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The “Last Hurrah” – A Full Report

Time passes quickly when you are having fun and it hardly seems as if the “Last Hurrah” for the 353rd Fighter Group can be over already. The weekend events were a stunning success and here is a full report of all the activities and celebrations.

The events began with a drinks reception and briefing for the twenty-three family members attending at the Rose and Crown Hotel in the town of Colchester on the evening of August 21. We were very lucky to have 350th Fighter Squadron pilot John Madson in attendance with his family and the families of Glenn Duncan, Gordon Compton, Frank King, Tony Rosatone, Galen Bevington, John Davenport and Bayard Auchincloss.

We chose Colchester as the base camp for the weekend as it was a popular destination for group members when they were on leave from their duties. The 353rd made a special friendship with the people of Colchester during World War II so we spent Friday August 22 touring the town. First call was the town hall where we met our guide Mr Ian McMeekin. He gave us a very knowledgeable tour of the building and escorted us to the Mayor’s Parlour to see the 17th Century Rose Bowl given by the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups to the town to commemorate the friendship in 1945.

Colchester Town Guide Mr Ian McMeekin describes the Council Chambers to the 353rd Families (353rd FG Archive)

Colchester Town Guide Mr Ian McMeekin describes the Council Chambers to the 353rd Families (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families explore the 'Moot Hall' at Colchester Town Hall (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families explore the ‘Moot Hall’ at Colchester Town Hall (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson with Mr Paul Lind the Town Sergeant in the Mayor's Parlour. The Rose Bowl is on the table (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson with Mr Paul Lind, the Town Sergeant, in the Mayor’s Parlour. The Rose Bowl is on the table in front of them (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families in the Mayor's Parlour, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families in the Mayor’s Parlour, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

The original presentation in 1945

The original presentation in 1945

The inscription from the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups on the silver Rose Bowl (353rd FG Archive)

The inscription from the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups on the silver Rose Bowl (353rd FG Archive)

After our visit to the town hall, Ian McMeekin continued the tour around central Colchester and included a very welcome visit to Timperleys Tea Room. The party then were able to have some free time to explore Colchester’s sights and shops. In the evening Graham Cross, 353rd Fighter Group Historian, gave a presentation to the party on the history of the unit.

Saturday August 23 dawned bright and sunny and the party left the hotel for a 10 am appointment at the Raydon Memorial. Here we were joined by the Peacock family (owners of the former airfield site), an Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall, the Revd Rosalind Paul, Councillor Jim Lowe and other local representatives for a special service of remembrance. The Raydon Airfield Memorial Group (Mark Manning, Steven Silburn, Mervyn and Maynard Pizzey, Chris Elsey, Janice Rumsey, Bob Gooding and many others) had been working hard to brighten up the memorial and to create a new information board for visitors to the site. The Group installed the board in memory of the late Mr. Jack Peacock who was a good friend of the 353rd Fighter Group and the memorial project.

John Peacock and John Madson unveil the new airfield information board, August 22, 2015 (353rd FG Archive)

John Peacock and John Madson unveil the new airfield information board, August 22, 2015 (353rd FG Archive)

The moving ceremony included an Honour Guard of current serving USAF personnel from RAF Mildenhall and words from Glenn Duncan Jr (the son of the 353rd’s Commanding Officer), Revd Paul and Councillor Lowe. The Peacock family, the Raydon Memorial Group and Raydon Parish Council then laid wreaths at the memorial. Members of the 353rd families helped place the wreaths (Glenn Duncan Jr with Mr Tom Peacock, Gary Bargerhuff with Cllr Jim Lowe, and Lou Rosatone with Bob Gooding). A highlight of the ceremony was the joint unveiling of the new information board by John Madson (350th Fighter Squadron) and Mr John Peacock. There was then an opportunity for some photographs before a flypast by Maurice Hammond and Rob Davies in P-51 Mustangs “Janie” and “Marinell.” It really was quite a surprise for the 353rd families as they grouped for a photo around the memorial while the Mustangs approached from behind them coming along the course of the old runway. As an end to the memorial service, 16-year-old Maia Elsey sang ‘We’ll Meet Again’ beautifully to the assembled families with few dry eyes among her audience.

