Hope, Survival, and Death: And the WWII Story of 306th Bomb Group Surgeon Thurman Shuller

 

Major Thurman Shuller, WWII 306th Bombardment Group Surgeon, with a patient circa 1943.

 

Born on May 6, 1914, Thurman Shuller was the youngest of six boys born to E.W. and Sarah Shuller on their farm located five miles north of Ozark, Arkansas.

Thurman graduated from high school in 1932 and enrolled in Arkansas Polytechnic College, a two year school in Russellville, Arkansas.  Tuition was five dollars a semester, room and board was twelve dollars and fifty cents per month,  and he earned extra money sweeping floors for twelve and a half cents an hour.  In 1934 he attended Hendricks College in Conway, Arkansas, for one year before being accepted into medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Arkansas.  [At that time one needed only medical school prerequisite courses and not a college degree to be considered for medical school admission.]  Graduating from medical school in 1939 Thurman did a two year internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana.

While in medical school Thurman and seven of his classmates joined the Arkansas Army Reserve.  In the summer of 1941, they were called up for one year of active duty training.  On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The United States (US) declared war on Japan the next day.  One year of active duty turned into five years for him.

First Lieutenant (1st Lt.) Schuller trained at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, graduated as a flight surgeon, and arrived on April 15, 1942, at Wendover Field, Utah, to become part of a medical unit for the newly formed 306th Bombardment Group (BG) of the Eighth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).  The 306th BG would fly the B-17 Flying Fortress.  Dr. Shuller was assigned as flight surgeon to the 369th Bomb Squadron.  In August 1942 the 306th BG would begin the move that would take them to their wartime base at Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.  Captain (Capt.) Shuller left Wendover for England as the 306th BG Surgeon.  The 306th BG personnel, equipment, and B-17s would arrive at Thurleigh in September.

The 306th BG flew its first combat mission on October 9, 1942, to bomb the metalworks factories at Cie. de Fives-Lille, France.  This mission resulted in the first 306th BG combat death, Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt.) Arthur E. Chapman, a gunner on the 1st Lt. Robert W. Seelos crew.  Chapman lost his left hand and was shot in the chest by an attacking German fighter plane.  S/Sgt. Chapman died October 14, 1942.

When the bombing war began in 1942 for the Eighth USAAF there was no stated number of combat missions a flyer was expected to complete before finishing a wartime tour.  Flight crews were then required to fly until they died, crashed and became a prisoner of war (POW), were wounded or injured or medically removed from flying status, or WWII ended.  

Crew and aircraft losses took a serious toll on morale of flight and ground personnel.  The medics were at the flight line as B-17s returned from missions to care for the wounded and the dead.  The B-17 ground maintenance crews were nearing exhaustion repairing the planes and dealing with the loss of the flyers they knew.  The medics were also encountering serious flight issues such as frostbite and anoxia at high altitudes.  Other medical problems included flying and combat fatigue, flying “jitters,” and the physical and emotional stability of the men.

By early 1943 twenty of the original flying crews and some replacements had been lost.  Major (Maj.) Shuller wrote a letter to General Ira Eaker, 8th USAAF Commander, and requested a limit of 20 combat missions be established after which a flyer would be relieved of flying duties.  The response to his letter did establish a limit of 25 missions.  This change gave flyers a goal and hope that they had a chance to live through the war.

Men and aircraft continued to be lost.  There are some WWII stories that have been told over the decades and may be considered representative of the experiences and emotions felt by flyers and ground crew.  The following is the story of Capt. Raymond Check as told in the book First Over Germany written by WWII 306th BG navigator Russell A. Strong:

“Officers of the 423rd Squadron were planning a party for the night of 26 June [1943] because on this day Capt. Raymond Check, an original pilot and a very popular member of the squadron, would be completing his twenty-fifth mission, along with his navigator, 1st Lt. M. Prue Blanchette.  A short hop over the [English] Channel to an airfield at Tricqueville [France] looked like an ideal run for those winding up tough combat tours.  Because it was Check’s last ride, Lt. Col. [Lieutenant Colonel] J.W. Wilson, his original squadron commander, came back to Thurleigh to fly with him.

 

Lt. William Cassedy (left) and Capt. Raymond Check.

 

Lt. Col. J.W. Wilson.

 

As the crew was preparing for the mission, it was noted that a waist gunner was needed.  Lt. William Cassedy, Check’s regular copilot who had had his seat preempted by Col. Wilson, said that he needed a milk run as badly as the next person and would fly as the waist gunner, a circumstance which proved most fortuitous for members of this crew.  The takeoff of twenty-one planes at 1555 [3:55 pm] was uneventful, and the mission proceeded to Tricqueville under the command of Maj. Henry W. Terry.  Two planes aborted and nineteen were on the bomb run.

Col. Wilson was flying in the left seat and Check was serving as copilot as the nineteen planes turned on the bomb run.  At almost the time of ‘bombs away,’ Check’s plane was hit by 20 mm cannon fire in the cockpit area by a German fighter attacking out of the sun.  One shell exploded just above Check’s head, sending fragments into the cockpit and killing Check instantly, nearly decapitating him.  At the same time a machine gun bullet hit the flare box behind the pilot’s seat and 20 mm fragments punctured the oxygen system.

Check was dead; T/Sgt. [Technical Sergeant]  James A. Bobbett, engineer, was wounded and flames were dancing through the cockpit area, severely burning Col. Wilson’s hands and face.  Bobbett fought the fire and extinguished it.  When flares exploded, the concussion blew open the bomb bay doors and the doorway behind the top turret was filled with flames, reported Lt. Cassedy from his vantage point in the waist.

The alarm bell rang!  Lt. Lionel Drew, bombardier, squeezed between Lt. Blanchette and Maj. George Peck, a visiting surgeon who insisted on flying, and bailed out.  Those in the rear of the plane were preparing to jump when Lt. Cassedy told them to wait while he investigated; the plane was flying all right and the engines at the moment sounded good.  Cassedy pushed through the radio room, across the bomb bay catwalk, crawled through the turret frame and came up between Wilson and the bloody body of Check.  The plane was in a climb and Cassedy reached in and pushed the yoke forward to get a more level flight attitude while he assessed the situation.

Col. Wilson turned to him and motioned Cassedy to take the oxygen mask off his burned face.  Cassedy shook his head that he would not, Wilson had been flying the plane with his elbows as long strands of skin hung off both hands.  Wilson finally forced his mask off, got out of the left seat and went down to the nose where Dr. Peck was.  Sgt. Bobbett had already been there for treatment of his wounds.

