A series of articles, laying out the true events behind the creation of: “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two!” In December, 1945, when it became known that General Patton had told his staff, he was quitting the Army so he could speak freely and after New Years, 1946, he was going to tell the American public the truth about what those who were attempting to destroy him had done. He was positive, once that truth was known, he could live freely and it was their careers that would be destroyed.
A series of day by day articles beginning on 9 November, 2015, which is the 71st anniversary of the crash of the “Lady Jeannette.” B-17G, SN: 42-97904, on 9 November, 1944. Today and tomorrow, I will describe the shooting down and the crash of two American bombers in France. One was the “Lady Jeannette” and the other was a top secret B-24J, which was flying a top secret night mission, while attached to the top secret 100th Group Royal Air Force. The B-24J also crashed in France, early on the morning of 10 November, 1944, 138 miles from the crash site of the B-17.
Read the articles here: Lady Jeannette – “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two” – Lady Jeannette & the B-24 – “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two” – Lady Jeannette – “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two” – Part 3 – Final part of the Lady Jeannette’s Story
This article has been delayed from its planned publishing date due to the attack in Paris. Having spent over three years in France and Europe since 1990, we have been following the events and just today we received a message from a French friend who would often attend such band concerts, that he is okay and was not attending the concert.
On the 12th, I received the following copy of an email sent to the Argunners Magazine:
Op woensdag 11 november 2015 heeft René TORSIN <removed for privacy> het volgende geschreven:
“Following the article of the B24 I like to inform you, just for info, that my daughter Mrs Linda Torsin aged 48 recently adopted the grave of Sgt Franck Bartho at the HENRI-CHAPELLE AMERICAN CEMETERY (BELGIUM). Thanks for good articles.”
Many citizens of Europe “adopt” the grave of an American at one of the American Military Cemeteries in Europe. They visit the grave whenever they can, placing flowers and remembering the dead for the families who cannot personally visit the grave. They make every effort to visit the grave on the Sunday when Memorial Services are held in late May, (on the Sunday, closest to our United States Memorial Day, or if that Sunday is one of their national holidays, the Memorial Services are moved to the Sunday before the holiday). In addition they visit on Veterans Day (11 November, the day World War One (the Grand War) ended), which was originally Armistice Day in the United States. At the Epinal cemetery during this year’s Memorial Day Services, we met a woman from Switzerland who traveled to the cemetery at least twice a year to “Remember” the man in her adopted grave and honor all of them for their sacrifice for the Liberty of Europe.
Both Carol and I, were greatly moved to know that someone had adopted Frank’s grave. The surprise for her is, not only does that grave contain the partial remains of Frank Bartho, his remains are also forever combined with the partial remains of 2nd Lt. Grey and S/Sgt. Mears.
To allow Mrs. Torsin to know more about the history of the grave she adopted, I am going to write today about the three men, whose partial remains are combined together in her adopted grave.
Staff Sergeant Bartho, who was 38 years old, was the oldest man aboard “226.” He had been born in near Garrison, Minnesota, area to immigrant parents. The family consisted of a set of twin sisters (92 year old, when the author located them in 1998), and several brothers.
The family name was Bartishofski, however, when Frank came of age, he changed his last name to the Americanized Bartho. He was married, with no children. He and his wife were having marriage problems during the Depression, which was very hard on young married couples who suffered through all the trials of the Depression. When the war started in Europe and America became the major suppliers to the British and Russia and the advertised jobs in Detroit gave them an opportunity to move to Detroit and try to save their marriage. In time, even that had not worked out and they split up. While she stayed in Detroit, Frank joined the Army and became an aerial gunner aboard “226.”
At the time of his death, a divorce had not been finalized, and Frank had not changed his official paperwork in his personal file showing his (ex)wife was no longer his Legal Next Of Kin. This would indicate that his (ex)wife also collected his $10,000 insurance policy, as well as other standard benefits the wives of our military dead were given.
At the same time, the rigid regulations concerning the control of GI Inventory Items were put in place during the conference in 1943, the conference the Colonel had to have attended to “know what he knew,” that enabled him to skirt those regulations. A discussion was held, about the ‘Final Disposition” of the war dead, after the war, was held. At the end of World War One, families were allowed to select an “over there” burial or a return to the United States. By 1943, it was already realized, the ongoing maintenance of our overseas World War One cemeteries were more expensive than an option to return all our war dead to the United States would have been. It was determined the option chosen by the French, British and German governments would not followed, as none of them returned their war dead to their home countries. Their war dead were buried where they fell before World War One and after that war, their war dead were often left where they were buried in civilian cemeteries or small battle cemeteries or the dead were concentrated into larger cemeteries in the battle zones where they fell. This led to the existing 2,500 British WW1 military cemeteries in France and Belgium, with the maintenance costs rising each year. The French followed the same pattern, but they budget very little to the maintenance of their national military cemeteries, depending on the “Le Souvenir Francais,” the civilian volunteer organization that dates back to the War Of 1870, a member of whom has been maintaining the “Grave at Cartigny,” since WWII. If a family determined they wanted a remains returned for burial at their home, they could do so, as long as they paid all the expenses, few British followed that option. However, one will often find WWI and WWII graves in the French civilian cemeteries of men, who died elsewhere.
