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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Howard's Story

A few years ago my mother did a story on her 2nd cousins life long dream of becoming a pilot and how he lost his life for our country when he was shot down in WWII.  I asked her if I could share it here on my blog post and she thought it was a great idea.


HOWARD'S STORY
First Lieutenant Howard W. Smith 




                                        March 23, 1923 --- June 10, 1944




Prologue

June 26, 1944 was a beautiful summer day in Eldorado Township, Nebraska, near the Kansas border.
Assisted by his nephews, Dale and Bryan Bantam (who lived nearby), Laurence Smith was at work on his farm.
Sometime during the day Laurence looked up to see two official looking cars approaching up the lane. His nephew said later his uncle was frozen in place! Laurence knew it meant terrible news about his only son Howard William Smith.
From that day forward, life on this farm was never the same.
Howard would never come down that lane again. He would never be home again except in spirit. 






Because those who gave their lives to save our freedom must not be forgotten, this is our family's story of a lost son.



 These words from the book "The Flying 463rd" with narrative by Harold Rubin express our feelings best:








CHILDHOOD
Howard was the second child and only son of Laurence Little and Una May (Abbott) Smith. He had one sister, Erma Jean Smith (Nicoll) who was two years older. His childhood was spent on the family farm which was named ìSpringbrook Farmî, enjoying the large trees and a natural spring that was unusual for the dry southern Nebraska countryside. His grandfather, William Porter Smith, was a Civil War Veteran who served with Co. A, 2nd Missouri Cavalry.*
As a child growing up, Howard was fascinated with flight and his room was decorated with airplanes.
The family home stands abandoned, but an area of one wall in what was Howardís bedroom still displays the original airplane wallpaper. 




Howard attended District 26 'Springbook School' and graduated from the
8th Grade in 1936. (See next page)
Like many others who attended District 26, he often rode a pony to school. 

*Early family history has fortunately been compiled by Lela Bantam Fidler in her book "The Bantam-Smith Connection -- Clippings From My Grandma's Purse 1926-1991". Anyone interested in early family history will want to contact Lela. 














HIGH SCHOOL YEARS

Howard attended Long Island Kansas High School and graduated with the Class of 1940. One of his classmates was Wilmer Hogan who was able to give me the facts that follow:

"Because of the distance from his home, Howard rented a little house in town from a family named Culbertson. His roommates were brothers named Frances and Phil Benson.
He was a good athlete and played center on Long Island's six-man football team, one of the first six-man teams in Kansas.
He was quiet but a little mischievous--a very nice person."

Footnote: Wilmer also joined the Army Air Corps, was a bombardier on a B-17. When his plane was shot down he broke his ankle and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp. 






ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Because Howard wanted to fly, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserve in May, 1942. He was not called into active duty until November 6, 1942.

He worked in an aviation factory in Bakersfield, California and had enrolled in Junior College there for the fall term. His sister, Erma Jean, had also moved to California and was working in an aviation factory in Inglewood, California.

He began his pre-flight training as a pilot on November 10, 1942 at Kelley Field near San Antonio, Texas.

On March 21, 1943 he was transferred to Cimarron Field, Oklahoma, to begin his aviation cadet training. His first instructional flight was on his 20th birthday, March 23, 1943. When he completed his primary course, he had a total of 65 hours in the air. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his parents while in Oklahoma: 






On May 25, 1943 he was transferred to Strother A. A. Field, Winfield Kansas for more training.

On July 30, 1943 he went to Pampa A. A. Field, Pampa, Texas to attend advanced Flying School, graduating with the Class 43-I on Friday, October 1st 1943. Just two pilots received their wings at that time. The other officer was Edward Weiss. He was older than Howard and had a family. His plane was shot down in May, 1944 and he was held as a POW for a period of time.

On September 30, 1943, Howard was given an Honorary Discharge "for the convenience of the US Army" so he could accept a Commission as Second Lieutenant. This is how the Army promoted an enlisted man to Officer's rank.

Pictures of the planes he flew during his training are shown in the SERVICE RECORD kept by his mother. 





The SERVICE RECORD follows and has been copied just as she wrote it.





















































FURLOUGH HOME
After Howard graduated from Flight School and had earned his wings, he came home for a furlough. He was home October 5-11, 1943.

During that time the entire extended family gathered for a picnic. I was six years old and in awe of this strong, handsome soldier. I remember swinging on the tire swing that was tied to a large tree over a creek. Other cousins mention this same memory.

