Thursday, October 27, 2016

From a Ring to an Archive

Those who have followed the First to Fall story from the beginning of this blog in 2008 will know how the West Point class ring of William Edward Cramsie inspired an international effort to learn his story and find his remains.  That path has been long and winding, with moments of joy, frustration and absolute wonder.  One of the highlights along that way was the founding of an Archive at Gainesville, Missouri to honor Bill Cramsie and those who served with him during World War II in the 416th Bomb Group.  That Archive, in the few years since its inception, has become a serious research center—collaborating in more than a dozen ongoing projects with professional researchers in Europe and the U.S.  Among these, several have produced significant journal articles and books in French, German and English that highlight the role of the 416th and share a vast array of documents and photos from the 416th Archive collection.  Of equal significance is the Archive's superb website developed and maintained entirely by members of the extended 416th family.

A large part of the success enjoyed by this Archive, still in its infancy, is due to the sense of ownership that surviving veterans and the families of deceased veterans have in this not-for-profit facility.  Donations of original WWII records, photographs, letters, diaries and memorabilia of all sorts are literally pouring into the research center, as are offers of help from volunteers with exceptional backgrounds and dedication.  All of this activity has not gone unnoticed or unheralded.  At the 2016 reunion of 416th veterans, hosted by the Archive in Gainesville, Dr. Vernon L. Williams recognized the Archive and its founders with the East Anglia Air War Project's  George Bledsoe Preservation Award.  Dr. Williams is the Air War Project's Director and Professor of History at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas.

 Dr. Vernon Williams reads the designation of 
George Bledsoe Preservation Award for 2016 to 
Doris and Wayne Sayles, founders of the 416th Bomb Group Archive 

The Archive plays an ever-increasing role in reconsructing the life and times of those who played such a crucial role in the tactical air war over Europe in 1944 and 1945

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Old Fart Pride

Author Anonymous — but everyone in the 416th Bomb Group family knows, or knew, at least one "Old Fart".

It's not a bad thing to be called an Old Fart.
Old Farts are easy to spot at sporting events; during the National Anthem, Old Farts remove their hats and stand at attention and sing without embarrassment. They know the words and believe in them.

Old Farts remember World War II, Normandy , Spitfires and Hitler. They remember the Atomic Bomb, Vietnam , the Korean War, the Cold War, the Moon Landing and all the Peacekeeping Missions along the way.

If you bump into an Old Fart on the pavement, he will apologize. If you pass an Old Fart on the street, he will nod or tip his cap to a lady. Old Farts trust strangers and are polite, particularly to women.

Old Farts hold the door for the next person and always, when walking, make certain the lady is on the inside for protection.  Old Farts get embarrassed if someone swears in front of women and children and they don't like any filthy language on TV.  Old Farts have moral courage and personal integrity. They seldom brag except about their children and grandchildren.

It's the Old Farts who know our great country is protected, not by politicians, but by the young men and women in the Air Force, Army, and Navy.

This country needs Old Farts with their work ethic, sense of responsibility, pride in their country and decent values.

We need them now more than ever.

Thank Goodness for Old Farts!  I was taught to respect my elders. It's just getting harder to find them.

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".