Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Memorial Day we honor
those who died in service
to our country.

Memorial Day 2014

Let us pause for a moment to consider the significance of this day — set aside to honor those who have fallen in combat to preserve the freedoms that we still enjoy.  Nearly 100 members of the 416th Bomb Group lost their lives in combat.  Some were repatriated to the United States for burial, others were interred in American Battlefield Monument Cemeteries throughout Europe and Great Britain.  We could never do justice to all of them in a short message like this, but we will at least pay humble tribute to one, in memory of all.



Francis W. DeMand grew up in Wichita, Kansas, the son of a country doctor who died of pneumonia in 1926 while Francis was just a young boy.  He and his two sisters were raised by their mother, Martha, who ran a rooming house during the depression years.   Francis graduated from high school with war on the horizon and joined the Army with four of his high school buddies.  They all were enlisted at the same time, took flight training together and earned commissions as pilots in the Army Air Corps.  Lieutenants DeMand, Merchant, Morton, McDonald and Ritter all became A-20 Havoc pilots and were part of the initial cadre that joined the 416th Bomb Group at Oklahoma City. 


Lt. Robert Morton died in an aircraft training accident at Vinton, LA in 1943 and Lt. Arthur McDonald was killed when his plane crashed near London, England in April of 1944.  Lt. Ritter was transferred to the South Pacific, but survived the war and returned to Wichita, as did Lt. William Merchant, DeMand's closest friend and fellow pilot in the 671st.  In the photo below, Francis and Lt. Merchant stand before the A-20 "Uncle Bob" flown by DeMand.


Lt. DeMand was leading Box II, Flight 3 on September 29, 1944 in an attack on the railroad marshalling yards at Julich, Germany.  Lt. Dave Andrews was flying on DeMand's left wing, only a few yards away.  Dave recalls the event with absolute clarity in a "Witness to War" video seventy years after the fact.  An artillery barrage destroyed DeMand's plane in a direct hit, killing all but Ssgt Middleton, one of the gunners, who was blown clear of the plane by the explosion.  Originally buried in Germany, the remains of Lt. DeMand and of his Bombardier/Navigator Alwin Burns, were transferred after the war to the ABMC cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands.  The family of nearby resident Ron Wintjens has adopted the Grave of Francis and honors his memory on special occasions like this.  DeMand's gunner, Ssgt Reuben Troyer is buried at the ABMC cemetery in Ardennes. 


Ron Wintjens family (above) pays respects to Francis DeMand Grave at Margraten ABMC Cemetery.  Thanks to the generosity of Rick Greer, a nephew of this hero, the 416th Archive now has a rich collection of photos and documents about his life and service.  We are proud to honor Francis DeMand  this Memorial Day as we remember all those who died in service to their country.