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Lt. Cecil Quinley, 8th AAF Pilot, shot down over Bremen and POW


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Hi Friends,

 

A tribute to a great war hero, Cecil Quinley complet ​​98 years old yesterday.

 

Congratulations and happy birthday!

 

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Your uniform:

 

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Regards,

 

Ricardo.

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The Cecil´s history (come soon in the book "Forever" by Daniel J. Quinley - 8 year United States Air Force veteran, veteran police officer, fire fighter, and 22 year recently retired paramedic).

 

Cecil and Margaret Quinley are married in 1939. Their time together is interrupted by the entry of the United States into World War II. Cecil’s dream of becoming a military pilot is realized as he is accepted into the pilot cadet training program of the Army Air Corp.

 

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In July 1943 2nd Lt. Cecil W. Quinley, standing on the right, arrives in Scotland as co-pilot of the B-17F “Polly Jo.”

 

 

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After their arrival in Scotland they’re separated from their beloved “Polly Jo,” named after first pilot Jack Pry’s wife. She is assigned to the 94th Bomb Group and takes part in the Regensburg raid, safely making the hop to North Africa. Cecil, Jack, and crew are trucked to Ridgewell England and assigned to the 381st Bomb Group, 532nd Squadron.

 

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Cecil survives the bloodiest day yet as he and his crew take part in the Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid on 17 August 1943 that would become known as Black Tuesday. The 381st Bomb Group, 532nd Bomb Squadron, suffered the second most loses of any squadron in the division; 12 bombers, 120 men. Flying in “The Hellion,” Cecil and crew suffer relatively little battle damage.

 

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Back home Margaret fights the blues from being separated from her beloved husband. She attends church every day and keeps faith through her Catholic roots in the belief that they will once again be reunited after the war. To contribute to the war effort she joins the American Red Cross as a Certified Nurses Aid.

 

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Cecil’s crew is assigned a new ship, the “Feather Merchant.” Their ship, “Ole Flak Sack” is damaged in a wheels up landing by their good friend Lt. Leo Jarvis during training. Jarvis was lost on the Schweifurt raid so first pilot Jack Pry decides instead of renaming their new ship the “Polly Jo II,” they will leave the name as it is, in Leo’s honor.

 

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Another Ship of Lt’s Pry and Quinley:

 

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Margaret is instrumental in getting the Red Cross to start a new program to transport their aid workers to and from the hospitals for the safety of the girls. She volunteers to be the first driver. Margaret also passes her time at numerous area hospitals helping in the labor and delivery wards.

 

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The fallout from the Schweinfurt raid weighs heavily on the minds of all the survivors. It was a battle from hell and the men fight their nerves and depression as they look around the officers lounge and mess at all the empty seats that were once filled with their friends. They know that all too soon they will have to go back and face the enemy again.

 

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Another disastrous raid caused by poor leadership. The command pilot orders his division to go around several times on the drop zone over Stuttgart; not realizing that the older ships flying on the outside of the formations arc have lower fuel capacities and will run out of fuel over the English channel on their return.

 

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A Luftwaffe FW-190 makes a head on pass of the “Feather Merchant.” The Plexiglass over Lt. Quinley’s head is blown away in the attack, but he is unharmed. The crew throws out everything they can to lighten their load and the pilots lean the engines as much as possible. They barely make it to a short strip fighter base on the coast of England. Ignoring commands not to land, they set the “Feather Merchant” down anyway. As soon as they turn off the runway their ship runs out of fuel, bone dry. Many others are not so lucky.

 

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8 October 1943 - “Gentlemen, your target for today is Bremen, Germany.” A loud moan rose throughout the briefing room. The veteran’s of Schweinfurt knew all too well that Bremen would be protected by thousands of Flak batteries and hundreds of fighters, and it was much too far for the American fighters at that time to escort them all the way to the target. It was another “maximum effort.” The 532nd squadron would be flying the low formation, and they knew that many of them would not return.

 

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The flight starts without a hitch and Cecil marvels at how beautiful the sky is. The formation cuts a wide swathe over the North Sea as it drones on toward Bremen and destiny.

 

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The Flak and Fighters take a toll. The “Feather Merchant” and “Ole Flak Sack,” now being piloted by good friend Art Sample on his 24th and next to last mission, are both stricken and fall out of formation together in an attempt to protect each other.

 

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“Feather Merchant” has had two engines and 15 feet of wing completely blown away. Half the vertical stabilizer and half a horizontal stabilizer are gone. The ship flies on-on a wing and a prayer, long enough for 8 of the 10 to get out before she falls from the sky.

 

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Injured by flak in his leg, Lt. Quinley dove head first through the open bomb bay doors and into the ice cold below zero air at 22,000 feet. Just as he cleared his own ship he felt the heat and saw the terrible sight of “Ole Flak Sack” exploding in a ball of fire not far off “Feather Merchant’s” wing. His good friend Art was gone. Without oxygen, Cecil would free fall for 20,000 feet and into the clouds below before opening his parachute that was full of holes from the shrapnel of the battle.

