Robert Joseph Arvin
Who that was not a witness could imagine...
that men who came from the different parts
of the Continent ... would instantly become
but one patriotic band of brothers?
—George Washington, 1783
Farewell Orders issued to the Armies of the United
States of America
Robert was born on 23 April 1918 in Kansas City, Missouri.
His parents, John Ambrose Arvin and Ruth (nee
Spake) Arvin, had married in the fall of 1916. After Robert’s birth,
they purchased a home at 2315 Myrtle.
The home was being rented out at the time, so they had to wait to move in.
1920 – Fourteenth
United States Census
John and his little family are still renting a house in Kansas City on Michigan Avenue, waiting for the lease to expire on the home they bought. John is an auto mechanic with car dealer Buxton-Phillips Motors, which sells both the Maxwell and the Chalmers automobiles, located nearby on Main Street.
2842 Arvin, John Head R M W 28 M . . . Auto Mech In Shop W
------- , Ruth Wife F W 27 M none
------- , Robert Son M W S none
family was on the threshold of achieving the American dream. But no sooner had they moved into their new home than their hopes for the future were dashed. Ruth was
diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. There was no medical treatment for it at this time, and the only course of action for “consumptives,” as
they were known, was to move to a dryer climate, in the desperate hope that the
body, with lots of bed rest and good nutrition, would be able to fight off the disease.
So, John and Ruth made the heart-rending decision to sell their home and do just that. His oldest sister, Mary, and her husband, Charles McClung, stepped in and bought their home. And his youngest sister, Loretta, and her husband, Frank Jackson, took custody of two year-old Robert. John and Ruth went to Phoenix, Arizona. She was admitted to a well known sanatorium there in January of 1921. But her health deterioratied much quicker than they expected, and John decided to hurry back to Kansas City to bring Robert to Ruth. While he was on his way to Kansas City, she passed away.
After Ruth’s death, John, having spent all his funds on travel and care for his wife, was destitute. So Frank and Loretta took him in. At one point, Loretta’s mother, along with John and another brother, William, all lived with them and were dependent on them for support. But they were a loving and generous couple, and they made it work.
In 1922, they bought a brand new home, 5430 Forest, in a new subdivision on Kansas City’s fast expanding south side. Margaret, William, John and Robert all moved with them there. Two years later, Loretta’s sister, Zetta, and her husband, Dennis Simms, bought a home just a block to the east, and between the two households a sort of communal living arrangement developed. These were good times for everyone. William found a job in downtown Kansas City and was able to move out on his own, creating a little more space at 5420 Forest. In the spirit of the good times, Frank helped Robert write a letter about Santa Clause to the Kansas City Star newspaper, and they published it.
In 1926, Zetta’s husband ran off with another woman, abandoning her and their three sons. Margaret and John moved in with them, and he became a sort of foster father for the Simms boys. Meanwhile, Robert continued to live with Frank and Loretta. That same year, the Jackson’s had a daughter, whom they named Rosemary. Over the years, Robert and Rosemary (who became known as “Todi”) were raised as brother and sister in the warm environment of the Jackson home. John was always nearby, yet always removed from Robert’s immediate family life. In 1930, John moved downtown to become the proprietor of a restaurant, and he lived downtown for many years. Uncle Frank and Aunt Loretta fostered Robert to young adulthood as if he were their own son. They gave him every advantage. Todi always considered him a brother, although she found it awkward to introduce him as Robert Arvin. Frank wanted to adopt, but Margaret and Loretta insisted he keep the Arvin surname. He was, after all, John Arvin’s son. So, like everything else, they made it work.
1930 – Fifteenth United States Census
Robert was never adopted by the Jacksons. He is listed in the 1930 census as a “Lodger,” living with Frank and Loretta at 5430 Forest Avenue. They own the home, valued at $7000.00, and they have a radio set. Frank works for the Cook Paint Company in their advertising department.
5430 Jackson, Frank D. Head O 7000 R M W 37 Advertising Man Paint Co.
-----------,Loretta K. Wife F W 33 none
-----------,Rose M Daughter F W 3 11/12 none
Arvin, Robert Lodger M W 11 none
The Jackson-Arvin-Simms clan was Catholic, and Robert, Todi and the Simms boys all attended St. Francis Xavier Catholic grade school, which was located west across Troost Avenue, within walking distance of their homes. Robert graduated from St. Francis in the spring of 1930 at the tender age of 12.
After graduation, he attended Southwest High School, located at 6512 Wornall Road, about two miles further south of his home. He graduated from Southwest in June of 1934, when he was only 16 years old. On October 17, 1935, Frank and Loretta helped him take out a life insurance policy with the Equitable Life Insurance Company. He owned the policy, along with the responsibility to make the $15.52 semi-annual premiums. (They did the same for Todi when she graduated from high school.) Robert named Loretta and Frank as beneficiaries of the policy.
In the Depression, Frank lost his job at Cook Paint. He started his own printing and advertising business, working out of their home, and Robert worked for him. When Frank moved the business downtown to the Gibraltar Building (818 Wyandotte), Robert worked continued to work for him there. Frank also employed all three Simms boys at the business. In 1939, Frank moved his business to 906 Central Street, and all the boys continued to work there also. Robert’s wages at this time were $15.00 per week.
Robert attended the Kansas City Business College for two months in 1939, then enrolled in Kansas City University (later merged with the University of Missouri at Kansas City) as a Liberal Arts major. As the youngest in his class, he found it hard to keep up his studies, and he eventually dropped out of school.
The Life of a Rancher
Robert made plans to travel to Wyoming in 1939 and work on a ranch. Any ranch. Todi tells us, “He and two other boys from the neighborhood made saddles in the basement, then shipped them out to Wyoming. Just picked a town. They then took the train out there. You could get a job on the trains by feeding the cattle or something. I remember he bought a horse quick ... which died within days. It had sleeping sickness I think.”
Just as they had presumed, the three adventurers quickly found jobs for themselves at the Sampson Brothers Cattle Ranch in Clearmont, Sheridan County, Wyoming. They all worked there, as ranch hands, for about a year. Robert’s insurance policy lapsed because the notice of premium due had not reached him in Wyoming, so he made a payment to reinstate it.
In 1940, the two other boys returned to Kansas City. But Robert enjoyed the life of a rancher, with its freedom and independence, and stayed on for a second year.
1940 – Sixteenth United States Census
Robert is living on the Sampson Ranch, owned by Clarence W. Sampson, who describes himself simply as a “farm laborer,” and his wife, Tillie B. Sampson. Their house is valued at $3000. 00. In addition to his own farm income, he earned $400.00 in wages in 1939. Their son, J. Curtis, 35, also lives on the ranch in a house of his own, valued at $250.00. Another son, J. Donald, 22, lives on the Ranch in a third house valued at $1500. 00. The boys are both listed as “farmers.” They earned no wages in 1939.
Robert, a 21 year-old single, “Hired Man,” also lives in his own separate cabin on the Ranch, which he rents for $5.00 a month. He has 1 year of college and worked 70 hours in the Census sample week, as a Sheep Herder in the Grazing Sheep business. In 1939, he had earned $300.00, presumably all at the Sampson Ranch.
O 3000 Sampson, Clarence W. Head M W 61 M Farm Laborer Farm
------------, Tillie B. wife F W 59 M
O 250 ---------- J. Curtis son M W 35 S Farmer
O 1500 --------, J. Donald son M W 22 S Farmer
R 5 Arvin, Robert J Hired Man M W 21 S Sheep Herder Grazing Sheep
Todi said that they drove up to the ranch that summer and visited him. She described the cabin as Spartan, as you might imagine, but that Robert seemed happy with it and was enjoying his life as a rancher. He remained at the Sampson Ranch through the early summer of 1941. His wage as a ranch hand was $10.00 per week.
Then he returned to Kansas City. (Shown here with Todi and his father, John, at 5430 Forest.) There was a war raging in Europe, and its rumblings were beginning to be felt in the United States. We were about to enter into a new era in American history. It would come to be called the Second World War.
Enlistment and Basic Training
As the Drums of War beat louder that year, Robert—like many young men his age, under pressure from the Draft—decided to enlist in the armed forces. He had ambitions to become an Air Cadet in the Army Air Corps, which had just been renamed the Army Air Forces. It was expanding at an incredible rate.
The Army Air Forces came into being on June 20, 1941....The AAF expanded rapidly. It
initially had two subordinate organizations, the Air Corps for training and materiel and Air
Force Combat Command...for operational forces. As the wartime build-up proceeded, more
commands were added -- Flying Training Command, Technical Training Command,
Ferrying Command, the numbered air forces and so on....In the course of wartime expansion
and reorganization, the Air Corps ceased to be an operating organization. All elements of
Army aviation were merged into the Army Air Forces. Although the Air Corps still legally
existed as an Army branch, the position of Chief of the Air Corps was left vacant, and the
Office of the Chief of the Air Corps was dissolved. The Army Air Forces thus replaced the
Air Corps as the Army aviation arm and -- for practical purposes -- became an autonomous
service. All World War II Army aviation training and combat units were in the AAF. About
2.4 million men and women served in the AAF.”1
According to his Personnel Records, Robert’s enlistment was effective on 5 July 1941. He was given a Service number, 17029870, and his Service Record began. Both would stay with him for the duration of his time in the Armed Forces. The Service Record gives us many details of the time he spent in the military: page 1 page 2 and 3 insert page 5 page 6 and 7 Remarks Remarks Remarks The Record shows he was at the Recruiting Station in Kansas City on the 4th and the 5th of July,
then he was sent the Reception Center at Jefferson Barracks (just South of Saint Louis), where he stayed until the 10th.