Once the way was cleared, Cassedy got into the left seat, trying to ignore the body of his close friend and flying mate a couple of feet away from him.  He began to get the plane oriented for the short flight over the English coast and north to Thurleigh.  Soon Col. Wilson came back to the flight deck and, as the English coast disappeared under the nose of the plane, he motioned for Cassedy to take the aircraft down and land.  Cassedy, a second lieutenant, ignored the hand motions and the implied order and kept the plane churning northward toward Thurleigh.  He reasoned the medical treatment for the wounded would be faster and better at the home station than at some other base.  There were other problems for him to consider as well.  As they closed in on the base how was he going to handle the traffic problem and the landing pattern?

In all of the intense enemy fire, the plane had had its flare gun destroyed, and it was therefore unavailable for signaling.  The radios had also been shot out.  Cassedy did not think the plane was in condition to fly by the tower to convey any messages.  He did not want to get into the traffic pattern already being flown by the other aircraft of the group that had arrived before him.  Nor did he think that to land on one of the short runways intersecting the main runway was the safest way to get to the ground either.  There was another complicating factor in all of this, a human equation that must have run through Cassedy’s mind during these tense moments.  A big party was being planned that evening and among those attending was an American nurse.  Check and the nurse were to be married the next day.  She was in a jeep at the end of the active runway waiting with others for the momentous conclusion of Check’s tour.  Not wishing to bring his planeload of misery to a stop there, Cassedy decided to land down wind, against the incoming traffic and to take his chances.

As he came in on final approach the planes flying in the opposite direction sensed a problem and pulled up.  Cassedy brought his craft in for a smooth landing and pulled off the runway at the far end of the field, away from the waiting crowd.  When the engines wound down and the switches were off, Cassedy raised himself out of the seat and with a long, tearful look at his good friend Check, dropped down into the nose and lowered himself out of the plane.”

In a 2005 oral history interview, Dr. Shuller emotionally recounted the story of his friend, Raymond Check.  Maj. Schuller was in the base emergency room when his friend’s body was brought there.  He said Capt. Check’s funeral was the only one he attended during WWII.

In October 1943 Maj. Shuller was named US 1st Air Division Surgeon and was transferred to Eighth USAAF Headquarters at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England.

The 306th BG flew its last wartime combat mission on April 19, 1944, to the marshalling [railroad] yards at Falkenberg, Germany.  WWII officially ended on May 8, 1945.

When WWII ended the 306th BG reported the following:  38 men were killed in flying accidents after the group left the US, 738 men were killed on combat missions, 855 became POWs, 44 were evadees, 1 escaped a German POW camp, and 69 were interned in the neutral countries of Switzerland and Sweden.

Dr. Thurman Shuller returned to the US after the war ended, completed a residency in pediatrics, and practiced medicine in McAlester, Oklahoma, for 41 years before retiring.

Those who have not experienced war may wonder why WWII military reunions are still held to this day.  Speaking at a 1983 306th BG Reunion in Omaha, Nebraska, Dr. Schuller said,  “We’ve all had a great time the last two days renewing old friendships, reviving old memories, and reliving some of the experiences of so long ago.  Have you ever wondered why we have retained such deep affection for some of our wartime buddies — why periodic reunions at this stage in life can be so meaningful, so much more so than a class reunion, for instance?  Andy Rooney [American radio and television writer], who generally hits us with such everyday and simple truths, has in his book A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney included a piece called ‘An Essay on War’ in which he makes a very thoughtful statement … ‘If war brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the very best.  It’s the ultimate competition.  One lives at full speed finding strength he didn’t know he had, accomplishing things he didn’t know he could do.  Most of us get a warm sense of fellow feeling when we act in close and successful relationships with others and maybe that happens more in war than at any other time’.”

 

 

 

Captain Raymond Check had a WWII US Navy fighter ace brother, Leonard J. Check.  He was killed in a flying accident over the Philippines on January 5, 1945.

 

Dr. Thurman Shuller (left) and William Houlihan, 306th BG medic, discuss their days at Thurleigh while attending a 306th BG Reunion in San Antonio, Texas, in 2005.

 

The WWII experiences of William Houlihan are told in two other stories on this website.  See The Story of WWII 306th Bombardment Group Medic William F. Houlihan  and  Last Flight of a B-17 Named “Combined Operations”: And Emily Harper Rea.

Thank you to Dr. Vernon Williams, Military Historian and Director, East Anglia Air War Project for access to his 2005 interview with Dr. Thurman Shuller.  For more information visit East Anglia Air War Project.

Thank you to WWII 306th BG Historical Association Historian Cliff Deets and Board members Nancy Huebotter and Deborah Conant.  Further information about the WWII 306th BG can be found at 306th Bomb Group Historical Association.

WWII era photographs used in this story are in the 306th BG Historical Association Collection.

WWII Japanese “Hell Ships”: And the Story of US Army Private First Class Albert Deets

US Army Private First Class Albert Donaldson Deets.

 

Albert “Ab” Donaldson Deets was born September 22, 1919, in Dodd City, Fannin County, Texas.  He was the last of eleven children born to John and Mary Deets who farmed in the area.  He was delivered by Doctor J. M. Donaldson, and Ab received his middle name from the physician.

Ab graduated from Ector (Texas) High School.  He was tall for his day at 6 feet 4 inches.  On December 2, 1939, he enlisted in the United States (US) Army.  He already had two brothers in the US military.

 

Photograph given by US Army Sergeant John Deets (L) and US Navy Petty Officer Clifford Deets to their mother for her birthday.

 

Ab’s brother John Deets enlisted in the US Army in 1935.  His skill in baseball was noticed by a baseball scout, and the Cincinnati Reds bought out John’s US Army contract in 1937.  “Tex Deets” would spend the next three years pitching with several Cincinnati minor league teams including the Durham Bulls.  On September 27, 1940, he reenlisted in the US Army.  After the US entered WWII John transferred to the US Army Air Force and became a gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress.  He flew with the 8th Air Force, 306th Bombardment Group (BG), 369th Bombardment Squadron (BS) based at Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.  He completed the required 25 missions over Europe and was sent back to the US in December 1943.  In November 1944 John volunteered to fly again with a combat crew and was assigned to the 15th Air Force, 2nd BG, 429th BS, and flew 31 combat missions from Amendola Airbase near Foggia, Italy.