Glenn Duncan Jr at the Raydon Memorial 9353rd FG Archive)

Glenn Duncan Jr at the Raydon Memorial (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson at the Raydon Memorial with the USAF Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson at the Raydon Memorial with the USAF Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at the Raydon Memorial - with Mustangs en route! (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at the Raydon Memorial – with Mustangs en route! (353rd FG Archive)

After the service, the 353rd families headed to Raydon Old Hall for a tea reception as guests of the Peacock family. The Peacocks have welcomed returning veterans, and their families, back to the former airfield many times over the years and it was such a pleasure for the group to reaffirm this friendship. The weather and surroundings were beautiful and the Peacock family had many photos of past reunions to share making the visit especially enjoyable.

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Then it was back on the bus to visit the afternoon air show as guests of Mr John Anderson and family. With perfect flying weather, the afternoon promised to be a memorable event. As the 353rd families arrived, John Anderson welcomed them personally and the Wattisham Military Wives Choir treated them to songs. Following a superb lunch, Graham Cross presented the families each with a print of a pencil sketch depicting 352nd Fighter Squadron aircraft gifted by renowned local artist Geoff Pleasance. The families then presented copies of Jonah’s Feet Are Dry‘ that they had all signed to Maurice Hammond, Rob Davies and John Anderson in thanks for the huge contributions they have made to making this event and those in the past possible and so successful.

P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang “Janie” represents the aircraft of Bill Price, 350th FS, 353rd FG (353rd FG Archive)

P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang “Marinell” of the 339th FG (353rd FG Archive)

The group were then able to tour the show site to view a superb historical display put together by members of the memorial group, military vehicles, classic cars and even a steam engine! The highlight of the afternoon was, of course, the static and flying aircraft displays kindly arranged by Maurice Hammond of Hardwick Warbirds.  Maurice Hammond and Rob Davies then performed a superb flying display in “Janie” and “Marinell” and it really was a treat to see two Mustangs flown and displayed so skilfully to honour the 353rd Fighter Group. When the Mustangs landed, we were all able to get an even closer look at the aircraft with the opening of the safety fences. As a special treat, John Madson was able to sit in the cockpit of “Janie” and had the biggest grin seen on the airfield that day! Sadly, the day had to end and a tired and contented group headed back to the hotel.

John Madson seated in the cockpit of

John Madson seated in the cockpit of “Janie” by kind permission of Maurice Hammond. Surely the biggest grin on the field that day! (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson in the cockpit of

John Madson in the cockpit of “Janie” (353rd FG Archive)

Sunday August 23 saw the group join local people at a special service in St Mary’s Church, Raydon. Revd Rosalind Paul led proceedings and we heard from Revd Josefa Mareira (Chaplain at RAF Wattisham). Revd Paul then rededicated the Memorial Vestry Doors donated by the 353rd in 1984. After the service, there was a very enjoyable social occasion where the families could talk to local people. The party then boarded the bus and headed to lunch as guests of the Raydon Airfield Memorial Group at the ‘Case is Altered’ Pub in Bentley. By this stage, the weather had closed in and after a brief stop at the old airfield, the group headed to Dedham to visit craft shops and the very fine church there. Sadly, due to the worsening weather, a trip to Metfield by some of the party had to be cancelled.

Post-service reception at St Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Post-service reception at St Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson and Lou Rosatone talk near the book of remembrance at St. Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson and Lou Rosatone talk at the book of remembrance at St. Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at St Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at St Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Is this the same country? The heavens open as the 353rd Families explore the old briefing and ready room complex at Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Is this the same country? The heavens open as the 353rd Families explore the old briefing and ready room complex at Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson back at Raydon after 70 years - after the war he pursued a successful career as an architect (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson back at Raydon after 70 years – after the war he pursued a successful career as an architect (353rd FG Archive)

Monday August 24 saw the heavens truly open and the rain descend in a way it only can in England. Undeterred the party headed to the Cambridge American Military Cemetery for a very moving visit. The group were able to tour the brand new visitors centre at the cemetery and visit some of the graves of 353rd Fighter Group. There are six 353rd men buried at Cambridge and a further ten commemorated on the walls of the missing. The Superintendent had also kindly arranged to have the 353rd graves marked United States and British flags. The party then split with some choosing to visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and some heading into Cambridge for lunch at the ‘Eagle’ Pub (famous for the aircrew signatures on its ceiling and walls) followed by a tour of King’s College Chapel and Queens’ College.

