"Peter Stekel has achieved a penultimate success with this compelling must read work about two B-24 Liberators that vanished in California during World War II. The Hester and Huntington Lakes B-24's are part of High Sierra lore. The author has provided an in-depth understanding of what happened and why. He pays close attention to the suffering of the next of kin, and the determined heroism of one crewman’s father in searching for his lost son. It’s an expertly written tale about two long missing World War II era B-24's, and the High Sierra Lakes that held them. The fate of their crews, a troubling mystery, is fully described and explained by a master story teller."
G. Pat Macha, aviation archeologist and author of several books about airplane crashes in California including Historic Aircraft Wrecks of San Diego County, Historic Aircraft Wrecks of San Bernardino County, and Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of California, with Don Jordan.
Extended Chapter End Notes
There wasn't enough space in the published version of Beneath Haunted Waters to include all the extra material relating to the book. Some additional information was included in chapter end notes but, even there, the text had to be shortened. Below, organized by chapter are extended end notes. Where they apply, you will also find links to documents and websites. The bold text below will assist you in finding where in the text to look. Refer to the book's references for full citations.
The route taken by Joseph N. LeConte in 1903. James Moore, "Mystery at Hester Lake." Moore writes, "I had a copy of LeConte's account with us, and we found his chute about the same as he described it in 1903, but the terrain was easier because less ice was present. We rapidly made the summit ridge. There, however, the final challenge was to climb up the huge precariously stacked blocks that comprise the summit pinnacle. After inching up a chimney, we finally crawled out on the summit block. The views from this, the northernmost peak in the Sierra higher than 14,000 feet, were spectacular in all directions. From the summit one can look down on Palisade Glacier, the largest in the entire range."
Evading an electrical. Ibid. Of the storm, Moore writes, "Returning down a high ridge in unsettled weather, we encountered strong static electricity. When I took off my hat my hair stood on end. When my arm was raised the head hair relaxed, but hair on my arm tingled. We experimented with these weird sensations but realized that the ridge was charged and that lightning could strike at any time. We descended to climb another day."
Brock had met. Brock would be out of the backcountry occasionally for a few days, conducting business in Bishop, and Moore and Dodge would leave their boots at LeConte Ranger Station for him to take to town for resoling. "Believe it or not, they were going through a set of boots every week or so. My God they went through a lot of soles! There was an old bootmaker in Bishop at the time and I’d drop them off, pick them up the next time (he was in town). I don’t know how many pair they had but they were really covering the Sierra!" Leroy Brock interview December 4, 2011.
Home on leave from the US Army. John Boothe, John Boothe’s Accounting of Trips to Plane Crash Site Discovered in July of 1960. Boothe told me, "It was an interesting experience, you know. I was only 19 years old at the time. I had been at Fort Lewis (Washington state) and I got home on 30 days leave for the month of August before I went to Germany." He worked for his dad that whole time, packing into the high country. John Boothe got out of the Army, "just when we were starting to get involved in Vietnam with the observers thing." All the people he knew at that time were reenlisting for Vietnam because, "that’s where all the action was." John Boothe interview August 31, 2011.
Leroy Brock and the Boothes. Leroy Brock, interview November 30, 2011. "You would have really enjoyed John’s dad," Brock told me. "He was quite a character. We got to know each other real well. John (Boothe) was in the military. He went in the Army about the time (when the B-24 was discovered in 1960) so I knew him before he went in but when he came back out we kind of got together quite a bit in the backcountry because he was helping his dad pack.
"It was a good situation. Dudley - that’s John’s dad - wouldn’t break rules like loose herding, things that he knew would get me in trouble. He was a good sort!"
Spry and enthusiastic. James R. Benét interview, November 8, 2011. Benét lead an eventful life, graduating from Stanford University. A veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, Benét had arrived initially to drive ambulances and then volunteered for combat, staying in Spain for 15 months. He said, "Spain made a man of me." Following the war, Benét took part in John Dollard’s study, Fear in Battle, which was used to create a template for morale education in the US Army before WW II.
A committed anti-fascist and admitted political "radical," Benét believed his job as a journalist was, "seeing through the rhetoric of politicians and trying to get the real story out." He worked as a correspondent for the New York bureau of TASS (the Soviet news agency) during WW II which lead to his investigation by the House on Un-American Activities Committee when it visited San Francisco in May, 1960, shortly before the Liberator was found in Kings Canyon National Park. Benét refused to cooperate and testify but was not punished or jailed for his silence.
During the 1960s, he covered the Free Speech movement and later became a journalism professor at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University in addition to writing a guide book to San Francisco and two mystery novels. All this in addition to his 20 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and later work with the independent television and radio station, KQED.
Benét was the son of poet, William Rose Benét and the nephew of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Stephen Vincent Benét. His grandfather and great-grandfather were both high-ranking officers in the US Army. After his mother’s death in the 1919 Spanish influenza outbreak, he was raised by his aunt, novelist, Kathleen Thompson Norris. James Benét died December 16, 2012, at age 98 from a blood infection.
Ferried in. The park service headquarters at Three Rivers is located on the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains at an elevation of 1723 feet. The helicopter flight time to the lake crash site, at 11,246 feet, can be made in under 30 minutes. Even the hardiest and well-conditioned mountaineer has difficulty in making that sort of elevation transition without exhibiting symptoms of altitude sickness: headache, nausea, fatigue. Therefore, it’s likely Chief Ranger Schuff was not a helpful participant at the lake. Since Goerner doesn’t write anything about Peter Schuff, and Boothe fails to mention him at all, it’s safe to assume the chief ranger was neither looking nor feeling his best. Brock only goes so far as to say that Schuff was there.
Doing research on Amelia Earhart. Leroy Brock interview. November 30, 2011. Despite his less than favorable impression on Boothe and Brock, Fred Goerner had an impressive career in both newspaper and television journalism. His 1966 book, The Search for Amelia Earhart, is an important, and controversial, contribution to the literature on the subject. His thesis is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed on the island of Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands archipelago then under Japanese occupation. The two Americans were captured, accused of spying for the US government, and executed. Current conventional opinion is that Earhart’s Lockheed 12 Electra crashed and sank in the Pacific Ocean after missing Howland Island and running out of fuel. There is little likelihood that either the controversy will ever die down or the truth be found.
Hiller helicopter. Leroy Brock interview. November 30, 2011. Brock recalls, "Woody (last name unknown) was the helicopter pilot. Flying a Hiller. He had a contract with them (the NPS). He had the only aircraft at the time around there that would fly in at those elevations." He also told me at the same time, "Our Chief Ranger at the time (Peter Schuff) was going to fly in and he wanted me to meet him there (at the lake) at 8 a.m. And this is the night before (contacted via radio). He said ‘I’d like to meet you there and take a look.’ I forget what I told him; I had to be polite." Brock didn’t get to the lake until that afternoon, arriving with Boothe, Goerner, and Fischer.
"That’s not right." Leroy Brock interview. November 30, 2011. Brock told me it was impossible for the aircraft to hit Black Divide because it’s west of the lake. All the wreckage he saw was either in the lake or east of the lake. "Because I found evidence, you know - like bicycle chain that operates elevators and things? On an aircraft? It’s stainless steel because it wasn’t rusted. It was bright and shiny. And just little scraps of aluminum and things. The only wreckage found west of the lake was a section of wing.
Later that summer. Leroy Brock, email, June 3, 2014. In a telephone interview June 4, 2014, Brock told me, "The napkins from the officer’s club at Hill Air Force Base brings it down to the origin! The base had a scout troop and the scout troop was doing a 50 miler through the Sierra." Brock figured some fathers at the base had arranged an illegal food drop in the Kings Canyon National Park wilderness and, "Their fathers who had access to all this (aircraft) probably, or could have, tried to resupply them." He’s sure the food drop was premeditated and not part of rescue supplies because, "It had napkins in it."