As a result of the conference, the decision was made, if over sixty percent of the Legal Next Of Kin of the dead, requested their family member’s remains were to be returned to the United States for burial, then no cemeteries would built “over there” and all the dead would be returned. When all the LNOK determinations had been received, just over forty percent requested the remains they controlled, were to be buried “over there” and today, the American WWI and WWII Military Cemeteries are beautifully maintained and personally, when I learn that an MIA or Unknown American has been identified, I recommend to the family that they choose “over there burial.” There, you will often find people visiting the cemeteries and during the, twice the year memorial services, there are more people at the smallest of these cemeteries than you find at “in country” national cemeteries.
Carol and I visit cemeteries, many cemeteries where ever we go and we have been to the graves of all but one of the dead we have researched. A prime for-instance is 2nd Lt. Metzger, Congressional Medal Of Honor. His remains were returned to the United States and buried in Lima, Ohio. When we arrived at the cemetery, we found they had no reference to his award and that his grave marker was poorly maintained. Yes, when his family was alive and near, they visited. When those who closely remember the dead, graves are normally well maintained. However, time advances, those family members pass on and no one usually visits those graves. Even though, the newly found will have that short term attention in a civilian or an American National Cemetery, the graves in both are nearly as well kept as the “over there” National Cemeteries where one will almost always find someone walking the graves, pausing, reading a name and silently thanking that person for their personal Liberty.
Upon return home, we contacted the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Lima and the grave marker was removed, his medal engraved and the grave is on the list of the cemetery for special attention. The next summer, Carol went to Lima, to be part of the rededication of the Memorial at the Lima reservoir, named for Lt. Metzger. Myself, I was in France, where I visited an “over there” cemetery, walking and remembering the men and women who will never return home, who rest in an American National Cemetery in France. And, while I was walking, many other people were doing the same, often finding the grave they had adopted, placing flowers and holding a “Remembrance” for that man and his family.
Of the number of families the author has helped over the years to determine what really happened, the percentage of remains buried “over there” would have been under forty percent if only the families had known the truth of their love one’s death, or if a great rift had not occurred between the family of the dead and the person holding the LNOK card for determination of the location of the burial.
Extremely unhappy with Bartho’s family, his estranged wife who had not remarried by the time the requests were sent out, still held the card determining where his remains were to be buried. Though every one of his family members wanted his remains returned, she selected “over there” burial.
In a previous article, I have written about the aviator’s wife in the Philippines, who chose an “over there” burial over his families wish.
Dunlap’s father was a railroad conductor who aboard train loads of veterans returning home and he had heard stories of what happened to bodies, of men who were killed as the Congressional Medal Of Honor Citations stated his son had died. During a family meeting, he told the family, he had changed his mind. He had written to the government soon after Bob’s death, that he would pay every expense to have his body returned. However, now he knew the remains in Bob’s grave were in such a condition, they could never be the remains of the Bob they all loved and he was going to request Bob be buried “over there” among the men he had died with. If the complete remains of T/Sgt. Dunlap that were seen at the crash site by so many, had been in that grave his father would have chosen, “return to the USA for burial.”
The author was contacted some years ago by the grand-niece of a twin sister of a man who had been killed near Metz. He had been an Army Ranger and had climbed the cliff on “D” Day. One night, while in a forward foxhole near Metz he had been killed. The only thing the family learned about his death was after the war when a man stopped one day and told them, their son had saved his life. He had been very sick and was assigned to be in that forward position when their son told him to go on sick call and he would man the foxhole for him. That night a German 88 had landed in the foxhole, killing their son instantly. The man told them, because he was so sick, he had never returned to the unit. However a friend had written him and told him about the death of their son and brother.
The grand-niece told the author, her great-aunt was very religious and she was afraid to die, as she might not be able to recognize her twin brother in Heaven. Her reason for contacting the author was to seek his help in determining the truth of her great-uncle. In due time, after receiving the man’s IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel File) with the help of the family, the author was able to call the grand-niece and tell her, she could assure her grand-aunt that she could die now. His body had not been destroyed as they had thought and she would certainly recognize her twin brother in Heaven. In fact, it was a very different “Disinterment Directive inventory of the man’s remains” from all the rest the author had reviewed. The Mortician who performed the identification and inventory had placed a note on the inventory form. This skeleton was the most complete skeleton he had ever witnessed.
