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2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion

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.

Honor guard at the 384th Bomb Group memorial at the National Museum of the USAF

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

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group pose behind the group’s memorial at the Museum of the USAF
Left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, William Wilkens, John DeFrancesco, and Donald Hilliard

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.

In the Museum of the USAF, left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, Neill Howarth, John DeFrancesco, William Wilkens, and Donald Hilliard

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.

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: Neill Howarth and John DeFrancesco

Our 384th veterans gathered in front of Champaign Lady

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: William Wilkens, Henry Sienkiewicz, John DeFrancesco, Peter Bielskis, and Donald Hilliard

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.

Left to right: Fred Preller (son of 384th pilot Robert Preller), Cindy Farrar Bryan (daughter of 384th waist gunner George Edwin Farrar), John DeFrancesco (384th pilot), and Keith Ellefson (nephew of 384th ball turret gunner Raymond Orlando Wisdahl)

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

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Robert Jeremy Fisher

Several years ago, as I was researching the 384th Bomb Group’s mission of September 28, 1944 – the mission on which my dad’s B-17 and another B-17 of his Group collided over Magdeburg, Germany – I wrote about original Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk. The original post is here.

Chester Rybarczyk was flying with the William J. Blankenmeyer crew that day aboard Hot Nuts. The Blankenmeyer crew’s Sortie Report for that mission stated that they “Left formation after target for unknown reasons, but returned to base.” With Rybarczyk on board, I imagined that the reason they left formation was to try to determine the fate of Rybarczyk’s Buslee crewmates as he watched the two planes fall to earth.

I have learned that was not the case. The 384th Bomb Group’s Facebook Group is a wealth of information and that is where I found that my reasoning about why the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was not correct.

Through the Facebook group, I have made many connections with 384th Bomb Group Veterans and their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-nieces and nephews. Sometimes one of them provides me with a missing piece of the puzzle of my father’s WWII service and this was one of those times.

Robert Jeremy “Bob” Fisher was the co-pilot of the Blankenmeyer crew and was aboard Hot Nuts on September 28, 1944. Bob and his son and daughter are all members of the Facebook group. When Bob’s children chimed in on one of the threads on Facebook and mentioned their dad, I looked him up in the 384th Bomb Group’s database and found that he was on that mission and on the B-17 with Chester Rybarczyk.

Formation chart of the High Group, September 28, 1944. Buslee and Brodie collide after coming off the target. The Blankenmeyer crew, including co-pilot Bob Fisher and Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk, witness the collision.

After I requested Bob’s children to ask their dad if he remembered that mission, his daughter did so and told me of a small notebook in which her dad wrote notes about each mission. On September 28, 1944, Bob Fisher wrote:

Made reciprocal run on target due to group under us when we were to drop the first time. On turn one we almost hit our squadron leader due to an exceedingly sharp turn. On turn off target 2 planes hit together and both went down. Seven chutes reported. Let down more slowly then formation due to the fact that Bill’s ears would not clear. Had some trouble with mine – ambulance met us at dispersal and took Bill to get his ears cleared. Bill grounded-as is Reed and Obermeyer.

The reason the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was because the pilot, William J. “Bill” Blankenmeyer was having trouble clearing his ears.

But there is another interesting clue in Bob Fisher’s notebook. Obermeyer was not the crew’s navigator on September 28, 1944 as he had previously been grounded. Because of his grounding, Chester Rybarczyk filled in for him, keeping him off the Buslee crew’s plane that day. Had he flown with the Buslee crew, he would have been one of the men to perish aboard Lead Banana that day after the mid-air collision. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Keep the Show on the Road

Our 384th Bomb Group motto is “Keep the Show on the Road.” But it was not the original motto. Early on in the group’s history, the motto was “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I Came, I Saw, I Conquered), as seen on the jacket patch in this photo of the 384th’s first Commander, Budd Peaslee.

First commander of the 384th Bomb Group wearing the Group Patch reading “Veni Vidi Vici”
Photo courtesy of Keith Ellefson, 2014

But a loss on the group’s second mission led to the Group’s new motto. The Group’s Deputy Commanding Officer, Major Selden L. McMillin, was shot down on June 25, 1943 on the group’s mission to Hamburg, Germany. McMillin, known as “Major Mac” managed to crash land in Holland. The Engineer/Top Turret Gunner was killed and the remainder of the crew was taken prisoner.

