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The 1973 Fire

On July 12, 1973, shortly after midnight, a fire was reported at the military personnel records building of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in the Overland area of St. Louis, MO. Firefighters were on the scene in a little over four minutes after the first alarm. They were able to reach the fire on the sixth floor, but heat and smoke forced them out three hours later.

To combat the fire and contain the flames, the firefighters poured great quantities of water on the building and inside through broken windows. The fire, fueled by all those paper records, burned for twenty-two hours. It was two days before firefighters could re-enter the building. The fire department deemed the fire officially out on July 16, nearly four and a half days after it started. Investigators never officially determined the source of the fire due to the extensive damage.

The fire destroyed sixteen to eighteen million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). Records of Army personnel, of which WWII Army Air Forces were a part, discharged between November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960, suffered an eighty percent loss. There were no duplicate or microfilm copies, or even any indexes prior to the fire.

The National Archives immediately began a salvage operation to save as many records as possible. On July 23, Federal Property Management Regulations (FPRM) Bulletin B-39 halted Federal agencies from disposing of records that might be helpful in recreating the lost military service records. Those records have helped reconstruction efforts of basic service information. Also on July 23, the NPRC awarded a construction contract to salvage the remains from the sixth floor, and recovery efforts began. Approximately six and a half million burned and water damaged records were recovered due to this effort.

Just behind the fire damage was the water damage. Firefighters poured millions of gallons of water into the building fighting the fire. To stop sporadic flame-ups, they continued spraying water until late July. Broken water lines also flooded the building. The heaviest water damage was on the fifth floor, one floor below the destruction of the fire on the sixth. Once all the water was combined with the high temperatures and humidity of St. Louis in the summer, the next avenue of destruction was mold. Thymol was sprayed throughout the building to control a mold outbreak on all that highly susceptible paper.

The next challenge was how to dry all those millions of water-soaked records that remained. Records were shipped in plastic milk crates to several sites for drying on racks made from shelving. The McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, and those were utilized in addition to a NASA facility in Ohio.

During the reconstruction effort, the NPRC established a “B” (Burned) Registry file to index the six and a half million recovered records and set up a separate temperature controlled area for them. In April 1974, the NPRC established the “R” (Reconstructed) Registry file to further assist the reconstruction efforts. Reconstructed files were then stored in another new area separate from the Burned Registry files.

In the months following the fire, the NPRC established a new branch to deal with damaged records issues. The new branch’s central mission was to reconstruct records for those requesting service information. Records were reconstructed from documents and alternate sources outside of the NPRC as well as the center’s organizational files. Alternate sources included Veterans Administration (VA) claims files, individual state records, Multiple Name Pay Vouchers (MPV) from the Adjutant General’s Office, Selective Service System (SSS) registration records, pay records from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), as well as medical records from military hospitals, entrance and separation x-rays and organizational records.

Source of information:  http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/fire-1973.html

To be continued:  how to request records and my personal experience locating my dad’s service records with the NPRC.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

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Two-hundreth Mission Celebration

 

Invitation to the 384th Bomb Group's 200th Mission Celebration

Invitation to the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th Mission Celebration

On September 23, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group celebrated their two-hundredth mission.  Fortunately for the boys on the air crews, no one had to fly the next day.

Mission 197 was flown on Thursday, September 21.  Everyone had a day off on the 22nd.  The party was on a Saturday – September 23.  Probably anticipating the aftereffects of the party, a mission was not scheduled the next day, the 24th.  Mission 198 was flown on the 25th and 199 on the 26th.

The boys reached mission 200 on Wednesday, September 27.  The 384th Bomb Group formed the 41st CBW “A” wing for Mission 201’s attack on the railroad marshalling yards of Cologne, Germany.

Celebration aside, mission 200 did not go off without incident.  Everyone did make it back to Grafton-Underwood, but there were many mishaps.

  • The Donald George Springsted crew and Bert O. Brown, Jr. crew were involved in a taxi accident prior to takeoff.  The Brown crew’s aircraft, 44-6080, had to be scrapped.  The Springsted’s aircraft, Sneakin’ Deacon, was repaired in time to fly the next day’s mission.
  • The Loren L. Green crew aboard Pro Kid had to abort and turn back due to an internal failure in an engine.
  • The Frank F. Cepits crew aboard The Challenger came back with the #3 engine feathered.
  • The James W. Orr crew aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin II experienced a bomb bay door malfunction over the target.  The bomb bay doors could not be opened, either electrically or manually.  Gremlin returned to base still loaded with all of her bombs.
  • The John H. Hunt, Jr. crew had a harrowing landing.  Boss Lady’s tail wheel would not extend for the landing.  Fortunately, no one was injured.
  • The William J. Blankenmeyer crew landed with wounded aboard.  Rebel came back with an injured tail gunner, Robert H. Hoyman.