353rd Families watch a presentation at the new visitors centre at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families watch a presentation at the new visitors centre at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery (353rd FG Archive)

Jane Joseph and Katy Carter, daughters of G B Compton, sought out William Maguire's grave at Madingley. Maguire and their father were great friends (353rd FG Archive)

Jane Joseph and Katy Carter, daughters of G B Compton, sought out William Maguire’s grave at Madingley. Maguire and their father were great friends (353rd FG Archive)

In the evening, there was a farewell dinner at the Rose and Crown for the families and local people. We were also lucky to have Jean Freeman (wife of the late Roger Freeman) attend. Gary Bargerhuff read a very moving poem by Galen Bevington entitled ‘The Cause’ and particularly poignant as Galen was killed in action November 25, 1944. Proceedings closed with a toast to the men of the 353rd Fighter Group.

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

With the events now at an end, we can reflect that it really was a very successful visit. It involved a good deal of hard work by many people, but every bit was worth it. The new experiences and friendships formed in remembering the 353rd together are something to truly treasure. To our new American friends we say safe journey and ‘Haste ye back!’

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Season’s Greetings

It’s looking like 2015 is set to be an exciting year for the 353rd Fighter Group and their friends and I look forward to seeing many of you in Raydon this coming August. In the meantime, thank you for all your comments and support with the blog over the last year and I send my best wishes to you for the holidays and New Year…

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A Last Hurrah for the 353rd Fighter Group

Important Announcement

Colchester

In 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of World War II and exactly 20 years since the memorial at Raydon was dedicated to the memory of the of the 353rd Fighter Group and to their comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. In the years since the war the village of Raydon has often welcomed returning veterans. Wartime events, both good and bad were remembered and  firm, lasting friendships were made. Our last official visit from the 353rd was in 1999 and now, sadly but inevitably, most of the veterans have left us. Their memory is still fondly held and we therefore warmly invite families of veterans to join with us in a very special event to give the men of the 353rd a “Last Hurrah” in 2015.

Programme

Friday Aug 21

AM Reception in Colchester Town Hall

PM Free time in the historic town of Colchester

PM Welcome dinner with speaker Dr. Graham Cross “The History of the 353rd FG in WWII”

Saturday Aug 22

AM Service to Rededicate the Raydon Memorial

PM “Air Gathering” at Raydon Airfield with historic aircraft, vehicles and displays

Sunday Aug 23

AM/PM Visit to Raydon Church (TBC) and guests of Raydon Village

PM Optional visit to Metfield Airfield (the home of the 353rd until April 1944)

Monday Aug 24

AM Visit to the Cambridge American Military Cemetery at Madingley

PM Optional visit to either Imperial War Museum Duxford or Cambridge

PM Farewell Dinner at Colchester for families and local people.

The tour party will be based in a hotel in central Colchester – further details will be supplied to those interested in attending. You are, of course, free to attend as much or as little as you chose and make your own plans at any time.

Reunion coordinator for the weekend will be Graham Cross who acted in that capacity for the Group in their 1990, 92, 95 and 99 UK Reunions. Many highly experienced people are involved here in the UK  to make the weekend a success.

Some families of veterans have already expressed an interest in attending so can I ask now that anyone that wants to come please let me know via my email slybird353 with @hotmail.co.uk added to it

Can I also stress that at this stage this is a private event for the families of veterans and that the reunion tour is organised for them to join with local people to remember their loved ones service. Further details of any public events during the weekend will be released at a later date.

This really is the “Last Hurrah” for the 353rd Fighter Group – living memory of those wartime years is rapidly passing from the scene. This is a chance to say a final thank you to all those who served and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Raydon next August.

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Blast from the Past…

I’ve been in the US again recently – hence the lack of posts.

Here’s a picture I thought you would enjoy. The 353rd return to Raydon 1990 style. Happy times…

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Greetings for the Season…

It has been a lot longer than I had intended since my last post. The day job has been taking a bit too much of my “days” recently and I have lamentably fallen behind with the blog. Still lots more to come in the New Year though – priority is a post on 352nd pilot Doug Kuhna, more mission reports and several really interesting comments on various posts from many of you out there. So watch this space.

In the meantime I post a copy of a Christmas Card that was popular with the Group during their time in England. I’m not sure that it depicts anyhere in particular, but I use it to thank you for your interest in 2013 and wish you all the best for the festive season and 2014…

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Collector’s Corner

Over the years the village of Raydon has produced a good number of reunion brochures and ephemera to mark the return of 353rd veterans. Here I’ve hauled them out of my files for your further information and guidance if you are, like me, an avid 353rd collector.