Major Mac sent a postcard to his commander, Colonel Budd Peaslee, telling Peaslee to “KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD.” The 384th adopted McMillian’s message as their motto and it remains our mantra to this day.

Keep the Show on the Road
Reproduction artwork by Marc Poole, artist and originator of 384thBombGroup.com

Keeping the Show on the Road is what we NexGens (Next Generation) strive to do, meaning it is our job to keep the history of the 384th Bomb Group alive.

NexGens research the men of the Group, the aircraft, the missions, and every other thing that is 384th Bomb Group related. We help relatives of the men of the 384th discover the part their airman played and the sacrifices they made in WWII. 384th Bomb Group webmaster Fred Preller and his band of researchers make sure that information is readily available for those seeking it through the Group’s website and photo gallery.

NexGens meet at reunions. The next reunion of the 384th Bomb Group is in conjunction with the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion in New Orleans at the end of September. For more information, click here.

NexGens take our Commemorative Wing Panel (affectionately known as Wingy) to veterans of the 384th all over the country for their signatures. Edward Field was the most recent to sign. For more information on the wing panel project, click here.

546th Bomb Squadron Navigator Edward Field signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

Christopher Wilkinson, instigator of the Commemorative Wing Panel Project, says it best.

One of the things we learn as we host the wing panel for our veterans is that each man came to their own understanding of their part, and so each brings something unique to their own story of what they did and saw. This opens new understandings for us as well, and in turn helps us to convey in a more personal way to younger generations what happened during the war.

All of us who lend a hand to the cause of keeping the history of “Our Group” alive want the same thing. We want current and future generations to remember these men. We want our children and their children to know the part these men played in one of the most critical periods in the history of our country. We want them to know what these men did for us. At the time, these brave young men of the 384th were fighting for their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their young wives, and of course, their countrymen. Most of us weren’t even born yet, but they were doing it for us, too.

Remember these men and when you meet one, thank him for his service. They deserve your thanks and much more. And whenever possible, share their stories and Keep the Show on the Road.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

John DeFrancesco

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

If you recall my post from last week, I recently spent an enjoyable weekend in Savannah with my three Stalag Luft IV sisters, Ellen Weaver, Candy Brown, and Laura Edge, and 384th Bomb Group veteran, John DeFrancesco. The better I get to know John, the more I am in awe of him and the other boys who served in the 384th and other Bomb Groups of the 8th Air Force in WWII. Most of the boys were just that – boys who had just finished high school or maybe had a couple of years of college. And here they were, fighting a war on foreign soil, defending our freedom, some of them dying for us. A very big responsibility for such young men.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

John Joseph DeFrancesco enlisted just a couple of months after graduating from high school. He was just eighteen years old when he enlisted, but despite his young age, he was selected for the aviation cadet program and was soon on his way to becoming a pilot. No, he had never flown before, but growing up he loved looking up to the sky when he heard the sound of an aircraft engine overhead and delighted in watching them in flight. That led him to choose the Army Air Forces for his military career.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, pilot with the 544th Bomb Squad. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

At the completion of his training, John was assigned a crew and they were assigned to the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force (a.k.a. “The Mighty Eighth”) and were stationed in Grafton Underwood, England. The 384th Bomb Group’s website displays John’s personnel data:

John DeFrancesco’s Personnel Data. Edited screenshot from 384thBombGroup.com.

John does not possess a full crew photo, but he does still have the escape/evasion photos of most of his crew. Escape/evasion photos were taken to assist a crewman who was able to escape or evade capture in the event he found himself bailing out of his B-17 and landing in hostile territory.

John Joseph DeFrancesco, Pilot

Escape/evasion photo for John Joseph DeFrancesco, Pilot, 544th Bomb Squadron. Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Robert Edwin Simmons, Co-pilot

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Robert Edwin Simmons (Co-pilot). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Jerome Calnitz, Navigator

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Jerome Calnitz (Navigator). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco

William C. Brown, Bombardier

No photo available

Ira J. Bias, Jr., Radio Operator/Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Ira J. Bias, Jr. (Radio Operator). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Evan L. “Dixie” Howell, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Evan L. (Dixie) Howell (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Charles J. Doleshal, Ball Turret Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Charles J. Doleshal (Ball Turret Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Harmon C. Hastings, Tail Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Harmon C. Hastings (Tail Gunner/Flexible Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

Ferris J. Walker, Tail Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember Ferris J. Walker (Tail Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

John Allen Williams, Flexible Gunner

Escape/evasion photo for John DeFrancesco crewmember John (Johnny) Allen Williams (Flexible Gunner). Photo courtesy of John DeFrancesco.