Clifford Deets, another of Ab’s brothers, enlisted in the US Navy on September 8, 1935.  He served on a number of ships and was temporarily attached to the United States Ship (USS) Drayton in July 1937 to search for Amelia Earhart after her plane disappeared on a flight over the Pacific Ocean.  During the Battle of Okinawa (April 1 – June 22, 1945) Clifford was assigned to the USS Neshoba that landed the US Army 96th Infantry Division in the first wave of beach landings on the island.  By the end of WWII he had attained the US Navy rank of Lieutenant.

In WWII many families had more than one child in the conflict.  John and Clifford Deets returned home after the war.

Ab did not come home.  His grave site is officially recorded as latitude 20 degrees and 41 minutes north and longitude 118 degrees 27 minutes east in the Bashi Straits of the South China Sea.

Ab’s story.

After Ab trained at Fort D. A. Russell located in Marfa, Texas, he was sent to Fort Mills a US Army post located on the island of Corregidor in the Philippine Islands.  Private First Class (PFC) Albert Deets was assigned to the US Army 60th Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery K.

[The Philippines were part of the Spanish Colonial Empire for over 300 years until Spain’s defeat in the 1898 Spanish – American War.  After the war the Philippines became a territory of the US.

The Japanese attacked the Philippines nine hours after the December 7, 1941, surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.  

As the Japanese advanced through the Philippines General Douglas A. MacArthur, Commander of the US Army Forces in the Far East, consolidated US and Filipino forces in a defensive position on the Bataan Peninsula.  The Battle of Bataan (January 7 – April 9, 1942) ended with the surrender of approximately 75,000 Filipino and American defenders.  The prisoners were marched an estimated 65 miles (104 kilometers) in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Estimates of casualties and losses during the march range from 5,650 to 18,000 Filipinos and Americans.

Corregidor was the largest of four fortified islands guarding the entrance to Manila Bay and was the last stronghold in the Philippines to fall to the Japanese in 1942.  It is from this island that General MacArthur escaped to Australia in March 1942 and famously vowed “I shall return” to the Philippines.  The final battle for Corregidor (May 5 – 6, 1942) ended with the capitulation of approximately 11,000 Filipinos and Americans including US Army and US Navy nurses.] 

PFC Deets was one of the 11,000 who became a Japanese prisoner of war (POW) when Corregidor fell.  He was sent to POW Camp Cabanatuan near Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.

Cabanatuan was the largest Japanese POW camp in the Far East.  At its peak it held 8,000 prisoners.  Most prisoners were Americans, but some Allies and civilians were imprisoned there also.  On May 26, 1941, the first captured Americans from the Bataan Death March arrived.  On May 29, 6,000 POWs captured at Corregidor arrived.  More followed.  The camp had poor sanitation, limited water and food, and primitive medical care.  Dysentery, malaria, and cholera were common.  Reports from prisoners noted mistreatment and torture.  Ab was a prisoner there for almost 2 1/2 years.

 [Japan signed but did not ratify the Geneva Convention of 1929 so was not bound by the laws.]

In May 1942 the Japanese started transferring POWs by sea to places such as Japan, Manchuria, and other locations to be used as slave labor.  The ships had no markings or flag indicating they were carrying POWs.  Many ships were sunk unknowingly by US submarines and military aircraft.  It is estimated that over 21,000 Allied POWs died at sea during transport by the Japanese.

POW survivors report being shoulder to shoulder in the extremely hot cargo holds of “Hell Ships” without adequate water, food, and ventilation while standing in their excrement.  Some men died, and others lost their sanity.

In October 1944 1,600 POWs including PFC Albert Deets were taken from Cabanatuan to be transported and then to be used as slave labor in industries needed to meet Imperial Japan’s war demands for things such as coal and zinc.

On October 24, 1944, the Japanese freighter Arisan Maru carrying nearly 1,800 POWs was sunk by a US submarine.  According to US Navy records, the USS Shark II or the USS Snook may have been responsible for the sinking of the Arisan Maru in the Bashi Straits of the South China Sea.  Only nine POWs survived the sinking.

 

6,886-ton Japanese freighter Arisan Maru.

 

The Arisan Maru was torpedoed at approximately 5 pm and sank about two hours later.  Japanese destroyers picked up Japanese survivors, but no attempt was made to rescue the POWs.  The official grave site of PFC Albert Deets and the others lost in the sinking became latitude 20 degrees and 41 miles north and 118 degrees and 27 miles east in the South China Sea.  Ab was 25 years old.

Three months after Ab and the other POWs were taken from Cabanatuan US Army soldiers from the 6th Ranger Battalion and Alamo Scouts with 250 – 280 Filipino guerrillas liberated the remaining prisoners at the POW camp on January 30, 1945.

General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on the Philippine island of Leyte on October 20, 1944, fulfilling his vow “I shall return.”

 

 

 

 

A memorial to those lost in the sinking of the Arisan Maru was dedicated on October, 24, 1999, in the Memorial Courtyard at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

 

The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, currently has an exhibit “Prisoners Under the Rising Sun.”  Link to information on the exhibit which ends September 3, 2018, is http://www.pacificwarmuseum.org/news-events/.

Thank you to Clifford Deets, nephew of Albert “Ab” Deets, for sharing the story of his uncles and father.  Family photographs are used with his permission.

The story of the WWII liberation of Cabanatuan was the plot of a 2005 movie The Great Raid.

A “Rosie” at Willow Run: The WWII Story of Katherine Sakalay Brown

Katherine Sakalay.   

 

“Rosie the Riveter” became a cultural icon in WWII history.  But not all “Rosies” used rivet guns.  During WWII women went to work in factories, shipyards, and munitions plants.  They made war supplies and did industrial work when the men went off to war.  This story is about a “Rosie” named Katherine (Kay) Sakalay who worked (without a rivet gun) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Consolidated  B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were produced during WWII.

 

In 1942 artist  J. Howard Miller was commissioned by the Westinghouse Company War Production Coordination Committee to make posters for the war effort.  This is one of his posters.  The poster itself was not known as “Rosie the Riveter” until after WWII.  Canada had a similar poster called “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl.”

 

Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

 

Willow Run is remembered as one of the major manufacturers of the WWII Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.  The first B-24 rolled off the assembly line in September 1942.  By the end of WWII, 8,685 B-24s were produced at the Willow Run location.

 

In 2013 Kay wrote of her working life at Willow Run during WWII.  