There was a small hole in the small bone in the lower left arm and another in the man’s chest. It was obvious, the German 88 mm shell had been an air burst and it had not landed in the foxhole and destroyed the body of the man. If, this had been known to the family, they would not have marked the form, requesting an “over there” burial.
1st Lt. Noble, an aviator from his hometown, the author had watched saying his goodbyes to his aunt, Nelly, in the spring of 1944, did not return. He had been captured, escaped, captured again and executed by the Germans on a Ardennes hilltop in France. His remains, buried in their village cemetery by the French, had been checked for identity by the American Graves Registration in May, 1945, and the remains were determined to belong to an unknown Resistance fighter. In May, 1948, his remains were correctly identified and his previously “court-martial determined death became a proven fact.” By the time his remains were identified his wife, Anne, had remarried and their son was becoming attached to his new step-father.
1st Lt. Richard F. Noble’s mother, of College Drive, New Concord, Ohio, who was now his LNOK, had to make the LNOK decision. Would she bring his remains home or would she select a burial “over there?” She asked Anne to be part of her decision and told Anne, because Anne and her son’s son, had to make a success of Anne’s new marriage she was going to select an “over there” burial. Noble’s mother told Anne, she knew how deeply Anne had loved her son and she was selecting the “over there” burial because of Anne’s new family’s situation. If she had Richard’s remains returned for burial, she knew that Anne would want to visit the grave as often as she could and that could put a great pressure on her new marriage.
1st Lt. Richard Francis Noble is buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. In 1998, the author was tracing back his path back from his official grave, to the execution village and his travel as a POW, which led to a city in France. At the same time, Anne, whose second husband was now dead, was in France, meeting the wife of the Frenchman Resistance man, who had been Richards escort when the Germans had captured Richard and FO DUBE, RCAF, the first time. He had evaded capture since 12 May, 1944, when his B-17 crashed near Spa, Belgium.
In the spring of 1948, the Frenchman’s wife had read a newspaper article discussing two Unknown Resistance dead in a small village some distance away. Her husband had been executed by the Germans the day before the Americans arrived and after the war, while Americans searching for the MIA Noble and FO DUBE, the two women had been given each other’s name and address and had been writing back and forth about their husbands and how they were doing. The Frenchwoman had realized the description of the two dead matched very closely with Mrs. Noble’s husband and the man who had been with him, who spoke very bad French, when both left their home with her husband to go to the next safe house and were captured by the Germans. He husband was put in a local German air base prison and the two men on a train to Germany and a POW camp. Somehow, along the way, they escaped from the train and evaded for a few days, until turned in to the Germans by some French who thought, the two men asking for help to contact the French Resistance had to be German spies, because the French Canadian’s such terrible French. Later that day, the two men were executed in the woods above the village. The next day, their remains recover by the villagers and buried in the village cemetery. FO DUBE’s grave can be found in the village cemetery today.
On 9 November, 2000, we dedicated a memorial to 1st Lt. Noble and FO DUBE, RCAF, at the foot of the steps leading up to the church in the small village of Olizy-Primat, Department of the Ardennes, France. The dedication was attended by Lt. Noble’s son and his grandson. Since then, the village has named the street near the memorial, Rue Noble and the road to the west of the church, Rue DUBE.
When one travels the by-roads of France, thanks to their long history of wars, for instance, in the country side between Hattonville and Metz the great battle of 1870 took place. When Germany invaded eastern France and as the Victors, annexed the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. Along the roads, or in the fields, one sees large monuments to the units that served and the dead of that war. Recovery and accounting of the dead at that time consisted of digging large holes and placing tens, hundreds, or thousands of bodies in the hole and covering them up. Later, the Germans placed various size memorials to mark the mass graves.
By the time World War One took place, the German and French dead were treated very differently. Military cemeteries were created, where the Germans, French and British concentrated their dead, with the identified dead being buried in individual graves. The British cemeteries contain thousands of graves marked Unknown. However, in nearly every German or French cemetery is one or more ossuaries containing the remains of all the unknown dead. Usually, the markers will also have a list of names, believed to be buried here, followed by the names of known dead with no known individual grave.
Alan Seeger, an American poet was living in Paris when the war began and he immediately joined the French Foreign Legion. On the 4th of July, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the French Foreign Legion rose out of their trenches and attacked the Germans who were entrenched in the village of Beloy-en-Santerre (Beloy of the good earth), Alan was supposed to be in Paris that day, giving a speech to an American assembly celebrating the founding of the United States of America. However, the planned attack took away his pass and that day, 800 members of the Foreign Legion fell before Beloy was secured.