Cover of the report on the first return visit by a group of 353rd Veterans to Raydon, August 25-26, 1984. Next to unobtainable I should imagine (353rd FG Archive)

Cover of the report on the first return visit by a group of 353rd Veterans to Raydon, August 25-26, 1984. Next to unobtainable I should imagine (353rd FG Archive)

Report on the dedication of the Vestry Doors at Raydon Church, 1985 (353rd FG Archive)

Report on the dedication of the Vestry Doors at Raydon Church, 1985 (353rd FG Archive)

Brochure for the next reunion in September, 1990. Artwork by Dezil Reeves and text by Graham Cross. If you have one of these you are one of the lucky few. (353rd FG Archive)

Brochure for the next reunion in September, 1990. Artwork by Denzil Reeves and text by Graham Cross. If you have one of these you are one of the lucky few. (353rd FG Archive)

The above reunion brochure inspired Denzil Reeves and Graham Cross to collaborate on a brief history of the airfield in 1991. You can spot a first edition (there were only 500) by the quality blue cover that has a bumpy finish. Reeves produced a true work of art here. (353rd FG Archive)

The previous reunion brochure inspired Denzil Reeves and Graham Cross to collaborate on a brief history of the airfield in 1991. You can spot a first edition (there were only 500) by the quality blue cover that has a bumpy finish. Reeves produced a true work of art here and it even has a foreword by the late Roger Freeman. (353rd FG Archive)

Later print runs of the Raydon Airfield book have a flat-surfaced and lighter blue cover. The overall production is much poorer quality and rather misses the point of the first edition to my mind. The same text and photos as the first edition though (353rd FG Archive)

Later print runs of the Raydon Airfield book have a flat-surfaced and lighter blue cover. The overall production is much poorer quality and rather misses the point of the first edition to my mind. The same text and photos as the first edition though (353rd FG Archive)

A small group of veterans came back to Raydon in 1992 and a commemorative brochure with many wartime photos was produced (353rd FG Archive)

A small group of veterans came back to Raydon in 1992 and the Friends of Raydon Airfield Veterans published a commemorative brochure with many wartime photos (353rd FG Archive)

In 1995 the memorial on Raydon airfield was dedicated. The Raydon Airfield Preservation Society (who planned and built the memorial) produced a special booklet packed with wartime photos and information on the memorial. (353rd FG Archive)

In 1995 the memorial on Raydon airfield was dedicated. The Raydon Airfield Preservation Society (who planned and built the memorial) produced a special booklet packed with wartime photos and information on the memorial. It also has a picture of all the returning veterans – I got two copies signed by all the veterans as a souvenir  (353rd FG Archive)

1995 was a good year for producing reunion booklets - there was a further publication in the village that has some photos, artwork by Denzil Reeves and a brief history of the airfield by Gordon Kinsey (353rd FG Archive)

1995 was a good year for producing reunion booklets – there was a further publication in the village that has some photos, artwork by Denzil Reeves and a brief history of the airfield by Gordon Kinsey (353rd FG Archive)

Although not a reunion year, 1997 did see the first Raydon Wings airshow. The brochure has some nice pictures and a history of the airfield. Roger Freeman also wrote the foreward  again (353rd FG Archive)

Although it was not a UK reunion year for the Group, 1997 did see the first Raydon Wings airshow. The brochure has some nice pictures and a history of the airfield. Roger Freeman also wrote the foreword.(353rd FG Archive)

The last Raydon reunion for the 353rd was in September 1999. Raydon Wings put on an airshow and produced a brochure. Foreward by Roger Freeman, pictures of the returning veterans and an account of the Group's mission in September 1944 are included. The wise purchaser also got the vertans to sign their copy! (353rd FG Archive)

The last Raydon reunion for the 353rd was in September 1999. Raydon Wings put on an airshow and produced a brochure. Foreword by Roger Freeman, pictures of the returning veterans and an account of the Group’s mission in September 1944 are included. The wise purchaser also got the veterans to sign their copy! (353rd FG Archive)

Not strictly a reunion but the 2001 Raydon Wings Airshow produced another fine brochure. Foreword by Roger Freeman, tribute to 352nd pilot Clint Sperry and an article on Glenn Duncan. (353rd FG Archive)

Not strictly a reunion but the 2001 Raydon Wings Airshow produced another fine brochure. Foreword by Roger Freeman, dedication to 352nd pilot Clint Sperry and an article on Col. Glenn E. Duncan. (353rd FG Archive)

Not sure if this is of any help, but I had a fun afternoon going through my files…

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The 353rd Fighter Group in Washington DC…

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a few weeks on a trip to Washington DC. While I was there I kept an eye out for the 353rd and here post some photos from my trip that I thought might be of interest.