 

March 9, 2013

I am Katherine Sakaly Brown.  I will be 90 years old this August and now live in San Antonio, Texas.

My parents George and Eva Sakaly immigrated from Greece, my father from Bergama (then Greece, not Turkey) in late 1910 and my mother from the island of Lesbos in the early 1920s, both coming through Ellis Island on a quota.  They met and married in 1921, and I was born in 1923 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the stadium for the University of Michigan is now located.  They [the State of Michigan] declared my parents’ property eminent domain, and they had to move.  I was told I was born on the 40 yard line.

My parents moved to Petersburg, Michigan, about 60 miles north of Ann Arbor, built a home and grocery store with a gas station.  I went to school in Petersburg from 1st grade to high school graduation in 1941.

I was hired for my first job at Willow Run (Ypsilanti, Michigan) I believe in February 1942.  This plant was to build the B-24 bomber known as the Liberator.  At the time I started working only part of the structure was built, only the tool and dye shop was completed, and the remainder of the plant was wide open with construction.  We were given uniforms in about a year, and our name badges designated the area which you were supposed to be working.  The plant worked 3 shifts a day non-stop until 1945.  I believe it numbered something like 40,000 employees, trains were sent to the south to hire people to staff the factory, most of them never returned to their hometown.  All employees had to punch a time clock, in and out, and if you were a minute late you were docked 15 minutes of time.

Henry Ford was instrumental in building the factory, staffing, and producing the B-24 Bomber.  I remember seeing him walking through the plant at various times with a couple of his staff.  He was reported to be a stern, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-union individual.  There was no smoking in the factory at any time.  He did not live to see the final plane leave the plant, however, Henry Ford II was there when it was towed from the plant to the hangar.  There was a picture of this event, and I was seen in it, my rear view that is.

I first worked at a crib, which was a small station within the factory, keeping inventory of parts used and parts to be ordered.  From there I became something like a runner, taking small parts where they were needed.  Our lunch period was 15 minutes, and they would bring in caterers in portable chuck wagon types of structures.  You ate wherever you were standing or sitting.  The food was typical GI food in the military, served on metal trays; it was this or bring your own meals.  We had lockers on the second floor; these were located around the sides of the plant also the laboratories, etc. were on the balconies.

The parking lots were a nightmare.  You had to remember where your car was and which side of the plant you had parked or you would be there for hours looking for your transportation.  Car pooling was a must.  I had a 1940 Buick that we used when it was my turn to drive.  We changed cars, each passenger taking their turn, and we paid the driver when we were passengers.  I don’t remember how much we paid.  We had gas rationing; when you worked for a defense plant you had ample gas for your trips.  The coupons were a must for us.  During the first 2-3 years, most employees had to work all 3 shifts when their turn came.  Later on, when I was transferred out to the hangars, my shift remained on the day shift.

I wish I could remember when the first plane was finished and taken out to the hangar, but it was a great day for all of us.  The plant itself was a mile long in size, not counting the hangars and the administration building which were separate buildings.  From the parking lots one had to climb a very tall staircase to cross over to the factory itself, you could not walk in from the parking lot to the plant.  Your ID was checked when you got to the inside of the plant.  Badges were part of your anatomy, pictures, and IDs as to which part of the plant you had to access.

Underneath the balcony were offices for different officers to conduct their operations.  I wound up in one of them for quite some time.  There were offices up on the balconies also as well as a cafeteria later on.  If you did not have the proper identification you could not walk through the plant to look around.  You stayed in the area where you were assigned to work.  I never had anything to do with putting the airplane together;  I was always in a clerical type of job.  I never got inside of the B-24 until I was assigned to the hangar areas and then only to stow the confidential information aboard and get off.

There was an altitude chamber in the hangar which dropped the oxygen, temperature, etc. ranging from the ground level to several thousand feet in a very short time.  I got in it when it went up to 12,500 feet, and it was a light-headed feeling.  You were told to talk a bit when you were in various stages of rising altitude.  It was rather large, capable of holding several people at one time.

There was a huge mound on the grounds where they practiced shooting all the [B-24] guns.

When the planes were finished a factory pilot had to pre-flight the plane to make sure it was good enough to pass on to the United States Army Air Force.  When the weather was bad, this was Michigan, and we had a lot of nasty weather, the planes would stack up on the aprons until weather cleared up for a pre-flight.  When the planes were OK’ed by the crew, etc. they were turned over to the military that came in to ferry the aircraft where they were designated to go.  The pre-flight crew consisted of four men: a pilot, co-pilot, radio man, and flight engineer.  When they completed their check, then the plane was turned over to military pilots.  [Willow Run had 1,300 cots for military crews to sleep while they waited for their assigned B-24 to roll off the assembly line.]

 

B-24 Liberator Check List.

 

When it was no longer necessary for them to manufacture the B-24, the plant was shut down.  Their goal was to make a B-24 every hour.  I don’t know if that goal was ever reached by the end of WWII, I am sure it was.  [At its peak in 1944 a B-24 rolled off the Willow Run assembly line every 63 minutes.]

Over 8,600 aircraft were manufactured and an equal amount of parts manufactured for planes already in service.

 

In one of Kay’s great stories about Willow Run she tells of attending a meeting there with B-24 pilot James Stewart who was visiting the plant.  She said Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart was a friendly, down-to-earth man who was very tall. 

In the late 1940s Kay accepted a job with the United States (US) State Department and worked for a time in post WWII Germany.  From Germany she relocated to Paris, France, and worked on special assignment to the US Ambassador.  For her entire life Kay had a special place in her heart for Paris.

In the 1950s Kay moved to Texas and became an assistant to then US Senator and future President of the US Lyndon B. Johnson.  

Kay married Harold Brown, a Texas businessman, in 1965 and spent the rest of her life in Texas.

Kay Sakaly Brown died on July 24, 2017, in San Antonio, Texas.  In August of that year she would have been 94 years old.

 

 

I knew Kay to be a wise and spirited lady.  She was a woman ahead of her time and a wonderful friend.

 

Certificate American Rosie the Riveter Association.

 

The Yankee Air Museum located in Belleville, Michigan, at the Willow Run Airport tells the story of the WWII Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant.  The museum’s collections span the history of aviation from WWI to present day.  For more information about the Yankee Air Museum see http://yankeeairmuseum.org/.

The Story of WWII 306th Bombardment Group Medic William F. Houlihan

William Frederick Houlihan, age 22.