561st Engineering Company at Fort Baker. "Divers to Study Lost Bomber." San Francisco Chronicle, ND. Fort Baker is located near Sausalito in Marin County, opposite Fort Point at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The Fort is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The 561st Engineering Company was activated June 15, 1942 in the Army of the United States as the 561st Engineer Company. Following the war, the company was inactivated. On March 18, 1955 it was reactivated at the Presidio of San Francisco, California. Inactivated June 15, 1970 in Thailand it was once again reactivated October 16, 2007 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii where the Company is currently based.
Allowed the diver to breathe. In the 1960s the army used a general, all-purpose type compressor designed for use in rough places called a "joy compressor." It was a system that would provide a large volume of high pressure and therefore they were also used to start airplane engines. The compressor would pump to fill a holding tank to, "probably somewhere around 2500 psi," or 170 times sea level atmospheric pressure. The umbilical which carried air to the diver also carried his radio too so the diver could communicate with the dive supervisor topside. In all, there would be "a diver, a tender, and a supervisor," the last one being the person who is in charge of the dive. Whether used at sea level or high elevation the pressurized tank maintained the same proportion of atmospheric gases, about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. Robert Mester. Ibid.
"Essentially." Peter Hunt. Ibid. "Hypoxia" is the condition where the brain cannot get enough oxygen in order to function. At 10,000 feet the symptoms are equal to what hikers experience as altitude sickness. At 30,000 feet, hypoxia quickly leads to unconsciousness and death. If you’ve ever wondered why you are instructed by flight attendants to place the oxygen mask over your own face before your child’s, in case of rapid cabin depressurization, now you know why.
Piasecki H-21 "Flying Banana and Kaman HH-43 "Huskie." Photographs, Numbers 00001-00017, in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks archives. ND. If you wanted to fly to the crash site today the preferred machine would be the jet-powered single engine French Aerospatiale Alouette III. Lt. Colonel Tom Betts (ret.) Email. March 10, 2014.
A Piasecki H-21 "Flying Banana" was used. Photographs, Numbers 00001-00017, in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks archives. ND, and Letter from US Army to Hester family, August 31, 1960.
"The H-21 was designed in the late 1940’s. Lt. Colonel Tom Betts Email. March 10, 2014. Betts told me he never flew the H-21 but one of his commanders did. "He said the helicopter was a giant ‘slug’ and slow to maneuver." Nevertheless, despite its limitations, "It was the US Air Force workhorse helicopter during the 1950s and early 1960s."
Our normal perception of helicopters. Col. Betts elaborated on the unique features of the HH-43 Husky that made it stand apart from other helicopters. "In a single rotor helo, a tail rotor is necessary at 90 degrees to the main rotor to compensate for the yaw motion. Dual rotor helos like the intermeshing Husky and the tandem rotor helos like the H-21 and Chinook have each rotor system going in an opposite spin of the other, to compensate for yaw.
All cooking. Paul McCoy interview, March 29, 2012. Paul McCoy told me, "Once they got up there, got all their stuff up there, one of the things that was a surprise to them, they went to cook some steaks. Turned on the burner, they had all military gear, turned on the burner and, damn! The steaks weren’t cooking! They’d turn up the heat and they still weren’t cooking! They had those burners wide open! Just raging! And he said those steaks were still rare. He said that after a while you had to learn to eat raw steak! They hadn’t thought of that. He said that was the one thing they hadn’t thought about. Of all the food they’d taken up with them, that was the one thing they didn’t think about, that it wasn’t going to cook. He said it ended up not being an real issue but he said it was awful comical." Most cooks are familiar with the problems with boiling water at high elevation due to the low density and pressure altitude. But cooking anything else is also difficult because heat transfer in low atmospheric pressure is equally low.
"Why don’t you." Ibid. Leroy Brock told me, "In those days, because they knew each other so well, when he came down off of Dusy Basin to the east, Rainbow Pack Outfit owner, Dudley Boothe, would yell that he was coming in to LeConte so that Leroy would put the coffee on. On this particular instance, "When he got there with all these horses and all these army guys, they all went out looking at the horses and Dudley said, ‘Want to ride em?’"
The army men were keen to show off their horse skills. "And so the whole string ran with a military guy on them and Dudley in the lead. I saddled up and took my horse and followed them up in the rear down to Grouse Meadow," about three miles down LeConte Canyon below the ranger station.
Brock says they met some backpackers on the trail who were both interested and amazed by what they saw. Army troops on horses! The military guys were "characters," as Brock remembers it. They told the backpackers, "This is the last horse unit in the United States Army. We’re a special unit." The backpackers replied that, "We never knew the army still had horses!"
Brock kept himself in check. "I just acknowledged it and kept moving."
The following section was eliminated from the book's text to economize on space.
Pilots talk about different types of "altitude." Each describes a different set of flight conditions and factors and all are important ways of looking at the atmosphere pilots must fly through. Non-pilots are most familiar with "Indicated altitude." This is what you see when you look at the altimeter on an instrument panel.
Bear in mind that altimeters work by measuring atmospheric pressure - just like barometers. There is a direct relationship between indicated altitude and atmospheric pressure. As you go up in altitude, there is less atmospheric pressure because the weight of the atmosphere lessens with height. If pilots calibrate their altimeter for sea level (an atmospheric standard pressure of 29.92 inches of Mercury or 14.7 pounds per square inch) then the indicated altitude of their altimeter will be equivalent to "pressure altitude," the height above a theoretical plane where atmospheric pressure is 29.92" of Mercury.
However, all of the pilot’s maps record the airport elevation and the elevation of major ground features like power lines or mountains in "true altitude," or the actual height of an object above mean sea level (MSL). Therefore, the true altitude of Bishop Airport is 4124 feet and Hester Lake, where the divers would be taken, is 11,246 feet.
But the earth is not flat; it has lots of bumps. Mountaineers love those bumps because it gives them something to climb on and hike over. Pilots, though, see all those bumps and obstructions as potential objects to fly into and hit. They are most concerned with "absolute altitude" or the actual height of their aircraft above the earth’s surface. Absolute altitude varies with the height of the airplane and the height of the ground. It is commonly referred to as, "height about ground level," or AGL. A pilot’s true altitude (height above mean sea level) might be 5000 feet but if there is a 3000 foot mountain under the airplane, absolute altitude is only 2000 feet.
You can begin to understand the importance, and the differences, between how altitude is measured. Imagine a pilot leaving San Francisco, altitude 13.1 feet, and climbing to an altitude of eight thousand feet. He heads due east towards Yosemite National Park where the highest mountains are over ten thousand feet in elevation. To the west the Pacific Ocean is a flat sunshiny surface stretching to the horizon. Flying over Carquinez Strait, California’s Sacramento Valley spreads out as a patchwork of farms, towns, and highways appearing as bereft of topographical relief as the ocean.
As the pilot moves along through the atmosphere his altimeter shows a fairly constant indicated altitude of eight thousand feet. But as he approaches the Sierra Nevada mountains something strange begins to happen. Though his indicated altitude remains the same his absolute altitude is becoming less because the terrain is rising. No longer is there eight thousand feet of space below the airplane! If the pilot wants to get across the mountains without running into them he is going to have to climb at least four thousand feet more. Though his indicated altitude crossing the hike peaks of Yosemite might be twelve thousand feet the pilot’s absolute altitude will be two thousand feet. In the most simple of terms he now has a whole lot less wiggle room to deal with mistakes.
There is one more type of altitude and it can really muddy the waters. Combining pressure altitude with the existing temperature allows pilots to compute the theoretical value of "density altitude." Not only does atmospheric pressure decrease with altitude, warmer air has less pressure than colder air and aircraft performance is reduced. Very simplistically you can think of it this way: when atmospheric pressure is decreased (by an aircraft rising to a higher altitude, by increased air temperature, and/or both) an airplane propeller has less "bite." It’s like whitewater kayakers trying to paddle through a foamy rapid that is more air than water.