At Jefferson Barracks there was the usual battery of tests, shots and a physical. He took an oath and enlisted for a three year hitch. He was assigned to the 31st School Squadron of the Army Air Forces. He was described as being 23 years old, having blue eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion. He was 69 inches high, weighed 139 lbs. and had two flat feet. Like many new Air Force recruits, he was sent from Jefferson Barracks to Chanute Field, in Rantoul, Illinois (about 130 miles south of Chicago). On July 31st, he was assigned to the 8th School Squadron there and spent the first few days of August assigned to its School Headquarters. On August 4th, he entered Airplane Mechanic School, where he would spend almost six months.
From his Personnel Records, we get a rough idea of his progress, which was slowed by illness and a realignment of classes.
Student Record reverse
2 August, assigned to School HQ
4 August, entered Airplane Mechanic School Class 42-5
21 Oct, transferred to AFI [Air Force Infirmary] by reason of hospital. (Acute pharyngitis.)
30 Oct, transferred to 4-B
1 December, transferred to 4-D, per DM shift change
30 December, transferred to AFI, by reason of quarantine (exposure to German measles.)
3 January 1942, transferred to 5-D
Passed AM Exam Air Mech 88.25% at Chanute Fld. 1/5/42
Total of 770 hours of instruction. Weighted grade 84.5
22 January, released from course
Like so many
other young men in the Army Air Forces, he would emerge from basic technical training known simply as an airplane mechanic. But
he still had ambitions to become an Aviation Cadet, and he let that be known.
We don’t know any of the details, but we do know he was soon sent to Shaw
Field, in Sumter, South Carolina, and attached to the 454th School Squadron
there. Because of his previous exposure to German measles (Rubella), he was sent to the base hospital, where he spent the next 12 days. Only then was he able to begin duty. He would spend five months in a technical duty assignment as an Airplane
and Engineering Mechanic, waiting for his chance to be begin cadet training. His
picture is on page 92 in the 1942 Shaw Field Yearbook, although the layout is incorrect. He is second from the left, and he was a Corporal at the time, not a Sergeant. At Shaw, he was promoted to Private 1st Class on March 1st, then promoted to promoted to Corporal on April 1st.
With the help of his Uncle Frank back in Kansas City, Robert obtained three letters of recommendation from Frank’s business associates. Those, along with his Birth Certificate, were included in his Application for Appointment as Aviation Cadet, which was dated 7 April 1942. Agreement to Serve A formal Examing Board was convened at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, South Carolina, on 17 April. The Board recommended he his application be approved. Now all he had to do was continue his duties as an airplane mechanic and wait for an assignment to class. But that would take some time. There were thousands of applicants, and the wheels of the United States war machine turned slowly.
In 12 September 1942, Corporal Arvin’s chance finally came. He was sent to the Aircrew Classification Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was officially promoted to A/C (Aviation Cadet) and where he began his new career. “The Center was an induction station where cadets were brought for preliminary training, aptitude tests, and physical examinations. They were classified according to their skills and talent and then shipped on for further training. Many became pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners in the war against Germany and Japan....At its height, the Center had a staff of 200 officers and 500 enlisted personnel and was the largest of the three Army Air Force centers in operation in the United States. The Center housed, on average, 10,000 soldiers per year....”2
The classification centers functioned as collecting points where candidates were attached until they could be assigned to a pre-flight school. Here, would-be officers received their first uniforms and faced a series of tests, known as the classification battery. Robert got off to a good start, and was assigned to his school within a week. He went to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, for preflight training with the Army Air Force Flight School there. He reported on 18 September 1942.
Preflight training included academic subjects such as physics, math, map reading, aircraft recognition, and code. There was also plenty of military drill and Physical Training, but there was also time for recreation. Cadets were no longer enlisted men, yet they had not yet earned the right to be officers. So they were simply addressed as “Mister.”
Richard P. Bannerman
Soon after he arrived at Maxwell Field and started settling in, Robert began making friends. The series of schools the cadets attended were designed to last for nine weeks each, and new classes began every four weeks or so. They operated with a minimum of involvement from the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers who ran the program. At any given school, the cadets who had begun their cycle a few weeks earlier were now “upperclassmen,” and they administered most of the discipline to the newcomers, which often bordered on hazing. The natural result was that each class formed its own strong bond of camaraderie, and this class was no exception. Robert (left in the photograph) became a close friend of another cadet named Richard Bannerman (second from right). Richard, although four years younger than Robert, had also enlisted in the Army Air Corps in July of 1941. He had also gone to Chanute Field for Basic Training. Unlike Robert, he was never sick there and had completed his training on time. He had been sent to Greenville, Mississippi, where he worked as a Link Trainer instructor prior to becoming a cadet. He had arrived at Maxwell the day before Robert did. Richard was a newlywed; he had married Mildred Walden that summer in Greenville. Richard and Millie probably lived either off base or in family quarters at Maxwell. Robert lived on the base in the barracks.
Mr. Arvin and Mr. Bannerman both successfully completed their Preflight Training and graduated at Maxwell Field on 22 November 1942. Three days later they were assigned to Fort Shaw in Sumter, South Carolina. For Dick, it was a new assignment. For Robert, it was a return to his old duty station. They both began Primary Flight Training there, once again in the same class.
Primary Pilot Training (PT) gave the cadets their first taste of actually flying an airplane, in this case a Stearman PT-13 or a PT-17 Kaydet. The student would sit in the front seat, his instructor directly behind him. Their days were filled with ground school instruction and actual flying, developing their skills. Mr. Bannerman did quite well, as he always did. He just had “the right stuff” to be a pilot, and he was a natural at it. Mr. Arvin, however, had begun to have psychological difficulties with flying. As a good portion of every class did, he became apprehensive about it. Nevertheless, both of them accumulated 60 hours of flight time and they both (Robert , Dick) graduated, right on schedule, nine weeks later, on 30 January 1943. The next day they got their orders. They were assigned to Cochran Field, in Macon Georgia, for Basic Pilot Training.
Trouble at Cochran Field
Basic Pilot Training (BT) employed a larger and more complex airplane: the Vultee BT-13. “The BT-13 had a more powerful engine and was faster and heavier than the primary trainer. It required the student pilot to use two way radio communications with the ground and to operate landing flaps and a two-position Hamilton Standard controllable pitch propeller....The large flaps are operated by a crank-and-cable system.”3
Robert began to have a feeling of dread at the thought of flying this plane, and he knew that bigger and even more complicated and powerful airplanes were in his future. (Imagine how formidable the B-17 would appear to a cadet. It had four engines and ten times the horsepower of the Vultee.) Add to this the responsibilities of commanding a crew. All this made him uneasy and restless. This, in turn, led to a stressed condition and a chronic loss of sleep. It hurt his concentration and his ability to continue learning.
Apparently his instructor noticed the problem also. Within a couple of weeks, even though he had finished his dual flying instruction and had successfully soloed in the Vultee, he and his instructor came to a mutual understanding. He would withdraw from cadet training. Elimination was not such an unusual occurrence in the Army Air Forces. “Most students eliminated from the program washed out in primary, where roughly one in four failed.”4 Robert made it clear that he was not afraid of being on board a combat aircraft. But he did not want to be the pilot in command of it.
He wrote a letter to the base Commandant, asking to be eliminated, and filled out a preference sheet on a new assignment. The Academic Board held a formal hearing on 14 February 1943.
Proceedings page 1 page 2 page 3 Final Grade
He was given three alternative career choices, but he had already decided he wanted to be assigned to the 4-Engine Combat Crew School in Sebring, Florida, for training as an Aerial Engineer. The Board interviewed him, on the record, and made its decision on February 28. He would be relieved, reverted to the rank of Corporal and transferred to Hendricks Field in Sebring, Florida for training as an Enlisted Airplane Mechanic (that old catch-all phrase again.) He was assigned to the 87th School Squadron (Specialized) at Hendricks. The school’s mission was to teach Air Cadet Pilots how to fly the B-17 and the B-24.
Hendricks Army Airfield
Without having to worry about the responsibilities of becoming a Pilot in Command , Corporal Arvin did quite well mastering the art of keeping those planes flying. Hendricks was the first combat crew training center in the nation and the largest overseas training base of the war. Early on, an entire aircrew, officers and enlisted, would train as a team, then go off to fight the War together. By 1943 the concept had changed, and the different crew positions were now trained at different airfields, then brought together at a final staging base to become coordinated before going into combat as a team. So, Hendricks Army Airfield was at this time a specialized training base just for First Pilots who were learning how to master the 4-engine bombers. At its peak, it was an enormous operation, making use of about 120 B-17s, plus scores of B-24s. It was a specialized school, where thousands of talented young cadets transitioned from their single and twin-engine ratings to the Heavies.