There were a few other men who John DeFrancesco served with on a number of missions. He flew with William E. Moon (no photo available) of the James W. Orr crew on twenty-one missions. Moon was originally a bombardier who retrained as a navigator.

John flew with Homer L. Lott of the James Robson Gilmore crew on eleven missions. Lott was a flexible gunner turned togglier and flew with John on the January 8, 1945 mission on which both me became POWs.

Homer L. Lott of the James Robson Gilmore Crew, 384th Bomb Group. Photo posted on Ancestry.com.

John DeFrancesco’s sixth mission on October 18, 1944, target Ford Motor Works in Cologne, Germany, was a memorable one. As the bombardier bent over the bomb sight, a piece of flak smashed through the Plexiglass nose of their B-17. It flew over the bombardier’s head and struck the navigator on that flight, Jack Lyons, in the arm, tearing away a large chunk of flesh and shattering his arm.

The piece of flak continued through the aircraft and came through the floor of the cockpit, lodging under his pilot’s seat. With other crew members unsuccessful in their attempts to aid Lt. Lyons, John turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went to Lt. Lyons’ aid in the nose. He cut the sleeve off Lt. Lyons’ jacket, formed it into a bandage, and applied it to the wound to stop the flow of blood.

John’s actions saved the life of Jack Lyons, as without John’s help, Jack would have bled to death before they returned to their base at Grafton Underwood. With Lt. Lyons stable, John returned to the cockpit and assumed the controls of the aircraft, bringing navigator Jack Lyons home alive.

John DeFrancesco became a POW on his thirty-fifth mission and served 144 days as a POW in Germany in the prison camps Stalag 13D (Nuremburg) and Stalag 7A (Moosburg). The story of John’s thirty-fifth mission will be the subject of a future post.

John DeFrancesco  received the following medals for his WWII service:

  • European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal
  • Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters
  • Victory Medal
  • POW Medal

After WWII, John DeFrancesco served in the Air Force Active Reserves from 1945 until the late 1960’s when he went into the Inactive Reserves. In 1984, John retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel.

In 2014, John DeFrancesco signed the 384th Bomb Group’s Commemorative Wing Panel. I was honored to attend his signing and meet him and 384th Bomb Group armorer Paul Bureau that day.

John DeFrancesco signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel, 2014. Photo courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com.

John DeFrancesco addresses the audience at his 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel Signing, 2014. Photo courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com.

To be continued in a future post…

John’s thirty-fifth mission with the 384th Bomb Group and his time as a prisoner of war in Germany.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Christmas 1944, New Year 1945

WWII Christmas Card

WWII Christmas Card

The city of Nantes, France was occupied by the Germans in WWII and was partly destroyed. Nantes was the target of three of the 384th’s bombing missions, two in 1943 and one in 1944.

  • 384th BG Mission 24 on 16 September 1943. The target was a blockade runner ship in the Loire River. But upon arrival the group found that the intended target, a ship loaded with munitions, was not found in the briefed area. The Group attacked the secondary target, port facilities and shipping, with good results.
  • 384th BG Mission 25 on 23 September 1943. A week later, the Group returned to the Nantes port area with the target a ship believed to be a floating repair shop for submarines. Bombs were dropped using visual aiming, with undetermined results.
  • 384th BG Mission 132A on 10 June 1944. The target was the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) at Chateau Bougon Airfield. The Group flew as the high group of the 41st “A” Combat Bombardment Wing. Bombing results were described as excellent.

But these would not be the only missions of the 384th Bomb Group to Nantes, France.

Nantes was liberated by the Americans in 1944. At the end of the year, the 384th Bomb Group flew one more mission there. Intelligence Officer Oscar P. Picard conceived a special Christmas gift mission to Nantes to distribute gifts and toys to thousands of children in the city.

