Birthday surprise for WWII pilot reunited with pieces of his past

Alan Carlton looks at one of the pieces of his downed B-24. (Howard Lipin/Union-Tribune)

Alan Carlton looks at one of the pieces of his downed B-24. (Howard Lipin/Union-Tribune)

When Capt. Alan Carlton’s B-24 bomber was shot down over Germany during World War II, he felt lucky.

Not that lucky — wounded in the right foot, he left a bloody trail in the snow that made him easy to track. The American pilot was captured at gunpoint and spent more than a year in a POW camp.

But he was alive, which was more than could be said for three of his crewmen.

Now, 75 years later, Carlton has another reason to feel lucky about what happened that day. It came via FedEx a few days ago from Eisenach, a city in central Germany.

Eberhard Haelbig, a researcher there who is documenting aerial combat during the war, scours crash sites found near his home. Dozens of planes went down there. Scavenged over the years by humans, consumed by the elements, what’s left is mostly pieces.

But even they tell a story.

One plane in particular, a B-24 that crashed in a forest, caught his attention not long ago. Using records in Germany and the U.S., he figured out which plane it was, and when it had gone down.

He learned the names of the 10 Americans who were on board, and found photographs taken shortly after it crashed. With the help of Google and a military friend in the states, he contacted the pilot, who lives in a senior community in Carmel Valley.

Which is how Carlton got two FedEx boxes with remnants of his B-24.

“With this I would like to say, ‘Thank you, Capt. Carlton,’ and thank you to the Greatest Generation for your fight against evil and for liberating my country from that,” Haelbig said in an email interview with the Union-Tribune. “I’m a German by birth, but American by heart.”

What he sent Carlton is a pile of junk to a layman’s eye. But not to the former pilot.

“This means a lot to me,” Carlton said Thursday morning as he looked through the seven pieces of metal and glass. He held up a scrap he thinks was the part of a wing tip called an aileron. “I never thought I’d see any of my plane again. I’m glad to have these.”

Glad, too, because the package arrived in time for his 100th birthday, which was Sunday. “What a nice, early present this is,” he said.

His 14th mission

They called it Big Week.

As 1943 turned into 1944, Allied commanders hatched a plan for a round-the-clock aerial offensive against the Nazis, one of the largest bombing campaigns of the war.

American B-17s and B-24s stationed in England and Italy would attack airplane factories, munitions centers and other targets in Germany during the day. British planes would raid at night.

They hoped not only to strike at Germany’s industrial heart, but draw its fighter jets into a war of attrition and clear the skies in advance of the pivotal D-Day land invasion at Normandy planned for later that year.

For six days starting on Feb. 20, 1944, hundreds of B-17s and B-24s flew missions into Germany, dropping nearly 10,000 tons of bombs.

They paid a hefty price, losing about 250 bombers and fighters. Some 2,500 crew members were killed, injured, lost or captured.

But Germany lost hundreds of planes and pilots, too, and with its factories and airfields damaged by the bombs, couldn’t replace them quickly.

The Allieds had shifted air supremacy in their favor.

Pieces of Alan Carlton's B-24 (Howard Lipin/Union-Tribune)

Carlton was shot down during Big Week, on Feb. 24, 1944. The Detroit native had enlisted two years earlier, dropping out of medical school at Indiana University “to do my part in the war effort,” he said. “Everybody was joining.”

Part of the 567th Bomb Squadron based in Hethel, England, Carlton was on his 14th mission when his B-24 D Liberator, built at Consolidated in San Diego, was hit by enemy fire, first over Holland, and then over central Germany.

Machine-gun bursts from Luftwaffe fighter planes killed his tail gunner and two waist gunners, and sent the B-24 rolling. Everybody else parachuted out the bomb bay doors, with Carlton exiting last.

His came down between two trees, suspended in the air. After cutting himself free, he hobbled away, but his right foot — wounded by shrapnel when the plane got shot — trailed blood in the snow. German civilians hunted him down about two hours later and held him at gunpoint until the military arrived.

From there he was interrogated briefly, then put on a train and sent to Stalag Luft I, a prison camp for Allied air crews located near Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. Nearly 9,000 British and American aviators were captive there.

A journal Carlton kept during his imprisonment includes drawings he made of the camp, as well as a map of his ill-fated mission. It has lists of books he read and movies he saw, and recipes the prisoners used for meals made from care-package ingredients like Spam. And meals made from animals.

“Whatever we could catch, we ate,” Carlton said. When Russian forces liberated the camp in early May 1945, his weight had dropped to about 100 pounds.