Walking into the American History Museum on the Mall and heading straight for the Price of Freedom exhibit I was pleasantly surprised to see Leroy Ista’s picture as the main focus of the entrance banner. It’s nice to see a member of the Group remembered so prominently.

Lt. Leroy Ista of the 352nd Fighter Squadron remembered on the entrance banner to the Museum of American History's Price of Freedom Exhibit (353rd FG Archive)

Lt. Leroy Ista of the 352nd Fighter Squadron remembered on the entrance banner to the Museum of American History’s Price of Freedom Exhibit (353rd FG Archive)

Next I went along the National Air and Space Museum and headed stright for the P-51 they have painted in the colours of 351st CO Fred Lefebre’s aircraft “Willit Run?” I first visited this aircraft 20 years ago and nothing has changed in this exhibit in all that time. It really is a good thing to see the 353rd represented at such a national level.

A P-51 Mustang painted to represent Fred Lefebre's "Willit Run?" at the National Air and Space Museum. (353rd FG Archive).

A P-51 Mustang painted to represent Fred Lefebre’s “Willit Run?” at the National Air and Space Museum. (353rd FG Archive).

"Willit Run?" again (353rd FG Archive)

“Willit Run?” again (353rd FG Archive)

A final shot of "Willit Run?" from the balcony (353rd FG Archive)

A final shot of “Willit Run?” from the balcony (353rd FG Archive)

The National Air and Space Museum actually has another 353rd member in their displays. Bob Strobell, also a pilot from the 351st, went on to be a key member of “Watson’s Whizzers” after his time with the Group. They were the unit tasked to find and secure German Jet technology as the war ended. You can read more about Bob’s exciting exploits and the rest of Watson’s Whizzers HERE and also HERE.

Here is a picture of the Me262 in the museum and the panels that mention Bob Strobell.

The Me262 at the National Air and Spave Museum (353rd FG Archive)

The Me262 at the National Air and Spave Museum (353rd FG Archive)

The story of "Watson's Whizzers" that includes a pitcure of 351st pilot Bob Strobell (353rd FG Archive)

The story of “Watson’s Whizzers” that includes a pitcure of 351st pilot Bob Strobell (353rd FG Archive)

I flew home from Dulles and so took the opportunity to tour the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center because I had heard they have a P-47 Thunderbolt in 353rd colours. They do have one but the overall excellent preservation is spoilt (for this purist at least) by the poor research and accuracy of the markings. The markings of LH-E and serial number appear completely fictitious (maybe there is a reason for this?) and the LH-E lettering is way too small. Still, it was nice to see the black and yellow chequers.

The fictitious P-47 LH-E at the Udvar-Hazy Center (353rd FG Archive)

The fictitious P-47 LH-E at the Udvar-Hazy Center (353rd FG Archive)

The P-47 at Udvar-Hazy from the other side (353rd FG Archive)

The P-47 at Udvar-Hazy from the other side (353rd FG Archive)

The balcony at Udvar-Hazy lets you get a good view (353rd FG Archive)

The balcony at Udvar-Hazy lets you get a good view (353rd FG Archive)

A P-47 from the European Theatre also seems a little out of context sited as it is under one of the most famous aircraft from WWII - the "Enola Gay." (353rd FG Archive)

A P-47 from the European Theatre also seems a little out of context sited under one of the most famous aircraft from WWII – the “Enola Gay.” (353rd FG Archive)

Finally, and just because I read James Salter’s excellent novel “The Hunters” on my trip, I have included a picture of an F-86 and MiG15 from Udvar-Hazy. Salter’s book captures the essence of the Korean Air War and if you have an interest in the psychology of fighter pilots you would be hard-pressed to find a better fictional treatment…

F-86 at Udvar-Hazy (353rd FG Archive)

F-86 at Udvar-Hazy (353rd FG Archive)

MiG15 at Udvar-Hazy (353rd FG Archive)

MiG15 at Udvar-Hazy (353rd FG Archive)

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First Birthday

My blog celebrated its first birthday yesterday – thank you to all who have visited since I began and for all the comments and contributions that have added to our understanding of the history of the 353rd Fighter Group.