 

William “Bill” Houlihan was born December 11, 1918, in Boston, Massachusettes.  After working as a merchant marine in 1938, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, and worked for Ford Motor Company.

After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Bill tried to enlist in the United States (US) Navy and the US Marine Corps. Due to an ear issue he was not selected.  Bill decided to go back to Detroit and wait for what he knew was inevitable.  On February 14, 1942, Valentine’s Day,  he received his military draft notice.

After being trained as a US Army Air Force medic Bill was sent to Wendover, Utah, and became a member of the newly formed B-17 Flying Fortress 306th Bombardment Group (BG) training there.  Arriving at Wendover on June 6, 1942, Private First Class (Pfc) William Houlihan was assigned to the medical component of the 367th Bomb Squadron (BS) of the 306th BG.

Personnel of the 306th BG began troop movement to the US east coast from Wendover in late August of 1942.  Travelling by train, ship, and air the 306th BG would travel 4,000 miles to their assigned base at Thurleigh which was five miles (8.0 kilometers) north of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England.

Staff Sergeant (SSgt)* Bill Houlihan (who was nicknamed “Houlie”) crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Elizabeth (a troop ship during WWII) and was in one of the first 306th BG units to reach their destination of Thurleigh in September 1942.  [*Before troop movement to a theater of war some lower ranking military personnel were promoted to SSgt, Technical Sergeant (TSgt), or Master Sergeant (MSgt).  One reason for the rapid promotions is that it offered some protection for the men if they became a German prisoner of war (POW).  Senior enlisted men generally received better treatment in POW camps than lower enlisted grades.]

The 306th BG flew its first combat mission on October 9, 1942, to Lille, France, to bomb the steel and locomotive works located there.  Twenty-four B-17s took off from Thurleigh that day.  Twenty-three B-17s returned.  B-17 tail number 41-24510 flown by 367th BS pilot Captain (Capt) John W. Olson was downed when a German Focke-Wulf 190 fighter plane flew into the nose of the aircraft.  Three of the nine crew members survived.

It was then that the reality of war and losing friends and colleagues became part of everyday life at Thurleigh for both flying and ground personnel.

SSgt Houlihan and the 306th BG medical units manned the dispensary and hospital on Thurleigh.  But focus was on the flight line as B-17s returned from a mission.  Ambulances and medical personnel were at the airfield as the planes came into view and landed.  Personnel on the ground counted the aircraft as they were sighted.  Ground maintenance crews were there waiting to see if the B-17s they repaired and maintained came back.  Friends of crew members flying that day watched to see if their buddies were returning.  And the British living in the area surrounding the airfield would look to the sky and wonder if they would again see an American they had befriended as they observed the aircraft returning in formation or straggling back to Thurleigh.

If there were injured or wounded on board the B-17 crew would shoot off a red flare upon approach to the airfield.  Those planes were given priority landing.   As that B-17 landed the ambulance would follow the aircraft and quickly move to reach the wounded airman when the aircraft came to a stop.

 

Left to right kneeling: Captain Henry A. Danzig (423rd BS Surgeon), SSgt William F. Houlihan (367th BS Medic), Captain Charles P. McKim (369th BS Surgeon), and Sgt Clarence W. Hoheisel (367th BS Medic).  The patient is Corporal James Mitchell.

 

Removing a wounded or injured airman from the nose or tail of a B-17 could present a difficult problem due to limited maneuvering room for medics and a medical stretcher in the aircraft.  The Americans adopted the use of a special stretcher used by the British.  It was made of bamboo and would wrap around the injured airman and stabilize him during removal from the aircraft.

 

Flexible medical litter made of bamboo being used to remove an injured airman from a B-17.

 

When possible men were given some free time in the form of a day off, a pass, or leave.  Time off was a great morale booster among the troops.

SSgt Houlihan’s day off was Monday.  He tells the story of one day riding along to Belfast, Ireland, on a B-17 doing a “whiskey run” for an upcoming party on Thurleigh.  367th BS pilot Capt George R. Buckey was flying that day, and Bill’s friend TSgt Harry Brown was the radio operator.  Once in Belfast, Bill and Harry decided to take a tour of Old Bushmills Distillery while the B-17 was being loaded.  Capt Buckey told them to be back at the airfield by 5 pm because he wanted to take off in daylight.

Bill says that at the end of every whiskey production line at Old Bushmills Distillery he and Harry were offered a sample of that whiskey.  According to Bill they were “well sampled” when they noticed it was already 5 pm.  Hurrying back to the Belfast airfield they found Capt Buckey standing on the wing of the B-17 yelling expletives at them.  Bill says Capt Buckey never said anything further to him, but Harry told Bill that the pilot continued to “comment” to him on the B-17 radio frequency as they flew back to Thurleigh.

But tragedy could come to Thurleigh even from other bases.  On October 22, 1944, SSgt Houlihan was standing outside watching a formation of what turned out to be 305th BG B-17s returning from a mission.  They were based at Chelveston approximately 15 miles (23 kilometers) from Thurleigh.  Near SSgt Houlihan was the Thurleigh base photographer TSgt Francis L. Waugh who was standing on the running board of an ambulance with his camera pointed up at the B-17s.  They saw two of the B-17s crash into each other.  The crews from both B-17s were killed.  Human remains and wreckage from the aircraft rained down from the sky over Thurleigh.

 

Moment of collision when two 305th BG B-17s crashed over Thurleigh on October 22, 1944.  The B-17s altitude over Thurleigh can be observed as one notes visible Thurleigh base landscape in the foreground of the photo.

 

Bill says all Thurleigh base personnel took part in the respectful recovery of the scattered human remains.

[In the WWII 306th BG Historical Association newspaper Echoes published in April 1991,  then newspaper Editor and 306th BG veteran, Russell A. Strong,  wrote the following:

“It was a murky day in the air on 22 October, and the 306th planes were feeling their way into the field, when suddenly two formations appeared almost out of nowhere.  Two of the squadrons from the 305th Bomb Group came over Thurleigh, one from the south and another from the east, searching for the safety of their own field.

One air commander took his squadron up, telling his compatriot at 90 degrees to him to take his planes down.  All did, except for the ‘down’ tail ender, who came up instead and collided with the last plane in the other squadron.”]

But there were some happy moments during the war.  Bill was the best man at four weddings when American servicemen married English girls.

 

1944. Bill’s fourth time as best man. Left to right: Connie Walsh, John Corcoran, bride Mary Corcoran, Evelyn Walsh, and Bill Houlihan.