B-17s and B-24s arrived to pick up the prisoners. On the way out, they flew their passengers over German cities so they could view the results of the bombings they’d participated in before getting shot down.

“I was happy to see it,” Carlton said.

An unusual ending

Haelbig, the German researcher, works for a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the story of one particular World War II aerial battle: The Kassel Mission.

On Sept. 27, 1944, B-24s from the 445th Bomb Group, stationed at Tibenham in England, were sent to hit factories in Kassel. A group of about 35 planes, through what the American Air Museum in Britain called “a gross error in leadership and navigation,” peeled off from the main group and their fighter escorts to attack a different town.

The bombers were overrun by about 150 German fighter planes, which in six minutes shot down 25 of the B-24s. Six others made emergency landings in Allied territory. Only four made it back to Tibenham.

It was, according to the Kassel Mission Historical Society, “the greatest single-day loss to a group from one airfield in aviation warfare history.” More than two-thirds of the crew members were killed or taken prisoner.

While his main focus is documenting the stories of the Kassel Mission, Haelbig is also interested in other aerial warfare in the region, including Big Week. He said almost 30 U.S. planes were shot down in just one day during that campaign near Eisenach, his hometown.

Hunters and rangers in the nearby forest sometimes come across the wreckage of planes, and when they do they tell Haelbig. He visits the sites and collects what he can, often putting the remnants in display cases in an aviation museum.

He identifies the planes and their crew members through detailed records, maps and photos kept in U.S. and German archives. That’s how he linked Carlton to that particular B-24.

The search usually ends there. Of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II, fewer than 500,000 are alive, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But when Haelbig Googled Carlton’s name recently, he found a 2016 newspaper story about the pilot that said he was living in San Diego. The researcher asked an American friend on the East Coast to find out if that was still true.

“It was my greatest wish to send Capt. Carlton the pictures of his plane and some pieces,” Haelbig said.

When the phone call came, Carlton and his daughter, Jan Foreman, didn’t know what to make of it. Someone found the B-24? They want to send parts of the wreckage?

“We thought it was probably a scam,” Foreman said.

Reminders of what happened

Carlton’s memory about the war isn’t what it used to be.

“That was a long time ago,” he said.

A framed collection of Alan Carlton's war-time memorabilia. (Howard Lipin/Union-Tribune)

He came home from Germany and into the arms of his wife, Jeanne. They started a family, two daughters. They followed his parents from Chicago to Arizona and then to San Diego, where he sold real estate for many years in Rancho Bernardo. His grandsons are in the Grammy-winning Christian group Switchfoot.

He and Jeanne were married for almost 75 years until she died in 2016. His senior-living apartment is filled with photos of the couple, including a black-and-white one where he’s in his military uniform, before he was shipped overseas.

To remind him of what happened during the war, he has scrapbooks and a shadow box decorated with medals — a Purple Heart, two Air Medals, the French Legion of Honor. The pieces Haelbig just sent him from the downed B-24 may play a similar role.

And he has a poem he wrote while he was a POW that includes near the end this stanza, as true now as it was then:

It’s a hell of a life and you feel the strain

But you’d do the same thing all over again.

Still you pray for the day when there’ll be no more war

When you’ll see what it is you’ve been fighting for.

Birthday surprise for WWII pilot reunited with pieces of his past. (2019, January 14). Retrieved from https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/military/sd-me-found-plane-20190114-story.html

Original article by:

John Wilkens - Contact Reporter

Veteran's Day, 2018--Honoring today's Kassel Mission veterans

Isom Crew, Paul Dickerson right front

Today we celebrate our veterans. Thanks to these living legends of the Kassel Mission:

Jim Baynham, Ist Lt., Pilot on King Kong, POW

Paul Dickerson, S/Sgt Waist Gunner Isom Crew on Patty Girl

James Dowling, 1st Lt., Bombardier, Johnson Crew on Frigid Bridget, POW


Jim “Red” Dowling

Jim “Red” Dowling

Willard Dykes, S/Sgt. Waist Gunner, Swofford Crew on Sweetest Rose of Texas

Swofford Crew, Willard Dykes 3rd from left in rear row

Carlton V Hudson, 2nd Lt., Pilotage Navigator on Chilton Crew, POW

From Roger Freeman’s book, “The Mighty Eighth,” this is believed to be the lead 445th Liberator, captained by John Chilton, with Carlton Hudson aboard.

John Ray Lemons, Jr S/Sgt., Waist Gunner, Baynham Crew on King Kong, POW

Jim Baynham, left, Ray Lemons, center, Howard Boldt, deceased, right.

