"First To Fall" is the story of one spirit lost in the maelstrom of World War II. This biography chronicles William Edward Cramsie's strong Irish values, his dedication as a West Point cadet and his heroic service with the 416th Bomb Group. In searching for facts about Cramsie's life, and his tragic death, it was my good fortune to meet and bond with many people whose paths would otherwise never have crossed mine. This blog is about that path of discovery. -- Wayne G. Sayles
Sunday, May 25, 2014
On Memorial Day we honor
those who died in service
to our country.
Memorial Day 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.