No one knew it would be his last days at home.

Shown with Howard are his mother (Una), Father (Laurence) and sister (Erma Jean). 




Following his time at home on furlough, Howard was assigned to the 19th Bomb Group in Peyote, Texas. There he took part in advanced combat training. When the 19th Bomb Group was disbanded he was assigned to the 463rd Bomb Group, 775th Squadron.

This is a picture of the group that he trained with on the B-17G Flying Fortress airplane: (This is the group with whom he would go overseas) 



Top row left to right: A. J. Brown, Top Turret & Engineer; K. M. Glitch, Radio Operator; H. F. Scott, Tailgunner; W. A. Taft, Right Waist Gunner; R. M. Anderson, Left Waist Gunner; H. T. Tripp, Ballturret Gunner.
Front row Officers left to right: Lt. D. W. Borchert, Bombardier and chinturret gunner; Lt. John S. Frazeur, Pilot; 2nd Lt. H. W. Smith, Co-Pilot; 2nd Lt. L. A. Gatz, Navigator.
Howard was the only one in this photo to have been lost. Why? Fate. How? More information is on the next pages.
Others in the front row survived the war without being taken prisoner or shot down. Those in the back row were aboard a plane that was shot down 4 days after Howardís plane was lost. They were able to escape the plane by parachute. All were taken prisoners of war but were returned home in 1945.
 I spoke by e-mail with the grandson of John Frazeur. He was searching for more information about his grandfather and could not add any information I didn't already have, nor could I tell him more about his grandfather. He commented on the "cocky 40's attitude" in the grins of Howard and his grandfather. (John S. Frazeur would later serve during the Korean and Viet Nam wars.) 




OVERSEAS DUTY

When Howard completed the advanced training, his crew was sent to Lakeland, Florida. As part of the 463rd Bombardment Group, 775th Squadron, he flew as co-pilot of a B-17G Flying Fortress plane with the crew pictured on the page just before this one. The Aircraft number was 42-31841.

From Lakeland, the 463rd Bomb Group was sent to join the battle. The ground support crews left on ships and rejoined the air crews at Celone Army Air Base in Italy. The flight crews had stops in South America and Dakar, Africa. A letter (below) from Howard tells his travel until he reached Dakar, Africa. On March 15, 1944 they arrived at the Foggia, Italy airfield. 





FINAL AIR BASE

This was Howard's last base, in Italy. When a crew was shot down, another crew moved into the tent--often before all of the effects had even been removed. 



463rd BOMBARDMENT GROUP HISTORY 1944

On the next page are the highlighted missions we can document that Howard flew. Through May 18, 1944 he flew with his original crew
on the original plane 42-31841. (The information is taken from several sources and may in some cases be inaccurate, but it is as close to the actual actions as possible.) 


While Howardís crew was on a rest, another crew flew that plane and it was hit and lost on May 24, 1944. The pilot at that time was a Lt. Orf. All of the crew bailed out and were made prisoners of war, except for the pilot, who was impaled on a branch of a tree and was killed. The co-pilot was Ed Weiss, who graduated with Howard from Pilot School. The entire crew was taken Prisoners of War until 1945 when they returned safely. After that plane was lost, Howard was promoted to pilot and flew several different planes, with different crews.
One of the worst missions Howard would have flown prior to June 10 was to Ploesti on May 18, 1944. (This oil field produced 1/3 of all of Germanyís oil supply and was a primary target for the U. S.) Exceedingly bad weather was encountered that morning and the Air Force sent out a recall signal which was received by all groups but the one to which Howard was assigned. Making the lone run on Ploesti, about 150 of Goeringís yellow nose fighters attacked their formation of 35 planes. Six B-17s were lost to flak and the fighters. Finally a large force of P-38ís appeared and drove off the Luftwaffe. If they had not arrived, all of the planes would have been lost. For this and their other missions the Group received a Commendation from the USAAF Commander-in-Chief General Spaatz.
After the loss of the 42-31841 on May 24, 1944, Howard was promoted to Pilot and flew these planes: Pictures and what happened to these planes is found in the APPENDIX to this story. The 4 planes with * after their names were lost.