Robert started his training by once again going to an advanced Airplane and Engine Mechanic School. This one lasted four weeks.
AIRPLANE AND ENGINE MECHANIC (MOS 747)
Assists in performing prescribed inspections and maintenance of aircraft.
Examines portions of aircraft such as wings, fuselage, stabilizers, flight control surfaces,
propeller, and landing gear for evidence of damage of wear such as cracks, bent or broken
members, and looseness which might cause dangerous vibration. Corrects such defects by
appropriate maintenance, minor repairs, adjustments, or unit replacement.
Refers specialized repairs on propellers, instruments, hydraulic and electrical systems to
appropriate specialist. Cleans all accessible structures and parts with appropriate cleaning
agents. Manipulates controls in cockpit to insure proper operation and alignment of flight
control system. Makes required adjustments by correcting tension of control cables or by
replacing badly worn control cables.
Assists in inspection and maintenance of engine and in changing engines. At stipulated
intervals, and with assistance of other mechanics, disconnects engine from its mounting,
removes it from airplane and makes replacement, using mechanic's tools and equipment,
and technical orders as a guide to maintenance procedures. Assists in preparing engines
and other units for shipment.
Is responsible for inclusion in airplane of miscellaneous equipment such as life rafts,
parachutes, adequate supply of breathing oxygen, appropriate forms, and technical orders
in proper storage places.
Must have a knowledge of Army Air Forces forms and technical orders and weight
and balance procedures.5
AIRPLANE AND ENGINE MECHANIC (MOS 747)
Lieutenant and Mrs. Bannerman
Soon after breezing through his training (it probably based on what he had learned at Chanute) and starting his duties, Corporal Arvin was made a crew chief at Hendricks. He was given the responsibility of overseeing the work of a five member crew which maintained one specific B-17. Working on one specific aircraft fostered the crew’s “pride of ownership” of it and an intimate knowledge of its special quirks.
Before long, some of his old cadet buddy’s were coming to Hendricks Field to take their 4-Engine Pilot transition training. One of them was Dick Bannerman. He had finished Basic Pilot Training at Cochran Field at the end of March and gone on to Advanced Training in Valdosta, Georgia. He had finished at the top of his class at that school and been promoted to Second Lieutenant. He and his wife Millie lived either on the base or near it in married officers quarters.
Of course, there was no fraternization between enlisted men and officers. But Mr. Arvin and Mr. Bannerman had developed a strong bond of friendship and mutual respect as cadets, and the bond was still there. Many training flights were made with just the pilot, co-pilot and the crew chief on board. Lt. Bannerman and Corporal Arvin may have spent considerable time flying together. Millie said years later that Dick told her, “That’s the nicest guy I ever met.” She seemed to sense he was saying, “If anything ever happens to me....”
Lt. Bannerman successfully completed his training at Hendricks in August, and he and Millie went on to Sioux City, Iowa, where combat crews came together for training as a team. While there, he would again be promoted, this time to First Lieutenant. Early in 1944, he would be sent to the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) as a B-17 First Pilot assigned to the Eighth Air Force. It was one of the most dangerous assignments in all the Air Forces of the United States. His task would be to bomb targets in Germany, in broad daylight. Millie would go home to live at his parents’ home in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, until he returned from overseas.
Meanwhile, Robert lived the life of an ordinary enlisted man. He had made it known at the Board Hearing at Cochran Field that he was apprehensive only about piloting, not about flying as part of a combat crew, and he had requested training to become an Aerial Engineer. And so it began. His Service Record shows that he began collecting Flying Pay in April of 1943. (He also started a $3.75 per month allotment for War Bonds at this time.)
Since part of the Aerial Engineer’s role in a combat aircraft was also to be the Top Turret Gunner, positioned just above and behind the cockpit, Robert probably took some gunnery training, although none is listed in his Service Record. An intensive five-week gunner training course was taught at the nearby Buckingham Army Airfield (now abandoned), located about 10 miles east of Ft. Myers. Hendricks may have made use of this facility to train its aspiring Aerial Engineers. The course was 201 hours of instruction given over 5 weeks. There were several such schools in the country.
In his Service Record, we find
Sol. phys qual for Aerial Gunner at Hendricks Field, Fla. 6-7-43
AERIAL GUNNER (MOS 611) Operates a
hand-held or turret mounted machine gun in airplane to protect airplane
from enemy attack.
Loads, charges guns, aims, fires, and reloads. Strips and reassembles standard
machine guns used on tactical bombers. Makes preflight and post flight inspections and
necessary adjustments. Inspects for worn or broken parts, and performs routine
maintenance on such guns.
Must be able to manipulate smoothly and accurately the type of turret on which he
has been specifically trained, use sights correctly, charge guns, fire, and reload. Perform
first echelon maintenance on his turret, including preflight and postflight inspections.
Must be qualified to fly at high altitudes and use oxygen and interphone equipment.
AERIAL GUNNER (MOS 611)
hand-held or turret mounted machine gun in airplane to protect airplane
We also find that Robert was promoted to Technical Sergeant at this time, as was typical for those completing Gunner School.
Promoted to Sgt (T) on 7/1/43, Hendricks Field Fla.
Although still a technician, he had risen
to a Grade 4 Non Commissioned Officer. “Under Department Circular No. 5, the
Technician Third Grade (T/3), Technician
Fourth Grade (T/4), and Technician
Fifth Grade (T/5) were created and replaced the existing
specialist ranks. Initially, these ranks used the same insignia as the Staff
Sergeant, Sergeant, and Corporal, but on September 4, 1942, Change 1 to AR
600-35 added a ‘T’ for ‘Technician’
to the standard chevron design
that corresponded with that grade. ... A technician
was generally not addressed as such, but rather as the equivalent line (NCO) rank in
its pay grade (T/5 as Corporal; T/4 as Sergeant; T/3 as Sergeant or Staff
Sergeant). Officially, a technician did not have the authority to give commands
or issue orders but could under combat conditions be placed second in command
of a squad by a Sergeant. Unofficially, most units treated them as though they
were of the equivalent rank of the same pay grade.”6
The final step in his training at Hendricks was to become an actual Aerial Engineer.
Assists airplane commander in the
operation of a multiple engined airplane in flight by
AERIAL ENGINEER (MOS 2750)
maintaining a constant check on its mechanical functionings.
Notes readings on engine (vacuum and pressure instruments). Maintains a log of engine
performance including fuel flow and fuel remaining in tanks during flight. Reports any
indication of malfunctioning. Maintains a record of the malfunctioning of engines and their
components. Makes limited repairs and mechanical adjustments while in flight. Assists in
inspection and repair. Makes final check of the inspection and repairs accomplished.
Assists the commander in decisions as to airworthiness of the airplane.
Must have thorough knowledge of airplane and engine maintenance and operation.
Must be physically qualified for flight duty to be classified in this MOS.
Assists airplane commander in the
operation of a multiple engined airplane in flight by
Sol completed Aerial Engineers Sch, Cl.19, 23 Jul 43 Final Gr 96%
He had practically aced the course. He was granted a furlough from 4 through 18 August. Perhaps he went home to Kansas City to visit Frank and Loretta. While he was away, his Service Record was updated:
Sol completed 25-hrs Basic tng in Mil. Aviation & 1st AIG 8-14-43
Arvin had some additional training in October, although no details were noted
in his Service Record. It’s possible he was transitioning to work as an Aerial
Engineer on the B-24’s at this time.
Sol completed 25 hrs basic training 10-14-43
Back to Chanute Field
On 1 December 1943, the 87th School Squadron (Specialized) — now renamed the 87th Specialized Pilot Training School — was relocated to Chanute Field, Illinois. Sergeant Arvin said goodbye to Hendricks Air Field and went with the School to Chanute.
He was granted another furlough from the 2nd of February through the 1st of March of 1944. Soon after he returned, he got the shocking news that his best friend from his old cadet class, Dick Bannerman, was reported as Missing In Action in the European Theatre of Operations.
Sidebar: Heaven Can Wait
It was Tuesday, 11 April 1944, two days after Easter Sunday. First Pilot Richard P. Bannerman was on his 13th sortie with the Eighth Air Force in the European Theatre of Operations. He was heading out early in the morning over the cold North Sea from England toward Denmark. He and his air crew belonged to the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), stationed in Horham, England. They were among the many thousands of airmen assigned that day to an enormous flying armada. This was Mission No. 298 for the Mighty Eighth, and its size was almost beyond belief. It consisted of almost two thousand bombers and their fighter escorts, dispatched in three separate forces, bent on a colossal attack on the Third Reich. Lt. Bannerman was Pilot in Command of the B-17 nicknamed Heaven Can Wait, Serial No. 42-39869. Including him, there were ten crew members. The 95th’s mission today was to bomb Posen, Poland, which lay far to the east, even beyond the pre-war German border.