Harry F Tachovsky, S/Sgt. Waist Gunner on Pearson Crew, POW

Harry Tachovsky, 3rd from left in front row



There are others of which we are unsure whether they are still alive, including:

Biasetti Ernest J Sgt Radio Operator Potts Crew

Capuano Anthony 1st Lt Nose Gunner Smith Crew

Christie Robert C 2nd Lt Co-pilot Golden Crew

Collins Robert L T/Sqt., Radio Operator, Schaen Crew

Davis Lonnie O S/Sgt., Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Smith Crew

DeShazer Marvin S/Sgt., Nose Gunner, Swofford Crew

Eppley George S T/Sgt., Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Schaen Crew

Feltus Edward H Sgt, Waist Gunner, Golden Crew

Hoiten Ted E S/Sgt, Nose Gunner, Mercer Crew

Hornsby Elwyn J S/Sgt., Waist Gunner, Hansen Crew

Jackson Floyd L S/Sgt., Tail Gunner, Johnson Crew

Johnson George Sgt Waist Gunner Dewey Crew

Jones Howard A 2nd Lt Pilot

Kelly Edward M 2nd Lt Co-pilot Johnson Crew

Klinefelter William R S/Sgt., Radio Operator, Smith Crew

Kugel Arthur Ist Lt , Bombardier Uebelhoer Crew

Leary John F 2nd Lt Navigator, Heitz Crew

Lied Harry J S/Sgt Tail Gunner Mercer Crew

Reilly Charles H T/Sgt Radio Operator, Johnson Crew

Scheu M (Marvin?) 2nd Lt., Pilotage Navigator, Uebelhoer Crew

Shinske John C S/Sgt, Spare Gunner, Uebelhoer Crew

Weiner Sammy S T/Sgt., Radio Operator, Brent Crew

Kassel Mission navigator Corman Bean passes at 95

2nd Lt. Corman Bean, 702nd Squadron 445th Bomb Group

2nd Lt. Corman Bean, 702nd Squadron 445th Bomb Group

Corman Bean, navigator on Jim Schaen's ill-fated Kassel Mission crew, has passed at the age of 95. Preceded in death three years ago by his wife, Millie, Mr. Bean passed at his home surrounded by his family. Mr. Bean lived in Birmingham-Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He visited Bill Dewey, who lived nearby, when George Collar, pilot Jim Schaen's bombardier, came to visit in 1989. 

Left to right: Corman Bean, Bill Dewey, George Collar

Left to right: Corman Bean, Bill Dewey, George Collar

Bomber jacket belonging to KIA Kassel Mission airman surfaces

This A-2 jacket originally belonged to T/Sgt. Calvin Hess, engineer and top turret gunner on the Bruce Crew. Photo courtesy Col. Warren Parker

This A-2 jacket originally belonged to T/Sgt. Calvin Hess, engineer and top turret gunner on the Bruce Crew. Photo courtesy Col. Warren Parker

By Linda Alice Dewey

Macon, GA--A retired Marine Corps officer has contacted KMHS, indicating he is in possession of a leather “A-2” bomber jacket with the name of a 445th BG Kassel Mission airman hand-printed inside it. The jacket has been sitting in the closet of retired Col. Warren Parker’s closet for more than half a century. Parker feels it’s time for the it to find an appropriate home.

Hess jacket interior

The name and serial number inside and just below the back collar tell us that Calvin E. Hess was the original owner. When Parker wrote us with this information, we immediately recognized the name belonging to one of the 117 men of the 445th Bomb Group killed in the fateful Kassel Mission air battle of 27 September 1944. Our question was, how did the jacket come to be in Parker’s hands?

Lt. Bill Brown, Calvin Hess's original copilot was critically injured a month before the Kassel Mission. Somehow, Brown was in possession of the jacket after the war. Photo from KMHS collection

Lt. Bill Brown, Calvin Hess's original copilot was critically injured a month before the Kassel Mission. Somehow, Brown was in possession of the jacket after the war. Photo from KMHS collection

Turns out, Parker's uncle attended Lanier High School in Macon, Georgia with William (Bill) Brown, the original copilot on Hess’s crew. Brown had been severely injured when their plane was hit in August, 1944, a month before the Kassel Mission. Brown's heroic story is chronicled by the 2nd Air Division in their weekly news magazine, "Target Victory," which was distributed to all of its airmen on September 30, 1944. The article details Brown's actions under extreme injury and calls him "Man of the Division."