A/C #42-31832 "The Biggast Bird" 25 May 1944

A/C # 42-97536 No known nickname 26 and 27 May 1944* 


A/C # 42-31742 No known Nickname 28 May 1944*

A/C # 31821 "Mary Lou" 31 May 1944*


A/C #42-102909 "Nobody's Baby" 4 June 1944


A/C #42-31809 "Nameless" 6 June 1944* 








FINAL DAY: JUNE 10, 1944.
On June 10, 1944 Howard was assigned to pilot A/C #42-37997 "Miss Behaven". This is an earlier photo of the actual plane: 



Top Row L - R: Hugh Diggins; Grover Jenkins; Scott Rousseau; George Wray; Lloyd Upchurch; Front Row L - R: Malcolm Coulman; Kent Polkinghorne; Frank Gilbert; Edward Biga; John Palmer All of the highlighted names are men who were on the plane with Howard on June 10th, 1944. Not shown is Joseph Russo, who was the 10th man on the crew. All 10 were lost.




On June 10, 1944, led by their commander, Major Allyn, the "Irish Orphans" with 27 planes flying in formation dropped 81 tons of bombs on the Mestre, Italy marshalling yards. One plane (Howard's) did not return. 






The account given in the above Army Status Letter differs from the classified Missing in action reports (MACRs) that follow. In 1944 the Army did not tell all that it knew.
Damaged? The plane exploded in mid-air! 



The 1944 published report indicated ìfive chutes left the plane before it crashed into the sea. P-38ís went down to drop life rafts for the men.î (We know this didnít happen). But when Air-Sea rescue arrived none of the men were to be found.î However, the MACR reports gave no indication that any airmen were alive when the parachutes were blown out of the plane as it exploded.

 Crew aboard the plane with Howard:





The asterisks in front of the name indicated Missing in Action and the crosses indicated Killed in action. This list was taken from a book that was printed after the war ended.

According to Army Air Corps procedures Howard, as pilot, would have been the last one to leave the plane if there had been time for anyone to do so.

Eye witness accounts by airmen in other planes have been de- classified. They are known as MACRs (Missing Air Crew Reports) and now can be found on the internet. A transcribed copy of MACR #5846 is included in the appendix of this story.

Statement given by Staff Sgt. Jack Raille:

"The first time I noticed Ship No. 48-37997, the whole right wing was leaking gas. There was a trail of black smoke from number 4 engine. I noticed the right wing burning and the plane fell out of formation. A few seconds later the right wing fell off and the ship exploded. I saw 5 chutes open, I believe these to have been blown out of the ship."



Monday, April 20, 2015

Year 3...Genealogy Trip with my Mom



This year’s trip was to Indiana to research ancestors and visit cemeteries.  We left Omaha on Sunday, April 12, 2015 in a car that we had rented.  We decided that it was best to rent a car ….if you have a break down on your trip you can just call and get a car switched out as opposed to being held up somewhere waiting for your car to have expensive repairs done…and mom was looking forward to driving something different.  I went out to the rental agency to pick it up and the car that I reserved had a broken windshield that needed to be repaired so he upgraded me to a Ford Escape.  Most people would be happy for a free upgrade but the Escape would use more gas and it was the exact same vehicle that mom owns!  So much for trying out something different!  It was a nice vehicle though so there wasn’t too much to complain about . We drove all day with a stop in Genesco, Iowa for lunch at Sweet Peas.  Once we crossed over into Indiana we started noticing some beautiful and some not so beautiful barns.



We arrived at Rensselaer, Indiana around evening and found our Holiday Inn Express and checked in.  We headed in to town in search of dinner and a drink. There was only one place that we could have a drink.  It was a little smoke filled bar…yes, they do still allow smoking in Indiana…at least in bars.  We had a drink and went next door for dinner and then called it a day.
Monday we were to meet Harvey W to begin some research on Robert B. Overton and Isaac Byres.  These are two of my 3 x great grandfathers. I had met Harvey through www.INGenWeb.com  and the Jasper County Cemeteries page.  I had asked him about a cemetery and he had volunteered to go up and take some pictures for me.  We had conversed several times throughout a two year period and when I told him we were coming to Rensselaer he lined up the entire day of places for us to do research and offered to get us to each place.  Spending the day with Harvey was probably one of the highlights of our trips.  It was so nice to be able to go into libraries, courthouses, and churches and even out in the country to a private cemetery with someone local that can speed up the process for you.  We started out at Jasper County’s beautiful courthouse.  We found that each courthouse had different rules and levels of security.  At Jasper County we had tougher security than an airport.  We went through the metal detectors, had our bags completely searched…and I do mean completely…the guy there opened every little tiny zipper in my purse and wallet and thoroughly searched every nook and cranny!  It was almost funny.  After copying land records at the courthouse we went to lunch with Harvey.  Next stop was St. Joseph’s college library where newspapers were stored.  We looked through the papers for an obituary for Isaac but did not find one.  We moved on to the United Methodist church for marriage records.  We came up empty handed again.  The last thing on the list was to see if we could get out to Saltillo Cemetery.  It sits in the middle of someone’s private land and we were hoping that we would find someone to give us permission to go in.  When we got there we noticed that there was a fence with a padlocked gate on the property.  We went back to the nearest farm houses to look for someone and after several attempts finally found a neighbor.  He called the owner for us who was not around but told him to go ahead and take some bolt cutters and cut the chain off of the gate and let us drive back in to the cemetery.  We couldn’t believe it but felt so lucky.  We drove about a quarter of a mile back and found the cemetery.  Isaac’s stone is broken but you can still read it.  We spent some time taking pictures and then headed back to town.  
The last stop was the local library where they had a nice genealogy section.  
Jasper County Court House