Bannerman Pilot in
Wallace C. Lillo Co-Pilot Second Lieutenant
Thomas A. Smecik Navigator Second Lieutenant
Irving (NMI) Wilson Bombardier Second Lieutenant
Philip M. Rashead Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Tech Sergeant
Thomas (NMI) Gopigian Radio Operator/Gunner Tech Sergeant
Raymond A. deYaeger Ball Turret Gunner Staff Sergeant
Charles F Scully Right Waist Gunner Staff Sergeant
Roland L. Carlson Left Waist Gunner Staff Sergeant
John J. Backowski Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant
Bannerman Pilot in
effort” operation was huge, involving all three Divisions of the Eighth Bomber
Command. In fact, it was so large that fighter escorts could only be provided
for the First and Second Divisions, whose missions took them directly over
Germany. The Third Division, to which the 95th Bomb Group belonged, was to take
a more northerly route over Denmark and the Baltic. They would be escorted only
from the middle of the North Sea until they neared the enemy coast. After that,
they were on their own. They would not see escorts again until late that
afternoon, when they were again over Denmark on their way back to England. The
fighters were simply stretched too thin. They had to protect the other two
Divisions. It would be a long and dangerous day. And for many, it would be a one way trip.
0650 hours The temperature was in the low 40’s,
typical of an English morning in April, when the Group began its take offs. Civilians would call this 6:50 AM.
As usually happened on a large mission, a couple of ships had mechanical troubles. Lt. Harvey A. Johnson did not attempt a takeoff and was scratched. His number 3 engine had magneto trouble. No sortie for them that day. In a separate incident, as Lt. Eugene H. Cavalier took off and was climbing to formation altitude when he was informed of a leak in the ship’s oxygen supply. This defect could be potentially fatal for everyone on board. He had to return to base. He and his crew would also not get credit for a sortie that day.
Most of the Group experienced no problems however, and a carefully choreographed aerial ballet began. First, each ship took off in an assigned order, timed to the minute, and climbed to the assembly point. After carefully circling and merging, the Squadrons formed up and fell into the proper sequence for travel in a “bomber stream” across the North Sea. “What a sight! Hundreds of airplanes appear to be milling around aimlessly in the early morning sky. Soon, out of this seeming chaos, orderly groups of aircraft begin to form. Then, as if by magic, the smaller groups merged into larger groups and then larger groups fall into trail and head toward the rising sun.”7
For the long flight to Poland, the 95th Bomb Group, led by Operations Officer Lt. Col. Harry “Grif” Mumford, was divided into two segments: 95A and 95B. The lead segment, 95A, began take offs at 0650 hours, assembled at 3000 feet and circled. The following segment, 95B, began take offs at 0714 hours, assembled at 2000 feet and fell in behind and below the lead segment. Heaven Can Wait, in 95B with Lt. Bannerman at the controls, took off at 0724 hours. Lt. Alva C. Powell and his crew were next, taking off one minute later. These two ships were at the very end of the entire 95th Bombardment Group as it went into stream formation.
Next, at 0815 hours, the entire Group rendezvoused with two other Groups over Colchester, England, to form the 13th Combat Wing. At 0827 hours, the 13th Wing joined two more Wings to form the gigantic Third Bombardment Division. It was truly a force to be reckoned with, consisting of almost 300 B-17’s. The Division would maintain stream formation all the way to Poland. There was safety in numbers.
Dick and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Wallace Lillo, would share the piloting duties, spelling each other off every 15 minutes. Maintaining a good formation was stressful, requiring never ending concentration. Today, their Squadron was led by First Lt. James Harold Hubbs. Behind him were Lts. Buckland and Maddox, flying abreast in the first rank. Then came Lt. Francis, by himself, then Powell and Bannerman abreast in a third rank. Six aircraft in all. They were the low element of 95B. The most vulnerable. It was called the “coffin corner.”
0840 hours The Group left the English coast but kept low, at 5000 feet altitude, because of a lowering overcast. At about 1000 hours they found a north-south gap in the clouds and climbed above them. At 10,000 feet altitude, the pilots got on their interphones and reminded their crews to put on their oxygen masks. The Group leveled out at 10,500 feet as it crossed the enemy coast (occupied Denmark) at 1032 hours, following the course as it had been briefed to them that morning, until “a very hazy layer was hit which extended up to 22,000 ft.” With no way around it, they entered the haze.
1120 hours Despite safety in numbers, the stream was
always under threat of sudden attack by enemy aircraft (E/A). No one could ever relax
or let their guard down. In the haze, Lt. Hubbs spotted two Messerschmitt Me 210’s. They did not attack. About ten minutes later, he spotted some Junkers Ju-88’s positioned “a little
high and level” with the Americans. This bunch did attack the bomber stream,
albeit half-heartedly. Hubbs noted, “They stayed out at 6 o’clock and fired
something heavier than a 20 mm. Had two other attacks here.” The bomber formation
was not hit by any of this enemy fire, and it rumbled on, intact and undamaged.
Now the Wing was making its most easterly penetration of the mission. They were still over the Baltic Sea, well north of Poland, heading southeast toward land. As they pushed on, the weather continued to worsen. In fact, visibility became so bad that the 13th Combat Wing leaders realized it would be impossibly dangerous to break out of their stream and reform into tight Combat Boxes, as would be required on a bombing run over Posen. So they made the decision to abandon the target. They would have to select a “Target of Opportunity” to bomb.
1205 hours At this point, with visibility getting very bad, the 13th Wing lost sight of the other two Wings. So, on their own, they selected Rostock, Germany, as their Target of Opportunity. They would fly there independent of the other two Wings, despite the lack of fighter escort.
Still over the Baltic Sea, near the coastal town of Kolberg, they began to execute a sharp right turn in preparation for heading due west. Without warning, the Wing was attacked again, this time by a number of twin engine (T/E) enemy aircraft, Messerschmitt Me 410’s. This time it was costly. In two separate incidents, two Flying Fortresses were lost.
1215 hours Lt. Alva C. Powell and his crew, flying in the coffin corner, the low squadron of 95B—right
next to Lt.
Bannerman and his crew—became the first casualties. The attackers came from the rear. “Lt. Powell
was hit by what was believed to be 37 MM cannon shells fired from the nose of
an Me-410 venturing in to 1000 yards from 7 o’clock level. Other Me-410s
held back at 1500 yards. The right aileron was knocked off and gas from the
tokyo tanks was burning there. #1 engine
was feathered and #4 smoking. A/C turned
to the left losing altitude, salvoed bombs, and pilot was heard to order crew
to bail out at 54° 37' N 15° 15' E about 1215 hours -- 10
The crew landed in the open sea. However, no one on land even knew they were out there, much less was prepared to rescue them. They were all lost in the numbing cold of the Baltic. Initially reported as Missing In Action, their status was later changed to Killed In Action. Only one body, that of the Right Waist Gunner, Staff Sergeant Donald J. McNeil, was ever recovered. More than two months later, his “body was picked up from the Baltic Sea near Kolberg” on the 26th of June. He was buried in the Karlsberg Cemetery in Kolberg.
Lt. Bannerman was now without his partner in the formation. His ship was at the tail end of the low Squadron. Heaven Can Wait was at the very end of the Group, all by itself. An inviting target. Now the ship and its crew were in even more danger from fighter attack than before.
1218 hours Three minutes later, Lt. Eugene C. Schiapacasse’s ship, flying in the first rank of the high element of 95B, was also hit by rockets from an Me 410. This one attacked from 2 o’clock high. Although there was no fire or damage visible, “The aircraft winged over, and climbed slightly before the crew bailed out.”
The crews of the ships around them were helpless to render any kind of assistance whatsoever. All they could do was count the number of chutes and note the time and location of the incident. “Ten chutes were seen to leave Aircraft at 54° 15' N, 15° 00' E at 1218 hours.”10 The high squadron leader, Lt. William B. Hiatt, noted at interrogation that evening that they went “down over water ... all 10 chutes. Wind was with them. Might make land. Fighter attack.” Lt. Scott, in the lead squadron, thought he saw a rescue craft after them.
But the crew was not rescued, nor did they make land, and they were also lost in the ice cold Baltic Sea. They were all listed as Missing In Action. All were later changed to Killed In Action.
1250 hours Another threat came without warning. Two Fw 190’s—notoriously viscious and effective single engine (S/E) attack fighters, called “Butcher Birds” by the Germans—approached the stream and positioned themselves “in line” (wing-to-wing) to make a run at the squadron from the rear. Staff Sergeant Andrew M. Rule, Tail Gunner in Lt. Buckland’s ship, told his story that evening as he claimed credit for downing one of the E/A.
He spotted them at 6 o’clock (position on a clockface), 1500 yards out, as they began their run. Closing on his ship, they opened fire at 1000 yards. Showing both combat experience and enormous courage, Sergeant Rule held off on return fire until the enemy fighters were only 600 yards out. Then he fired about 150 rounds in short, controlled bursts. One attacker, a dull gray in color, was hit, caught fire and started smoking. It did a half-roll and passed underneath the B-17. “No chutes” he declared. He stated that he did not know if anyone else fired on the attacker, but the Ball Turret Gunner saw it go down and could vouch for his claim.