The John Oliver Buslee crew, aboard Hale’s Angels, was the high group deputy, the hot camera ship.  They completed mission 200 without incident.  The James Joseph Brodie crew did not fly mission 200.

For the Buslee and Brodie crews, the celebrating would be over all too soon.  It would be the next mission, 201, on Thursday, September 28, 1944 that would be their last.  The Buslee crew aboard Lead Banana and the Brodie crew aboard Lazy Daisy collided coming off the target at Magdeburg on September 28, 1944, at about ten minutes past noon.  Aboard the two ships, fourteen men lost their lives, and four became prisoners of war.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Veronica Brodie

James Joseph Brodie, the pilot of the Lazy Daisy who lost his life on September 28, 1944, had a brother named Francis and two sisters, Veronica and Mary.  James was the youngest child in the family.  Veronica was three years older than James, Mary was ten years older, and Francis was twelve years older.  With such a wide difference in ages between the two older children and the two younger ones, Veronica was probably closer to James than Mary and Francis.  It would be Veronica who felt the loss of her brother more deeply and took steps to find where he had been buried.

War Department
Office of the Quartermaster General
Washington 25, D.C.

23 June 1947

QMGMF 29
Brodie, James J.
S.N. 01 012 186

Address Reply To
THE QUARTERMASTER GENERAL
Attention: Memorial Division

Miss Veronica Brodie
c/o Ginn and Company
2301-2311 Prairie Avenue
Chicago 16, Illinois

Dear Miss Brodie:

I have received your letter concerning your brother, the late First Lieutenant James J. Brodie.

The official Report of Burial discloses that the remains of your brother were interred in Plot R, Row 9, Grave 220, in the United States Military Cemetery Margraten, Holland, located ten miles west of Aachen, Germany.

Please accept my sincere sympathy in the loss of your brother.

Sincerely yours,
RICHARD B. COOMBS
Major, QMC
Memorial Division

Today, cemetery records show that James Brodie is buried in the cemetery’s Plot J, Row 13, Grave 4.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Answers

George Edwin Farrar had completed a casualty questionnaire when he returned to the states after his liberation.  As the only survivor on the Lead Banana in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision with Lazy Daisy, he was asked to provide information on the other members of the crew and write a description of the event as he knew it.  As he was knocked unconscious in the collision, he had more questions than answers.  On the back of the questionnaire, he apparently asked for information on the fate of his crewmates.

On June 14, 1946, Lt. Colonel William H. Brandon had written to tell him that his casualty questionnaire had been received, but that because of a backlog of inquiries, his questions couldn’t be answered at that time.  Now, three months later, 1st Lt. John W. Bertschi was trying to answer Farrar’s questions.

September 11, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Dear Sir:

The casualty questionnaire you completed for Air Forces Headquarters came to my attention today. I noticed your own question in the back of the sheet, and knowing how anxious any crewmember is to know what happened to the rest of the fellows, I want to tell you what we have found.

German casualty records which we recently translated state that all your crewmembers were recovered dead. The only one not identified by name was S. J. Peluso. All the boys were buried in a cemetery at Ost Ingersleben where the plane crashed. This town is twenty miles northwest of Magdeburg. We do not have reburial on all of the fellows yet so this would indicate that the Quartermaster General is having trouble identifying the bodies.

That is really all there is to tell you. You might be interested to know that the German records also include your name and state that you were taken to Dulag Luft West.

You really lived through a close one. I hope you suffer no permanent ill effects, and are enjoying a normal life once again.

This personal letter is easier to get out than an official one.

Very sincerely,
John W. Bertschi
1st LT. AC

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the typed letter, John Bertschi described himself as “Just one of the boys now working in AAF Hdqts personnel division.”

He also added:

P. S. When I checked your 201 file for your address, I found our “very sorry” letter to you.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Questions without answers

Still searching for answers regarding the mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana more than a year after his liberation, Ed Farrar received a reply to his inquiry from the Army Air Forces.  He did receive a reply, but he did not get any answers.