One of his comrades later wrote about his death and his burial. Alan Seeger and a group of men who had died near him, were buried on the top of a small rise above the fields of death. In November, 1916, they went back to visit the graves and could not locate them. The rise was gone, blown away by the terrible artillery barrages that were common during that war. The earth was chewed up, blown up and spread around, along with the smashed skeletal remains of the dead. So much so, there was no sign their burial location ever existed. In most of low land Europe the underlying chalk creates a soil condition that provides the minerals animals and insects need. Larger bones are known to last hundreds of years, and experienced morticians have a hard time aging bones. However, the smallest bones and badly damaged bones do deteriorate and soon become part of the soil.
Before the Battle of the Somme, Alan had sent two manuscripts of his poems and a diary of his experience to a printer. His family had the manuscripts printed and both become famous books of the time. Especially Alan’s poem, “I have a rendezvous with death.” The author has walked the field where Alan died and the sunken road where the German machine guns were located that cut the men down as they crossed the field of chest high corn. Most Americans reading the books thought the Legion was crossing through a field of corn, American corn or French maize. To the French, corn was wheat and they were crossing a field of chest high wheat when they fell. Back in their day, the wheat straw was used for bedding for their horses and cows and other farm uses, so a lot of straw was as important as the wheat, which they sold. Today, the fields in that area of France, at the right time of year, are full of wheat with stems so short one wonders how the combine cutters manages to cut the wheat heads away from the straw, without digging into the dirt.
We visit this location, one of my favorite places on earth, every time we visit the Somme. During our first visit to the Somme visit twenty-four years ago, we went in search of the cemetery where the French government stated, Alan Seeger’s remains are buried. It was located about ten miles as the crow flies from the field where Alan fell and there, we found the Ossuary marker listed Alan’s name as one of the men believed to be buried there. Knowing that his friends could not locate his grave and those of a large number of his comrades, four months after their death the question was, how could the French government believe his remains were in that cemetery?There were cemeteries very close to his point of death, why so far away?
After talking about the situation with our French friends in that area, we began the research to find out what had happened. Back when the locations were determined in France where the French and British would place their major memorials, the British selected the Battle of the Somme Region. They realized, with the large number of dead and the large number of soldiers involved, the selected areas would become the heart of the places that British and French citizens would come to remember their dead and their service.
One of the first determinations made was the visitors could not be allowed to see all the existing cemeteries in the battle zone, so the decision was made to remove many of the dead to cemeteries further away from their true location of death. We have found such graves as far as forty miles from the actual location of the man’s death in the Somme. Another situation was rising as Alan’s books became well known. Many Americans knew the general location of his death and by then, any cemetery where any possible remains of Alan and his comrades might have been buried had been moved. So, another decision had to be made, as they knew there were no identified remains of Alan Seeger ever found, that could not be allowed to stand or the questions would never stop. It was decided to tell everyone his remains were known to be in the ossuary of the Lihons French Military some distance away.
As the 100th Anniversary approached, that cemetery prepared for answering any further questions. If you search on the internet, you will now information on where Alan Seeger’s remains rest and a new bronze memorial to him is in place. This is an excellent example of how the history of such events, are often recorded by people who have never deeply researched a subject. One, I believe, should accept the truth about Alan’s remains, as reported by his comrades who lived through the war. They had been exposed to four years of the horrors of war and in November, 1916, even then they were unable to find where they had buried hundreds of comrades four months earlier.
If, you wish to honor Alan Seeger and you find yourselves near Beloy-en-Santerre, it is located near the southern payway exit to Peronne. Just to the east of the entrance and exit to the payway, there is a small road heading north to Belloy-en-Santerre. As you travel toward the village, you will see a line of concrete power poles in the field between you and the payway. When you are in a line with one of the poles and the payway service area to your west, which is built on the location of the trench where Alan and his Foreign Legion comrades had launched their attack. Alan carried a light machine gun and he died very close to that pole. Stand there for a few minutes and observe how tranquil it is, with the beauty of the Good Earth of France. Then, try to visualize what happened there in the summer of 1916, with so many dying in that field in front of you, by bullets from the German machine gunners who were hidden in the sunken road where you are standing. Before you leave, please say a few words to Alan and his comrades, thanking them for their sacrifice. They died there that day, in a field that was not so peaceful to preserve the world they knew. Personally, I believe, it is a good thing they are not here today to see what has happened since their death in the war to end all wars.
After the war, the Germans were forced to help clear the battle areas and recover the dead. Even in the areas where the Germans did not help in the search, the first clearings consisted of men walking basically, shoulder to shoulder while carrying burlap bags and picking up any bone or piece of bone they may locate. This collection of the relics of Unknown soldiers, French, German, British and American were later placed in the ossuaries at their cemeteries. If an item had been found, that identified a soldier who had died in the collection zone whose individual remains had not been identified, his name was placed on the ossuary markers.