According to the late Kassel Mission bombardier turned historian, George Collar, “[Brown] 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 going to die, he’d lost so much blood.” Hess, who as engineer was on the deck with the pilots, tied the touniquet around Brown's leg, which he would later lose, but no doubt saved Brown's life.

Click here for Brown's complete story.

Once they brought the wounded ship in, Brown was immediately sent to the hospital. He lost his leg all the way to the hip.  

While their B-24, named Bonnie Vee for the pilot's wife, Verlyn, was being repaired, T/Sgt. Hess and the rest of the crew continued to fly missions through August and September until 27 September 1944--Hess's tenth mission--when their plane was again attacked.

This time, pilot William Bruce, and possibly engineer Hess who rode in the cabin with the pilots, again watched their replacement copilot become injured, this time mortally. At the moment when his copilot stood to remove Bruce’s seat belt (standard protocol), a shell pierced their ship, severing the copilot at the waist. The plane exploded, and Bruce was thrown clear, although his back was broken. The rest were killed. 

T/Sgt. Calvin Hess, right, by the Bonnie Vee as she was being fixed up, probably after that rough August, 1944 battle. Photo courtesy Tim Hess

Says historian Collar: "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 [sic] got shot..."

On that tragic day only four of 35 bombers sent up by the 445th Bomb Group made it safely back to the base, breaking the record, making it the worst single-day loss for a group from one airfield in history. 

In the midst of this, T/Sgt. Calvin Hess’s jacket had somehow come into Bill Brown’s possession. As Col. Parker’s wife posits, perhaps Hess covered Lt. Brown with it when the lieutenant was hit a month earlier, and it stayed with Brown then. We do know that, when Bill Brown was shipped home to Lawson General Hospital, stateside in Atlanta, the jacket went with him.

At Lawson, Brown saw a familiar face. PFC Bernard M "Ace" Parker, the kid two years behind him in high school ROTC, had stepped on a mine in February 1945 and lost his foot. The two became friends, and both eventually learned to walk with prostheses.

The Bruce crew, minus copilot Bill Brown, immediately after their fateful August 1944 mission aboard the Bonnie Vee. Calvin Hess stands in back, 2nd from left. Photo courtesy Tim Hess

The Bruce crew, minus copilot Bill Brown, immediately after their fateful August 1944 mission aboard the Bonnie Vee. Calvin Hess stands in back, 2nd from left. Photo courtesy Tim Hess

Some years later, Ace Parker was walking down the street at Mercer University in Macon, when lo and behold, here came Bill Brown down the steps of a home on that street. After hailing one another, Brown explained he and his wife were living at his mother-in-law's home for a while. They renewed their acquaintance, becoming close friends, and when Brown was moving, Parker's uncle came over to help and saw the bomber jacket.

"What's this?" Bernard Parker asked.

Brown told him it was a jacket from a guy on his crew who had been killed on a mission and asked if he wanted it. That's how it got to be in Parker's family.*

When Col. Warren Parker was twelve or so, he and his Uncle Bernard went fishing in Macon. It was cold, and his uncle offered the bomber jacket to fend off the chill, then told him to keep it.

That was 55 years ago. It has been hanging in a closet ever since, moving with the Parkers wherever they lived.

Three weeks ago, Parker saw it hanging in the closet and decided it was time to do something about it; but before he did anything like sell it, he thought he would look on the Internet to see if there was anything about the original owner (something he couldn't have done years ago).

Googling “Calvin Hess,” several sites came up. He found Calvin Hess memorialized on the American Air Museum’s website (located at Duxford, England). He also called the staff at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. A few clicks later, he found pictures of Calvin Hess on the Kassel Mission Historical Society website (www.kasselmission.org ).

Now the man named had a face, and in that moment became real. Parker read Bill Brown's story on the website and learned how Hess saved Brown’s life. He also saw that there was real connection with Hess for Bill Brown.

This was Hess's jacket.

Hess, left, i his jacket, receives mail. Photo courtesy Tim Hess

Hess, left, i his jacket, receives mail. Photo courtesy Tim Hess

Parker contacted KMHS through the website. We had Calvin’s nephew's contact information and got in touch with him. Mike Hess is very happy to hear about the jacket. We put the two in touch, and Parker and Mike Hess spoke by phone, agreeing on the Kassel Mission Museum in Eisenach, Germany, where many relics from the crash sites are displayed, should be the ultimate location for the jacket. Col. Parker intends to fly there with his wife on the anniversary of the Kassel Mission this year to present it to the museum. Mike Hess will be there, too.