Density and pressure altitude are crucial concepts that explain why helicopters can fly close to the ground. Helicopters can hover close to the surface is because of "ground effect," the added aerodynamic buoyancy produced by a cushion of air beneath the aircraft. As density and pressure altitude and temperature increase, the angle of attack of the helicopter’s rotor needs to keep increasing. A point is reached where the helicopter reaches a stall point for the rotor system and can’t hover out of ground effect. At that point the helicopter ceases to become an aircraft and becomes a rock. The divers were going to an elevation of 11,246 feet - out of hovering range for most 1960s-era helicopters. This required some creative thinking in order to get the divers where they needed to be.
Straight shot to Hammer Field. Now the Fresno Air National Guard Base and home base to the California Air National Guard 144th Fighter Wing, Hammer Field was named for First Lieutenant Earl M. Hammer, the first California Air Service Signal Corps aviator killed during World War I. His SE-5a Scout was shot down on May 19, 1918 while Hammer escorted Royal Air Force bombers on a mission over France. He is buried in Plot G Row 20 Grave 9, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France. Hammer Field was activated April 3, 1941 and was initially called Fresno Army Air Base. The primary focus of Hammer Field today is for commercial aviation at the Fresno Air Terminal.
Part of the reason for the delay. From the official history of the 461st Bombardment Squardron, "First Lieutenant William H. Zumsteg and his skeleton crew were caught in an overcast beyond Las Vegas, Nevada, during the night. He was compelled to go on instruments and presently his radio failed him. Eventually he ran low on gasoline that resulted in a forced landing which he made on a short landing strip at Manzanar, California. He ran off the end of the runway, hit a ditch, and very badly damaged the plane. Fortunately no one but his navigator, Second Lieutenant Joseph J. Repko, was injured. Lt. Repko has since returned to active duty." http://www.461st.org/History/461st%20History/PDFs/dec43.pdf.
The Inyo Register reported, "A huge B-24 Liberator bomber made a forced landing at Manzanar airport last Sunday morning about 4:30 o’clock, overshooting the runway and nosing over on the north end of the field. A strong down-wind was blamed for the irregular landing." Inyo Register for December 10, 1943. Page 1. This joined another B-24 bomber, piloted by Lt. Stanley A. Sagert, that made an emergency landing at Manzanar on November 28, "after two motors on the ship had gone out while they were on a mission out of Muroc Army Air Base." Inyo Register. December 10, 1943. Page 6. Between March 21, 1942 and November 21, 1945 Manzanar was the site of an internment camp for American citizens of Japanese descent.
First Lieutenant William H. Zumsteg did not survive the war. He and his crew (including Lt. Repko of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania) with the 767th Squadron, 461st Bombardment Group (H), were last sighted over Bihac, Yugoslavia, April 02, 1944. Zumsteg and another B-24 were involved in a mid-air collision with some survivors in the second airplane. Lt. Zumsteg and all his crew perished when their Liberator was nearly cut in two behind the waist windows by the #1 and #2 propellers of First Lieutenant John F. Wilson’s B-24 when Wilson was maneuvering into formation. Lt. Wilson evidently did not see Lt. Zumsteg’s B-24 below him. After the war, Zumsteg’s remains were recovered from Yugoslavia and he was buried in Plot C Row 11 Grave 21, Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupre, Belgium. Repko and three others were buried where they fell by Partisans. No information could be found as to the final disposition of their remains following the war. Wilson survived the war and returned home to Alabama.
Lt. Zumsteg’s mishap. Ibid. 2nd Lieutenant Stanley A. Sagert, of the 746th Squadron 456th Bombardment Group (H), was an instructor pilot and entered the Army Air Forces immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack. According to www.456thbombgroup.org, he flew 50 missions out of North Africa and was brought down by flak over Graz, Austria, July 15, 1944 when returning from a Ploesti, Romania, raid. There were no casualties and the crew evaded capture with the aid of a group of Partisans. After returning to base, Lt. Sagert insisted his men had done enough for the war effort and requested they be removed from flight status. Sagert retired as a colonel and died January 25, 2014 at the age of 93 in Denton, Texas.
The affect of planes laden with fuel. Philip Ardery. 1978. Bomber Pilot. Page 1. Ardery was standing on the control tower in East Anglia near Norwich waiting for his squadron to return from a mission. "There was a haze in the air which made visibility poor, and a combat wing of B-24s was flying over. This was a new wing, practicing formation flying with a full complement of bombs and fuel, getting ready for its first encounter with the enemy." There were 45 heavy bombers flying in three extremely compact groups, "the whole occupied less space than some single groups I’d seen," remembered Ardery. Observers knew the formation couldn’t hold together without some mishap - they were simply too close together to be safe. "As soon as they hit any rough going they’ll start running into each other and blowing up," said one. Predictions of disaster quickly came true when a squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses showed up, returning from a mission. "It was apparent that neither formation leader saw the other until they were about to meet over the field."
The B-17 leader recognized what was about to happen, seeing himself running on a collision course, and brought his formation down to earth to avoid the inevitable. The B-24 leader, with his group tightly knit, learning self-defense against German fighter attacks, was hard-pressed to do anything to avoid complete destruction. "The Liberator’s leader tried to climb his formation a little and turn it slightly to the right." Individual pilots in the formation saw what was happening and sought to avoid the inevitable. "One Liberator pulled up to one side and too close under another. The wings of the two airplanes touched and crumpled; for an instant neither plane seemed to change its direction of flight. The wings began to come off both ships. All the other airplanes in the immediate vicinity began getting out regardless of formation. Suddenly a flame shot up. The two bombers were right up against each other now and coming apart. Another instant and that whole part of the sky was aflame as the gasoline and bombs exploded. One big fire gently descended. Falling from it could be seen engines, props, wheels, bits of wings, and some bundles that might have been men." The collision happened at about 8000 feet. "By the time the fire reached the ground there was almost nothing left."
"Pervasive sense of danger." John Boeman. Morotai: a memoir of war. Page 56. Boeman flew a B-24 from San Francisco Bay to Hickam Field in Hawaii while on his way to combat in the South Pacific. The whole squadron took off at 15 minute intervals, flew a prescribed speed and altitude so as to not hit each other during flight. When they reached Hawaii they learned that one of their number hadn’t made the crossing. Supposedly two engines had quit due to a "fuel transfer problem" and the crew ditched in the Pacific.
In a letter written to his parents. Clarence P. Coward, Fallen Eagle. Page 70.
2nd Lieutenant Clyde Odis Primrose Jr. grew up on a farm in East Texas and volunteered for service in 1942. After facing enormous obstacles, he earned his wings and became a B-24 pilot, assigned to the 772nd Squadron, 450th Bomb Group (H), stationed with the 15th Air Force, operating out of Italy. On 15 July, 1944, Primrose was flying as co-pilot on a bombing run over Ploesti, Rumania. His B-24H, #42-51153, Strange Cargo, was equipped with H2X radar. They took a flak burst between #2 engine (inboard, on the left side of the plane) and the bomb bay, where fire broke out. The pilot, Lt. Col. William Snaith, tried to control Strange Cargo as it nosed over but the B-24 exploded and Snaith was blown out of the aircraft and successfully parachuted to the ground where he was taken prisoner. The rest of the crew went down with the ship and were killed.
General Herbert A. Dargue. Rebecca Hancock Cameron. 1999. Training to Fly: Military Flight Training, 1907-1945. Dargue, himself, became an aviation accident statistic on 12 December 1941 when the B-18 he was piloting crashed above Birch Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Big Pine, CA. All eight people aboard were killed. A pilot with 5800 hours of experience, Dargue was flying from Mitchel Field in New York to Hawaii to relieve General Walter Short and assume command at Pearl Harbor following the Japanese attack 7 December 1941.
Dargue was the second Army Signal Corps flyer to earn his wings and had begun his flight training in a 1910 Wright Model B.