June 14, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Mr. George E. Farrar,
79 East Lake Terrace, Northeast
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Mr. Farrar:

Your completed casualty questionnaire has been received in this Headquarters, and we are appreciative of the information you furnished us relative to the fate of your fellow crew members.

At present we have on hand a large back-log of inquiries from the next of kin of our personnel who were killed in action or who are otherwise unaccounted for. In accordance with the Air Force post war reduction in manpower, the staff of this office has been reduced to a point where all inquiries cannot be answered as promptly as we would desire. In view of this, I am certain you will agree with our policy of giving preference to the next of kin. It is not known when we will be able to answer your questions concerning the members of your crew; however, an attempt will be made to furnish you this information as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,
WILLIAM H. BRANDON
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Instructions for Presentation of Claims

On November 15, 1945, just two weeks after George Edwin Farrar’s honorable discharge and separation, the Army’s Claims Division sent him a letter.  It outlined the instructions for reimbursement of personal property losses while in the service as long as the loss was within the regulations.  I wonder if my dad was able to claim the loss of his watch during the prisoners’ march across Germany, which he had to trade for bread.  Do you think trading an item in lieu of starvation was covered in the cited regulations?

November 15, 1945
Headquarters, Army Service Forces
Office of the Judge Advocate General
Washington 25, D. C.

Instructions for Presentation of Claims
(AR 25-100)

1. Army Regulations 25-100, 29 May 1945, provide a means whereby reimbursement may be obtained by military personnel and civilian employees of the War Department or of the Army for private property damaged, lost, destroyed, captured or abandoned in the service when the circumstances of the loss are within the purview of the cited regulations. (For further details see AR 25-100, 29 May 1945, obtainable at any post, camp, station or military establishment.)

2. A claim for private property lost in the service should be made on WD Form 30B, 1 June 1945, and submitted to the Commanding Officer of the organization to which the claimant belongs or with which he is serving if practicable, otherwise to the Commanding Officer of any post, camp, station or military establishment, if practicable the one nearest the point where investigation of the facts and circumstances can most conveniently be made. Claims may also be submitted to the Commanding General of any Service Command or any Air Technical Service Command, within the United States, its territories and possessions, or to any office of the Command Claims Service in any Theater of Operations or other command outside the continental limits of the United States. In any case where submission under the foregoing provisions is impracticable claims may be submitted direct to The Judge Advocate General, Washington 25, D. C.

3. Blank forms and assistance in the preparation of a claim may be obtained from the Claims Officer at the post, camp, station or other military establishment where the claim is submitted.

RALPH G. BOYD
Colonel, JAGD
Chief of Claims Division

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Honest and Faithful Service

On October 29, 1945, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, received an honorable discharge from the Army of the United States.  The Honorable Discharge certificate declared…

GEORGE E. FARRAR

14 119 873  STAFF SERGEANT 384TH BOMBING GROUP 8TH AIR FORCE

Army of the United States

is hereby Honorably Discharged from the military

service of the United States of America.

This certificate is awarded as a testimonial of Honest

and Faithful Service to this country.

 His date of separation was October 29, 1945 and place of separation was SAD AAFPDC, San Antonio, Texas.  Listed on the separation form were decorations and citations:

  • American Theater Ribbon
  • EAME Ribbon w/3 Bronze Stars
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • Purple Heart
  • Air Medal w/1 Bronze Cluster

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Eight-Digit Number

My dad’s youngest sister, Beverly, was only seven years old when my dad’s B17 collided mid-air with another B17 on September 28, 1944.  With three of her older brothers away serving in WWII, her childhood was entrenched in the war.  One of the memories that she still recalls vividly to this day was of her mother awakening from sleep with the thought of an eight-digit number in her head, which she quickly wrote down upon rising.  By the way, premonitions were apparently a common occurrence for my grandmother.

My Aunt Beverly told me about this incident, but she didn’t know what the number signified, or what the eight digits actually were.  My dad’s Army Air Forces serial number was eight digits, but he had been assigned that number when he enlisted.  My dad’s POW number was only four digits.  Again, not a good candidate for matching the story.