Note:

*Bernard Parker currently lives in Macon at 92 years old. According to Parker’s wife, Bill Brown eventually moved to North Carolina. A great athlete before the war, Brown still excelled in golf afterward. He never did find a prosthesis that fit him well and ended up making his own. Even so, he often went without one, she says, walking with crutches. As the years passed, Brown experienced severe phantom pain and a great deal of trouble due to that injury and fought resultant depression in his later years.

 

Walter Hassenfplug, the father of all Kassel Mission research, passes at age 84

Walter Hassenpflug at the 1 August 1990 Dedication of the German and American Airmen's (Kassel Mission) Memorial. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

Walter Hassenpflug at the 1 August 1990 Dedication of the German and American Airmen's (Kassel Mission) Memorial. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

Walter Hassenpflug was larger than life to anyone involved in the Kassel Mission. He died in Germany on February 26, 2017. He will be sorely missed by his KMHS family. Many of us over the years have been fortunate enough to visit Walter in Germany, to see his extraordinary research, and to visit the Memorial, the construction of which he completely coordinated. There is great reason for this man's dedication to preserving the history behind this battle. 

Walter himself was strongly affected by the Kassel Mission. At the age of 12, he witnessed the battle when he saw the lead 445th plane go down and crash in the woods near his home where the memorial is now located, and several men parachuting down. The next day, he found navigator Frank Bertram in the woods near his home and, with his companions, escorted him into town to turn him over to the authorities.  

Two months later, both of Walter’s parents were killed in an air raid. Walter survived because his father threw himself on his son as the bombs came down.

Walter's father was killed in a bombing raid two months after the Kassel Mission, when he threw himself on top of his son in front of their home as the bombs descended. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

Walter's father was killed in a bombing raid two months after the Kassel Mission, when he threw himself on top of his son in front of their home as the bombs descended. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

It took a long time for Walter to get over the death of his parents, but he was a kid, and war was going on. In early April of the following year, Walter, fascinated by the friendliness of the U.S. soldiers who were coming into town, served as a translator for them as they made temporary camp nearby.

When he finished school, Walter took a job in the offices of the city of Bad Hersfeld, where he continued throughout his career in municipal administration.

In his off-time, Walter became known as a local historian. He also researched the war he had lived through, beginning with the battle that killed his parents, then the plane he had found on September 27. As he researched other crashes nearby, he began to understand the magnitude of the battle and discovered Luftwaffe pilots who had participated in the battle and interviewed him.

Walter found navigator Frank Bertram through writing the editor of the 8th Air Force News. Bertram flew over in 1986 to meet Walter. The next year, Bertram brought his pilot, Reg Miner. In both cases, Walter took the men to their landing places and walked their trek with them to the homes, jails and train stations where each was taken. He even introduced them to a Luftwaffe pilot who fought that battle.

Hassenpflug, left, meets navigator Frank Bertram in 1986 at Bad Hersfeld. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug

Hassenpflug, left, meets navigator Frank Bertram in 1986 at Bad Hersfeld. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug

When Kassel Mission pilot Bill Dewey contacted Hassenpflug in 1989 with the idea of building the memorial, Hassenpflug embraced and coordinated the project as well as a huge dedication ceremony that took place on 1 August 1990. On that day, Hassenpflug made a public pledge to hold a ceremony on that site annually so that everyone could remember that friendship can result between former enemies. He kept his word.

German and Amercan former enemies who fought in the Kassel Mission raise their hands in victory over war, celebrating new friendships after together unveiling the three plaques at the Memorial at the dedication ceremony on 1 August 1990. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

German and Amercan former enemies who fought in the Kassel Mission raise their hands in victory over war, celebrating new friendships after together unveiling the three plaques at the Memorial at the dedication ceremony on 1 August 1990. Photo courtesy Walter Hassenpflug.

He also took two busloads of Kassel Mission veterans and families—both German and American—to all the crash sites. At each, those who remembered that day and were associated to that spot came forward—Luftwaffe pilots, 445th BG airmen, and German civilians who, like Hassenpflug, had witnessed or been involved on the ground. All of this is captured in the Dzenowagis DVD “Pride of the Nation.”

Over the quarter century since that day, many Americans have returned to the memorial and met Walter again and again. New families and veterans not on that initial trip have gone there as well. In every case, when he was asked, Walter invited them to meet him at the Memorial, took them to their associated landing/capture sites, listened to their stories, shared what he knew, and often dined with them.

Walter Hassenpflug dedicated three decades to researching the Kassel Mission. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. 

The Memorial, Fall 2007. Photo by Walter Hassenpflug