In 1990, when touring the Somme with my son, Will, and my wife Carol, our tour guide, a French friend, Marcel Gauthier, who was born in Peronne, in 1913, told us that when he was young, his family would visit the old trenches and torn-up fields each Sunday in the search of the remains of the dead. There was an award for each remains located and their searching had helped with their family income until the fields were cleared and put back into farm production.
Many “over there” burials after World War Two took place because of the situation between the dead’s wife and his family. An important cause of the “over there” burials was the man’s GI insurance. Most men would make their mother, then their father, or their siblings, if they were not married at the time they entered the service, their Beneficiary in case of their death. Many married while in the service and that marriage was normally to a woman who was not from his home town. When he married, his Legal Next Of Kin (LNOK) automatically became his new wife. However, unless he specified the new wife as the Beneficiary of his insurance, the Beneficiary of his insurance did not change. Perhaps, some were not informed of this requirement when he reported the marriage or, the wife was new and young and the family was old and his mother would need the money if something had happened to him. So, he left the Beneficiary of his insurance policy as it was and failed to tell the new wife.
One man from Spokane, Washington, became a flyer and before he left for Europe, he had married a woman from the Los Angeles area. They were married long enough for them to have a child and visit his family in Spokane before he went “over there.” He was one, who forgot to change his insurance beneficiary from his mother to his wife. When he died, the family received the insurance and shared none of it with his wife and child. She had decided, she should move to the Spokane area, so her son could be part of her husband’s family. While her way to Spokane, she stopped to visit one of his relatives in Portland, Oregon, she had visited with her husband before he left. The relative acted in a completely different manner when she arrived and told her, the family thought she was trash and they wanted nothing to do with her or her $*#@*!% son. She returned to Los Angles, went on with creating a life for herself and their son. In 1947, she received the LNOK form and she had her revenge, she requested “over there” burial.
The grave, located in The Netherlands, was later adopted by Michael Schipper who sought my help in researching the man he honors twice a year.
In the Bartho situation, according to his family, this happened when the requests were sent out. Bartho’s family want his remains returned for burial in the USA. His wife, whom was no longer supposed to be involved in his life, according to his family, had remained his listed LNOK and according to the family, she told them this was her revenge, when she requested his “Final Disposition” burial was to be “over there” burial in the Henri-Chapellle American Cemetery in Belgium.
When the author discussed the situation with the twin sisters telling them, because of the proven hiding of two thirds of Bartho’s remains in the “Grave at Cartigny, France” they could request the US government, to disinter both graves and move them to the USA. However, due to the expected conditions of the remains and the way the three men died, I did not think the (then) Mortuary Affairs organization would be able to separate out the three men’s remains and the final grave would still be a combined burial in a National Cemetery agreed on by all three families.
The author had also located the Grey family and the remaining direct relative told the author, she believed the grave should remain in France, and her family would know that his nearby grave actually contained a combination of the remains of his and the two men who died with him. The author tried even visited the town where Mears grew up and he could never find any family members still alive, however, Carol and the author have visited all three of the graves.
Very shortly after they were informed that the “hidden grave” in France, had become a properly identified grave in the small village cemetery of Cartigny and having been told by the author of how the people of the village often visit the grave and give their thanks to the men who had died for the Liberty of France, both families asked the author to make certain the US accounting organizations never tampered with the “Grave at Cartigny.” To date, the American Battle Monuments Commission have never “officially” accepted the fact, the grave does exist. During the dedication of the correct grave marker on 10 November, 2000, the US Air Force recognized the grave by providing a USAF Honor Guard. The new marker listed the men’s names, their unit, their date of death and enough information for anyone to re-research the author’s research.
From us to Mrs. Linda Torsin, your adoption of the grave of S/Sgt. Bartho, provides us with the incentive and the award of physic income to keep going with our research concerning American war dead, during World War One and World War Two! On behalf of ourselves, our readers and especially, anyone related to these men. Thank you so very much and please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected], if there is any way we can help you. If, you will send me your physical address, I will send you a dedicated and signed copy of “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two!” So, you will know the true history of the death of the man whose grave you have adopted.
On the morning of 13 November, 1944, 2nd Lt. Joseph Harms woke and he felt something under his left arm. He turned his head and saw a Purple Heart pinned to his pillow and as he lifted the cover and looked, he saw a very large bottle tucked between his body and his arm. Just then a nurse stopped and asked him how he felt. He said, he felt fine but what was the bottle under his arm. She told Harms, that it was a magnum bottle of Cognac and her executive officer had told the nurses, he had better leave with that bottle or their butts were in big trouble. She also told him, she going to get a doctor to check him out and if the doctor said it was okay, he would be leaving on an evacuation train that day.