Harvey
Saltillo Cemetery


We wanted to take some more time and go to a couple of neighboring county courthouses to check on some additional records.  We decided to stay one more night in Rensselaer and move on the next morning. 
For dinner Monday night  “The Farmhouse” at Fair Oaks Farms came highly recommended.  You can check this place out at www.fofarms.com. This was a beautiful place and we learned a lot about how the entire facility runs on cow and pig manure.  They are very eco-friendly and humanely treat their animals.  You will have to go to the site and read about them.  The farmhouse had wonderful food and we really enjoyed out night here.
The Farmhouse RestaurantA view of Fair Oaks from the highway.


Tuesday we went to Winamac, IN where the Pulaski County courthouse resides.
At this courthouse just one county over there was no security at all, we were able to walk right in. We met a really nice lady there that worked at the courthouse but who had a love for genealogy and she gave us some suggestions on what to look for next.  We did not come up with anything in Winamac but enjoyed the stop to see the courthouse.




Pulaski County Courthouse
We moved on to Peru, Miami County, IN for a stop at their courthouse.  I found a deed at this courthouse to Isaac Byres land that listed the name of his wife on it.  Census records only listed her as Polly.  I also found a marriage record for Isaac and Margaret (Polly) Byres that indicates that she must have been a second wife.  The marriage was in 1847 and on the 1850 census record that lists the two of them I find eight Byres children all born before 1847. 

Miami County Courthouse

From Peru we traveled on to Fort Wayne IN and found a room at a Best Western Plus.  We drove over to Ohio so Mom could add Ohio to her list of states that she has found a geocache in (see the notes at the end of this blog for more on that) and then we went out for a cocktail and dinner.  Somehow spending all day driving or working in a courthouse demands a cocktail at the end of the day.

Wednesday we spent the entire day at the Allen County Library downtown Fort Wayne. They have a beautiful genealogy library wing and we had so much fun looking through the collections.  We couldn’t believe how fast the day went.  They even have a coffee and sandwich shop in the library so that you don’t have to leave when you get hungry.  I highly recommend spending time here if you ever get the chance.

From here we drove on down to Anderson, Madison County, IN.  Here we were hoping to research the Rains and Roadecap (sometimes spelled Roadcap or Rodecap) families from my mom’s side of the tree.  In the counties of Henry and Madison we have Henry and Lydia Myers Roadecap, Ahasual Raines and Mary Elliot Raines, and their children who married in Madison County, Joab Raines and Mary Martha Roadecap.  I will spell their names the way they are spelled in the family bible that we have.

 

 When we got there it was still light out so we decided to search out the first cemetery that was on our list.  We would be going to Middletown, Henry County, IN. It was the final resting places for Henry Roadecap and his wife Lydia Myers my 3 x great grandparents.  They belonged to the Upper Fall Creek Church of the Brethren.  We stopped at the local library that just happened to be open late and the librarian was able to give us directions out of town to the cemetery and church.  The church is still in existence today although probably not the same building.  The cemetery we were looking for was across the road from the church.  Pictures of Henry and Lydia’s stones have never made it to findagrave.com so we were anxious to see if we could find them.  This was a big cemetery and there wasn’t a directory.  We looked for the oldest section of the cemetery and stumbled right up to the stone.  It looked like someone had recently replaced the stone and Lydia’s previous stone was leaning up against it. 
We felt like the ancestors were leading us right to them. 