The Wing continued relentlessly on, but at this point there appears to have been a breakdown in communication. The Group lead, Lt. Col. Mumford—perhaps strictly following the rules of radio silence—may not have kept his Squadron Leaders informed about their new destination. This made it difficult for them to maintain their formation as they executed two major course changes. They turned southwest, heading toward the town of Anklam, but a few minutes later turned again, this time to the northwest. The Squadron Leaders finally came to realize they were on a course for Rostock, but by this time they had begun to straggle, drawing out the length of the stream. This created a vulnerability, a weakness. Enemy fighters saw this sort of thing as an open invitation to attack.
1255 hours The 13th Combat Wing found a gap in the undercast, descended through it, and found the visibility greatly improved. It was now partly sunny.
Both Lt. Buckland and Lt. Hubbs noted that evening that they were free from attacks as they flew from Kolberg to Rostock, but as they neared their new target, “intense” attacks began. Hubbs reported that, “Fw 190s and Me 109s attacked level at 6 o’clock and head on. These would come in close to formation. Some would come in past us but not through.” Then things got even more severe, as the enemy’s defense of the city began in earnest.
The airspace over Rostock was thick with fighters, so much so that they were a danger even to themselves. Hubbs notes that he “Saw two E/A collide just before IP.” He also makes note of a casualty on board, his Waist Gunner, Staff Sgt. James L. Marron. “Bullet penetrated his right leg below the calf.” He was probably in intense pain and unable to man his position. His fellow gunner could only give him morphine and insure he was warm and on oxygen until they returned to base late that afternoon. Flares would be shot off by returning ships with casualties aboard, letting ground crews know they needed immediate help.
When asked for suggestions that night by his interrogator, Hubbs replied, “When lead ship is set up for lead, give it instead of another old relic.” This was perhaps a sarcastic remark aimed at Lt. Col. Mumford, who had been awarded the Silver Star for leading a bombing mission to Berlin in March and was now greatly revered in the Group. A relic. We can forgive Lt. Hubbs his bitterness. That morning, he led a squadron of six ships to the gates of Hell. That evening, only his and Lt. Buckland’s ships made it back to Horham.
In Harm's Way They arrived at their Initial Point (IP) about 1320 hours, altitude 15,100 feet. Following procedure, the Wing broke from “stream” formation, changed course, and the three Groups reformed, each into its own pair of “Combat Boxes.” This was viewed as the safest and most efficient way to execute a bombing run, and it would be put to the test again today.
It helped for protection against enemy aircraft, but the fact was they were facing another, equally dangerous threat: Flak from the Anti Aircraft cannons on the ground. It was described as “intense and accurate” over Rostock.
1323 hours Lt. Delmar D. Miles, flying in the high element of segment 95A, was hit by flak. “The flak burst was right below the Aircraft. This B-17 dropped out of formation to the left under control but with fire streaking way back to the tail. Four chutes reported.”9
Actually, nine crewmen bailed out. They all survived, were captured and became Prisoners Of War. One crewman, however, Bombardier Lt. Oliver A. Andres Jr., did not leave the ship. One fellow crewman reported that the “men who bailed out forward [pilot, co-pilot, navigator] ... said he was uninjured and preparing to bail out. There was plenty of time.” Another reported that they were at the Initial Point, and “We then got hit by flak twice. One burst in No. 3 engine and setting us afire instantly. We also got hit in the bombay at almost the same time and kept the ship from tipping over....Nine of us got out....[Bombardier] was in the nose of the ship....was OK as far as we knew....Might be that his chute was shot out of the ship and he was looking for it because the ship was also hit around the drift meter in the case where Lt. Andres kept his chute.” The aircraft may never have released its bombs; it exploded before it hit the ground. Lt. Andres was reported as Killed In Action. It was his 21st birthday.
The rest of the Group, 95A followed by 95B, maintained their Combat Boxes and began the bombing run. But now, enemy aircraft became the most immediate threat. And the Luftwaffe had learned a deadly new way to attack bombers. Head on.
The 3rd Bombardment Division Headquarters later declared that, “Only one tactic has been developed since the basic 13 tactics or diagrams which has caused concern to the operations officers of this division. This is the MASS ATTACK FROM HEAD ON. As many as 60 fighters have participated in one of these attacks.”11
At 1323 hours, 11 April 1944, the 95th Bomb Group was confronted by at least 50 attack fighters (Hubbs thought it might have been 75) in one of these mass attacks. It was terrifying. Experienced crew members were not ashamed to tell newcomers they were flat out scared on these missions. The enemy fighter pilots they faced were later described as “aggressive and experienced.” “Best and most effective ever seen.” “These E/A were experienced. Did not expose themselves. Cagey SOBs.” They were flying Messerschmitt Me 410’s, Messerschmitt Bf 109’s and silver Junkers Ju 88A’s. But the ones doing the real dirty work were flying the deadly “Butcher Birds,” those highly maneuverable Focke Wulf 190’s. There were thirty of them, some painted black, some light gray. The Assistant Intelligence Officer reported later that “the second attack [was made] by 30 Fw-190s which battled furiously. Gunners commented that pilots were experienced, attacking from those angles out of reach of their guns – they just couldn’t get their sights on many attacking E/A.”
Everything happened at once. They came at the B-17’s in pairs. In WW2 aerial combat, this is as bad as it gets.
1323 hours Lt. Garland D. Maddox, flying directly in front of Heaven Can Wait, “was in formation when the first pair of Fw-190’s attacked from 11 o’clock high, but was not seen after the second pair attacked from the same position in the target area.”12 On board the ship, there were two explosions near the rear main door, knocking the waist gunners to the floor. Their masks and earphones were blown off. They had to crawl for their parachutes. The right wing of the aircraft was on fire. Up front, the bombardier and navigator were unable to open the navigator’s escape hatch. So the bombardier reopened the bombay doors, and they crawled into the open bay. Someone—they thought it might have been the radio operator—came from the rear of the ship. They pointed for him to jump, too.
Everyone on board got out, then drifted down with their chutes. Seven crew members descended to land. German documents indicate they were captured within two hours by local police and civilians. Three crew members descended to the open sea. Two were rescued by a paddle boat, but Sgt. James A. Radcliff, the Top Turret Gunner, drowned. A German report states, “Fate of the crew: 7 men of the crew were sent to the German army by the commissary of home defense. 2 men alive and 1 dead were sent to AF - post Rerik by the navy training center Heiligendamm.” The ship itself, which crashed near Bad Doberon, seven miles west of Rostock “causing minor damage to forest and meadows, was taken over by the AF - post at Rerik.”
Lt. Bannerman and his crew witnessed the whole thing, but there was
nothing they could do except count chutes. (As Lt. Hubbs put it that night, “The sky was full of chutes.”) The low squadron was now composed of only four surviving ships. The high had only three. Everyone in 95B was in extreme danger. Exposed,
vulnerable and in extreme danger.
1323 hours Lt. Leo C. Francis was attacked by Focke Wulf 190s. His Fortress was carrying a full load of incendiary bombs. His crew bailed out, but he did not. The Missing Air Crew Report states that he was “in formation after the E/A attacks, with the CP [copilot] B [bombardier] and TT [top turret gunner] not visible, a hole in the right trailing edge of the wing, the #1 engine feathered and the #4 on fire. A/C slipped to the right and put out the fire. Bomb bay doors were open and the bombs were released just before the Group’s bombs. An Fw-190 attacked from 11 o’clock level, cut around the tail and attacked from 5-6 o’clock level. B-17 nosed up a little as did the Fw-190, peppering the tail assembly with 20MMs. The B-17 settled down and chutes started out. 5 seen.”13
The crew was captured and became POWs. One crewman stated later that he didn’t know why the pilot did not bail out, but believed he might have been wounded before he got out, as the German fighters came in for another pass just before the plane blew up. “Don’t know why bombs were not salvoed after we were hit in bombay.” Lt. Francis was reported as Killed In Action. His body was later recovered.
1323 hours Lt. Robert C. Westmyer, in the center of the lead element, “was hit in an Fw-190 attack from 5 o’clock slightly high, by 20 MMs causing a hole in the right wing between #3 engine and fuselage, gas poured out but there was no fire, and 2 or 3 chutes started out over the target.” His ship was also hit by flak, which did additional severe damage. “After AA fire #2 engine fire was burning. A/C peeled off to the right and it is believed a total of 10 chutes were seen.”14 Lt. William B. Hiatt, leading the high squadron, observed the situation from above: “#2 engine burning fiercely. Tail gunner and 3 [bailed out] from waist. High probability was flak.” Some of the crew were later killed by civilians on the ground, others were reported Missing In Action.
1323 hours Lt. Richard P. Bannerman’s crew, in Heaven
Can Wait, “was under attack by
Fw-190’s just before target. A/C had a hole in the right aileron and another in
the right wing where the main gas tanks are located. A/C winged over to the
left and back in a slicing dive, gas spraying out and enveloping the A/C in
flames. No chutes were seen to leave the Aircraft.”15
One can only imagine the terror and chaos inside that burning aircraft as it headed for the ground from 15,000 feet up. “Aircraft fall like giant wounded birds fluttering to earth. Aircraft are set on fire but continue on for a while. Aircraft disintegrate before your eyes. These are all machines. There is little sense that within them young men are dying.”16
In flames, Heaven Can Wait crashed near a mill at the tiny hamlet of Bandelstorf, located a few kilometers southeast of Rostock. Anyone in the area would have seen and heard the Flying Fortress, now a gigantic ball of flame, coming in at a hopeless angle and pancake the ground hard. It would have continued to burn until its fuel was depleted. No one in that aircraft escaped the flames.