 

WWII ended officially in Europe on May 8, 1945.  The US War Shipping Administration in a plan called Operation Magic Carpet (October 1945 – September 1946) returned eight million Americans back to the US from the European, Pacific, and Asian Theaters.  Bill returned to the US on the ship Queen Mary.

During WWII SSgt Houlihan “Houlie” saw and experienced many things.  He had saved lives as a medic, lost friends in the war, and made many of what would become lifelong friendships.  And Bill was one of the men who got to go home.

Discharged from the US military in 1945 Bill went back to work with Ford Motor Company.  Bill would continue his education using the GI Bill, serve in various defense industry positions, and eventually retire from the US defense industry. 

On Saint Patrick’s Day in 1946 he met his future wife Ruth Jones.  They were married for 67 years.

 

 

 

Serving together in wartime can build lifelong friendships.  Bill is a member of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society and the 306th BG Historical Association.  In 1989 he served as President of the 306th BG Historical Association.  He has worked diligently to keep alive the memories of those who served in WWII.

I first met Bill Houlihan at a 306th BG Historical Association Reunion in San Antonio, Texas, in 2005.  Over the years he has shared many WWII dramatic and humorous stories with me.  Bill is one of the people who inspired me to create this WWII website.  Thank you Bill for permission to share your stories and photographs.

 

Bill Houlihan with son-in-law Joel LaBo at the 2005 306th BG Reunion in San Antonio, Texas.

 

Thank you to Dr. Vernon Williams, Abilene Christian University History Professor, for access to his WWII East Anglia Air War Project photographs and interview with Bill Houlihan which was conducted in 2005.  For more information on the East Anglia Air War Project visit http://www.angliaairwar.org .

Thank you to WWII 306th BG Historical Association Historian Cliff Deets.  Further information about the WWII 306th BG can be found at http://306bg.us.

Another publication mentioning SSgt Houlihan on this website  https://www.ww2history.org/war-in-europe/last-flight-of-a-b-17-named-combined-operations-and-emily-harper-rea/ tells the story of a 306th BG B-17 crash on the Isle of Man on April 14, 1945.

Memories of War Never Forgotten: The Story of WWII US Navy Hospital Corpsman Jack Miller Fletcher

 

Map indicating the Mariana Islands, Guam, and Iwo Jima in the Pacific Ocean.

 

Jack Miller Fletcher was born September 21, 1925, in Spur, Texas (240 miles west of Dallas, Texas).  After the December 7, 1941, surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Jack went to Dallas to join the United States (US) military.  After the train with new recruits left Dallas with a destination of California for military training, Jack’s father stopped the train at Sweetwater, Texas (212 miles west of Dallas), told the military authorities that Jack was underage to enlist, and took him home.  Later in 1942 after Jack turned 17 years old, his father signed the paperwork permitting him to enlist.  Jack left high school a semester before graduating and joined the US Navy.  [Jack had three older brothers who also served in WWII].

[While in California training, Jack learned a young lady he dated in Texas was in Los Angeles.  Her name was Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell.  They spent a night dancing the jitterbug to the Les Brown Band of Renown Orchestra at the Los Angeles Hollywood Palladium.  Gypsie would change her name to Phyllis Coates and became the first Lois Lane in the television series Adventures of Superman.]

Jack trained as a US Navy hospital corpsman and was assigned to the US 3rd Marine Division.

Second Battle of Guam (July 21 – August 10, 1944).  The island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean Mariana Islands had been a US possession since 1898.  The Japanese captured the island in the First Battle of Guam (December 8 – 10, 1941).

Jack landed on Guam several days after the initial US assault on July 21, 1944.  

While on Guam Jack tells the story of a local family who asked his help to deliver a baby.  He hadn’t received training in that area, and all he knew was what he had seen in American movies when an actor would say  “tear up the sheets and boil some water.”  The family followed Jack’s instructions.  Jack was organizing his torn sheets and boiling water when a family member delivered the baby.  The sheets that were torn up were never needed, and Jack learned that they were the family’s best ones that had been buried with other valuables in December 1941 so the Japanese could not confiscate them.

After the US capture of Guam, the island was used for training exercises in preparation for the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In Jack’s 2013 oral history interview with the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, he tells a story of the unimaginable bravery and courage of a fellow hospital corpsman who died in a training accident on Guam on December 3, 1944.  The hospital corpsman’s name was David L. Demarest.  He was 20 years old.  During the training exercise the shell of an anti-tank 105mm gun fell short and landed in the midst of the marines.  David Demarest’s jaw was blown off in the explosion.  In an attempt to prevent himself from swallowing his tongue after the injury,  David took a safety pin and put it through his tongue and then pinned his tongue to his cheek.  In spite of his serious injury he continued to treat the wounded and the dying until he too died.  Jack said 30 – 40 marines were killed or wounded in the exercise.

Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19 – March 26, 1945).  Jack was assigned as a hospital corpsman on a US Navy attack transport ship (APA 89) named the United States Ship (USS) Frederick Funston.  APA 89 had transported troops from Guam to Iwo Jima for the battle.  Her troops were initially held in reserve and landed on Iwo Jima February 27, 1945.

 

USS Frederick Funston

 

Jack spoke of two medical treatments that became available to treat casualties on Iwo Jima; the availability of penicillin and whole blood saved many lives.

He also tells of the unique medical challenge of open wounds that became contaminated with the island’s volcanic ash.  Jack says it could turn a wound gangrenous in 24 hours.  That resulted in many amputations.

Battalion aid stations on the beach became targets for the Japanese.  It was decided to move American medics and casualties as quickly as possible out to ships for treatment.  Jack still gets emotional when he speaks of being surrounded by dying and wounded men as he worked to save lives.

In Jack’s 2013 interview he shared the tragic story of a marine he treated on the USS Frederick Funston.  His name was Sergeant (Sgt) Charles C. Anderson, Jr., who was assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.  His two legs and arms were blown off when a mortar landed between his legs on Yellow Beach.  The young marine remained conscious during part of his medical treatment, and Jack said Charles would make jokes wondering if he could get dates after the war.  The medics were able to keep him alive for 16 hours before he died of his wounds.

The death of Sgt Charles C. Anderson, Jr., was an especially sad one.  In one of WWII’s dramatic ironies, the captain of the USS Frederick Funston was Charles C. Anderson, Sr.  A father signed his own son’s death certificate.

