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B-17 Gunner’s Uniform, Survived 25,000ft Fall in A/C Tail, Stalag IV Black March Survivor


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This uniform grouping has quickly become one of my favorites, and came direct from the vet’s estate.

The scuttlebutt prior to the estate sale was that he had been a POW, and that prompted me to spend the night in my car so I could be one of the first in the door on the following morning. I managed to piece together the majority of the uniform pieces and found a couple neat photos which he undoubtedly took during stateside training. I was hoping to find a caterpillar club pin or certificate, but as it turns out he never would have received one!

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This Veteran passed away in an alzheimer/dementia care facility just over a month ago, his medals and dogtags are staying in the family.

 

Wes enlisted in the AAF in late 1943, completing his stateside training in the summer of 1944. By Mid-November of 1944 Wes, along with the rest of to the rookie 2nd Lt Champ crew, was assigned to the 545th BS, 384th BG based at Grafton-Underwood.

In the photo below, he's standing at the right. His Radio Operator (mentioned below) is kneeling in front of him.

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On the 27th of November Wes flew his first mission, about half of Champ’s crew flew with the balance of another more experienced crew (Champ himself flew as a co-pilot). The 545th flew as lead squadron on this mission to bomb the Offenberg marshaling yards, there was a visual bomb run with good results noted. Wes and his crewmates were aboard the B-17G “Boss Lady” for their first mission:

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Three days later the entire Champ crew flew together on their 2nd mission (for a few of them it was their first, for all of them it was their last). The target would be the synthetic oil refinery at Zeitz, Germany, which can still be seen in aerial photos today.

 

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The initial bomb run was scrubbed over concerns regarding flights lining up and congestion over the target. A second run was made from the SW to the NE, and visual bombing employed over the target (Navigation was off, and the towns of Meuselwitz and Wintersdorf were targeted instead of the refinery). Wes’s Aircraft was hit over the target.

 

 

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There were only four survivors from the crew, the RO who was blown out from the explosion, Wes who rode the tail down, and the Bombardier who was blown out of the nose when the a/c exploded. The Co-Pilot made it out of the plane, but was seen falling with an undeployed or late deployed parachute. He died in captivity from his injuries two weeks after the mission.

Wes’s story is a bit different than the Radio Operators, at least as he told it for the MACR:

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Wes spoke at a luncheon for the 8th AF Historical Society of MN in 2002, and had some good anecdotes to share about his time as a guest in Germany. I believe the video below (and the transcript with photos starting on page 59) does a much better job of explaining his POW experience than I ever could:

 

 

Transcript:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnw4dGhhZmhzbW58Z3g6MWE2YWJiYWI5ZGU5YmM1OA&pli=1

 

Although I’m adept at researching online, I have yet to find more primary source material regarding his time at Stalag Luft IV and IVF so if there’s anything out there I’m missing I’d love a point in the right direction!

 

I hope you enjoyed reading about Wes’s experiences, comments are welcome. Sorry I don’t have a better photo of the tunic, my main camera is out of action. Thanks!

 

 

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That is a great peice of 384thBG 545thBS history there. My Uncle TSgt Joe Rachunas was also a tail gunner in the 545th and was shot down on April 13th 1944 on a mission to Schweinfurt and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Stalag 17B.He was on his 25th mission It looks like Wes only flew on 2 missions. Here is some info from the 384th website. I do work for them as a combat data specialist and entire crew from copies of the original loading list and enter it into the sites database. http://384thbombgroup.com/_content/_pages/person.php?PersonKey=5139 if you click on the sortie of his last mission you can read the MACR

My avatar is of my uncle and his crew after a mission in the B17 Damned Yankee II in March of 1944.

. Semper Fi

Phil

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That is a great peice of 384thBG 545thBS history there. My Uncle TSgt Joe Rachunas was also a tail gunner in the 545th and was shot down on April 13th 1944 on a mission to Schweinfurt and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Stalag 17B.He was on his 25th mission

It looks like Wes only flew on 2 missions.

Here is some info from the 384th website. I do work for them as a combat data specialist and entire crew from copies of the origianl loading list and enter it into the sites database.

 

http://384thbombgroup.com/_content/_pages/person.php?PersonKey=5139

 

Semper Fi

Phil

 

Nice work Phil, thanks! The 384th site is one of the best out there and I definitely used it in my research. :)

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Excellent. Very nice; and well done.

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Always interested in the 166th Infantry, 42nd Division, A.E.F.

Quality WW1 studio portraits and real photo postcards of Distinguished Service Cross recipients; showing steel helmets; or other interesting content.

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I say it again, it is unbelievable the hell these men endured everyday. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

 

Daniel

Actively collecting:

13th USAAF uniforms and groups/medal groups!

307th BG, 5th BG, 11th BG, 42nd BG

Also looking for:

WWII Far East Air Force uniforms/groups!

Any Pacific Army Air Force Groups to 5th, 7th, 10th, 14th, 20th AAF

Collecting CBI and ATC Pacific Army Air Force groups

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USMF's custom photo resize tool:http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/229816-custom-resize-tool-exclusively-for-the-usmf/




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Great set and very nice research. Your night in the car paid off.

 

JD

AAF Collector...........
**Always Buying WW2 Aviation Related Items: Especially Operation Tidal Wave items (1st Ploesti Raid) ..... WW2 Fighter Ace Related Items.....Higher End A-2 Flight Jacket Groups....AAF Related Valor Medal Groups**

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  • 3 weeks later...

Nice looking grouping you have and thanks for sharing the information. Just makes me wonder why they are keeping the medals and not the rest. You never know what people are thinking but you're lucky to get it. Nice addition.

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That's an amazing story. I can't imagine what would be more terrifying, to be alive, trying to ditch your flak vest and secure your parachute before hitting the ground; or to be falling uncontrollably in the tail section of a bomber, alone. I guess being unconscious would definitely ease some of that stress though. Great find!

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I was lucky enough back in the mid 90s get to know a tail gunner from the 301st BG. He too rode down the tail of his 17 after it came apart. He was trapped under the MG boxes. He passed out and woke up in the wreckage having never strapped on his chest pack. Needless to say it impacted him the rest of his days.

 

Thanks for sharing this story.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for all the comments guys, appreciate it!

 

Interesting to see the ribbon for the POW medal on the uniform jacket. Lots of airmen were surely issued those, especially from the 8th and 15th AFs, but I've seen relatively few on uniforms.

 

Chris, no POW ribbon on the tunic, the Purple Heart appears a bit dark since my cell phone doesn't have the best flash....

Because the POW Medal wasn't authorized until the 1980's, I think its understandable how the ribbon would be missing from most tunics (especially ones like this one, which hung in the back of a closet for 60 years).

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