The Bruce Crew and Bonnie Vee

14 September 1944 - The Bruce Crew poses in front of a wrecked Bonnie Vee after bringing her back from a mission to Fismes, France. They had left the U.S. aboard the Bonnie Vee, named for Bruce's wife, but had her taken from them upon arrival in England. Reunited, but not for long, their copilot, John Willett, was badly hit yet heroically fulfilled his duties on this mission. The crew would reunite one more time with Bonnie Vee on a fatal mission nearly two weeks later when seven of them would fall to their deaths, including their new copilot. Stories below.

14 September 1944 - The Bruce Crew poses in front of a wrecked Bonnie Vee after bringing her back from a mission to Fismes, France. They had left the U.S. aboard the Bonnie Vee, named for Bruce's wife, but had her taken from them upon arrival in England. Reunited, but not for long, their copilot, John Willett, was badly hit yet heroically fulfilled his duties on this mission. The crew would reunite one more time with Bonnie Vee on a fatal mission nearly two weeks later when seven of them would fall to their deaths, including their new copilot. Stories below.

 

Bombardier and KMMA historian George Collar tells the Bruce crew story, as recorded by KMHS oral historian Aaron Elson.

Bill Bruce was on a mission. The ship he flew was called Bonnie V, and it was named after his wife, whose name was Verlyn. And he was on about his tenth...mission, so he was still a second lieutenant when he got shot down on the Kassel raid.

But anyway, they went, I think it was in July or sometime prior to the Kassel Mission, on this bomb run and they got hit by flak in the tail, and I've got a picture of that damn thing with the tail all shot up, and he had a hell of a time getting home with it. And the co-pilot was a fellow named Brown that lives down in North Carolina, and a piece of flak practically severed his leg.

Well, you know what they did? The gunner got down, the top gunner come down and put a tourniquet on it, and it took two of them to get this plane [under control]. Everything was shot up and ready to go down, and fighting the stick was tough, see. And that guy stayed conscious and helped get that damn plane back down. And when they got him home, they took him out of there and they thought he was gonna die, he lost a lot of blood.

Bonnie Vee, 700th Squadron R+, at Tibenham after Lt. Bruce and crew returned from the 14 September 1944 mission. Note the damaged left stabilizer (tail). 

By God, he come out of it, and Mrs. Bruce told me over to the phone, she said, he's still alive and lives in North Carolina and he makes his own prostheses, because he didn't like the ones they had. He plays
golf and everything. 

What was unique about Bruce is the fact that his first co-pilot got his leg shot off, and then the second guy came, a guy by the name of Walter [correction: John] Willett who was a first lieutenant, and poor old Bruce is still a second lieutenant, and this Willett had a lot of flying time but he'd never been in combat, and somebody told him if you ever want to go up the ladder you've got to get in combat. So he had a friend at the 445th who said "Come on over." And so he joined up with the 445th, and they put him on as co-pilot, and it might have been his first—well, no, I don't know how many missions Bruce did between the time Brown got it and Willett—but Willets got shot, his head or something, got shot right off [ed. note: a rocket sheared Willett in two through the torso], sitting right next to Bruce. It's in his story. See William Bruce’s account
 

Left Stabilizer close up

FROM THE DIARY OF HERBERT R. SCHWARTZ, TAIL GUNNER, FRENCH CREW, WHICH FLEW JUST IN FRONT OF BONNIE VEE

Everyone started firing & before I knew it, they were in on us. 100 Fockewolfes (sic), and I was half scared to death. They were thru us and started to re-form for tail attack & I knew it was my job to hold them off. I pulled my flak suit off, threw my helmet off, turned on my trigger switch & was ready for what may come. They headed for Bruce & Pearson, flying off our wings before they hit us in numbers. Everything started to run thru my mind. Pilot said to be careful and take it easy. An FW came for me and I started shooting. Every attack but two were at 6:00 level and a dead-on shot. I let him have both guns and he started smoking & peeled beneath us. I looked up & saw Lt. Bruce's ship being attacked in formation by 7 fighters & at the same time, a fighter coming in at his waist. His guns were all firing away & at that split second, another fighter came in at his top side of fuselage. He was on fire and his plane got out of control. Another fighter started at his left waist and after throwing quite a bit of ammo, turned & headed for my tail, his engine already smoking. Fleming, left waist gunner, had hit him and now not knowing he was in trouble, he came in on me. I let go & after firing about 30 rounds, he blew up at about 50 yards away from my turret. He had it & Fleming & I were responsible for the kill. Lt. Bruce was completely in flames as I was later told by right waist gunner; no chutes emerged...His ship started toward us out of control, but French was on lookout for same. Another FW came in. I fired but he peeled off to our left.


ENGINEER/TOP TURRET GUNNER CALVIN HESS, RIGHT, AND ANOTHER CREW MEMBER SURVEY DAMAGE TO BONNIE VEE