On March 8, 1945, the USS Frederick Funston left Iwo Jima waters to transport the casualties they had on board to Guam for further treatment.

Jack was on Guam when he heard US President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945.  He said he and many of the men “cried like babies” when they heard the news.  

Training had already begun on Guam for the planned Invasion of Japan scheduled for November 1945 when he heard WWII had ended.  Their objective would have been to land on Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island.

After WWII ended it became a priority to transport American military personnel back to the US.  The plan called Operation Magic Carpet (October 1945 – September 1946) returned eight million Americans from the Pacific, European, and Asian Theaters.  Jack was assigned to the operation and made three Pacific crossings with US repatriated military personnel.

Jack was discharged from the US Navy in November 1946.  His three brothers survived WWII and returned home, but his younger 17 year old sister, Joyce Ann, had been killed in an automobile accident in Texas during the war.

Jack spoke of having nightmares for several years after WWII ended.

After WWII Jack used the GI Bill to attend Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.  He graduated in 1949 with a Degree in Agriculture.

 

 

In 2012 Jack was invited back to Spur, Texas, to receive his high school diploma.  After seventy years he officially graduated from high school.

 

Jack Fletcher receives his Spur High School Diploma. May 29, 2012, Spur High School graduation photo courtesy of Spur Independent School District.

 

During WWII Jack learned about Australia when he traded beer rations with Australian soldiers.  He would later move to Australia and began a business that changed the field of agriculture in Western Australia. The Australian government awarded him the Order of Australia Medal for his work.  For more information on Jack’s legendary career in the agriculture industry see http://www.cbs7.com/content/news/Sul-Ross-alum-Jack-Fletcher-receives-Order-of-Australia-medal-416627143.html and https://www.tradeearthmovers.com.au/features/1507/jack-fletcher-the-texan-kimberley-king.

Jack Miller Fletcher’s full interview can be found in the digital archives of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.  He was interviewed by museum oral historian Floyd Cox.  The link is http://digitalarchive.pacificwarmuseum.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16769coll1/id/4236/rec/1.

Thank you to WWII historian and researcher Sue Moyer.

Brought Down in Flames: The Story of WWII B-17 Pilot Clayton A. Nattier

 

On August 30, 1943, Clayton A. Nattier was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps. He was 20 years old.

 

Clayton A. Nattier B-17 Flying Fortress crew, Sioux City Army Air Base, Iowa, 1944. Kneeling left to right: Sergeant Ernest Lussier (Waist Gunner)*, Sergeant Max Kimmel (Waist Gunner), Sergeant Cecil Richardson (Ball Turret Gunner), Sergeant Richard Edwards (Tail Gunner). Standing left to right: Sergeant Eugene Blaskoski (Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner)**, 2nd Lieutenant Bernard Weinstein (Navigator), 2nd Lieutenant Clayton Nattier (Pilot), 2nd Lieutenant Gerald Johnson (Co-Pilot), 2nd Lieutenant William Gregory (Bombardier), Staff Sergeant Edwin Block (Radio Operator). *Sergeant Lussier completed his combat tour flying with another crew when crew size was changed from 10 to 9 members. **Sergeant Blaskoski was injured in England and replaced by Sergeant Gerald Bump.  

 

 

The Clayton A. Nattier B-17 Flying Fortress crew arrived in England in July 1944.  They were assigned to the 306th Bombardment Group (BG), 369th Bomb Squadron, based at Thurleigh.

September 13, 1944

The 306th BG target for the day was Merseburg, Germany. The IG Farben Leuna works, the second largest synthetic oil refinery in Germany, was located there. It was also the most heavily defended industrial target in Europe protected by the Luftwaffe 14th Flak Division. Composition of the division in October 1944 totaled 62,550 persons.

 

Duration Plus (a B-17 borrowed from the 306th BG, 367th Bomb Squadron, that day) replaced the Nattier crew B-17 when it experienced hydraulic brake problems as it taxied for take off from Thurleigh. After shrapnel hit the plane near the bombing target over Germany fire burst into the cockpit on the co-pilot’s side.

 

The Nattier B-17 Heavenly Body was taxiing for take off when the plane developed hydraulic brake failure. The B-17 Duration Plus assigned to the 306th BG, 367th Bomb Squadron, replaced it. By the time the Nattier crew took off that day their first challenge was to catch up to the already airborne formation of 306th BG B-17s enroute to Merseburg. 

Approximately 30 minutes from Merseburg trouble developed in one of the four Duration Plus engines. Co-pilot Lieutenant (Lt) Gerald Johnson tried to correct the problem, but the engine eventually had to be shut down. 

In B-17 flying formation at 29,500 feet and entering the target zone, a second Duration Plus engine started to run rough. 

Then at the Initial Point (IP) where the bombers began the bomb run on the target, the B-17 was hit by shrapnel that penetrated the upper right aluminum shell of the aircraft nose. A fire was spontaneously ignited as the oxygen and oil lines were severed. Flames burst into the cockpit next to the co-pilot.  Lt Nattier gave the order to bail out.

Lt Nattier knew the fire was uncontrollable. He stated, “You know you’re going down, and all you can do is to try to give the crew enough time to bail out.”

Lt Johnson left the cockpit and proceeded to the front nose escape hatch to join navigator Lt Bernard Weinstein and bombardier Lt William Gregory according to bail out procedure.

Lt Nattier maneuvered Duration Plus out of the flying formation and put the plane into a steep dive from 29,500 feet. At a lower altitude oxygen was more readily available to the crew, and the chance of a successful bail out was improved. Then he too left the cockpit and moved toward the front escape hatch.

Clayton did not expect to have to return to the cockpit again before he too could bail out.

As Lt Nattier approached the front escape hatch he saw that the co-pilot, navigator, and bombardier had not left the aircraft. Above the noise he motioned them “Out,” but Lt Weinstein mouthed “No.” Clayton did not know what the problem was but knew he had to go back to the cockpit to change the angle of the B-17 dive to allow more time for them to bail out.

Clayton assumed the ball turret gunner, waist gunner, tail gunner, and radio operator had already bailed out through a rear escape hatch.  [They had.]  The top turret gunner Sergeant (Sgt) Gerald Bump was still on the B-17 and had made valiant attempts to put out the fire.

When Clayton got to the cockpit it was almost engulfed in flames. The instrument panel was melting. He had to reach through the flames to adjust the controls to decrease the B-17 dive angle.  His face, neck, and both hands were badly burned.

The route to the front escape hatch was now blocked with fire and smoke. Lt Nattier’s and Sgt Bump’s only escape route was to jump through the bomb bay.  The bombs had not been dropped that day.  Clayton jumped after Sgt Bump, but his parachute strap caught on the arming propeller of one of the bombs.  He pulled it loose and fell out of the aircraft.  By then he was semiconscious.

Clayton later estimated that from the time the shrapnel hit the B-17 until he bailed out was approximately five minutes.

An American P-51 Mustang fighter plane in the area piloted by Lt William McKee, III,  followed the B-17 until it crashed and exploded. The co-pilot, navigator, and bombardier had not bailed out and were killed in action.

Lt Nattier and Sgt Bump landed in a field near Halle, Germany.  Sgt Bump injured his ankle.  Lt Nattier was seriously burned and semiconscious. Cadets from a local Luftwaffe Flight School found them and transported the two airmen to the Halle jail where a medic from the school treated them.

Clayton does remember temporarily regaining consciousness a couple of times on the way to the Halle jail.  He opened his eyes once and found himself looking into the eyes of a donkey.  It seems he was thrown over the back of the animal, transferred to a small automobile (in later life he realized the car had been an early model Volkswagen), and then taken to the jail.

September 14, 1944.

Lt Nattier and Sgt Bump began their journey from Halle to a prisoner of war (POW) camp.

Lt Nattier was first taken to a Dulug Luft near Frankfurt, Germany, where he was interrogated. [A Dulag Luft was a transit and interrogation center for newly captured Allied airmen. After interrogation the prisoners were sent to permanent POW camps.] When being transported from Frankfurt to his permanent camp, he saw his five surviving crew members at the Frankfurt train station. They were sent to Stalag Luft 4* at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland).

September 26, 1944.

Clayton arrived at Stalag Luft 1 (SL1) near Barth, Western Pomerania, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. His bandages had not been changed since September 13, but miraculously he had not developed an infection at the burn sites. He spent his first three weeks in the camp hospital.

Lt Nattier became SL1 POW 5577.  His camp mailing address was Clayton Nattier, North Compound 2, Kriegsgefangene Baracke 202, Room 6, Stalag Luft #1, Barth, Germany.  Each room held 18 prisoners with bunk beds stacked three high.  A small wood burning stove provided them limited heat and a place to cook their meals. Food provided by the Germans was supplemented with Red Cross packages.  

Delivery of Red Cross packages to SL1 stopped from December 26, 1944 – March 28, 1945.  Packages were known to be in Sweden and on the docks in Germany but were not delivered.  Clayton describes a three month period without the supplemental food supply as one of near starvation the POWs endured.

December 1944.

Colonel (Col) Hubert “Hub” Zemke became POW 6559 at SL1.  He was captured after his P-51 Mustang experienced a structural failure over Germany. His rank made him Senior Allied Officer at the camp.  He was 30 years old.

Col Zemke was the son of German immigrants and spoke fluent German. The Col had delivered American P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft to Russia as part of the United States (US) Lend-Lease Act, and he taught the Russians how to fly and maintain the aircraft. His language skills and experience with the Russian military would prove extremely useful. 

Clayton still speaks highly of Col Zemke and his leadership ability which greatly improved POW conditions.

May 1, 1945.

The Russians liberated SL1. There were nearly 9,000 POWs in the camp at that time.  The Russians planned to transport the POWs to Odessa, Russia, on the Black Sea.  

Col Zemke along with other Allied leaders had a different plan.

May 12, 1945.

The plan called Operation Revival (May 12 – May 14, 1945) was to fly SL1 POWs out of hostile-held territory and back behind Allied lines. B-17s from the US 91st BG based at Bassingbourn, England, flew into what was a German military airfield near Barth. American POWs were then flown to Camp Lucky Strike (one of the US camps in France for repatriated servicemen) near LeHavre.  British POWs and those POWs sick or injured were flown to England.

 

 

Nine days after SL1 was liberated by the Russians, Clayton wrote a letter to his parents.

May 10, 1945

Dear folks,

These past few days have been quite eventful to say the least. The “rotten Huns” left us on the thirtieth of April, and the Russians came in the following day. Although we can’t go just anywhere in Germany we are free outside these barbed wire fences, a wonderful feeling.

I’d like to tell you that I’ll be home in a few days but that probably wouldn’t be true. I can’t begin to tell you how anxious I am to get home, and it won’t be long I know –- a very conservative estimate would be the first of July and barely possible by July tenth. Got three letters here – one from Mother, Dad, and Jean.

Boy what a privilege it is to write a letter in ink that won’t be censored by some German.

Russians have been bringing in cattle and hogs to butcher. Yesterday we cooked our first fresh meat since England.

I’m in as good health as I ever was and feel swell – I just want to get home. Drop Jean a note and tell her I’ll see her soon.

Strawberry season should be in full swing when I get home – I can see your strawberry shortcake now Mother.

Lots of love,

Clayton

[Many servicemen throughout WWII did not want their families to worry about them. Their letters home did not always describe what they were seeing and experiencing and feeling. Clayton’s letter is an example of one of those letters.]   

Clayton would eventually sail from LeHavre on a Liberty ship back to the US.  He would return home to Concordia, Kansas, and propose to “a pretty special girl” named Jean Mails (mentioned in his letter).  Jean and Clayton got married two weeks after his return.  

Then as Clayton says he got started with the rest of his life.

 

 

 

 

*In January and February 1945, as the Soviet Army was advancing west, the Germans began marching POWs further into Germany from Stalag Luft 4 (SL4) and other Allied POW camps. The march for the SL4 POWs spanned over 80 days and an estimated 600 miles (965 kilometers). They first were marched west. Then they were marched east when Allied artillery fire could be heard to the west. On May 2, 1945, the SL4 POWs were liberated by a British unit. 

Clayton’s five surviving crew members — Gerald Bump, Edwin Block, Max Kimmel, Cecil Richardson, and Richard Edwards — returned to the US after SL4 was liberated.  They all kept in touch after the war.

A special thank you to Clayton Nattier for sharing his wartime experiences with me and answering my many questions.

Clayton’s son-in-law, Thom Mindala, wrote a book Flying the B-17 Flying Fortress which details Clayton’s wartime experiences.  

The story and photographs are posted with Clayton’s and his family’s permission.

Thank you to WWII 306th BG Historical Association Historian Cliff Deets who is an invaluable resource for BG history. Information about the WWII 306th BG can be found at http://306bg.us.