When we drove back through Middletown we noticed a historical society so we decided that would be our first stop on Thursday.  We went back towards our hotel which was another Best Western Plus…and stopped at a Montana Mike’s for dinner.

Thursday morning we hit the ground running because we had a lot of area to cover.  We started at the Middleton Historical Society.  They had old newspapers and we found an obituary for Henry Roadecap.  Henry had been married twice and there was an interesting note in the news about his death.  It said that Henry had a will and that the estate amounted to about $6,000 to be divided among his children.  It then stated that there was an ante-nuptial contract drawn up between Henry and his second wife in 1882. Who knew that they were doing prenuptials back in 1882?  Now we wanted a copy of his will!  Henry died in Madison County so we headed over to Anderson, IN to the courthouse to look for the will.  When we got to this courthouse there was security to walk through but not as invasive as Jasper County.
We were able to find a copy of Henry’s will.
 We also wanted to look for a marriage record for Henry’s daughter Mary Martha Roadecap to Joab Raines.  We have an obituary for Mary stating that she and Joab married on 5 May 1867.   This same date was also listed in “The Wine Family in America” book but their first son, Frank, was born on 6 May 1867.  This mystery did not get solved on this trip.  We did not find a marriage record for them at the courthouse.  Did they really marry one day before the birth of their first son or was this a typo?

We decided to check the Henry County Courthouse for the marriage record just in case they would have married there.  We drove over to New Castle, IN and at this courthouse we had to turn around and take our cell phones back to our car as they were not allowed in the courthouse.  We searched for the marriage record in question but struck out again. 
 Henry County Courthouse


Mom had visited with the librarian that worked in the genealogy room at the New Castle library so we were to meet with her next.  We headed over to the library and were impressed with their genealogy collections.  We found marriage records for Henry Roadecap and his second wife, Maria Showers.  We also found a marriage record for  Ahasual Raines and Mary Elliott.  We had two more cemeteries that we wanted to visit and were able to look them up and found directions to the first one. 

We headed out again and this time went to Knightstown, IN to Glen Cove Cemetery to see if we could find Joab and Mary Raines.  We got there and the office was open.  They were able to tell us that they were buried there but they had no way of knowing where.  The old part of the cemetery had never been plotted out so they only knew who was there but not where.  Someone had put a picture on findagrave.com so we at least knew what shape of stone to look for.  We did find them but they were not in as good of shape as they were when pictured for findagrave.com.  They were tilting and Joab’s was really hard to read now.  We paid our respects and moved on.



We had been having good luck finding the cemeteries that we wanted to visit.  We had one last cemetery to go see before leaving the area.  It was northeast of Anderson, IN in Hartman Cemetery by Moonville, IN.  This cemetery is listed in findagrave.com as a cemetery but there are no interments listed here.   Mom looked up the cemetery on the historical society site and it gave geo-coordinates so we plugged them into the Garmin and headed that way.  When we first got there we didn’t see the cemetery but then I spotted it behind someone’s place with no access to it without going through someone’s private property.   We found a gentleman mowing his yard so mom asked him about it and he directed us down the road to a different neighbor.  We went down to that house and were lucky enough to have someone come out of the house to talk to us.  She (Sharon) told us access was from yet another neighbor’s land but that she had six dogs and that we wouldn’t want to walk over there unless she was home to take her dogs in.  Great.  Sharon called the other neighbor for us and she told us it was okay to go on over and that the dogs were in.  Sharon walked over with us just to make sure all went well.  We were able to cross just fine and go in. It was a small cemetery so we found Ahasual and Mary Raines in a short amount of time.  We spent a few minutes paying our respects.  We thanked Sharon and headed up the road.  It had been a long prosperous day and we were heading to Lafayette, IN to spend the night. 


Friday morning we got up and hit the road for Omaha.  We spent more time on the way back pulling off at exits so mom could grab some Munzees.  We pulled into Omaha about 7:30 p.m.  Another genealogy roadtrip was in the books!  We were sorry to see it end.

Notes: More on Geocaching can be found at www.geocaching.com.  It is an activity where someone puts a log sheet for you to sign at different locations.  A lot of the time these are put somewhere that has some historical significance and other times they are random areas.  You are given coordinates to follow with a GPS to help you find them.
More on Munzees can be found at www.munzee.com.  It is “the 21st century scavenger hunt that you can play using your smart phone.” For this game a sticker is placed in different places and when you find it you scan it with your phone to earn points.  Again you use the GPS features of your phone to locate the sticker.