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Earlier this year (2015), I entered a Florida Writers Association contest. The top sixty entries would be published in the association’s annual collection of short stories. All of the stories would be based on the theme of revisions or starting over.
This is the story I wrote about my dad and how he restarted his life after WWII. My story, The Replacements, was selected as one of the top sixty and was published in the book, Florida Writers Association Collection 7: Revisions – Stories of Starting Over.
by Cindy Farrar Bryan
In WWII, the Army Air Forces’ recruitment posters, pamphlets, and movie trailers seduced “average American boys from average American families” to join the service. Two of those average American boys shared a desire to perform their patriotic duty from the air.
George Edwin (Ed) Farrar was the middle child of Carroll and Raleigh May Farrar’s brood of nine from Atlanta, Georgia. Carroll Farrar owned a print shop until his health failed. Very ill, he could no longer support his family. Ed quit school after the tenth grade to replace report cards with paychecks. Aside from his job servicing vending machines, Ed brought home a steady stream of winnings from Golden Gloves boxing matches.
John Oliver (Jay) Buslee was the second child and only son of John and Olga Buslee of Park Ridge, Illinois. John Buslee was a partner in the Chicago firm Neumann, Buslee & Wolfe, Inc., self-described as “merchants, importers, and manufacturers of essential oils.” On the road to a bright future, Jay studied for two years at the University of Wisconsin.
Though Ed’s and Jay’s lives had different starts and different expected futures, WWII brought them together. They both enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Ed began his military duty as an enlisted man and gunnery instructor. Jay followed the path of an aviation cadet and future officer and embarked upon pilot training.
The Eighth Air Force waged a fierce air battle over Europe fighting the Nazis, with numerous losses of aircraft and bomber crew after bomber crew. The American war machine constantly required new bombers and replacement crews to man the controls and guns of those bombers.
Ed’s and Jay’s paths crossed in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where they were selected to serve on a replacement crew and completed their final combat training. They would man a B-17 heavy bomber with Jay as the pilot and Ed as a waist gunner. In July 1944, Ed, Jay, and the rest of the “Buslee crew” were assigned to the 384th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force to fly bombing missions over Germany out of Grafton Underwood, England.
For the Buslee crew, the reality that their combat training had become actual combat came quickly. On their second mission on August 5th, their flying fortress, Tremblin’ Gremlin, was pounded by heavy flak. They limped back to England with 106 holes in the fuselage; damage to the radio, brakes, and oxygen system; loss of two of the four engines; half the crew wounded; and a dying bombardier.
Their following missions throughout August and September were not as rough, but that changed on their sixteenth mission to Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944. The Buslee crew manned the B-17 Lead Banana. After dropping their bombs and coming off the target, their group was startled to find themselves on a crossing course with another group coming in. Wallace Storey was piloting a B-17 behind and to the right of Lead Banana when “the lead ship made a sharp descending right turn” to avoid the oncoming group.
Storey saw the B-17 to his right, Lazy Daisy, slide toward him. He responded quickly and “pulled back on the control column to climb out of her path.” Moments after the near miss, he saw Lazy Daisy continue her slide and collide with Lead Banana. Lead Banana cracked in two, just past the ball turret. Lazy Daisy’s wings “folded up and both planes fell in a fireball,” spinning into the clouds.
The boys’ families held out hope, and waited for news of their sons. Three of the nine men aboard Lazy Daisy survived, but Ed Farrar was the only survivor of the Buslee crew’s nine aboard Lead Banana. The Farrar family learned Ed was a prisoner of war on New Year’s Eve. Near the end of January 1945, the Buslee family learned Jay died in the collision.
Ed sustained serious injuries in the collision. He was unable to walk when confined in the Stalag Luft IV prison camp. Only able to shuffle his feet at first, Ed eventually regained his mobility.
On February 6, 1945, the prisoners were marched westward out of the camp. Known as the “Black March,” it began during one of Germany’s coldest winters on record, with blizzard conditions. With very little food, the prisoners marched by day and slept in barns or out in the open at night, never knowing their intended fate.
On May 2, 1945, after eighty-six days and five hundred miles, the British liberated the column of men in which Ed Farrar marched. The prisoners, described as walking skeletons, were returned to health before they were returned home.
Months later, Ed finally made it home. By then, Ed’s own father was bedridden, but Jay’s father was eager to visit Ed to learn everything he could about the mid-air collision that killed his son. John and Olga Buslee traveled to Atlanta to hear the news in person. Before they returned to Park Ridge, John offered Ed a job as a salesman for his business. Ed did not want to leave home so soon, but he accepted the offer and the opportunity to restart his life.