Banner from 1944, it reads: 384th Bomb GP Xmas Tent. Here we will accept your Xmas packages for French orphans. Open 0900 to 1900. Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

Banner from 1944, it reads: 384th Bomb GP Xmas Tent. Here we will accept your Xmas packages for French orphans. Open 0900 to 1900.
Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

The men of the 384th Bomb Group contributed money, their candy rations, clothing and toys purchased in town or sent over by request from relatives and friends from home. The money went towards clothing, soap, and other practical necessities of hospitals and orphanages, items unattainable in France.

Packing Christmas gifts for Nantes, France, Bethlehem Orphanage in 1944. Might be LT Oscar Picard on far right. Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

Packing Christmas gifts for Nantes, France, Bethlehem Orphanage in 1944. Might be LT Oscar Picard on far right.
Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

 

Packing Christmas gifts for Nantes, France, Bethlehem Orphanage in 1944. Might be LT Oscar Picard on far right. Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

Packing Christmas gifts for Nantes, France, Bethlehem Orphanage in 1944. Might be LT Oscar Picard on far right.
Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

On this mission, the bomb bays of six B-17s were filled with toys and clothes for the children of Nantes. Delivery was timed for the traditional French gift exchange on New Years Day, 1945.

Loading B-17G 42-97510, SATAN'S PLAYMATE for the Christmas flight to Nantes, France, 1944 Source: The Quentin Bland Collection.

Loading B-17G 42-97510, SATAN’S PLAYMATE for the Christmas flight to Nantes, France, 1944
Source: The Quentin Bland Collection.

 

Loading Christmas gifts for Bethlehem Orphanage, Nantes, France, 1944 Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

Loading Christmas gifts for Bethlehem Orphanage, Nantes, France, 1944
Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

 

Loading Christmas gifts for Bethlehem Orphanage, Nantes, France, 1944 Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

Loading Christmas gifts for Bethlehem Orphanage, Nantes, France, 1944
Source: Robert Bletscher Collection

 

The flight to Nantes, France to deliver Christmas gifts to the children on 30 December 1944. Back row (left to right): Unidentified news reporter or observer; Unidentified; S/Sgt. Albert S. Horan (Ball Turret); Unidentified; Lt. Robert C. Owens (Pilot); S/Sgt. William D. Munro (Radio Operator/Gunner); Lt. William Barry (Navigator); Front row (left to right): Unidentified; S/Sgt. Carlton W. King (Tail Gunner); S/Sgt. Vanny D. Squires (Top Turret/Engineer); Lt. Richard C. Buswell (Co-pilot); S/Sgt. Vernon P. Gardner (Waist Gunner); S/Sgt. Ivan C. Berry (Waist Gunner). Missing from this photo is Lt. Lambert Muller-Thym (Bombardier). The unidentified men were probably along for the Christmas celebration.

One of the crews on the flight to Nantes, France to deliver Christmas gifts to the children on 30 December 1944.
Back row (left to right): Unidentified news reporter or observer; Unidentified; S/Sgt. Albert S. Horan (Ball Turret); Unidentified; Lt. Robert C. Owens (Pilot); S/Sgt. William D. Munro (Radio Operator/Gunner); Lt. William Barry (Navigator);
Front row (left to right): Unidentified; S/Sgt. Carlton W. King (Tail Gunner); S/Sgt. Vanny D. Squires (Top Turret/Engineer); Lt. Richard C. Buswell (Co-pilot); S/Sgt. Vernon P. Gardner (Waist Gunner); S/Sgt. Ivan C. Berry (Waist Gunner).
Missing from this photo is Lt. Lambert Muller-Thym (Bombardier).
The unidentified men were probably along for the Christmas celebration.

 

Christmas Card from a 384th Bomb Group member, 1944

Christmas Card from a 384th Bomb Group member, 1944

 

Christmas Card from a 384th Bomb Group member, 1944

Christmas Card from a 384th Bomb Group member, 1944

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

A Wing Panel Signing

I get pretty excited about a 384th Bomb Group wing panel signing. I get absolutely ecstatic when the wing panel signing is close enough to my home for me to attend. And you can’t even imagine how great I felt when I was able to have another 384th veteran (other than the signer) come with me to enjoy the day.

I attempt to explain to family and friends what a wonderful event a wing panel signing is, but I think if I could actually show them what’s involved, it would be much more meaningful. So here goes.