It will be a while before I have time to post again so I thought I would just update you on some recent changes to the site. Some of you will have noticed there is now a “Mission” page. The  search function on the site, I felt, was not really up to scratch so I’ve decided to add to a list of mission hyperlinks to enable you to find each mission quickly and easily. The other big update to the site is the addition of names and brief combat biographies of all Squadron pilots to the relevant Squadron pages. Where there is further information on a pilot I have added a hyperlink and will add more as I go along. With that much data added there are bound to be some errors – so if you spot any let me know. I have not yet had time to add the pilots who were attached to Group, but I hope the updates so far add to the usefulness of the site.

I’ve also been thinking a lot recently about the many happy reunions the Group had over the years. The below photos are of some of the signs that used to hang on the doors of the Group hospitality rooms. Over the years, as you can see, they accumulated quite a few “John Hancocks” from the veterans and their wives. Just click on the pictures for a larger view…

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Lt. Col. Joseph A. Morris, First Commanding Officer of the 353rd Fighter Group

Regular followers of this blog will note that I recently completed detailing 353rd operations carried out in 1943. Before I move on to operations that took place in 1944 I want to deal with some loose ends and do some tidying up on the website. Luckily Bruce Mahoney, the nephew of Col. Morris, has kindly been back in touch and has updated me on his research into his uncle’s life and career. The below post is to detail some of the information we now have thanks to Bruce’s research efforts that he has kindly shared and some of the questions still out there. As always, any further information is greatly appreciated.

At 31 years old Joe Morris was considerably older than many of the men in his fighter group. The war had brought a massive influx of young civilians to the Air Corp (the USAAF from June 1941) in its desperate attempt to expand from a near standing start. Born in Alva, Wyoming on December 8, 1911 Morris, in many ways, represented an older America and a different generation to those now taking up arms for the first time. His mother, Mary Gertrude Seeley, known as “Gert,” was a school teacher in Alva. He never knew his biological father – Stephen Morris was killed by lightning near Broadus, Montana on June 30, 1912 while on a trip to take some horses north to Canada for sale.

Gert was left a widow with two children to bring up (Joe had a sister Mary Ellen). To provide for her family she worked as a house keeper for John Mahoney who she subsequently married on December 22, 1915. Joe grew up on Mahoney’s 2800 acre ranch near Alva, Wyoming with his mother, sister and further five siblings Fred (also a pilot in WWII), Alice, John, Lloyd (who died of diabetes in 1929) and Edward. Joe appears to have had a good relationship with his stepfather and before enlisting Joe worked the ranch. His stepfather died in 1937.

Throughout his education Joe seems to have been quite a sportsman who enjoyed playing American football and baseball. At High School in Hulett, Wyoming he was a basketball, baseball and track star. Later, at the Black Hills Teacher’s College, he was a football star. He also seems to have had a keen interest in mechanics – at one time he built a “car” from scrap parts that ran, but lacked brakes and a windshield.

Joe Morris (number 13) was a keen sportsman. This picture was taken when he was a cadet at Randolph Field. (Mahoney)

Joe Morris (number 13) was a keen sportsman. This picture was taken when he was a cadet at Randolph Field. (Mahoney)

Sporting prowess and mechanical interests seem to be a common trait among the pilots of this era (maybe all eras) and Joe was naturally drawn to and fascinated by aircraft. While in High School he approached Clyde Ice, the owner and director of Belle Fourche Airfield in South Dakota, to let him jump from an aircraft with a parachute. Ice agreed to let Joe make the jump on the next July 4 celebration, but became concerned about the risk when Joe actually showed up to do it. In an attempt to dissuade Joe he demanded five dollars for the jump thinking that Joe would not have that kind of money. In the event Harry Turner (Joe’s future brother-in-law) came up with the five dollars and Joe made the jump. Not knowing how to manoeuvre the parachute canopy almost brought disaster – Joe survived with only a skinned cheek to mark his escapade.

The injury sustained as an early parachutist did not end Joe’s love of aviation. He still had a strong desire to fly aircraft and was determined to join the Army Air Corp to fulfil that goal. At the height of the Great Depression Joe hitch hiked all the way to Louisiana (about 1500 miles) to enlist. When he got there he found he did not have the required level of college credits to become a pilot trainee. Undeterred he hitched back home and resumed studies at the Black Hills Teacher’s College to obtain the required credits. After gaining the correct amount of credits he then hitched back to Louisiana and entered the Air Corp as a Private First Class at Randolph Field in April 1934.