After a short time, a doctor came by and checked him out, including using small flash light to follow his eye movement. The doctor asked him how he felt and if he remembered what had happened. Harms told the doctor about bailing out, watching the plane begin to turn toward him when it lowered into the woods and how it had come to a stop close to him and burst into fire. He remembered hiding in the woods and walking up to the crash site and being alongside a wing leaning against a tree and then, it was a blank.
The doctor told him he had suffered a traumatic nervous breakdown at that point. That he appeared to be fine now and he would be leaving the hospital and sent to England, where they may keep him for observation for a few days and from there, he would be returned to his unit. Before he left, the doctor told Harms that he might remember what had happened, or he may never remember. Such breakdowns were not understood all that much and either way, he should suffer no long term consequences.
Soon, Harms was on board an evacuation train heading to Cherbourg, then to England where he would spend a couple of days in observation before returning to the 452nd.
At the end of the war, Harms stayed in the Air Corp as a Finance Officer until 1947, obtaining the rank of Captain. Upon leaving the service, he started an appliance business which he operated until retirement.
Back in the day, when most of this research was being conducted, you earned airline miles for every dollar you spent on telephone calls. The author and his wife, Carol, had a great research trip to Europe on tickets paid for by, telephone miles that year.
The same day, a doctor checked out Fross and found that he was ready to begin his evacuation. Fross and Harms were probably both on the same evacuation train. However, neither man had been close enough together on the “Lady Jeannette” to recognize the other and with both being walking-wounded it is possible they could have been sitting together. However, as an officer, Harms was probably sitting in a different section of the train than the enlisted Fross.
One has to suspect the evacuation trains followed the same schedule as Gustafson’s, so they may have spent a night at Paris and then Saint-Lo before arriving at Cherbourg and boarding a hospital ship for transfer to England. Both were taken to a major hospital for further evaluation before being released back to their units.
At Hattonville, the B-17G crash site was visited by children who climbed into the broken plane, sat on the seats and marveled at the blood in the one room. Most played airman for a while, searched for souvenir treasure and then headed home to help with the family chores and show their special relic from the crash site.
At the “226″ crash site, the farmer completed his plowing, having picked up a couple of broken relics to put in the barn and hurried back to stable the horses and enjoy some leisure at the bar. If he was lucky the Americans would come it and talk about the B-17 “Fortress” that had crashed in his field and they always gave away cigarettes and bought a round or two of drink.
The restaurant and bar owner was realizing he was going through the most profitable time his time would ever enjoy. He knew the Americans would finish their research into the crash of the B-17 “Fortress” in a week or so and he and this wife were going to miss them. They always gave his wife more food to prepare than they could eat and always told his wife to enjoy what they did not eat.
The Americans started each day with breakfast, once they were done visiting the houses in Tincourt-Boucly to ask about souvenirs, they began to visit the other villages within a day’s walk or bike ride.
The survivors from “226″ were still being kept under wraps and to help that take place, they were told the area was not completely Liberated and German spies and snipers were occasionally killing isolated Americans. To keep them safe, they were going to be kept at the chateau until arrangements could be made to fly them back. Years later, not knowning the context of what was happening to them and the secrecy they had been sworn to it was hard to believe they had no idea of what was being done to them. Nor how they did not know where they had landed or “226″ had crashed. When the author found and visited Lt. Hornsby, this was one of his first questions. Hornsby said, that each of them had been briefed several times and each of us had been under strict orders to never discuss what was happening or what they were doing, with anyone else, not even their fellow crewmen. Though they were staying in the same building, some rooming together and eating at the same table, none of them ever talked with another crew member about their shoot down and the crash.
When asked how it affected him, being the aircraft commander and Grey a lower ranked officer under his command? Hornsby told the author, when they reported to the base for training and Grey had disappeared for a couple of weeks, he had been called in and told it was for his own good and he should never question Grey about what he was doing. Grey was going to be briefed, that when he returned and they departed for England, if anyone, his fellow crewmen, or anyone tried to ask him about what he did, he was to contact the unit commander and military police at once. Based on what Hornsby told the author, they were young men and what they had been told and what they had been threatened with and how it was done, did the job. Basically, they were a group of men, who had been told to report or “snitch” whoever asked any question about what they were doing. Each had been told, they would be under constant surveillance and they were subject to life in prison or even death if caught revealing what they were doing. All the author can say, it worked with the “226″ crew.