The Interrogation Report, which could not be completed because there was no one to interview, indicated that the ship’s bombs had been dropped.
The 95B Group lost no less than six Flying Fortresses that day. In the low squadron, only Hubbs and Buckland returned to Horham. Sixty crew members were lost.
As Group leader, Lt. Col. Mumford would have flown in the cockpit of the lead plane of 95A that day, bumping its copilot to another ship. Captain David E. Olsson, Assistant Operations Officer, would have ridden in the tail gunner’s position of that same aircraft, reporting what he saw to Col. Mumford, taking notes and manning the tail gunner’s machine guns all at the same time. Back in Horham, Captain Olsson worked late into the night and the days following, sorting everything out, then preparing Missing Air Crew Reports and Certificates for each crew lost. This is the one he prepared for Lt. Bannerman and his crew: MACR 3806.
Reports to the Commander
Note: PFF = Pathfinder Force aircraft. (See www.482nd.org)
Report of the Operations Officer page 2 page 3
Lead Bombardier 95A Lead Bombardier 95B
Intelligence Officer for 95A Intelligence Officer for 95B page 2
Mission Broadcast Report page 2
Eighth Air Force Narration
Post Mortem Documents surrendered by the defeated German Army were later translated into English by American Army Air Forces personnel and associated with the various MACR’s. The ones dealing with MACR 3806 carry the story of Heaven Can Wait to its conclusion.
A first report indicated that there was a “Crash of a Boeing at the mill of Bandelstorf, 9 km SE of Rostock Wn G, time: 1325. Craft 99% damaged. Markings not established. Crew probably burnt. Instituted search by Warnemüende NW 1400.” A list was prepared of the bodies recovered from the wreckage.
On April 13, the German Army Air Base headquartered at Warnemüende, a district of Rostock which lay north along the Baltic Sea, instituted a salvage operation. The aircraft was evaluated as being 100% damaged. They prepared a report.
On April 30, a telegram was sent to the Air District Command in Hamburg. It listed bodies which had been identified and indicated that “The above mentioned have been buried in the ‘New Cemetery’ of the Sea-town Rostock.... Identification tags and personal property has been sent to the Evaluation Point West Oberursel.” Lt. Leo C. Francis was also included in this report.
On May 4th, a telegram was sent to the Computing Station West at Oberursel (near Frankfurt), indicating that the Police had found 12 corpses. “On 11 April 1944, 12 bodies have been recovered in the district Rostock.” Eight were identified by the name and the serial numbers on their dog tags. Richard Bannerman’s name was listed, but on him there was “not identification tag.” There were also four other bodies “unknown.” The telegram went on to state that “The listed aviators at the new cemetery Seestadt - Rostock buried.” (The term Seestadt, or “Sea Town” in English, was used to indicate the Warnemüende district of Rostock.)
Millie “The wife of an USAAC bomber crewman fought her own battles, and though not life and death, her struggles required all her reserves of inner strength. Many worked, and some were pregnant or had small children to rear. In addition to the normal fears of any young married person about fidelity and long separation, she also dreaded, day by day, the knock on the door that brings bad news. She could not escape the troubling realities of war. The daily newspapers carried dark headlines about the air battles over Europe. If she went to the movies, the opening newsreels showed footage of aerial combat, with German and American planes plunging from the sky.
“Despite being bombarded daily with war news, the airman’s wife received little that was specific. Wartime secrecy allowed her only to know her husband was ‘somewhere in England,’ and letters came from or were sent to U.S. Army postal codes, not real places. Letters were censored. They often came only after long delays and sometimes not at all. Letters from a prisoner of war could take months. Letters informing spouses of injury or death contained only spare details.”17
The United States and Germany were at war in 1944, and neither country was about to disclose anything which might aid the intelligence gathering operations of the other side. For its part, the United States, in an effort to protect classified information, would only disclose limited details to civilians, even to family members of the crewmen. The only information Millie received was a ghastly telegram and a follow-up letter. Two months later, she got a letter giving her some sparse details drawn from MACR 3806 and the Mission Reports. That was all. The International Red Cross alone, as a neutral organization, was in a position to receive information and relay it to interested parties.
The Reports presented above were
not declassified until almost thirty years after the War. So, many
thousands of American families never learned the fate of their
loved ones. Mildred and the Bannerman’s were typical. Millie did not know exactly what had happened to her husband, or even where he had been stationed in England. Was
he alive of dead? Was he a Prisoner of War? Where was he now? What exactly happened on
that terrible day? Dick was simply “Missing
In Action.” Gone from her. Perhaps that was the most difficult part.
When the War in Europe ended, the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) returned to the United States. The Mission Reports and Missing Air Crew Reports which had been carefully prepared and typed up at the airbase at Horham were all boxed up and shipped back, to be stored at the Army Air Force’s Office of Records Administration in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The 95th was inactivated on 28 August 1945, and all its records were shipped to the Army Air Force’s Organizational Records Branch in Savannah, Georgia. In January 1946, that office moved to St. Louis, and the records were eventually transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration. The Mission Reports and MACR’s are now stored at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, on the campus of the University of Maryland. Today, these historic original documents are made available for researchers to examine, and the stunning details of these missions can still be brought to light.
Sergeant Robert J. Arvin
In April of 1944, Robert was also shocked and saddened to learn that one of his best buddy’s from his cadet days was Missing In Action. He may have written a letter to Millie, expressing his sympathy. (Todi said they later began to write back and forth to each other.) He was still working at the training school at Chanute Air Force Base as a crew chief on a B-17.
Chanute Field ended its Specialized 4-Engine Flight School for B-17s that Spring.18 Sgt. Arvin probably made the transition from the B-17 Flying Fortress to the B-24 Liberator training unit at this time. On 30 April 1944, he was assigned to “Sec. C, 2112 AAFBU, Chanute Fld. Ill.”
His father, John Ambrose Arvin, had apparently moved to Wood County, Wisconsin. Perhaps he had found work there. Robert did not name his as a beneficiary of his insurance policy, naming only Loretta and Frank.
We also know that he spent a good deal of time preparing for overseas duty. Entries on his Service Record give us some idea of just what he was doing.
Overseas Physical Exam
_@_ Combat Crew
_@_ Non Combat Crew
_@_ For Overseas duty. C/F, Ill 3-29-44
Sol Phys Qual on Overseas Exam Chanute Field, Ill. 7-Mar-44.
Sol completed 4-hrs Malarial Control & Malarial Discipline Chanute Field, Ill 4/4/44
Sol. Favorably Considered for Good Conduct Medal 4-30-44
Date : Weapon : Round : Score : Qual :
7-31-44: Carb : 40 : 140 : MM :
Historical Note: The D-Day invasion at Normandy, France, took place on 6 June 1944. The Eighth Air Force did its part that day. It launched a total, all-out, absolute “maximum effort” involving four separate and distinct major missions. They began at 1:55 AM that morning and ran all through the day and night, the last crews not returning until midnight. Many crews flew a morning mission, returned to their bases, ate a quick lunch while their planes were being reloaded and refueled, then went out again.19
“...the land invasion of Fortress Europe would never have been possible if not for the efforts of the Allied air forces. For a ground invasion to succeed, Allied planes had to control the skies over the landing beaches and the coastal areas of France. As a result of heavy German fighter attrition in the previous months, the skies over the landing beaches were eerily empty of German defenders.”20
“...in the five-month battle for air supremacy that made the invasion possible, the American Air Forces in Europe lost over 2,600 heavy bombers and 980 fighter planes and suffered 18,400 casualties, including 10,000 combat deaths, over half as many men as the Eighth had lost in all of 1942 and 1943. These airmen deserve an equal place in the national memory with the approximately 6,000 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in action in the amphibious and airborne assault on D-Day.”21
A Widow at 22
Back in Lansdowne, Millie’s life became a nightmarish mix of heroic honors and tragic disclosures. On July 22nd, she got a letter from Major General James A. Ulio, The Adjutant General of the Army, informing her that she would be presented with the Air Medal and an Oak Leaf Cluster which had been awarded to her husband. However, the Army had difficulty contacting her to make the arrangements for the ceremony. In the meantime, a week later, she got another letter from General Ulio. He told her he had no more news about Dick. At least they were communicating with her. There was still hope.
Then all was lost. The German government sent the International Red Cross a “Berlin Fatal List” containing the name of Lt. Bannerman. He had been killed; there were no details. The Red Cross relayed this information to the War Department. The Army Air Forces Casualty Branch changed Dick’s status from Missing In Action to Killed In Action and began the notification process.
Once again, the telegram delivery boy paid a visit to the Bannerman home, again bringing unbearable bad news. On August 25th, Millie received this stark telegram. All hopes of her husband returning home to her were now gone forever. Her greatest fear was now a reality. General Ulio wrote a followup letter, confirming the telegram. Millie responded with a letter of her own.