It wasn’t until I ran across this letter that I wondered about that eight-digit number again.  From this letter my dad received, I can only presume that his mother told him the story of awakening with that number in her head upon his return home from the war.  In turn, my dad wrote to the Parachute Department of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bombardment Group, now stationed in Istres, France, inquiring about the eight-digit serial number of the parachute that had saved his life on September 28, 1944.

September 11, 1945
Istres, France

S/Sgt. George E. Farrar
79 East Lake Ter. S. E.
Atlanta, Georgia
A. S. N. 14119873

In regards to the parachute you used on Sept. 28, 1944.

It is impossible anymore for us to give you the exact number of the chute which you used.

I am enclosing the number of one which did go down at about the time you stated.

Mfg. Reliance
Serial No. 42-263628

We hope this will be satisfactory and was glad to hear that we were of some help to you.

S/Sgt. W. A. Carnahan
544th. Bomb Sqd.
Parachute Department

A parachute saved my father’s life on September 28, 1944, but he had a little more help than just the parachute that day.  In the mid-air collision at 30,000 feet, he was knocked unconscious and thrown from the aircraft.  He didn’t even know he was out of the plane until he came to after free falling 25,000 feet.  He wrote down the events of that day several times since it happened, but he always left out one detail.

That detail was part of my dad’s story when he would tell it to me as a child.  It would be bedtime and my dad would sit on the side of my bed until I fell asleep.  I would ask for a story, the one about his airplane in WWII, or the prison camp, or the march across Germany when he had to sleep in the hay.  He would tell how another plane flew into the side of his plane, cracking it open like an egg.  He woke up out of the plane and falling, falling.  He was here sitting on the side of my bed, able to tell me about these experiences he had in the war because he woke up only 5,000 feet from the ground when he heard his mother calling his name.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Request for Details

By mid-August 1945, George Edwin Farrar was back in the states, but I do not know if he had returned home to Atlanta, Georgia by this time or not.  The Army Air Forces sent him a letter on the 16th inquiring about the death of crewmate Sebastiano Peluso, presumably at the request of the Peluso family.  The Peluso family must have finally received word that their son had died in the mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana, on which he was the radio operator on September 28, 1944.

Peluso was the last crew member identified from the wreckage of the two flying fortresses.  James Brodie, pilot of the Lazy Daisy, was also not identified early on.  Notification of his death had not come until July 6.

Unfortunately, Farrar would not have much information to offer to the Peluso family as he had been knocked unconscious in the collision, coming to in free fall and just in time to deploy his parachute.  He was told in prison camp that he was the only survivor of his crew.  He had no information on the other crew members other than they were in position at the time of the collision.  One thing he did say when I asked repeatedly as a child how he came to be the only survivor, was that all the other boys thought they were out of harm’s way and had already removed their chest chutes when the collision occurred, but that he had left his on.

August 16, 1945
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

SUBJECT: Staff Sergeant Sebastiano J. Peluso, 12182596
TO: Staff Sergeant George E. Farrar, 14119873
79 East Lake Terrace Northeast
Atlanta, Georgia

1. This headquarters has received a request for details of the death of Staff Sergeant Sebastiano J. Peluso, 12182596, radio operator of your aircraft, B-17G, Serial Number 43-37822, which disappeared on 28 September 1944.

2. Request that you forward to this headquarters any information you may have concerning the circumstances of the death of Staff Sergeant Sebastiano J. Peluso, or any details you may be cognizant of regarding his status after your Fortress disappeared.

BY COMMAND OF GENERAL ARNOLD:
N. W. REED
Major, Air Corps
Chief, Notification Branch
Personal Affairs Division
Asst Chief of Air Staff

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Coming Home

George Edwin Farrar had written a letter to his mother on June 29 that he was leaving England that night and heading for the states.  He was to travel on a very small ship and he expected a slow crossing.  His Separation Qualification Record notes, however, that he departed Europe on July 2, 1945 and arrived in the US on July 17.  I have no record of his first or subsequent stops in the US on his way back home to Atlanta, Georgia.

On July 21, his mother received a telegram from Washington.

1945-07-21-AdjutantGeneral-001

The telegram read:

The Chief of Staff of the Army directs me to inform you your son S/Sgt. Farrar George E. is being returned to the United States in the near future and will be given an opportunity to communicate with you upon arrival.

Witsell Acting the Adjutant General

If Farrar’s separation record is correct, he had been back in the states for four days before the telegram was sent.  If he indeed was allowed to contact his family, presumably by telephone, what a happy call that must have been.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014