Sunday, May 29, 2016

Open Letter to Bill Cramsie

Dear Bill;

I remember the moment we first met like it was yesterday.  Actually, eleven years ago now—but I suppose time has little meaning for you these days.  You reached out and touched my shoulder as I held your West Point ring in my hand that day.  It was a mysterious and magical moment.  I've told others about the feeling, but how could anyone ever really comprehend?  The journey you set in motion that day, for an amazing number of people, has no parallel in the world that I know.  Through meeting your relatives, friends and others like us that you've inspired, my wife Doris and I found a warm and caring 416th family that immediately took us under wing.  The search to know more about you became an adventure and a common desire to honor not only your memory and sacrifice, but that of your comrades as well.

When I first saw your picture in the June-1943 West Point yearbook it was heartbreaking.  What must your mom and Marnelle have felt back in Auburn when they received that dreaded telegram?  Your young Godchild, Judy, was there as well—out of school for Easter vacation—and recounted the painful story for me from a child's perspective.  The children of your brother Bob and sister Ruth have spoken to me often about the years of silence afterward.  None could bear to talk about you without breaking down in tears.

The comments beneath your yearbook photo talked about your exceptional ability to "drag pro".  I had no idea  what that meant until I met your USMAY classmate and 671st squadron pal Dick Wheeler.  When Dick explained that it meant to date the loveliest of the young ladies that attended Academy social events, I was not surprised.  Nor was I surprised when Bob Basnett told me all about the double-dates that you and he had with Dee Rogers and Clemie Smith in New York.  The wheels were turning faster than I could ever have imagined and I have little doubt that I was being spoon fed from a spiritual source.  You led me to Dee shortly before she passed away and through her I learned about the love between you that had blossomed at the Academy while you were there.  What a trail of broken hearts the price of freedom leaves.

In the aftermath of your tragedy, you may have wondered how so many things could have gone wrong on that fateful day.  With your guiding hand, answers are now starting to surface.  The 416th Bomb Group family is growing today in size and in unity while many other WWII veteran groups are disbanding.  416th veterans, living and departed, are being recognized worldwide for their wartime accomplishments.  The search for 9699 is still very much alive and one day we expect to pay our respects at that war grave.

On this Memorial Day, 2016, I salute your sense of Duty, Honor and Country.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bill Cramsie Day

On this day in 1944, Bill Cramsie climbed into the cockpit of an A-20G attack bomber (43-9699) and methodically went through the warm-up checklist.  It was the 4th combat mission for this West Point graduate and already he was flying in the #3 slot of the lead box of 18 planes -- on the left wing of Major Willets, the 671st Squadron Commander.  Those who knew him and survived are in agreement that he was an outstanding pilot with a promising future.  They were airborne by 8:44 AM and at the scheduled target in France an hour later.  Unfortunately, the cloud cover at that point was 10/10 or total.  The V-1 Buzz Bomb launch site they were hopeful of destroying could not be seen.

The German antiaircraft batteries on the ground had no such disadvantage.  Their radar controls told gunners exactly where the 416th planes were and the barrages they sent aloft were deadly.  As the bombers made another pass over the target the flak became very intense and every plane in the 36-ship-formation suffered from flak damage.  Bill Cramsie lost an engine on the first pass and stayed with the group for the second pass where he reportedly was hit again.  As the lead navigator sought a suitable alternate target, the flight passed into a cloudless area to the north that happened to be above another Buzz Bomb site.  The group dropped their bombs on this target of opportunity and headed home.  Bill, unable to stay with the formation as his remaining engine weakened, fell out of formation.  As they headed back across the English Channel, his academy classmate and friend Scotty Street also lost an engine and fell behind along with Bill who was then in sight below him.  As they crossed Bradwell Bay, losing altitude, both Bill and Scotty were seeking an emergency landing strip.  Both called for bearings to the RAF field nearby and received them from Air Search and Rescue.  At that point, Bill dropped below the clouds at about 400 feet altitude and Scotty made a turn to the West to line up with the Bradwell Bay landing strip.

Scotty's crew bailed out over land and he crash-landed without injury, though the plane was beyond repair.  Bill and his crew disappeared.  A Rescue team was never dispatched.  Seventy years later, Chief Inspector Ross Stewart of the British Minstry of Defense Police discovered why.  The coordinates captured from radio direction finding equipment during Bill's call for help were transposed.  Instead of placing his aircraft just offshore near the RAF airbase, they indicated he was some 40 miles east of there over the North Sea.  Of course there was no way for boats to reach that spot in time to do any good and it seems therefore that no effort was made.  Based on eye-witness reports, it is virtually certain that Bill Cramsie, his plane and his crew lie unrecovered in Bradwell Bay -- probably in very shallow water not far off shore.  That realization has spurred considerable interest in generating a serious search for the A-20 and its crew.   Hopefully on Bill Cramsie Day a year from now we will be able to share some more encouraging news about that search for "9699".

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

416th Men Still Missing in Action (ABMC Wall of the Missing) 

 Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives to preserve all the things that we hold dear about life in America.  There are far too many of them to even attempt to know or name them all, but we will concentrate here today on ten young men.  They are the 416th Bomb Group crew members who are lost in time.  Ten of the members of this Group who died in combat still do not yet have a final resting place.  Six of them were lost on one tragic mission.  That might seem like a small number when one contemplates the enormity of World War II, but to each of those ten families it was and remains a cross to bear.  Technically, the search for these men is ongoing, but as a practical matter all have since been declared "non-recoverable" by the U.S. Government.  Fortunately, there are many here and abroad who choose not to accept that finality and the search for them goes on. 

Raines, Arthur A. Jr.     2Lt    669    10Apr44    ABMC Cambridge Wall
Bender, Glenn J.           SSgt   669    10Apr44   ABMC Cambridge Wall
Nielsen, Jack O.           SSgt   669    10Apr44   ABMC Cambridge Wall
Cramsie, William E.     1Lt     671    10Apr44   ABMC Cambridge Wall
Henshaw, Charles R.    SSgt   671    10Apr44   ABMC Cambridge Wall
Steward, Jack               SSgt   671    10Apr44   ABMC Cambridge Wall
Cruze, Raymond K.     1Lt     668    18Jul44     ABMC Cambridge Wall
Murphy, Thomas A.     1Lt     670    1 Jan 45    ABMC Ardennes Wall
Kiker, Charles M.         Sgt     669    14Jan45    ABMC Lorraine Wall
Griffith, John J. Jr.        Sgt     668    18Mar45   ABMC Lorraine Wall