In the midst of her grief, the Army still went ahead and held the medal presentation. On 11 September 1944, Major R. S. McGill presented Millie the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster in a ceremony at the Public Ledger Building in Philadelphia. Imagine her conflicting emotions. Was she the only one there who knew the truth? Compliance order page 2 page 3 On September 19th, the Acting Adjutant General of the Army responded to her letter to General Ulio.
On September 28, in the absense of General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Commander of Army Air Forces, Lieutenant General Barney M. Giles, Deputy Commander, wrote a letter to Mildred, officially notifying her of her husband’s change in status to Killed In Action. He was only 21 years old when he died. Millie was only 22.
Then on October 25, almost as an afterthought, she was notified that she would soon receive the Purple Heart medal. It is awarded posthumously to the next of kin in the name of one who is killed in action or dies of wounds received in action. Although this award had more life changing significance for her, there was no ceremony. It was simply mailed to her.
Transfer to Courtland, Alabama
Meanwhile, Robert was still stationed at Chanute Field, Illinois. In August of 1944, the B-24 training unit began a transfer to Courtland Army Air Force Base in Courtland, Alabama.22 He was assigned to the 2115th AAF Base Unit at Courtland, effective in September. He mailed a photograph of a B-24 envelope to his Aunt Loretta. Perhaps he was crew chief of this very aircraft. Loretta kept this photograph among her personal mementoes for the rest of her life.
Robert was granted a furlough running from November 24th to December 3rd, 1944. He may have taken the train home to stay with Frank and Loretta. But he had to be back well before Christmas.
The Quest for Information
Millie was determined to find out what happenend to her husband. She got in touch with Dick’s old Squadron leader, James Harold Hubbs. He was still in the Army Air Forces, now a Captain stationed at Sioux City, Iowa. In answer to her letter, Captain Hubbs described the mission as he remembered it on that day. It was dated one year, to the day, after the mission.
Captain Hubbs’ letter: page 1  page 2 page 3
James Harold Hubbs completed
his 29 sorties with the Eighth
Air Force, returned to the United States and left the military after the war.
He returned to Durham County (north of Sacramento) California, where he
became a crop duster. In 1949, he and his neighbor, L. E. “Ole” Kossow,
purchased a surplus B-18 Bomber, converted it and developed a novel business.
They bought day-old heifer calves in Long Beach and flew them up to Durham
County for resale.
Ole Kossow died in 1959, leaving a widow, Florence. James Hubbs
lived with and cared for his elderly mother until she died in 1971. He and
Florence Kossow married on September 14, 1972. It was her 60th birthday;
he was 57. James retired in the early 1980’s and died on October 24, 1983.
He is buried in Chico, California. (See Find-A-Grave). Florence died on
February 17, 1995. She is buried with her second husband, James H. Hubbs.
“Lt. Marchese” was one of Hubbs’ fellow pilots from the 412th Squadron.
2nd Lt. Leonard P. “Lenny” Marchese was born in the Bronx, New York,
in 1919. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Lt. Colonel and died in Merced
County, California in 1978. (See Find-A-Grave.)
Merced is only about 150 miles south of Chino. It is unknown whether
the two old friends ever reunited after the war.
James Harold Hubbs completed
his 29 sorties with the Eighth
Historical Note: A little over a week after the death
of the Führer, the armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Third
Reich, surrender unconditionally, bringing an end to the war in Europe. 8 May
1945 becomes known as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day.
August 6: On orders from President Truman, the B-29 Enola Gay drops the Atomic Bomb
“Little Boy” on Hiroshima. The city is instantly destroyed and nearly 50,000 people are
killed immediately. Truman threatens Japan with additional atomic bombs.
August 9: The Soviet Union breaks the Potsdam neutrality pact and declares war on Japan.
Just as the Japanese Supreme Council is meeting to consider this, word comes that another city
has been leveled by an atomic bomb. The B-29 Bockscar had dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki.
(A third bomb would be ready by the 19th. President Truman later said he was prepared to
drop it on the Japanese capitol, Tokyo.)
The full Japanese cabinet meets and debates surrendering. The Emperor declares,
“I swallow my tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation
on the basis outlined by the Foreign Minister.” However, most senior Imperial Army
Generals oppose surrender.
August 12: President Truman orders a temporary halt to further bombings.
August 13: B-29s spend the day dropping leaflets outlining terms of surrender.
August 14: The Emperor records a surrender speech for broadcast to the nation.
August 15: Younger military officers attempt a military coup d'état to prevent surrender,
hold the palace for a time, give up and most commit suicide. The recording is broadcast at
noon on that day. But in the field, Japan continues to fight on.
August 18: Last day of Japanese fighters in combat with American recon bombers. (But
the Soviet Union continues fighting into early September.)
August 28: Occupation of Japan begins.
August 30: USS Missouri arrives off coast of Japan. General MacArthur arrives in Tokyo.
September 1: President Truman announces the surrender to the American people.
September 2: A formal surrender signing ceremony is held aboard the USS Missouri.
Further surrender ceremonies take place across Japan’s holdings across the Pacific. “The
logistical demands of the surrender are formidable. After Japan’s capitulation, more than
5,400,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,800,000 Japanese sailors were taken prisoner by the Allies.”
Arvin was at his station as Top Turret Gunner. He and his crew were in the air, over
the ocean, delivering a new B-24 Liberator—and themselves—to the Pacific Theater. They were en
route to Hickam Field, on Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. Where this whole thing started.
Helen Bannerman was also determined to locate her son’s grave. She wrote to the War Department in Washington. Her letter was forwarded to the Office of Records Administration in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They told her that, due to the deactivation of the 95th Bombardment Group, all its records were being prepared for shipment to the Organization Records Branch of The Adjutant General’s Office at Savannah, Georgia. (Later, it moved to St. Louis, Missouri.) Brigadier General Leon Johnson also responded to her inquiries, explaining the background of the reporting of her son’s death.
Fortunately, she also wrote to the International Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. They responded, giving her the information she had hoped for and that the Army Air Forces didn’t know it had. Now, at last she knew exactly where her son was buried. The letter indicated that Dick’s remains were in grave No. 98 of the New Cemetery of the Seestadt district (i.e., Warnemüende) of Rostock, Germany. She sent a copy to The Adjutant General of the Army, who acknowledged its receipt. She shared this precious information with Millie, and she sent a copy of the letter to Mr. C. F. Lillo, whose son, 2nd Lt. Wallace Lillo, had been Dick’s co-pilot on Heaven Can Wait. Mr. Lillo also contacted the International Red Cross for more information about his son. He also received a reply from them. It was of some help to him, but did not totally resolve his own agonizing search for his son’s grave. He sent a copy of his letter to Millie.
“With the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, the demand for rapid demobilization from the soldiers, their families in the United States, and Congress became unstoppable and all previous plans became moot. Conscription was reduced to 50,000 men per month, less than the military’s requirements for replacements. Soldiers, sailors, and marines in the Pacific became eligible for demobilization. The points required for demobilization were reduced several times, reaching 50 points on December 19, 1945....One million men were discharged from the military in December 1945. Every congressman was ‘under constant and terrific pressure from servicemen and their families’ to discharge soldiers more rapidly.”
Sergeant Robert Arvin was discharged from the Army Air Force on 3 December 1945.
Mildred C. Bannerman
Robert and Millie had become pen pals, and by June 1945 their relationship had taken a romantic turn. She notified the Army Air Force of a change of mailing address—from the Bannerman household to her family’s household. But she actually moved to Cranford, New Jersey, to live with her sister Shirley and brother-in-law, Joe Crandley. Robert may have made a trip to see her in Cranford when he was on furlough in June. Now in December of 1945, they had become a couple, and their lives were a whirlwind of transition.
3 December Robert is discharged at Ft. George Wright in Spokane, WA. He takes the train
to Kansas City for a homecoming with Frank and Loretta at 5430 Forest.
8 December After a day or two at home, he’s off again. He travels to 132 Columbia Ave.,
Cranford, New Jersey, where Millie is living with her sister, Shirley, her
brother-in-law, Joe, and their family.
11 December Robert buys a wedding ring at Cartier’s in New York City. He asks Millie to
marry him, and she accepts his proposal.
29 December They marry at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Cranford, New Jersey.
31 December Joe and Shirley take the newlyweds to New York City. They join 750,000
other revelers in the New Year’s Eve celebration at Times Square.
5 January Robert and Millie leave for Kansas City. As must happen in every generation, things
change and the world moves on.
Helen Bannerman’s inquiries about her son suddenly bore fruit when she received a letter from the Personnel Services Division of the Army Air Corps. Page 1 pg 2 pg 3 pg 4
Millie and the Bannerman’s now worked together to have their loved one brought home from Germany. Millie wrote to the War Department to obtain a death certificate for her late husband. One had never been prepared, as he had been killed overseas. The Adjutant General of the Army prepared an official Statement of the death of Lt. Bannerman.
Then, with evidence of her remarriage supplied by Millie, Helen wrote to the Quartermaster General, who determined that William Bannerman would be the person authorized to specify where his son would be reburied, if and when his remains were returned to American soil.