Remember, where the medics attached to each unit, took control of any GI inventory item when it became damaged or inert. We know when the author finally determined the identity of the unit that recovered dead of the “Lady Jeannette” there were only four men among the personnel of the 563rd SAW Battalion HQ, who refused to even admit the B-17 had crashed in the Woods of Hattonville.
As an Air Force Radar Operator for four years and a Nike Missile Fire Control Maintenance Man for three years, and a miliary research nut, the author had previously learned that a radar reunion association and newsletter had existed for some years. The author had signed up for the newsletter and found, due to age the reunions were no longer held. However, the articles were excellent and the fellow who wrote the newsletter very helpful. Once the author learned the identity of the unit that had been in Hattonville at the time of the crash and learned it was a WWII Radar unit, the first thing he did was contact the newsletter author.
He immediately replied, the XO of that unit had sent in articles for some years, but it had been a while since his last article. Included with the email was a name, address and telephone number. When I was done reading that email, I hollered at Carol and told her, after all the years from the day I started, I now had a key to tell me everything that had happened at Hattonville. We were two happy campers that day!
I called the number and a fellow answered and yes, his name was Byrne and what could he do for me. I told him that I was researching a B-17 that had crashed in the Woods of Hattonville and I had just learned that his Battalion HQ was located there. I knew, that he was the XO and that he had written several articles for the radar newsletter we both received.
Suddenly, he told me, he had to hang up, but I was to call him back in three days. When I called back, he told me, “I have no memory of a B-17 crashing near Hattonville while I was there.” He did tell me that had found the names and telephone numbers of the medics who were assigned to the Battalion. I asked him to think about it, as many times when I discuss events with veterans, the dark files in the back of their minds begin to open and often, they had the answers I needed a few days later. So, if he did not mind, I would call back after I had talked to the three men whose contact he had given me.
NOTE: After years of using an alias for these four men, I now use their real names.
I immediately called the first, Berardi, and identified myself and why I was calling. The first thing he told me was, “I have no memory of a B-17 crashing near Hattonville while I was there.” He did pass on the word that Venar had been fairly old during the war and he had since died. We talked a bit and I called the second man, “Zeman” he was the ambulance driver. The first thing Zeman told me was, “I have no memory of a B-17 crashing near Hattonville while I was there.” He did tell me, that Boatmen, the head medic lived near San Francisco and I told him, that was my next call.
Boatman answered the phone and listened as I explained who I was and what I was researching. The first thing he said was, ‘I have no memory of a B-17 crashing near Hattonville while I was there.” By then, I had realized that it was a pure confession that such a crash had taken place and that Byrne had called all three and reminded them of the oath they had been forced to take in the woods by the young Colonel and that they had been told, if they ever admitted what had been done, they were subject to a death sentence no matter how long it was after the war ended. We talked a bit and he said, he would see if anyone in the unit remembered the B-17. When talking to all four men, I told them that I was finding men who were stationed in Hattonville at the same time they were there and every one of those men remembered the crash and remembered the medics had spent a couple of days at the site with the dead crewmen.
Boatman said, they were all wrong, because, if anyone would know about such a crash, it would have been him. When I told him, about the Burial Records of four aircrew signed by Venar, indicating that Venar had kept one of the pilot’s ID tags, whose name was Gott and that Gott was later awarded the Medal Of Honor, Boatman said that had to have happened while he was on leave and no one ever told him. Or, it had happened at another location because, and he again repeated the same sentence, exactly!
Over the years, I called each of the men a few times each year and told them how my research had advanced. Even when I told them, that we had found an ID Tag belonging to Lt. Gott who had died in the Woods of Hattonville, and that we were waiting for the DNA of a skull fragment found at the crash site to absolutely prove the location, each of them would tell me it had to be after they were gone and again, they would repeat the same sentence!
I had thought, as they aged it would weigh on each of their minds and they would want to approach their end by freeing their minds of something that had to been bothering them all their life. I was wrong, now I am no longer in contact with them and believe, each has completed his final transfer.
In 2006, while on our way to a reunion of the 109th Mobile Hospital, we stopped by Byrnes’ home in Idaho. His wife answered the door and when I introduced myself, she told me she knew all about me and my questions. However, her husband was now deep in Alzheimer’s and he was terrified of visitors. We told her we were leaving, but if he had ever told her about the Woods of Hattonville, those families were still waiting to learn about the death of their loved ones. She asked to us to wait a minute, she did have something to say, she closed the door and told us, “Her husband had told her all about the bodies he had hidden the woods. After all these years, no one could be hurt and it was time for the men’s remains to be recovered and returned to their families.” We thanked her and asked her, if her husband’s extensive library and documents later required a new home, we would be pleased to help her. In due time, we learned of his death and have no idea of what happened to the collection, that I am sure has a file somewhere on the Woods of Hattonville.