First of all, I’d like to share the background of the wing panel and its history. I’m going to publish here the document that others have created to explain the project. I don’t think they’ll mind since, hopefully, word about the project will reach others by my promotion of it. The project is officially known as “The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project.”

The 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project arose from a chance observation in 2008. 384th BG NexGen member Christopher Wilkinson was visiting the EAA’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” and admired the large number of Veterans’ signatures on the bomber’s crew door. The significance of personally signing the bomber and the affection they had for the B-17s they flew and serviced was apparent. An idea began to form: might it be possible for the Veterans of the 384th BG to personally sign a B-17 part to honor their hard work and the sacrifices of their fallen comrades? The dream began to take shape after discussions with fellow Group members, and so the search for a suitable B-17 part began.

In March 2010, after a long search, a genuine B-17G wing skin panel was generously donated to the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. by Carl Scholl, partner in the warbird restoration firm Aero Trader of Chino, California. The identity of the B-17G that the panel came from is unknown. All that is known, based on the original ID plate affixed to the back, is that it was built during WWII by Briggs Manufacturing Company and its function is a wing stress panel to enclose the fuel tank.

To ready the panel for its first signatures, warbird restorer and artist Cory O’Bryan of Ontario, CA donated his time and artistic skills, hand-painting the 384th Bomb Group shield and Triangle P tail symbol, 544th, 545th, 546th and 547th Bomb Squadron shields, the Eighth Air Force shield, and listed the Group’s support squadrons on the 3-foot by 8-foot long panel.

The wing panel was first presented to the Group at their reunion in Branson, Missouri on October 12, 2010, where the first 10 Veterans signed. Since then, it has been to every annual 384th reunion, giving attending Veterans the opportunity to sign. It has also been shipped to 29 states, The District of Columbia and Canada. As of November 2016, nearly 140 Veterans have signed, and about 15 more Veterans have been identified as potential signers.

The 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel is available for any 384th BG Veteran to sign who served in any capacity in the Group from January 1943 to February 1946. Families and friends of the Veterans are strongly encouraged to participate with the Veteran when they sign the wing panel.

The project is continuing as Veterans are located, and as arrangements can be made for them to sign, even if they are unable to travel to the reunions. As many of our Veterans are unable to travel, this has become very important to them. The project will continue for as long as 384th Veterans can be located.

At the completion of the Project, when all possible signatures have been gathered, the wing panel – known as The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Commemorative Wing Panel – will be placed on permanent display in a place of honor in the 384th Bomb Group display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The project was conceived to be materially and logistically supported by the Group’s NexGen members, solely for the benefit of its Veterans and at no cost to them or their families. This has been an important goal for the project since its inception and has not wavered from this. The project’s success relies entirely on the skill, great dedication and good will of the Group’s NexGen members and friends, and the friendship and great Patriotism of its Veterans. Over two dozen individuals have contributed to the project materially or with their time, without which it could not happen.

b-17-wing-panel-schematic

The original location of the 384th BG Veterans Wing Panel is shown as a red rectangle on the schematic view above.

And this is what the wing panel looks like when it is set up for a signing.

dscn2697

As you can imagine, the wing panel is quite large, although not as heavy as you might think. B-17s were made with thin aluminum skins to keep them light as possible.

When 384th Bomb Group veterans are located, a signing is scheduled and “Wingy” is shipped to the wing panel host. In “Wingy’s” journey across the United States, she is shipped in a large wooden crate, aka, her chariot.

The wing panel host brings the panel to the veteran. Sometimes the signing takes place in the veteran’s home, and sometimes it takes place in a public place such as a veterans park or museum.

The latest wing panel signing was this past Sunday, November 20. Frederick Edward Rubin, a navigator with the group, was the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign. Keith Ellefson, the wing panel host, drove the wing panel from his home in Alabama to Fred Rubin’s home in Florida. Keith is a 384th Bomb Group NexGen and a combat data specialist.

Fred Rubin, the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign the wing panel

Fred Rubin, the 141st 384th Bomb Group veteran to sign the wing panel

The wing panel host presents the signer with several gifts:  a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P (symbol of the 384th) pin, and a handcrafted (by Keith Ellefson) stained glass triangle P memento, complete with stand.

L to R: Keith Ellefson presents Fred Rubin with a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P pin, and a handmade (by Keith) stained glass triangle P memento.

L to R: Keith Ellefson presents Fred Rubin with a 384th bomb group hat, a triangle P pin, and a handmade (by Keith) stained glass triangle P memento.

Also in attendance was John Joseph DeFrancesco, a pilot with the group. John signed the wing panel in January 2014.

John DeFrancesco points out his signature on the wing panel

John DeFrancesco points out his signature on the wing panel

In addition to signing, the veterans share stories of their time serving in the 384th Bomb Group during WWII. Fred was a navigator who was also trained to be a pilot and a bombardier. He served on the lead crew on bomb runs. John was a pilot whose aircraft was so seriously damaged by flak during his thirty-fifth and final mission that the crew had to bail out over Germany. After evading capture for a time, John was eventually taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war as a guest of the Germans, being liberated by General Patton himself.

L to R: Cindy Farrar Bryan, John DeFrancesco, Fred Rubin, and Keith Ellefson

L to R: Cindy Farrar Bryan, John DeFrancesco, Fred Rubin, and Keith Ellefson

At the end of the signing, “Wingy” is snuggled comfortably back in her chariot to await transport to her next signing. Even though “Wingy” is in her seventies, she proudly continues her service to the men who knew her so well and protected her so fiercely in WWII.

Man and machine never worked so perfectly together than a ten-man heavy bomber crew in a B-17. She was a part of them and they were a part of her, and we, the next generation, will continue to bring them together again as long as we can find one more to sign.

If you know (or know of) a 384th Bomb Group WWII Veteran, please contact:

B-17WingPanel@384thBombGroup.com.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Gloria Diane

Gloria Diane

Gloria Diane

During WWII, units throughout England adopted children whose fathers were lost in the war. One was named Gloria Diane.

Gloria Diane

Gloria Diane

Gloria Diane was seven years old at the time, and had a Flying Fortress named after her when she visited her foster fathers, the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group, at Grafton Underwood air base in the Midlands of England.

Gloria Diane and 545th Bomb Squadron Commander Raymond Paul Ketelsen

Gloria Diane and 545th Bomb Squadron Commander Raymond Paul Ketelsen

In the photo above, she looks very comfortable on the shoulder of Major Raymond P. Ketelsen of Houston, Texas, commanding officer of the squadron, which contributed 100 pounds ($400) to support her for five years.

Gloria Diane

Gloria Diane

Today, Gloria Diane would be in her seventies. Gloria Diane, if you see this, do you remember the boys of the 384th Bomb Group during WWII?

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Enlisted Men’s Mess

In November 1943, about the time Dale Smith took over as Commanding Officer of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, the 443rd Sub Depot was created under the command of Major John H. Humphries. Smith referred to the Sub Depot group as “ground pounders” and felt they were treated like second-class citizens. They had their own mess located about a mile from the central communal area, away from the Foxy Theatre, Combat Crew Mess, Officers’ Mess, and Service Club. It is unclear from this map where the separate ground crew mess was located. Smith felt that the separation led to low morale and set about to reform things.

Enlisted Messes

See the areas circled in red on the above map. On the map, the messes are noted as EM (Enlisted Men’s) Combat Mess and Consolidated Mess.

 6th Svc Sqdn, 443rd Sub Depot, 544th Bomb Sq

6th Svc Sqdn, 443rd Sub Depot, 544th Bomb Sq

One of Smith’s first reforms was to integrate the messes so that there would be no distinction between ground and air personnel in an aim to become a unified team. The airmen’s Combat Crew Mess became the Airmen’s Mess, feeding the first three grades: privates, corporals, and buck sergeants. The Ground Crew Mess became the NCO mess, feeding all staff, technical, and master sergeants.

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men's Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men’s Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

 

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men's Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men’s Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

 

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men's Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Enlisted Men’s Mess Hall, Thanksgiving Day

 

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Mess Kitchen Wash Tubs

384th Bomb Group, Grafton Underwood, Mess Kitchen Wash Tubs

 

Smith then created the Zebra Club (lots of stripes) for all the senior non-commissioned officers by remodeling an unused RAF NAFE outlet (store for necessities).

The bar of the Zebra Club.

The bar of the Zebra Club.

 

The Bar Room at the Zebra Club

The Bar Room at the Zebra Club

There is another building to the right of the Consolidated Mess called the Red Cross Aero Club. I have not found any information or pictures of this club other than one photo of the Grafton Underwood Red Cross Girls.

Grafton Underwood Red Cross Girls

Grafton Underwood Red Cross Girls

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

Information taken from Dale O. Smith’s book, “Screaming Eagle: Memoirs of a B-17 Group Commander.”

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

The Officers’ Mess

At the 384th Bomb Group’s air base in Grafton Underwood, officers took their meals at a mess hall separate from the enlisted men. The Officers’ Mess was located between the Officers’ Club and the Foxy Theatre.

Location of the Foxy Theatre at the Grafton Underwood Airfield

Location of the Officers’ Mess at the Grafton Underwood Airfield

 

384th BG Officers' Mess.  Part of the Quentin Bland Collection.

384th BG Officers’ Mess. Part of the Quentin Bland Collection.

 

384th BG Officers' Mess and nurses.  Photo contributed by Anthony Plowright.

384th BG Officers’ Mess and nurses. Photo contributed by Anthony Plowright.

 

384th BG Officers' Mess, photo part of the Leroy Arquette Collection.  Leroy is by the pole towards the back.

384th BG Officers’ Mess, photo part of the Leroy Arquette Collection. Leroy is by the pole towards the back.

Leroy Arquette was a bombardier with the 384th Bomb Group.

Photos courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

The Foxy Theatre

The Foxy Theatre was the site of entertainment for those stationed at Grafton Underwood airfield in the UK. Movies and live shows were held at the theatre.

Location of the Foxy Theatre at the Grafton Underwood Airfield

Location of the Foxy Theatre at the Grafton Underwood Airfield

During Dale O. Smith’s command, and possibly later, free ice cream cones were served there. Smith believed that one of the reasons of low morale at the camp centered around the messes and quality of food being served. He started his “reforms” by integrating the messes. Ground and air personnel, who previously were served in separate messes, were served together. Following that and some other rearrangements, Smith turned his attention to improving the food served to his men.

The poor quality of the food was blamed on the rations being provided, but Smith knew that the Polebrook outfit received identical rations and still produced better meals. After sending his cooks to Polebrook to find out their secrets, they found ways to make the powdered eggs and powdered milk palatable by mixing it with water at high speed for twenty-four hours. The Sub Depot even found a way to rig the mixers with B-17 starter motors and ran them continuously to produce this mixture in large quantities.

Smith relates those stories and the following story in his book “Screaming Eagle.” A mess officer found a closed ice cream factory in the nearby town of Kettering. Officers’ Club funds were used to buy the factory and move it to Grafton Underwood. They were able to produce delicious ice cream from the powdered egg and milk mixture and served the free ice cream cones in the Foxy.

These photos of the Foxy Theatre at Grafton Underwood are provided courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group.

The Foxy Theatre - from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

The Foxy Theatre – from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

 

The Foxy Theatre - from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

The Foxy Theatre – from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

 

From the collection of William F. Touton - Abbott & Costello in "Lost in a Harem" was playing at the Foxy Theatre

From the collection of William F. Touton – Abbott & Costello in “Lost in a Harem” was playing at the Foxy Theatre

 

The Foxy Theatre, photo courtesy of Tony Plowright

The Foxy Theatre, photo courtesy of Tony Plowright

 

The Foxy Theatre, from the John N. Smith album

The Foxy Theatre, from the John N. Smith album

 

The Foxy Theatre, from the John N. Smith album

The Foxy Theatre, from the John N. Smith album

 

The Foxy Theatre - from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

The Foxy Theatre – from the Leonard R. Niemiec Collection

 

The Foxy Theatre, from the Quentin Bland Collection

The Foxy Theatre, from the Quentin Bland Collection

 

William Gilbert Barron, known as Billy Gilbert, an American comedian and actor known for his comic sneeze routines, performed USO shows during WWII. Photo from Ken Hammond.

William Gilbert Barron, known as Billy Gilbert, an American comedian and actor known for his comic sneeze routines, performed USO shows during WWII. Photo from Ken Hammond.

 

The Foxy Theatre, from the Robert Bletscher collection

The Foxy Theatre, from the Robert Bletscher collection

 

A photo taken by Richard Denney in 2007. To the right is the site today of the 384th Officer's Club and Foxy Theatre.

A photo taken by Richard Denney in 2007. To the right is the site today of the 384th Officer’s Club and Foxy Theatre.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016