Finally it all came together. Personnel Services Division took another look at its information and wrote to Helen. She had also written to the Theater Graves Registration Services Command, and they now gave her more information. Their response.
After the War, Rostock was in East Germany, controlled by the Soviet Union, and the Cold War was beginning. It was not until 1947 that the Air Force could carry out the disinterment. But finally, First Lt. Richard Parrent Bannerman, who, at age 21, gave his life in the service of his country, came home.
He is now buried in the Bannerman family plot near his mother and father, at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin. (See Find-A-Grave)
Helen Bannerman’s inquiries about her son suddenly bore fruit when she received a letter from the Personnel Services Division of the Army Air Corps. Page 1 pg 2 pg 3 pg 4
The Post War Era
The newlyweds lived with Frank and Loretta for a short time. (Todi was in Berkeley, attending the University of California.) Robert and Millie started looking for an apartment or home to rent, but the market was tight. Thousands of servicemen returning from the military and were in the same situation. There was a virtual “baby boom” developing in the county. They eventually found a place at 717 W. 35th Street in Kansas City. The owners were renting out the upstairs of their home for extra income. In order to be accepted as tenants, they pretended Millie worked for the Frank at the printing company downtown. Therefore, they had two incomes and would both be gone during the day. On that basis, they got the place.
Things got complicated, however, when Millie became pregnant. Soon, she started staying home and had to try to remain very quite upstairs all day, to avoid revealing her presence to the owners. This situation led them to decide to build their own home, and they started to look for a new development on Kansas City’s south side. They found one, located just outside the city limits, which ran along 85th Street at that time.
They liked the area and signed a contract to build (plat) and finance it. This was a busy time for the young couple. Within a few days their first child was born. They named him Robert Joseph Arvin, Junior.
Married for Fifty Years
For all the turmoil in their lives during and immediately following World War II, Robert and Millie settled into a peaceful and stable marriage which lasted over half a century. They had a daughter, Ceslie (“Ceky”), born in 1948 and Joan (“Tina”) born in 1952. They lived at 8521 Grande Pas together for the rest of their lives. They became members of Christ The King Catholic parish, and the children attended its parochial school.
Robert continued to work for his Uncle Frank Jackson at his printing company, the Jack-Bilt Corporation. When Frank died in 1965, Robert took over the operation of the company as president. He never lost his interest in ranching; he purchased 80 acres of farmland in Drexel, Missouri, in 1961, later adding another 80 acres to it. There, he kept some horses and raised Black Angus cattle.
In 1969, a salesman for a paper distributor to Jack-Bilt took him on a trip, via their corporate jet, to tour their paper mill. The tour was interesting, but something more fundamental happened. It rekindled his interest in flying. Soon he purchased a single engine Cessna and obtained a Private Pilot License, earning a perfect score on the written test. He built a landing strip on the Drexel farm and kept the plane in a hangar there for over twenty years. (The strip is still on the map: search for Arvin Ranch Airport.) His grandson, John, was always interested in flying, and with Grandpa’s encouragement he began his own career in aviation. Today, John is a commercial airline pilot. Robert also joined the Civil Air Patrol and, since he had his own plane, he soon became a Captain.
He also joined the Flying Farmers organization. With the Flying Farmers, Robert and Millie made many group plane trips to various locations in the United States; the members all flew their own planes. (They are shown here at Will Rogers State Park in Oklahoma.)
Another such trip took them to Sebring, Florida, in the early 1990’s. They landed at the air field there, now Sebring Regional Airport. During the War, Sebring was the home of Hendricks Field, the place where young Corporal Robert Arvin worked as a crew chief on B-17s. It was also the place where young Lt. Richard Bannerman and his young wife Millie had been assigned in the summer of 1943 so that he could transition to flying those monstrous B-17s. The Bannerman’s left that summer to go to Iowa. The following year, Dick was killed in combat, flying a B-17 in a bombing run over Germany.
Now, in the early 1990’s, Robert and Millie, husband and wife, returned. They were there together, but each had personal memories of that summer. By the 1990’s, the only physical thing left of Hendricks Field, and of the time they spent there, was the control tower. It is still standing today, one of only two of its type left in the United States. It now serves as a memorial to the War and to those who lived and died in it. Especially those three young people whose lives were so dramatically intertwined during the Second World War.
Death of Mildred C. Arvin
Mildred Cecile Walden Bannerman Arvin died in July of 2000 from the complications of an operation to repair an Abdominal Aortic Aneurism. She did not have an easy death, falling into dementia and moving in and out of the Intensive Care Unit three times over the course of her final illness.
Robert continued to live at the family home in the care of his youngest daughter, Tina. His health declined as he got older, and a deteriorating hip forced him to use a walker. The hip became progressively worse. It was x-rayed, but the unexpected result was that a cancerous kidney was revealed. It had to be removed, and he then had to undergo kidney dialysis at a dialysis center, on a schedule of three times per week.
Death of Robert Joseph Arvin
On a chilly
but bright sunny Saturday afternoon, March 24th, 2001, I picked him up at the dialysis center for the trip home. He used his walker to get to the car, but he was in good spirits,
and his health seemed better than it had been lately. As usual, we stopped
at a fast food restaurant to pick up a roast beef sandwich and a soft drink for him
to eat later. We got to the house, and since my sister Tina was not at home at the
time, I helped him to the door. The front door opens directly into the living room, and I helped him to the sofa. This was the home which he had built for us more than a
half-century before, where he had lived happily with Mom all those
many years, and where they had raised us. We said our
goodbyes, and I left him there, drinking his drink. I had a few errands to run and
got back to my own house about an hour later.
A short time later we got a frantic call from my sister Ceky, saying that Dad had collapsed and been taken to the hospital. My wife and I rushed to the hospital, only to discover that he was already gone, and in fact had died at his home. Tina told me she had come home and found him slumped over on the couch in the living room, clutching a drink in his hands. His heart had simply stopped beating. It must be a blessing to die that easily, no pain, no anxiety, no anticipation.
Robert Joseph Arvin Sr. is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City, near where his grandfather William, his grandmother Margaret and his father John Ambrose Arvin are buried. His Uncle Frank D. Jackson and his Aunt Loretta (Arvin) Jackson are also buried nearby. Robert is buried in a family plot next to his wife, Mildred. May they rest in peace.
Continued from the
Prequel: Mildred Cecile Walden
1. Army Air Forces Historical Association (http://www.aafha.org/aaf_or_aircorps.html)
4. Dr. Bruce A. Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings: A History of the Aviation Cadet Program
(2005), p 39
6. Wikipedia: “United States Army enlisted rank insignia of World War II”
7. John Walter, My War, The True Experiences of A US Army Air Force Pilot in World War
Two (2004) p 146-147, as quoted by Rob Morris with Ian Hawkins, The Wild Blue Yonder
and Beyond, The 95th Bomb Group in War and Peace (2012), p 50
8. Eighth Air Force Mission Report for 11 April 1944, S-2 Report, 95B Group Formation,
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland;
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 3807, (see www.fold3.com/image)
9. Missing Air Crew Report 3804
10. Missing Air Crew Report 3802; 95B S-2 Report
11. Headquarters 3rd Bombardment Division, May 20, 1944, “German Fighters vs. American
Heavy Bombers,” USAFHRA 527. 641B, Jan-April 1944, p. 3, as referenced by Donald
Caldwell and Richard Muller in The Luftwaffe Over Germany, Defense of the Reich (2001),
12. Missing Air Crew Report 3801
13. Missing Air Crew Report 3803
14. Missing Air Crew Report 3805
15. Missing Air Crew Report 3806
16. John Chaffin, Memories of WWII: John Chaffin, Flight Officer, 95th Bomb Group, 335th
Squadron Unpublished manuscript (1997), as quoted in Rob Morris with Ian Hawkins,
The Wild Blue Yonder and Beyond (2012), p 53
17. Rob Morris with Ian Hawkins, The Wild Blue Yonder and Beyond (2012), p117
18. Lou Thole, Forgotten Fields of America (1996), p 126
19. Official 8th Air Force Records, Headquarters Report, 6 June 1944, as quoted by Rob Morris
with Ian Hawkins, The Wild Blue Yonder and Beyond (2012), p 256
20. Rob Morris with Ian Hawkins, The Wild Blue Yonder and Beyond (2012), p 253
21. Donald L. Miller, Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War
Against Nazi Germany (2006), p 293-294, as quoted by Rob Morris with Ian Hawkins,
The Wild Blue Yonder and Beyond (2012), p 258
22. Lou Thole, Forgotten Fields of America (1996), p 126
23. Wikipedia: Liberal Army Air Field
24. Wikipedia: Hondo Army Air Field
25. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II;
VII Services Around the World (1955, reprinted 1983), p 557
26. A riveting account of life in the South Pacific combat zone can be found in Finish Forty and Home:
The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific (2011), by Phil Scearce.
27. Wikipedia: Surrender of Japan
“How World War II
Bomber Crews Worked” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nrIp_gLHyE)
“Battle Stations: B17 flying fortress” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMj3W5vjNiw
Some images created at: