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Not a Happy New Year for Everyone

After receiving the New Year’s Eve telegram from the War Department telling her that her son was alive and a prisoner of war, Raleigh Mae Farrar sent a telegram to the Buslee family the next morning, New Year’s Day 1945, to share her good news.  Mr. Buslee quickly wrote a letter in response to Mrs. Farrar.

January 1, 1945
411 Wisner Ave.
Park Ridge, Ill.

Dear Mrs. Farrar,

Your letter of the 27th and news clipping were received on Saturday and it was so nice of you to keep us informed.  The news in this item was naturally that which we would have liked to receive about Lt. Henson and to think that a daughter was born to his wife recently makes for increased worries for her and I trust that the sad news is not too great a strain on her.

The copilot as you may know is also a Daddy to a girl born about a month ago.  We met he and his wife at Ardmore in June and like all of the boys in the crew we have been awaiting such word.  Mrs. Albrecht is at the home of her parents at Chico, California.  She reports that both she and the baby are doing well.

The telegram that we received from you this morning was indeed a piece of good news for the New Year.  To learn of your son’s safety is indeed wonderful and I hope means such good news may come regarding all of the other boys and more that this terrible struggle will soon end and that all may return and lets hope that the peoples of the World will realize that there is but one way to get along and that is in a peaceful harmonious manner forgetting all greed and selfishness and faith in the Lord.

My wife and my daughter and myself are overjoyed in learning that your son has been reported.  You can imagine our feelings since Saturday after hearing about Lt. Henson.  Then too there is cause for worry as our son in law is due to leave California any day.  He is also a pilot but in the Navy and is scheduled for the South Pacific.

To learn that your younger son is now scheduled to go to school after the harrowing experiences in the Navy on a carrier was more good news so I trust that the favorable word that has come to you of late is a fore runner to the still greater news that the war is over.

Thanks again Mrs. Farrar for your thoughtfullness in keeping us so closely advised and we will in turn write to you when we get word.  My wife and daughter join me in this appreciation,

Sincerely yours,
John Buslee


  • I don’t know what information my grandmother’s letter of December 27 or news clipping contained.
  • Lt. Henson was William Alvin Henson II, the navigator on Lead Banana when it collided with Lazy Daisy on September 28, 1944.
  • The co-pilot was David Franklin Albrecht.
  • Mrs. Farrar’s son mentioned in the letter is George Edwin Farrar’s younger brother, Robert Burnham (Bob) Farrar, who was injured in a kamikaze attack on the USS Intrepid on November 25, 1944.
  • Mr. Buslee’s daughter and son-in-law were Janice and Gene Kielhofer.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Our Bomber Crew

The parents of Buslee crew bombardier, Robert Sumner Stearns, wrote to George Edwin Farrar’s mother, Raleigh Mae Farrar, on January 1, 1945.  The Stearns sent the same information to all of the families of the Buslee crew included on the Next-of-Kin list they had just received.  The Stearns had learned on December 23, 1944 that their son had been killed on September 28.

Had other families also learned on December 23, 1944 that their sons had been killed that day?  The September 30, 1944 Telegram Form that became a part of MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) 9753 identified four men that had been killed in the mid-air collision of Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy on September 28, 1944.  It would make sense that all four families were notified on the same date.  Eight men had been reported dead, but only these four were identified:

  • William A. Henson II, navigator on Lead Banana
  • Robert S. Stearns, bombardier on Lead Banana
  • Gordon Hetu, ball turret gunner on Lazy Daisy
  • Robert D. Crumpton, engineer/top turret gunner on Lazy Daisy

I believe William Henson’s next-of-kin had been notified at the same time as the Stearns, which indicates that Hetu and Crumpton’s relatives also received the bad news around December 23.  All had been buried on September 30 at the Ostingersleben Cemetery near the crash site.

January 1, 1945
LaPine, Oregon

Dear Mrs. Farrar:

In today’s mail we received a letter from the War Department giving the names of the crew members of the bomber in which our son lost his life on September 28.  We are writing this letter to each of you who were listed as next of kin to give you all of the information we have received to date about our son.  Will you compare this information with what you have received and if there is anything you have which would add to the very meager reports which we have so far received we would greatly appreciated it if you would send it to us.  We hope to keep in close touch with all of you until every possible bit of information that would, in any way, help answer the many questions as to the fate of “Our Bomber Crew” which are in our minds today.  We all, definitely, have a lot in common; you may rest assured that Mrs. Stearns and I will forward any information we may receive that we think will be of interest to any of you.

Following is the information we have received to date:  The first word, of course, was the telegram stating that our son was listed as missing in action over Germany on Sept. 28th.

Following this wire was the letter from Headquarters of the Army Air Forces, Washington, which stated:  “Further information has been received indicating that Lieut. Stearns was a crew member of a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber which departed from England on a combat mission to Magdeburg, Germany, on Sept. 28th.  The report indicates that during this mission at 12:10 P.M., in the vicinity of the target your sons bomber sustained damage from enemy anti-aircraft fire.  Shortly afterwards the disabled craft was observed to fall to earth, and, inasmuch as the crew members of the accompanying planes were unable to obtain any further details regarding its loss, the above facts constitute all the information presently available.”

Our next word was a short note from a close friend of our son, who was a pilot on another bomber, which stated:  although I wasn’t on the same mission I have talked with others who were on the same mission with Bob and we have reasons to believe he is safe.”  None of the reasons were stated but naturally this short note boosted our morale to the skies.

We then, on Dec. 23rd., received the telegram which stated:  “The German Government reporting through the International Red Cross states that your son, 1st. Lieut. Robert S. Stearns, previously reported as missing in action was killed on Sept. 28th.  Letter follows.”

This letter was the one giving the names of the crew members and the next of kin.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If any of you have not received a wire similar to the one we got on Dec. 23rd, you should be encouraged for it could mean that you could hear shortly that he is still living.  We have only the dim hope that the German Government is wrong, as it has been wrong in every thing it ever did do, and that we too may have good news of our son.

Our deepest sympathy is with you.  We would be very happy to have a letter from you soon.

Sincerely yours,
Carey & Betty Stearns,
LaPine, Oregon.

The friend of Bob Stearns to which his parents referred in the letter was Lt. Larkin C. Durdin, the pilot of the crew with which Stearns normally flew.  More information is provided in a second letter from Durdin to the Stearns, information which the Stearns passed along to the Farrars in a letter dated January 10, 1945.  The January 10th letter will be published in a future post.

The Stearns, who had been in a state of not knowing the fate of their son since September 28, 1944, were now in a state of not believing it.  On the day they received the telegram with the bad news, December 23, 1944, their son Bob had been missing for eighty-seven days.  They couldn’t yet let themselves believe that their son wouldn’t be coming back.  At this point they weren’t even aware that the War Department’s news of how Bob’s plane had gone down was not correct.  They would soon learn the truth.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014