The decision to ditch or bail out. Frederick A. Johnson. 1999. B-24 Liberator: Rugged But Right. Page 29. "A small sampling of B-24 and B-17 ditchings in the six months surrounding D-Day produced an AAF report indicating higher mortality among B-24 crewmen who ditched." Some of the findings: "Sixty-two percent of the B-24s broke into two or more parts, while only 22% of the B-17s broke up with 24% of crew members drowning in B-24 ditching operations as against only 6% for B-17s." Ditching a B-17 did not insure survivability since 25% of B-17s sank in less than a minute compared to 14% for B-24s. "In fact, 22% of the Liberators stayed afloat between 10 and 15 minutes, affording time to escape." There is no evidence Exterminator was one such example. A famous B-24 test ditching on the James River in Virginia in 1944 was filmed and is easily found on YouTube today. The two test pilots survived the experiment in the heavily reinforced test plane which began sinking PDQ. It would have gone to the bottom of the river if a barge with a crane hadn’t been situated close by for the purpose of halting such an event.
War memoirs. Louis Falstein, Face of A Hero. Page 130. According to Falstein’s description in his novel, everybody aboard a B-24 knew it was not designed nor built for crash landings. Hitting the ground with wheels up would crush the Venetian blinds that constituted the bomb bay doors, causing the plane’s undercarriage to implode. Ditching made the same bomb bay doors collapse and the Liberator would snap in two like a matchstick.
Nevertheless, once in theater, crews practiced ditching positions. Crash landing were harrowing experiences, as Falstein captures in his book. "I was sitting on the floor, leaning my back against the ditching belt, facing to the rear of the ship. Against me, Charley Couch was propped, my legs wrapped around his body, Trent sat between his legs. We were all propping our necks with our hands when the twenty-eight ton ship telescoped into the ground on its belly. There was a deafening thud accompanied by the anguished cry of crumbling aluminum. I felt as if my insides had been pulled out of me; my eyes were sucked into the back of my head, the delicate fibers dangling, stretched, on fire with pain."
George Barulic, radio operator on Exterminator. George Barulic. Telephone interview. August 5, 2011. Barulic thought very highly of Lt. Culos Marion Settle. "He was just one of the nicest guys that I ever met. The first time I’d met a Southern Baptist. This guy didn’t swear. He didn’t drink whiskey. He was the most decent guy." After the war, "I tried to get a hold of him but he had passed away. I got a hold of his brother and he told me his wife had remarried and they don’t know anything about her. I wanted to talk to his kids about their father because he was a super man. A super man. This guy, I don’t think he ever had a fight in his life. I used to watch him. It must have been awful tough on him, you know. But, he did his job, no matter how difficult it might have been. He’s my hero."
San Miguel Island. Robert A. Burtness. The Santa Barbara B-24 Disasters. P. 71. Burtness catalogs the ill-wind and bad luck that plagued efforts to recover the crew from this airplane. Though most of the crew’s remains were brought home after their March 16, 1944 discovery, more remains were found by campers on San Miguel Island in September, 1954. On October 2, 1954 a Coast Guard cutter with a forensic team was dispatched to the island from Los Angeles harbor. Near Point Mugu, the 125 foot cutter collided with a 60 foot ketch, sinking it and killing two of the five passengers. A few scattered bones were eventually recovered from the crash site of the B-24 on San Miguel Island.
In his book, Burtness goes on to describe what happened to the crew of Hat in the Ring during the remainder of the war. On July 15, 1943 the crew from Hat in the Ring, with a new navigator and bombardier, deployed to China via stops for more training, occasional repairs, rest, relaxation, and fuel in Texas, Nebraska, Maine, Montreal, Gander Lake in Newfoundland, Ireland, Warrington in England, Marrakech, Algiers, Tripoli, Cairo, Persia, India, and finally their new duty station with the 14th Air Force, 373rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), in Yangkai; certainly the long way around! The entire journey occupied three months. The name of their airplane was Bob ‘n Pete, a memorial to their late comrades, Robert Prosser and Peter Dannhardt.
Bad luck returned to Lieutenant Thorel Johnson and his crew during their thirteenth mission. Off-course and lost, piloting an airplane damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and unable to make radio contact with anybody, Johnson overflew the 373rd Bombardment Squadron base at Yangkai by over 200 miles. He continued flying until running out of fuel. It was now around 2 a.m. Unlike bailing out over friendly Santa Barbara, the crew was forced to jump over what they soon discovered was territory held by the Japanese. But their luck had finally changed for the better. Avoiding the enemy, and helped by local Chinese and German Catholic missionaries, the crew were able to reassemble on the ground and, over the course of 23 days, managed to walk safely home. Of the five crews that participated with Johnson and his crew on their 13th bombing mission, three were shot down and two were never heard from again.
Bob finished school. As a teenager, Miriam Puranen worked as an usher in a movie house in Juneau. This is where she met Bob Hester. Their daughter, Diane Hester Coombes, remembers her mother saying, "A friend of my dad had a date with a girl and he asked his girlfriend if he could find a date for my dad. It turned out to be my mom. He was a park ranger of some sort. He lost his mom and my mom said he was very, very close to his mom. And when she died, it was really hard for him and he needed to get away." Diane Coombes. Interview. August 3, 2014.
"I’m going to find them. I can’t rest until I’ve found that ship." William Lansford. "If My Son is Alive - I’ll Track Him Down. Stag. 12:7. July. Page 65.
Lansford’s original title for the article, according to a letter he sent to Janet Hester Hovden on November 4, 1960, was the more appropriate, The Long Search, which became the title of an anonymously-penned article for an August 15, 1960 issue of Time. Most of the chronology for this chapter comes from Lansford’s Stag article.
Two obituaries, and the man’s own website biography, paint William "Bill" Lansford as an extremely interesting fellow. His mother was from Juarez, Mexico. His father was an Irish-Anglo ex-Texas cowboy and, later, a rough-and-tough police captain in Los Angeles. His parents separated with Bill was young and the boy spoke little English until age fourteen when he began having more contact with his father. While still in his teens, Lansford enlisted in the Marines and fought with the Second Marine Raider Battalion (Carlson’s Raiders), lead by General Evans Fordyce Carlson, at Midway, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. At war’s end he was discharged as sergeant with the Navy Commendation Medal, a Purple Heart, two Presidential Citations, and corresponding campaign ribbons.
After World War II, he enlisted again, this time in the Army, and served during the Korean Conflict. He served nine years with the Army where he earned his officer commission. At one time Lansford was responsible for three divisions on the line, three in reserve, plus three Korean (ROK) divisions with a total responsibility of 200,000 troops. He also served as an 8th Army military correspondent. He ended up his army career as a 1st Lieutenant, a Bronze Star, and sixteen other awards and decorations.
Like many combat veterans before him, Lansford found little glory in battle. In a January 2, 1961 letter to Janet Hester Hovden, Lansford wrote, "It is difficult for me to relate the foul extermination of human life with words like ‘heroic’ and ‘gallant.’" He found better descriptive words such as "sad" and "useless," writing that he resigned from the Army after his stint in Korea, "after two wars, and at the tender age of thirty, because I had already begun to sense - more instinctively than intellectually, perhaps - that something was wrong; that it was nothing short of immoral to send young men out to meet well-ordered deaths, the way one orders willing children out to run an errand to the grocery store."
Primarily through his mother’s influence as a Spanish language performer in Los Angeles, Lansford became interested in movies, music, and the arts. He became a successful novelist, short story writer, television writer, and screenwriter. His biography of Pancho Villa was adapted by Paramount Studios and made into the 1968 movie, Villa Rides. Though carrying an Anglo name, Lansford’s writings inevitably featured Hispanic or Latino characters or subjects and he strongly identified with that community all his life.
William Douglas Lansford died at age ninety on May 22, 2013 at his home in Playa del Rey, Los Angeles, from prostate cancer.
A map. Mrs. Charles W.(Margaret) Turvey. Letter to Clint Hester. June 11, 1944. We have no way of knowing what the map was but Mrs. Turvey felt it provided some kind of physical link to her son because she wrote, "I wouldn’t take anything for the map. It was considerate of you to send it." It’s likely Clint sent a map of his search area in the Sierra Nevada in addition to the probably route of 463 from Davis-Montham Field to Hammer Field.