 

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Lt. Quinley’s parachute was damaged and he hit the ground hard, first slamming his already injured leg into the ground, and then hitting his head as he flew into a ditch. He was unable to run and was captured by a farmer and his Russian prisoner trustee. The farmer argued with some soldiers who tried to take his new prisoner, but he won the day and personally took Quinley to a nearby doctor at a POW camp. Eventually, he was taken to a hospital in Bremen where he recuperated before being sent to a prisoner of war camp.

 

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Lt. Quinley is interned in Stalag Luft III’s south compound. The “escape proof” Luftwaffe guarded camp located near Sagan, (modern day) Poland, 100 miles from Berlin.

 

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Back home in Sacramento, during a party she was hosting, Margaret gets the dreaded telegram from the War Department.

 

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Margaret keeps her faith by attending mass every day and praying for all the crew members of her husband’s ship. She writes to him every day, even knowing her letters will be returned. Then, she is faced with the shock of finding out that the FBI has listed Lt. Quinley as a draft evader, even though he is missing in action over enemy territory.

 

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"The draft board wants to know if I received a wire from the War Department concerning your present status! I wonder what they think I am! Surely, nobody with even an ounce of brains would report a thing as serious as this without authority! They make me boil inside, dragging your name in the quagmire of delinquency!“

 

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Margaret returns home from mass at Sacred Heart Church and finds a telegram leaned up against a photo of Cecil over her fire place.

 

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On the morning of March 25th, 1944, the prisoners of Stalag Luft III are rousted out for Appel, or roll call. They are informed of the “Great Escape” that occurred from the British compound through a tunnel. In April they are again rousted, this time the commandant informs them of the murder of 50 of the escapees by the SS. The commandant, an honorable Prussian, had tears in his eyes.

 

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January 27th, 1945, the order is given. Forced march in 1 hour. The Russian Army is closing in. The Germans move the prisoners to southern Germany. Cecil and the 2,000 men of the south compound are the first to leave. Their assignment; to trample the foot of fresh fallen snow for the men who will follow. It is the worst winter in years. The men march on for 50 miles through freezing temperatures. Some will die of exhaustion.

 

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Some prisoners escaped, but returned to the march to avoid a freezing death. Others are left behind by the guards, who are struggling themselves to keep pace.

 

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After a 30 hour break in a still warm glass factory, the men are marched once again through the ice and snow. The men who fall are left to die by the guards. They finally reach Spremburg, where they are fed and stuffed into cattle cars so tight that they can’t sit down. The floor is still heaped with cattle feces.

 

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Dysentery sets in. Three days of hell on the box cars. The men wallow in their own feces and urine mixed with the cattle feces. Somewhere near a city there is an air raid. The engine and the guards leave the prisoners out in the open as they go to hide. The men thought they were to be killed by their own bombers; many welcome such an event by this time and pray that death will be quick. Cecil’s car, located in the middle of the line, is never opened during the three day trip. The men slip closer to death through dysentery and dehydration.

 

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At long last the men arrive in Moosburg in southern Germany. They are let out of the cars and a stampede to nearby water occurs over the loud objections and warnings by the guards. By this point no one cares if they get shot.

 

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The camp is over crowded with allied prisoners of all nations and ranks. It is infested with dysentery, disease, lice and rats. There are food shortages. Cecil learns how to pay off outside camp workers with cigarettes to find food in town. Sometimes they can find food, sometimes they can’t.

 

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Margaret learns that the brother of the “Feather Merchant’s” ball turret gunner is killed in a training accident aboard a B-24 over Cuba. Shortly after that she learns that the brother on Cecil’s crew was also killed in the battle over Bremen. She grieves for the mother who lost both of her sons. Having not heard from Cecil for 3 months the news is almost more than she can bear. Her faith is being tested, but she responds by praying more and attending mass more, lighting candles for all the crew members, and relying on the counsel of her priest, Father Christen.

 

The men, even being in a bug and rat infested hell, are encouraged by seeing 1,000 B-17 formations fly over their camp being escorted by P-51 fighters. The thoughts of the guards is that the war is lost, further encouraging the men. Then, on April 13, 1945, they learn that their leader, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died the day before. The news confuses and scares them; they wonder what will happen next.

 

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29 April 1945, the Nazi SS arrives at the camp and tries to take some prisoners to cover their escape from approaching American Army troops. The Luftwaffe guards remain honorable and refuse the SS, a thought that would have been insane a year earlier. A short time later shots ring out, the battle for Moosburg and Stalag VIIA is on. The prisoners hide behind anything they can find as bullets tear through the compound.

 

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Within 30 minutes the remaining SS troops are killed or captured. An American Sherman tank machine guns an SS sniper on a roof top who is shooting at unarmed prisoners. The prisoners still don’t really know what is going on. Then, standing in the compound, they see a sight that will be with them for the rest of their lives. In the distance they see the Nazi flag in Moosburg being lowered. After a short but breathtaking pause, they see the flag of the United States of America being raised in its place. Many begin to cry. Their long ordeal is finally over. They are free.