Ed moved into the Buslee home as Jay’s parents would not hear of him living anywhere else. Ed helped fill the void left by their lost son, easing a small portion of the pain in their hearts. John Buslee taught Ed sales skills and life skills and helped him return to the normalcy of civilian life. Ed lived as the Buslee’s son and thrived under John Buslee’s tutelage. He walked a new path toward the man he would become, and toward a success in life he would not have attained without John’s help.
Ed had two brothers who also fought in WWII, and he had not seen them since his return home from war. He learned they would both be home for Christmas, and they arranged a reunion in Atlanta. Ed was the last to arrive home, on December 16, and found that his father’s condition had worsened. Carroll Farrar had delayed the business of dying until he could see his three boys together, home from war. A few days after Ed’s arrival, his father was admitted to the hospital. Carroll Farrar died on December 20, just five days before Christmas.
In January 1946, once again reluctant to leave his family, Ed returned north to the Buslee home. As a man who had just lost his father, Ed was welcomed back by the man who a year earlier had lost his son. A beloved father and a precious son could not be replaced, but Ed Farrar and John Buslee stepped into those roles for each other to help ease their shared sorrow.
Ed and John needed each other in a way neither would have expected before WWII. They both traveled a new, unexpected path that would not have existed without the tragedy of war. The war had ceased to wage over Europe, but the aftermath of war continued to wage deep within both men. For Ed Farrar and John Buslee, WWII meant not only victory, but also loss, healing, learning to live with an altered version of the future, and starting over.
Note: With many projects I must tackle before the end of the year, I am not able to devote the time to a weekly blog publication and the research that goes behind each post, so I will leave you with this as my last post of the year. Blog posts will resume in January. So for now, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015
George Edwin Farrar’s mother, Raleigh Mae, sent her telephone number to the Buslees at their request. They wished to speak to Farrar when he returned home from the war, and wanted to plan a visit to see him.
July 15, 1945
411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Ill.
Mrs. R. M. Farrar
Dear Mrs. Farrar;
Many thanks for your letter with your telephone number and to learn that you expected George to reach a spot so near to Atlanta must have been very comforting word to you.
We have just received a letter from Miss Marbach and from it we understand that you have been in touch with her and the Peluso family. It does seem very strange that they are still without any definite word, however to us it seems that this is far better that the word the Hensons and we received. At least if one believes in the oft quoted term NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS.
Our son in law has just returned from the Admiralty Islands. He is a pilot in the Navy Air Transport so after a few days here he now reports to Olathe Kansas. So our daughter has left to be with him at that point.
George must have had many experiences that he will long remember and it is our prayer that he is now in the best of health and that he may in the future enjoy all of the best which he so richly deserves.
We do hope that the opportunity to visit with George will develop in the near future. Yes we are anxious to meet you as you have been such a faithful correspondent not only with us but with other families of the men who were on the ill fated plane.
To you and your family our sincere greetings, believe me when I say that in these days of worry you have lightened our load greatly.
The Buslee’s son-in-law was Gene Kielhofer. He was married to their daughter, Janice.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
Not knowing that George Edwin Farrar and the other prisoners of Stalag Luft IV had been marched out of the camp on February 6, 1944, Mr. Buslee, father of Lead Banana pilot John Oliver (Jay) Buslee, wrote a letter to him two days later. The letter was marked “RETURNED TO SENDER By Direction of the War Department. Undeliverable as Addressed.” Mr. Buslee must have saved the letter and given it to Farrar when they met after the war.
February 8, 1945
A few days ago I received your new address from your Mother and was greatly pleased to know that she heard from you and I was more pleased to learn that you were in good health. That is sure splendid news.
Last Saturday we had a visit with Chester Rybarczyk who recently became engaged to a girl who lives in Toledo and of course he could not make the trip without her so we had a chance to see the girl of his dreams. Chet will leave next week for California just how long he will stay there is uncertain. He is however very happy that he can go there as he has never been on the West Coast so I imagine that our son John has given him a big build up on the many wonderful things that he did while out there. Yes the thrill of walking down the streets of Hollywood and meeting up with some of the movie stars is a treat for everybody it seems. Then too the weather will be much nicer than the continual snow that has ruled here for a couple of months.
This is an amateur attempt to use the typewriter so I trust you will allow for any mistakes.
We look forward to the day when you too can come to Chicago and we will try to make your visit interesting. There are many things of interest in this big city and I do feel that Chet enjoyed it at least he said he did and he has promised to return and then stay longer.
My wife and I so thoroughly enjoyed meeting you yes it hardly seems like almost a year ago as so many things have happened since then. She has asked me to greet you most sincerely and requests me to extend to you a most cordial welcome to visit us.
Do you remember our son in law? I think you met him in Oklahoma he at present is in [CENSORED] the Navy Air Transport service. He finds the weather plenty warm as it is a big change from the weather in this vicinity. Had a nice letter from Mrs. Bryant. It was such a pleasure to meet her last summer.
Well George space is limited so I will close with the wish that all of the best is yours and hope you continue to feel fine.
- Chester (Chet) Rybarczyk was the original navigator on the Buslee crew. He flew with a different crew on September 28, 1944 and witnessed the mid-air collision between Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy.
- Mr. and Mrs. Buslee traveled to Ardmore, Oklahoma to see their son before he and his crew shipped off to England. It was there that the Buslees met all the boys on the crew.
- Mr. Buslee’s son-in-law was Gene Kielhofer, who was married to his daughter, Janice.
- Mrs. Bryant was Ruby Maudene Bryant, the wife of Buslee crew top turret gunner, Lenard Leroy Bryant. Lenard Bryant was killed in the September 28 mid-air collision.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
On January 31, 1945, John Buslee, father of pilot John Oliver (Jay) Buslee, wrote to George Edwin Farrar’s mother, Raleigh Mae Farrar. Farrar was the wasit gunner of Jay Buslee’s bomber crew. Buslee and Farrar and the other boys in the crew had been reported missing in action from Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944. On New Year’s Eve 1944, Farrar had been reported as a prisoner of war. Now four months after the mid-air collision between Lead Banana carrying the Buslee crew, and Lazy Daisy carrying the Brodie crew, Jay Buslee was reported as killed in action on the September 28 mission.
It must have been a very hard letter to write. Instead of writing from home as he had done previously, Buslee wrote this letter from his office. Home was about fifteen miles from his office downtown. On that long drive into work, did John Buslee even notice how cold it was on this winter day in Chicago when all he could think about was the news, and news he couldn’t believe, about his only son?
January 31, 1945
Neumann – Buslee & Wolfe Inc
Merchants – Importers – Manufacturers
224 – 230 W. Huron Street, Chicago (10), Illinois
Mrs. Raleigh Mae Farrar
79 East Lake Terrace N.E.
Dear Mrs. Farrar:
On January 28 we received a telegram from the Adjutant General at Washington, D.C. advising that our son John O. was killed in action on September 28 while over Germany.
This, you can realize, was shocking news, particularly as we felt the time was in our favor and that the delay in definite word reaching us was due to his being a prisoner of war.
Having promised to keep you advised of any news reaching us prompts writing this letter. Mrs. Buslee, my daughter and self just can’t realize that the word sent to us is correct. We are hopeful that some error has been made due to all of the confusion in war-torn Germany and that we will ultimately get different word from our son.
We trust that you have heard recently from your son, George, and that he is in good health.
John Oliver (Jay) Buslee was identified as killed in action on an October 21, 1944 Telegram Form. This form is part of MACR9753, the Missing Air Crew Report which contained information on both the crews of Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy. In addition to identifying Buslee, the Telegram Form also reported the identifications of David Albrecht (Buslee’s co-pilot), Lenard Bryant (Buslee’s top turret gunner), Lloyd Vevle (Brodie’s co-pilot), and Byron Atkins (Brodie’s bombardier). All but Atkins had previously been recovered dead, but remained unidentified until this point. Atkins had been carried off in the nose of Lazy Daisy, away from the rest of the crew and the crash site, and had just recently been found dead and identified.
I assume the Albrecht, Bryant, Vevle, and Atkins families also received news of their sons’ deaths about the same time as the Buslees.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
On January 20, 1945 Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office for his fourth term as President and Harry Truman was sworn in as Vice President. Across the globe, the Soviet Red Army was advancing into East Prussia, putting more and more pressure on the Germans.
Four days later, Mr. Buslee, the father of the pilot of Lead Banana, again wrote to Raleigh Mae Farrar, the mother of the Banana’s waist gunner. The families of the missing boys were communicating with each other often, quickly passing along any news good or bad.
January 24, 1945
411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Illinois
Dear Mrs. Farrar,
Through Mr. Henson we learned that you have received a card from your son, George. This is indeed wonderful news.
Would like to hear from you as to what kind of a message he sent to you and we sincerely hope that as developments in Europe show such rapid advances by the Russians that it will mean the early closing of the battle over there and so release the prisoners of war so that they may return to their families at a very early date.
We have had no word pertaining to our son, Jay, nor any word from any of the next of kin outside of Mr. Henson and Mr. Stearns who unfortunately did not have very good news. We also have had a very recent letter from Mrs. Bryant and she is trying to keep up her spirits in the hope that her husband is safe and sound.
With every good wish for your continued good health and the hope that all of your boys write you often, I am,
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014