11237 Graham Place. The house no longer exists. It was torn down to provide a connection between the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) to the southbound San Diego Freeway (I-405). The complete interchange between the two freeways was completed in 1964. Nathan Masters, "Creating the Santa Monica Freeway." September 10, 2012.
Retz R-10. Photograph in Hester Family Archives. At this late date it isn’t possible to say in what form Bob acquired the plane but it probably was either built from plans or a kit. During an August 3, 2014 interview, Diane Coombes, Bob Hester’s daughter, told me a funny story about the R-10. Diane was a babe in arms at the time but recalls her mother telling her stories about her father taking an airplane motor and somehow hooking it onto a fence so he could test its operation. "I don’t know how he got it started. The whole thing would vibrate."
The Retz R-10 was a single-seater bi-plane with positive stagger; the top wing being placed in front of the bottom wing. The R-10 had a radial engine. An advanced, or at least experimental design for the era, there were no wing struts between the tandem wings. What this means for the pilot is that drag, or wind resistance, that would slow down the airplane is reduced. In other words, the R-10 was designed as a sporty model to go fast. Perfect for Bob Hester.
Arnold "Al" Hanes. William Lansford. Page 66. Hanes eventually did purchase Bob Hester’s Retz R-10 and converted it to the experimental H-1 Midget Racer, tail number NX-68379. The H-1 was a one-person mid-wing monoplane with an enclosed cockpit and an 85 hp Continental C-85 inline engine. Photos of the two aircraft in the Hester Family Archives show the resemblance between the H-1 and the R-10, especially in the tail section. It’s unclear who, but somebody raced the H-1 in an unnamed event in 1947 where it finished in the bottom third.
He remarried in 1948. The date is calculated in two ways. First, the death certificate of Gladys Estelle Hester states she was a resident of Los Angeles for two years before her death. Next, Clint’s daughter, Janet Hovden, told me during an interview September 5, 2011, that Gladys died a year after she and Clint were married.
During the summer of 1947. Interview. Janet Hester Hovden. September 5, 2011. Janet Hovden says Clint, "had a motorcycle all his life except for when he’d have his accidents and then he’d have to give up the motorcycle and then buy a new one later on." She doesn’t think the accidents were from driving too fast. "I don’t think so. It didn’t seem so." She remembers a time when Clint was hit by a truck that turned in front of him. "And then he had a couple of accidents coming home from Lone Pine searching for Bob." In those days the highway was narrow two lane blacktop with no turning lanes and mostly with no shoulder. Coming over the pass into Los Angeles was a "treacherous mountain road."
Another time, around 1944, Clint had to lay the bike down on its side when his wheel got caught in broken pavement and, "he skidded across his face and his arms were all cut up." She saw him at Santa Monica Hospital and "he was all messed up." This was in an era when nobody wore hard helmets; maybe a leather head covering and goggles.
Only 35. Certificate of Death, Gladys Estelle Hester, July 20, 1949. Cause of death was a "cerebral hemorrhage" twelve days after suffering a "ruptured aneurysm." She was buried July 23, in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale), Plot: Graceland, Lot 5647, Space 1. The daughter of Elmer Curtis Brooner and Laura Louise Weaver, she was a native of Ohio. She worked as a manicurist in a beauty parlor. A large tree arches over her grave site, giving shade during the hot southern California summers.
1950. Inyo County. General Index, Grantors, A-K. July 1958-June 1971 (microfiche) and Inyo County. General Index, Grantors, A-K. July 1948-June 1958 (microfiche), Inyo County Assessor’s Office. Assessor’s Map Bk. 26 Pg.04, 1950.
The house and landscaping have been extensively remodeled and no longer resembles the home built by Clint Hester. Property in the area has also been extensively divided and sub-divided; there are many new homes. Most of the streets are now paved though sidewalks are not a feature. The most prominent vegetation is tumbleweed and sagebrush. Some of the older homes, like Clint’s, were built around large, old, cottonwood trees. It’s not likely Clint Hester would recognize the neighborhood though the scenery, with its uninterrupted view towards Mt. Whitney, has not changed one whit.
Clint sub-divided his property and either deeded or conveyed some of it to his daughter and son-in-law and also to his friends, Roy and Betty Vogel. The house was sold in 1954 for $19,500.
Close to Clint’s house on Pangborn Street is the mass grave for sixteen of the twenty-seven victims of the March 26, 1872 Owens Valley earthquake. There is also a memorial plaque and flag pole commemorating the event.
"I won’t." Anonymous. 1960. "California: The Long Search." Time. August 15. Large sections of this one column-wide article share text with a much longer piece that appeared in an August 29, 1960 article in the Schenectady Gazette entitled, "Rutland Airman’s Body Found After 17-Year Search in Sierras," written by the Gazette’s police reporter, Fred Hoekstra. The connection between the newspaper and the story lies in that Schenectady is 95 miles south of Rutland, VT, the home of Sergeant Robert Bursey, flight engineer on 463. Hoekstra’s article is mostly about the homecoming of Sergeant Bursey though it goes into some detail about how 463 was discovered and how the crew’s remains were recovered by an "aqualung specialist."
Because the title is identical to William Lansford’s original story title for Stag, I suspect he is the anonymous author of the Time story and that Fred Hoekstra borrowed liberally from it for his own article written for the Schenectady Gazette, appearing two weeks later.
"Our dead." George Eliot. Adam Bede. The entire passage incorporating the quote is from Book 1, Chapter 10, and is worth reading in its entirety, especially as how it relates so strongly to Clint Hester’s story.
Lisbeth had even mended a long-neglected and unnoticeable rent in the checkered bit of bed-curtain; for the moments were few and precious now in which she would be able to do the smallest office of respect or love for the still corpse, to which in all her thoughts she attributed some consciousness. Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them: they can be injured by us, they can be wounded; they know all our penitence, all our aching sense that their place is empty, all the kisses we bestow on the smallest relic of their presence. And the aged peasant woman most of all believes that her dead are conscious. Decent burial was what Lisbeth had been thinking of for herself through years of thrift, with an indistinct expectation that she should know when she was being carried to the churchyard, followed by her husband and her sons; and now she felt as if the greatest work of her life were to be done in seeing that Thias was buried decently before her-under the white thorn, where once, in a dream, she had thought she lay in the coffin, yet all the while saw the sunshine above and smelt the white blossoms that were so thick upon the thorn the Sunday she went to be churched after Adam was born.
All these boys. Girls too. The Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) trained around 150,000 young women during the war, many of whom were injured or died during training accidents and while on transport or other flying duty. Their motto, of sorts, was, "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over."
More pay. Hibbits. Page 208. "My pay as a second lieutenant was arrived at under three headings: base, flying, and allowances. My base pay as second lieutenant was $150. My flying pay was one-half my base pay, or $75. Since my quarters were provided, the $40 single-quarters allowance was withheld. There was also a $21 ration allowance. After I’d paid my bills, I still have slightly over $200 left, and, compared to my cadet pay, felt independently wealthy." Newly commissioned officers also received a $250 clothing allowance.
613.2 total hours. 1943, 17 December. "Report of Aircraft Accident" for B-24 #41-28463. 235.1 hours. 1943, 16 December. "Report of Aircraft Accident" For B-24 #42-7674. It may be counterintuitive that the squadron leader had less experience than the pilots under him, But bear in mind that Captain Darden had already completed his flight training and was now in a supervisory position which undoubtedly kept him flying a desk more often than an airplane. Taken in that light it’s understandable why he chose to fly the search missing for 463. Of the ten airplanes participating, five were being flown by senior officers including the group leader, Lt. Col. Glantzberg.
A twenty-week course. Bowman. Ibid. Page 83. Navigator training was a constantly moving target as the need for better prepared navigators made itself known. First it was 10 weeks, then 12, then 15, 18, then finally 20. In the European Theater of Operation, the 8th Air Force mostly gave up on individual navigators and had fleets of bombers play follow-the-leader with one well-versed and reliable navigator in front of the bomber stream.