Joe Morris with his wife Bernice. (Mahoney)

Joe Morris with his wife Bernice. (Mahoney)

Things were beginning to happen for Joe – on August 4, 1935 he married Bernice Lown. Bernice’s father owned several banks in Spearfish, South Dakota and they had met while he was at Teacher’s College there. He also commenced flight training as a Flying Cadet June 29, 1936 at Randolph Field, Texas before moving on to Kelly Field. He completed his training and became a fully-fledged Second Lieutenant in the Air Corp Reserve on June 30, 1937. He was immediately placed on active duty though he remained in the reserve until he became a Second Lieutenant in the Air Corp of the regular Army August 15, 1939. His first assignment was to the 13th Attack Squadron at Barksdale Field, Louisiana from July to November 1939. He then moved to the 79th Pursuit Squadron in Moffett Field and later Hamilton Field California.

Flight Cadet Joseph A. Morris (0-022421) in 1937. (Mahoney)

Flight Cadet Joseph A. Morris (0-022421) in 1937. (Mahoney)

Joe moved with the 79th Pursuit Squadron to Wheeler Field on Oahu, Hawaii in November 1940, but then transferred to the 19th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group stationed at the same field. Joe was at home with his wife when Wheeler Field was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 – his wife Bernice later recalled they could see the enemy Zeros from their window. Joe quickly got his wife to take shelter in the bath tub and rushed to Wheeler only to find his aircraft already destroyed. Twelve P-36s and P-40s from the 15th Pursuit Group did manage to get off the ground to defend the base, but 33 people were killed and a further 75 wounded at Wheeler that day. It was three days before Joe could return home to see his wife.

As the Air Corp expanded promotions came more readily than they had during the interwar period when an officer could well stay at the same rank for ten or more years. Joe was made First Lieutenant October 7, 1940. He attended the Fighter Command School in Orlando, Florida from September 21 to and on October 3, 1942 was awarded his Captaincy the day before he completed the course. Joe was then given command of the newly form 353rd Fighter Group (instituted at Mitchel Field, New York on September 29 1942 and established in Richmond, Virginia the same day as Joe gained his Captaincy).

Joe set about building a fighter group from scratch – quite a task with over a thousand men and three squadrons in three different locations to oversee. Age and experience of the Regular Army certainly came into play and, at times, caused friction with some of the young, near-civilians drafted into the 353rd. This was particularly true of the 350th Squadron who felt aggrieved when Joe decided a popular Squadron Commander couldn’t cut it and fired him. The 350th were more under Joe’s eye at Baltimore where the Group headquarters were also stationed and so it is possible the early sins of the 351st at Norfolk and the 352nd at Langley were noticed less because of this. Regardless, Wallace Hopkins was replaced by Ben Rimerman – no doubt chastened by the experience Hopkins went on to a distinguished career with the 361st Fighter Group.

Joseph A. Morris in 1942. (Mahoney)

Joseph A. Morris in 1942. (Mahoney)

Joe was one of the Group officers that went to England ahead of the Group and records indicate he may have arrived there as early as March 10, 1943. It would certainly be interesting to learn what he did in the time before the main Group arrived in June. Joe received further promotions during this period – to Major on April 21, 1943 and to Lieutenant Colonel on June 16, 1943. This led to a further curious custom specific to the 353rd (though it may well have applied in other groups). Joe insisted that officers of Field Grade (Major or above) should bunk together away from their unit. This was definitely a Regular Army thing to do and was resented by many of the senior Squadron staff. Nevertheless, the 353rd retained a “Wheel House” where senior officers resided separate from their men throughout the war.

As the Group prepared to enter combat from Metfield in Suffolk, Joe and Shannon Christian of 351st went to the 56th Fighter Group at nearby Halesworth for some combat familiarisation flights. We know that Joe flew Mac McCollom’s wing in the 61st Squadron on July 26 (see previous post HERE), but I have been unable to establish exactly how many or what flights he went on (If anybody can help with this information it would be very much appreciated). We do know that Joe had a landing accident during this time. On the evening of July 25 Joe set off from Wittering on a cross-country training flight back to Halesworth. He was, by this point, an experienced pilot with over 2026 hours in total with 1421 of those in Thunderbolts:

I made a normal landing, rolling down [the] runway. The plane started swerving to the right. I applied left brake. It was ineffective. The plane ground-looped to the right. The left wing, propeller, and left flaps were damaged. An engine change was required. The tail wheel was unlocked.