 

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A Sherman tank of the 14th armored division breaks down the main gate to the camp. Prisoners swarm all over the tank in celebration. A Lieutenant that had made the march from Stalag Luft III produces a hand stitched flag he made before the march and hidden away. “Old glory” is run up the camp flag pole to thousands of cheering and crying (free) warriors. Later, the small home made flag was replaced by a larger flag.

 

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Until shortly before the attack the U.S. Army commander was unaware of the existence of the camp. He was certainly not prepared to find 110,000 men occupying it. Food parcels were brought forward to try to feed as many men as possible.

 

Quinley calls the room to attention. The General calls the young Lieutenant to the front of the room. Before Quinley can salute, the General salutes Quinley and thanks him and all in the room for their service and sacrifice. He says in his gruff unapologetic manner, “My God what those bastards have done to you men! I’m going to drive my army all the way to Berlin and personally shoot that paper hanging son of a bitch! (Hitler).” A loud cheer erupts throughout the barracks as the General shakes more hands then turns and leaves.

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The logistics of evacuating 100,000 men is staggering. The POW’s are taken by troop truck to an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield in Landshut to await C-47 transport planes that are flown in en masse. During the bumpy 150 mile ride Lt. Quinley becomes extremely ill and thinks he may not live to see home again afterall.

 

 

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Lt. Quinley survives the trip to Landshut and is helped to a cot by his friend Bob from Sacramento. He somewhat recovers over the next few days. He learns fifty years later that he had survived a burst appendix without treatment. God had other plans for Cecil. While at Landshut the men learn that Adolph Hitler is dead and Germany had surrendered. At long last, the war is over.

 

 

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Cecil is flown in a C-47 to Camp Lucky Strike at LeHavre, France. A rehabilitation center for liberated prisoners of war; one of many named after American cigarettes. Lt. Quinley continued to recover from his acute appendicitis and was slowly reintroduced to normal food to avoid shocking his system after years of malnutrition, and the more recent near starvation at Stalag VIIA.

 

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After a modest recovery, Lt. Quinley boards the USS General W.H. Gordon (AP-117) for the long trip home, departing LeHavra on May 19th, 1945. It was not a direct route, however, as the ship docked in the Port of Spain in Trinidad on May 29th. Finally, on June 1st, the ship set sail for the United States. Cecil and the many men aboard the General Gordon enjoyed sleeping on deck as the ship sailed up the Caribbean, past Cuba, north along the coast of the United States, and into New York Harbor on June 4th.

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Upon his arrival in New York, Lt. Quinley was taken by Ferry to New Jersey and on to Fort Dix for processing. He and his friends received a pass to go back to New York where he found a telephone company building. The entire staff worked on finding Margaret’s new phone number in Sacramento. When the two lovers were finally reunited by phone everyone in the room cried with joy for them.

 

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Cecil and Margaret are reunited at Camp Beale in Marysville, California. They make plans to take a second honeymoon at Carmel by the Sea where they rejoice in their love for each other and learn each other all over again. They play golf at Pebble Beach and visit the holy missions in the area. Before Lt. Quinley is reassigned to the Pacific the war ends and he is reverted to reserve status. The two reunited lovers begin their lives together.

 

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Cecil stays in the Air Force Reserves until the 1960’s when he discharges at the rank of Captain. Through their entire ordeal Margaret never lost her faith. Cecil finally converts to the Catholic faith after the adoption of their first son in San Francisco in September 1946. In 1949 they returned to San Francisco and adopted a second son. After a move to Chico, California, the couple adopted their third and final son in 1959. All three sons attend Catholic school as Margaret and Cecil remain active in the church. Following their father’s legacy, all three sons enlist in the Air Force.

 

For years Cecil didn’t talk about his war service. Then, in the 1990’s, with Margaret’s encouragement, they both became active in putting together displays to honor Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Following their example, the display soon grew through the contributions of others who served in Korea, Viet Nam, and in conflicts since. They have both been honored multiple times through Senatorial recognition of their efforts. Cecil has conducted an on camera interview that is on file with the Library of Congress.

 

In 1996 Cecil would once again take to the skies as the co-pilot of a B-17. This time, however, there would be no one shooting at him as the first pilot let the 88 year old veteran take the yoke of the Collins Foundation’s B-17G “Nine-O-Nine” on a flight over Oroville Lake, California.

 

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91 years old in the cockpit of the B-17G "Aluminum Overcast" in Truckee, California.

 

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In 2009 the happy couple, in front of family and friends, renewed their weeding vows for their 70th wedding anniversary at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fallon, Nevada, their new home.

 

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The happy couple resides in Fallon, Nevada. Cecil is 98 and Margaret 96. They are still as much in love with each other as they were in 1936. They celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in 2013. They both hope that their story can serve as an inspiration for others.

 

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God bless the angels!

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