George Barulic said. George Barulic interview. Ibid. On December 3, 1943, three days before 463 and Exterminator were lost, the 70 crews of the 461st Bombardment Squadron were addressed by their commander, Col. Frederick Glantzberg. One of the things he told them was, "You men are new; we are all new. You groups of ten who count so on each other just learned each other’s names five weeks ago, and each ten of you, each single man has in his hands the lives of all the other nine." www.461st.org. 461st Bomb Squadron history, Chapter IV.
George Barulic contradicts. George Barulic interview. Ibid.
"We’re on a mission to Ploesti and we lost two engines. One on either side. And Settle says to Fish, the navigator, he says, ‘Look for a place where we can bail out.’ You know, where it might be some friendly territory. And he (Settle) says, ‘Who wants to jump?’"
"Well, I say, I’ll jump."
"And nobody else wanted to jump. So he says, ‘I don’t want you to jump.’
"We made it back by hook or crook," across the Adriatic, "and landed, not in our home base but a little base there on the coast of Italy."
"Would have gladly." General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos. 1985. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 19. "Of the 9,585 examples of the P-39 built before the end of the war, 4,500 (almost half) were given to the USSR. This seems appropriate since Russia was the only country that achieved widespread success with the plane." Patrick Masell. http://www.chuckhawks.com/airacobra_iron_dog.htm.
Gone were the requirements. Graham and Kulick. Ibid. Page 22. After June 20, 1941, the Army Air Corps became a subordinate branch of the United States Army Air Forces. The Air Corps was abolished as an administrative organization on March 9, 1942 but continued to exist as a combat arm, along with armor, artillery, and infantry, until being eliminated by reorganization provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. In popular literature, magazines, and newspapers of the time, along with politicians and Army staff and, even, official forms and stationary, adoption of the name, "United States Army Air Forces," was slow in acceptance.
"Another disturbing element." Barry Ralph. Ibid. Page 19. As General Kenney suspected, accidental deaths in the 5th Air Force continued overseas. On September 13, 1942, one B-26 Marauder pilot was especially unlucky. Working out of Iron Range, a base located in Northern Australia, a B-26 at take-off, piloted by Lieutenant Walt Krell, hit a termite mound. Krell lost control of his ship and collided with a compressor truck parked alongside the runway. His airplane caught fire and two crewmen were killed; Krell suffered serious burns yet lived. He survived the war as a Lieutenant Colonel. Fatal ground accidents like that were depressingly common everywhere during the war and you can’t help but think that even highly experienced crews must have been relieved to get off the ground and into the air and away from such hazards.
Surpassed the production. Martin Bowman. 1979. The B24 Liberator 1939-1945. Page 6. According to Bowman, something like 19,256 were produced.
Graeme Douglas in, Consolidated B-24 Liberator 1939 onwards (all marks) Owners’ Workshop Manual, Pages 25 and 155 breaks the numbers down by series, manufacturing plant, and production date. Despite these impressive production numbers there are only two airworthy Liberators in existence today along with 21 on static display. Ibid. Page 6, and Nicholas Veronico. 2014. Hidden Warbirds II. Pages 195-196. Veronico says there are another six Liberators for which there is a historic record of being on display though the planes and their location are unknown. Page 198.]
Consolidated Aircraft Company licensed production. Steve Birdsall. 1973. Log of the Liberators. Page 312-313. According to research conducted by Christopher Thomas in 1993-1994, "B-24E-14-DT Serial #41-28463," 463 was delivered to the Army Air Force on June 23, 1943 at a cost of $306,592.00. From the Douglas plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 463 was flown on June 26 to Tucson, Arizona. From there, on July 25 it flew to Kelly Filed in Texas. Its next stop, also on July 25, was to Love Field, Texas. From there, 463 flew to Pocatello Field in Idaho on August 5 and on August 10 arrived at Wendover Field in Utah. It is unknown when 463 arrived at Hammer Field in Fresno, California. At Hammer Field, 463 was assigned to the 4th Air Force, 461st Bomb Group (H), 765th Bomb Squadron.
Just like pilots. Marlyn Pierce. "Earning Their Wings: Accidents and Fatalities in the United States Army Air Forces During Flight Training in World War Two." Ph.D. dissertation, Kansas State University, December, 2013. Page 56. As General H. H. "Hap" Arnold put it, "The Air Corps was going into ‘mass-production’ of flyers." In its recruiting manual the Air Corps took it a step further and compared the training regimen of pilots and crew to an "assembly line."
"He had to. Smith. Ibid. Page 182. Smith’s crew was later attacked over their target by German fighter aircraft. Adding insult to humiliation the flight engineer retrieved his helmet to protect his head. "However, when his head temperature went up from the excitement of battle, his frozen waste thawed out and dribbled down out of his helmet and soiled him badly."
"The Stirling was limited. Ronald Bailey. 1981. The Air War in Europe. Page 62. What a difference a war makes! There is that old saying about, "Generals always fight the last war." The saying has long history, dating back in many permutations at least to 1923 and is also often used by economists as in, "Economists fight the last depression." Barry Popik, a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, has prepared a long discussion on the phrases’s origin, along with literature citations, on his website at: http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/
Turvey and Hester were lucky. There is no way of knowing whether Turvey and Hester always flew 463. We do know from testimony given by Lieutenant John Specht during the accident investigation for 463 that other people also flew the airplane. Also, at this late date there is no way of knowing with any certainty how many of the Liberators at Hammer Field in 1943 were newer, recently delivered, aircraft and how many were not because there isn’t a complete list of aircraft and serial numbers available for research.
We already know that 463 was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Tulsa, OK, and delivered to the US Army on June, 1943 (Christopher Thomas, personal communication). From further research done by Thomas we also know that 463 was delivered to Wendover Field in Utah on August 10, 1943 when Turvey, Hester, and many others who would end up at Hammer Field were involved in their first phase training for heavy bombers. On Page 1, Chapter III of the 461st Bombardment Group history, we know that eight Liberators were delivered to Hammer Field from Wendover Air Field October 29, 1943 and may surmise that 463 was one of them. If it was, the other seven may have been as new as 463.
According to Special Order No. 315, given on October 28, 1943, Charles Turvey, Robert Hester, William Cronin, and Ellis Fish were directed along with over 100 other lieutenants from Wendover Field to proceed to their duty station with the 461st Bombardment Group to Hammer Field, Fresno, California.
"You can fly okay." Ardery. Ibid. Page 49. Ardery seems to be the exception to the rule. B-24 pilots like James Davis found less than four operating engines on the Liberator to be a dangerous situation. On a mission to France in 1944 Davis was forced to abort when he lost one engine. Then, over a populated portion of England, and with a full bomb load, he lost another. With full power to number one and number three engines Davis and his Liberator were still dropping like a stone. Coming in to land he barely cleared a copse of trees and set down - several hundred feet in front of the runway. It was a close call landing with no injuries or death or destruction. Flying with one engine out was not an easy task as the plane needed to be steered and controlled by differential thrust to the remaining, functioning, engines plus hard use of the rudder. It required so much effort on the pilot’s part that muscle fatigue would make their legs shake uncontrollably. James M. Davis, 2006. In Hostile Skies page 140.
Naval aviators suffered equally. Total naval aviation deaths from all causes was 12,133. Combat deaths were 3618 with 2891 from air combat and 727 from "other action." Deaths from plane crashes - operational, were 3632 and deaths from non-operational plane crashes were 3257. Deaths from aviation accidents other than plane crashes or not under military jurisdiction were 155. Another 1471 deaths were from accidents other than aviation (998), disease (342), and the catch all of "all others" (131). Navy Department Library. "Aviation Personnel Fatalities in World War II."
According to Lt. Col. Tom Betts, USAF Ret., "Deaths Plane Crashes - operational = death/crash while flying, landing, or takeoff that did not involve any direct enemy action. Such as a bad takeoff or bad landing or losing control while flying an operational mission, running out of gas during an operational mission, or running into a mountain while flying an operational mission. But not due to any enemy action."