A subsequent investigation signed off by Col. Hub Zemke, famous leader of the 56th Fighter Group, determined 100% mechanical failure as the cause of the crash. The brake cylinder had a leak leading to a lack of pressure on the left brake pedal. The P-47C-5-RE Joe crash landed was Capt. Orville A. Kinkade’s YJ-K – it was subsequently repaired but then lost along with Kinkade on November 5, 1943 (See HERE for further details).

Events now moved quickly and Joe flew his first solo mission in command of his Group on August 14, followed quickly by two further missions on the following day. His next mission on August 16 was an escort to bombers attacking Le Bourget airfield near Paris where Charles Lindbergh had landed to great acclaim in 1927. The 353rd were required to fly down to Thorney Island and, using belly tanks, provide cover as the B-17s from Elbeuf, near Rouen, to the target. As the Group reached the target area ten or more enemy aircraft (Fw190) were seen coming down on to the bombers from the direction of Paris. Large numbers of enemy aircraft (both Fw190s and Me109s) were also seen scattered over a wide area in singles and in pairs.

It is difficult to imagine what Joe thought and felt at this point. Being at the head of a fighter group with 43 green pilots who had never seen the enemy before looking to him for orders must have been a daunting prospect. He was expected to demonstrate resolve and leadership. He needed to make a decision based on his years of training and experience, but also with a mind to providing an example to his men of how things should be done. Joe made his decision and led his flight down to port in an almost vertical dive on the tail of an Fw190 attacking the bombers. Lt. Herfurth, his wing man, acted as cover and drove an Fw190 from his tail, coming out of the dive below 13,000 ft but in doing so lost sight of his leader. Lt. Juntilla leading the second flight in the squadron later reported seeing a P-47, believed to be Joe’s ship, firing at an Fw190 that appeared to be hit and out of control emitting a large cloud of black smoke (Joe was awarded the credit of an Fw190 damaged). Morris was never seen again. Joe had made his decision and it cost him his life in the service of his country.

After seventy years, tracing what happened to Joe Morris is enormously difficult. Eighth Fighter Command lost three pilots that day – in addition to Joe, Lt. Joseph Matthews from the 4th Fighter Group was hit by enemy fighters over St. Denis (he evaded and later made it back to England) and Lt. George Spaleny became a POW after his aircraft suffered mechanical failure near Gournay. The Germans claimed four P-47s shot down. One, claimed by Ltn. Friedrich Meyer near L’Isle Adam, can probably be discounted because the timing of his claim was long after the 353rd had returned to Metfield. Three other claims by members of JG2, however, are possibilities. Ltn Johann Santler claimed a P-47 near Pontoise at 10:27 hours (Continental time), Ltn Hugo Dahmer claimed one at 10:30 hrs and Maj. Egon Mayer claimed one at 10:37 hrs near Mantes. All three are northwest of Paris and thus in the correct area, but the simple mathematics of Eighth losses that day indicates that some must be incorrect. The question of who shot down Joe is therefore a mystery that may never be solved.

Another mystery is Joe’s final resting place. If you take a look on a map at Pontoise and Mantes la Jolie you will see that they are right on the edge of a vast national park to the north of Paris. Given that Joe was lost 70 years ago and that, even now, parts of this area are sparsely populated you can quickly understand why the authorities were never able to locate the spot where his aircraft crashed. Joe’s mother died April 15, 1965 never knowing her son’s final resting place.

As a further (though less important) problem the cumulative lost listing for the Eighth Air Force indicates Joe (Wakeford 19) was flying P-47 42-7990 that day. I have seen this sometimes listed as 42-7865 and do not know the source of this reference so any clarification would be gratefully received. I have also seen it noted that this aircraft carried YJ codes – again I have no idea as to the source of this information and welcome clarification.

Probably one of the last photos taken of Joe Morris in England.

Probably one of the last photos taken of Lt Col. Joseph A. Morris in England. (353rd FG Archive)

Joe was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart and is commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery. History is full of unanswerable questions and I often wonder what the 353rd’s record would have looked like if Joe Morris had not been lost that day in August 1943 over Paris…

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