafton Underwood.
Click on the image to open it to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). The legend for the map is:
- Site No. 1 – Airfield and Hardstands
- Site No. 1 – 547th BS & Maintenance Technical Site
- Site No. 1 – Group Headquarters
- Site No. 1 – Old Head Wood Bomb Stores
- Site No. 1 – SE Area
- Site No. 1 – Technical Site
- Site No. 1 – Warkton Common Bomb Stores
- Site No. 2 – Communal
- Site No. 3 – Communal
- Site No. 4 – Group Staff Quarters
- Site No. 5 – Ground Echelon Quarters
- Site No. 6 – Ground Echelon Quarters
- Site No. 7 – W.A.A.F.
- Site No. 8 – 544th BS Area
- Site No. 9 – 547th BS Area
- Site No. 10 – 545th BS Area
- Site No. 11 – 546th BS Area
- Site No. 12 – Sick Quarters
- Site No. 13 – Sewage
- Site No. 14 – Sewage
Mark also told me I could add the site map as an overlay on Google Earth, so armed with a few instructions from Mark, I came up with this…
I’ll be playing around with this feature of Google Earth some more and try to get better results, but I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt.
My dad was in the 544th Bomb Squadron, so one of my interests is in Site No. 8. I believe my dad’s photos were taken in this area, and I’ll explore that site in more detail in a future post.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
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.
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
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.
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.
Our 384th veterans gathered in front of Champaign Lady…
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.
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
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.
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)
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
- Missing in Action, 1945
- Edward Field
- Jack Coleman Cook
- Jack Coleman Cook – Part 2
- An Honor for Jack Coleman Cook in the Congressional Record
- Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Honors Jack Coleman Cook
- Congress Honors Jack Coleman Cook
- February 3, 1945 Mission to Berlin
- Video of poet Edward Field reading World War II
- World War II by Edward Field in print
- Delia’s interview on KARK
- Delia’s interview on Fox 16
- A Hero’s Hero
- The Boy Who Took My Place in the Water
- The Cook Family Scrapbook Holds the Answers
- Jack Coleman Cook’s personnel record with the 384th Bomb Group
- Edward Field’s personnel record with the 384th Bomb Group
- Robert Long crew photo album in the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery
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
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.
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
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