Betts says that deaths from non-operational plane crashes will involve such things as training and ferrying. "The key here is other than operational. Any training flight is not an operational mission. These include flights at basic flight school, advanced flight school, combat aircraft training missions in non-combat areas." Also, "Routine follow on and proficiency training flights at sea; but, not in combat."
Betts concludes with, "Ferry flights are movement of aircraft from one location to another. These can or may include flights from land base to a carrier that are just re-locating the aircraft for eventual combat or operational missions." Tom Betts, email October 20, 2014]
In Darden v. Darden. www.Leagle.com. Darden v. Darden. http://www.leagle.com/decision/1945360152F2d208_1287/
The decision was made by Judge Dobie, Circuit Judge, and Chestnut and Barksdale, District Judges. One of Billy Darden’s classmates on the equestrian team at VMI was F. H. "Pinky" Barksdale. Barksdale is a famous but common name in the south so it would be spurious to do anything more than point out the coincidence in names involved with the judgement.
Blue star. Begun in 1945 after World War II, a blue star was used on service flags (an official banner that family members of service members can display) to denote a servicemember fighting in the war. Since that time blue stars also include Memorial Markers, Memorial By-ways, and National Cemeteries, parks, veterans facilities, and gardens.
He didn’t have to. Exterminator radio operator, George Barulic, working man that he was, recognized this in Dick, though he mistakenly believed it was dissatisfaction with his exalted station in life. Dick’s diary definitely demonstrates this was certainly not the case. Of all the boys on the two B-24s, Dick Mayo is the only one who had no initial intention of the air service when he enlisted. This is confirmed by an entry in his diary from February 14, 1943.
John Waites. John B. Waites (January 1, 1921-September 6, 2005) finished the war as a corporal. One big reason he could have been so homesick at Christmas was that he and missed his wife back home in Russell County, Alabama.
Macomber Vocational High School. The Irving E. Macomber Vocational Technical High School was a vocational public high school in Toledo, Ohio, USA, from 1938 to June 1991. Some measure of the shift in public education today is the paucity of vocational or trade schools for high school students lacking interest or ability to attend college. Whether this further indicates the decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States is an interesting topic worth studying. Seeing the educational need, privately operated vocational schools have stepped in to fill the niche.
Census records. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census. Ron Welch, nephew of Lt. William Cronin, navigator on 463, generously tracked down, and provided me with, data on the Wandtke family.
Railroad Retirement Board. The original Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, the same year the Railroad Retirement Board was established. Railroad workers were exempt from the Social Security Act.
Robert Bursey graduated. There are three newspaper clippings of unknown attribution in the Bursey Family Archives that cover Bob’s life between high school and his disappearance in 463. The first records his return to Houlton Air Base in Houlton, Maine after a holiday furlough. That must be from Christmas, 1942. The other two report on Bob’s recent disappearance and must be from December, 1943. The first clip is untitled. The remaining two are, "S/Sgt. Robert Bursey ‘Missing in Action,’" "Sergt. Bursey In Crew of Plane Week Overdue."
Hardly prepared for the task at hand. They were not alone in being unprepared. It happened plenty of times in every theater of the war. General George Kenny, commander of the 5th Air Force, working out of Brisbane, wrote to General Hap Arnold, commander of the Air Forces. "Another disturbing element is the state of training of the B-24s coming from Hawaii. I’m trusting that the tactical situation, the weather and other factors give me a chance to nurse them along for a while before I have to push them too hard, because they are not ready to start pitching the day they arrive in Australia by a long way." Barry Ralph 2006. The Crash of Little Eva. Page 19.
Patrick J. Cronin. Ron Welch Jr. Email. April 7, 2016. Ron also wrote of his grandfather, "He was a heavy smoker, and when told by his doctor that he would die if he did not stop, he said he would rather die than give up smoking. The bill for this behavior came due in Olean, NY on August 14, 1966 (lung cancer). He is buried in St. Bonaventure Cemetery in Allegany, NY." Patrick Cronin arrived in the United States April 14, 1912 on the SS Carmania (the same day the Titanic hit its iceberg). His wife, Katherine, arrived June 20, 1908 on the SS Arabic in, "a filthy steerage compartment." Immigrants have made this country great. They have contributed their brain and brawn. And they have bled and died for the United States of America.
Colonel Guy Kirksey. Colonel Guy Kirksey. Letter to Mrs. Reba E. Mayo. January 13, 1944. Kirksey was commanding officer at Hammer Field from December 25, 1941 to June, 1944. On November 28, 1942 his twenty-five year old son, Tom, died, victim of an automobile accident the previous day which also killed his mother, Helen (July 27, 1891-November 27, 1942). The accident occurred in Fresno when the Kirksey car collided with a truck driven by Paul L. Gambs, also of Fresno. "Second Victim Dies in Fresno Accident." Berkeley Daily Gazette. November 28, 1942. The Fresno Bee reported October 5, 1944 that the colonel had married Florence Brammer. Col. Kirksey (August 2, 1886-January 4, 1961) was a veteran of World War I and flew with Billy Mitchell. Kirksey is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 30 #2103, near President Kennedy.
Company town. As of the 2010 census the population of Big Creek was 175. There is an elementary school, some restaurants, and over 100 housing units. Other than working for Southern California Edison the main employment for the town centers around working at the school or servicing the tourists.
Ronald White. "Huntington Yields ‘43 Plane Wreckage." The Fresno Bee. September 15, 1955. Bill Disterdick is mentioned in this article about the airplane’s discovery but Don Ekhoff is not given any credit. "I’ve always felt a little bad about not being named in that article," he told me via email, May 11, 2015. "I guess being nine years old doesn’t carry as much weight as being thirteen!"
John W. Byrnes. Republican John William Byrnes (June 12, 1913-January 12, 1985) served in the Wisconsin state senate from 1941-1945, representing the 2nd District. In 1944 he was elected to Congress, serving Wisconsin’s 8th District and retired in 1972.
Senator Wiley. Alexander Wiley (May 26, 1884-May 26, 1967) was a Republican who served four terms, from 1939 to 1963, in the United States Senate.
Congressman Clement Zablocki. Clement John Zablocki (November 18, 1912-December 3, 1983) was a liberal Democrat who represented the heavily Polish south side of Milwaukee.
Forte sued Dutra. David Paul Steiner. Letter to Mr. & Mrs. Tom Spangle. June 23, 1981. At this point in the salvage saga, the Spangles may have looked at their Subscription Agreement and Section 10 where it reminded them they could get their money back if Salvage II was not successful in selling all twenty units of the limited partnership. In an October 26, 1981 letter to the Spangles, a contrite Gene Forte wrote, "I state the fact that I never intended to cause you to loose (sic) money, or gain by any such loss. If I had the money personally, I would allow you to withdraw your investment."
His Hester Lake article. S. Samuel Boghosian. 1979. "The Tragic Tale of the Lake Hester Liberator." Air Classics. (June): Vol. 15 No. 6. 56-59. Born on August 2, 1921, Sasoun Samuel Boghosian was a World War II Army Air Corps veteran who spent over three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines. It required two years of hospitalization following Boghosian’s liberation in 1945 for him to recover from injuries and illnesses suffered during the war. He died August 20, 2005.
Authorizes you. William L. Bancroft, Acting Superintendent Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Letter to Dr. Stephen C. DeSalvo, DDS. August 17, 1989. Alden Nash, Sierra Sub-District Ranger, had direct supervision over the Kings Canyon National Park wilderness at this time and was kept completely in the dark about plans for private citizens to be helicoptered in to Hester Lake. Alden Nash. Email. March 29, 2016.
"High grading." Twenty-first century collectors as well as aviation museums will pay a pretty penny for instrumentation from a Liberator cockpit. It’s the same with radio and navigation gear along with the vaunted Norden bombsight. This was true in 1989 as well because, for all the thousands of B-24s built during the war, there were precious few of them left forty-five years after peace reigned.
Main wing spar. "The spar is the main structural component of a wing, running from wing tip to wing tip. Sometimes they terminate at the fuselage where each is bolted to a structural box. Sometimes there is a ‘carry-through’ that serves to attach spar to spar. There are two spars in the B-24 wing, one near the leading edge and the other near the trailing edge. They are attached to each other, fore to aft, with ribs, the upper and lower shapes of which dictate the shape of the wing when the skin is attached. The larger of the wing spars is called the main wing spar." Fred Smyth. Email. March 30, 2016.
"One engine." Thomas. July 14, 2011. Ibid. I asked a pilot friend of mine how you could visually tell what was going on with an airplane propeller during a crash. "If the prop was spinning, under power or not, all blades would show damage, especially the tips. But if a prop was stationary, at least one, if not two, of the tips should have no impact damage." Fred Smyth. Email. March 31, 2016.
Black out conditions. According to James Stemm, curator of collections with the Pima Air & Space Museum, "The blackout rules generally only applied to coastal areas in the U.S. since there was no danger of air raids or the need to avoid backlighting ships far from the coast. All cities, including Tucson, did conduct blackout drills from time to time but even the coastal cities did not have total blackouts all the time." James Stemm. Email. November 13, 2012.
Wreckchasing. Amateur aviation historians with an interest (primarily) in military airplane wrecks have self-titled themselves either as "Wreckchasers" or "Aviation Archeologists." They constitute a cadre of dedicated non-professional, non-academic, but extremely committed amateurs working to find, document, and assist in the recovery of aviators who were killed in training accidents or combat and then either lost or forgotten.
A4 Skyhawk. The McDonnell/Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk BN 154654, seen by Mike Groves was assigned to the United States Navy Attack Squadron VA-127 at Lemoore Naval Air Station. According to aviation archeologist Pat Macha, "On February 24, 1969 the two man crew flew an unauthorized search mission for the Gambler’s Special (a missing commercial flight between Las Vegas, Nevada and Burbank, California) when it crashed killing both crewman." The crash site is in the first canyon northeast of Bullfrog Lake, just south of Farewell Gap and barely outside of Sequoia National Park. "Much has been removed, but parts remain."
On February 25, 1969 a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, BN 132435 assigned to Attack Squadron VA-125 crashed while looking for the missing TA-4F. "Both crewmen survived with minor injuries, and were rescued by helicopter." The A-1E was removed intact by using a heavy lift helicopter, "but its massive Wright 3350 engine may have been left behind." Pat Macha. Email. April 5, 2016.
The A-4 & TA-4F are the same aircraft.
Quite a load of gear. Draeger. Ibid. With food, personal items, camping gear, and the specialized equipment for the lake, each of them carried about seventy pounds. "To see Dave’s reaction... Dave is not a backspacer. He’s a great guy but he was not an avid high altitude backpacking enthusiast. That guy pushed himself so hard to get up there. It was heartwarming to watch. His first introduction to backpacking was going over 12,000 foot high Bishop Pass!"
"Not all of us." Between LeConte Canyon and the meadow below the Notch they found a wetsuit. "We were on our crosscountry trek up to that little flat spot where the rock fall face is. We went by a log and saw a blue wetsuit poking out." It seemed to them someone had purposely hidden it from view under the log and then covered it up with leaf litter and bark.
Open ROV. Open ROV (www.OpenRov.com) is an open source underwater robot, or submarine, designed to be affordable and make underwater exploration possible for everyone. The ROV is the brainchild of Eric Stackpole. He developed it as an easy way to explore a cave near his home that was rumored to contain sunken treasure.
Enlisted. According to Schlosser’s enlistment record he was, "single without dependents." http://aad.archives.gov, Enlistment record for Samuel J. Schlosser.
Schlosser’s wife remarried after his death and could no longer be considered primary legal next of kin. Neither could their minor daughter, Sandra Paula Schlosser Lisses. According to a November 8, 1955 telegram from the Army’s Decedent Branch to Mrs. Harold (Rae Schlosser) Lisses of 1383 Darby Road in Wantagh, Long Island, next of kin designation therefore went to Schlosser’s only living blood relative, his brother, Herbert. Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPF) for 2nd Lieutenant Samuel J. Schlosser. 1955.
Charles Turvey enlisted. His brother, Max, enlisted in the Marines on February 13, 1943 in Cincinnati. Technical Sergeant Max R. Turvey served as an aviation machinist mate with the Ninth Marine Aircraft Wing. Untitled article about Max R. Turvey. Washington Court House Record-Herald. August 31, 1944.
Some bombing occurred. In comparison to what was to come, European wars for the previous few generations were small affairs fought in colonies far away from population centers and thus out of sight and out of mind. Bombing during the Great War, small scale though it was, was quite a shock to civilians. "During the course of the war, the Germans dropped some 9000 bombs on England, totally about 280 tons. In just over 100 raids they killed about 1400 people and wounded 3400 more, and they did L3 million of damage in four years." Compare this to the L70 million of damage done yearly, at the time, by rats in London. Planners and strategists learned from World War I that bombing had, "an inordinate effect on people who had habitually regarded war as something visited upon someone else." Due to the long peace in Europe prior to 1914, there was a generation, "unused to war firsthand." The psychological shock and awe, "was a great one indeed." Stokesbury. Ibid. Page 77-78.
Eighth Air Force losses are staggering. Miller. Ibid. Page 471. According to Miller, "There are no reliable figures for casualties in the Fifteenth Air Force (working out of North Africa and Italy), and even the more carefully documented Eighth Air Force casualties are subject to challenge." He also states, "There are no separate official (my emphasis) casualty figures for the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces." This must mean that the figures always given for losses are unofficial and the sources can be open to interpretation. Miller goes on to say that Army Air Forces losses in the European theater of operation and Mediterranean are about 35,800 men dead, 13,700 wounded, and 33,400 captured or interned and, "5900 missing, i.e. killed." He also says these numbers are for two- and four-engine bombers and fighters. Miller. Ibid. Page 598.
Flak. From the German phrase for "aircraft defense cannon," Flugabwehrkanone. Today it has become a term of deflection for the political class.
"The redemptive quality." Stokesbury. Ibid. Page 46. There did not appear to be any understanding within Great War decision-makers as to what kept an airplane up in the air and what could bring it down because governments and militaries were convinced that a parachute would lead pilots to, "abandon government property and let it be destroyed prematurely. Many a young pilot or observer carried a pistol not so he could shoot the enemy but so he could shoot himself when his plane caught fire." Stokesbury. Ibid. Page 45.
Nearly an impossible accomplishment. Martin W. Bowman 1997. USAAF Handbook 1939-1945. Page 225. Morale for combat crews throughout 1942 was abysmal because the boys recognized the odds were against them. At an average loss of five percent per mission (then considered a conservative estimate) they were unlikely to complete twenty missions.
Lt. Thomas Selfridge. Knight, Clayton and K.S. Knight. 1958. Plane Crash. Page 37. Selfridge was an experienced pilot for his day having flown dirigibles and his own designed powered aircraft. A grandson of Rear Admiral Thomas Oliver Selfridge Sr., Thomas Selfridge graduated from United States Military Academy in 1903 and received his commission in the Field Artillery. He was 31st in a class of 96; Douglas MacArthur was first.
Wilson ordered his crew. War Department. Missing Air Crew Reports #4087. In his casualty questionnaire, completed thirteen months after the event, Lt. Sidney Wilson, the pilot, said, "The ship, a B-24, was involved in a mid-air collision at about 20,000 feet. It spun down to about 8000 feet where the pilot brought it into level flight. It was on fire. All members bailed during the spin or immediately after leveling out. Lt. Loftus bailed out during the spin. He chose the top hatch because the door leading to te bomb bay was jammed. The top turret gunner waited until the ship leveled out and was successful in opening the door to the bomb bay and the bomb bay doors."
Aviation Personnel Fatalities in World War II. Navy Department Library. Aviation Personnel Fatalities in World War II. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/aviation_fatal.htm.
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