In due time, I thought of asking Barney Silva, who had driven the ambulance that had completed the first recovery at the “226″ crash site to call Zeman. My thought was, if Barney talked to Zeman, also an ambulance driver, in an ambulance driver to ambulance driver way, perhaps, Zeman would open up to him. When Barney called me back, he told me the man was lying about the crash. He had told Barney, he had not been at a crash site, but he had driven three airmen to a nearby hospital and he had also had the experience of driving wrapped up, slimy Burial Packages in his ambulance. Then he suddenly told Barney, that was not while they were stationed at Hattonville! To this day, and I will probably never know, but whatever that Colonel who was at the Battalion had threatened them with, they were scared enough to take it to their graves. Yes, they were enlisted men, but Byrne had no excuse as an officer in not exposing the truth in due time. That is, unless one remembers, he was pulled out of the 563rd and given a special assignment to go to all captured German radar operations, as well as visiting the factories involved and writing it all up for presentation to General Eisenhower. When the war ended, when the Battalion was loaded on a ship to go to Japan and be part of the invasion there, Lt. Colonel McBride was no longer a Lt. Colonel and was no longer the commander of the Battalion. Another interesting item found during this research, was the 566th SAW Battalion was broken up within a few days of the friendly fire shoot down, and all their equipment and personnel had been spread among the other SAW Battalions. Everyone who was receiving the SAW Buck, the radar newsletter, who answered my request for information concerning the friendly bomber shot down on 10 November, 1944, replied that it had been identified as a British Mosquito bomber that had strayed off its planed course and none of them had any idea of where it had crashed.
In mid-morning of 13 November, 1944, the Colonel and driver arrived back in France and were soon at General Eisenhower’s HQ. The Colonel told the driver, that he would probably be free for day or two, as they were going back to the Hattonville area to tie up some loose ends in the units around Hattonville. It is obvious the first thing he did, was meet with his commander, General Eisenhower, to report about all that he had done in General Eisenhower’s name, that might come back to haunt General Eisenhower. It has to be obvious, that Ike had agreed with what was done so far and then agreed to what the Colonel was planning to do next to tie up loose ends in the Hattonville area.
It is also obvious, that the two men talked about the two crashes and what had been done to make “226’s” crash disappear from almost every document. And any documents that might include the crash or the death of the three crewmen were modified to an un-named location over 60 miles to the west of the actual crash site. At that time, the Colonel brought up the goal of the normal Gott copilot, Collins, who was demanding that both Gott and Metzger receive the “Silver Star.” One or the other brought up the fact, if they were to take Collins’ request to the next step and make the award, the Congressional Medal of Honor for both men, that would solve Collins’ goal and it would make anyone who wanted to question what had happened, become suspected of doing it to dishonor the medal and no one would dare do that. They knew the men had done something at the end of their life which would have made them eligible for the awards and by changing their final crash and death description to fit the crash and death of the men aboard the “226” it would work to make any researcher that might try to tie the two sites together, so confused they would give up. In addition, one could think, all the aircrew dead would be honored and at the same time, it insured the fact that the surviving Gott air crew would never tell the truth, once they had signed as witnesses to the heroism of Gott and Metzger.
It was a grand idea and during the next few weeks, the Colonel was seen at the 452nd and each of the survivors signed the eye witness document presented to by an officer from the 452nd. None of them could ever disclose what they had signed as an official document was false. For each of them had been told, if they did not sign as written, they would be personally responsible for the two men not receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. Gustafson recalls his interview while lying in his hospital bed thinking to himself, what the hell difference would it make, my leg was healing, I was in a soft bed and well-tended and in a couple of months, I would be heading home.
His last view of Metzger and Gott, as he crabbed down the crawl way, was looking up at them and seeing how intently both were staring ahead and talking about what they had to do. By signing, he would help insure they were awarded with a medal, no less than they deserved.
I believe, when the Colonel left Eisenhower’s office that day, he was carrying the weight of the complete success Ike wanted and he was not going to fail Ike. He spent the rest of the day calling all the involved commanders and verifying what each had to do and reminding them, that the ball was rolling, it must not be stopped and if any one of them failed, all of them were going to pay a price that would not only ruin their careers, they may end up together in Fort Leavenworth. Each of them assured him, it was going smoothly in their unit and the Colonel told each of them, he was going to be visiting their commands in the next week or two and that he was to be given full access to any and all documents he might request. And, if any of the documents had been forwarded by the time of his visit, all those documents were to recovered and held for his inspection. When he was done verifying their records, he would clear them for all normal activities to go forward. In each call, he reminded the men, he was speaking directly for General Eisenhower, and if any of them questioned that, he would have General Eisenhower contact them directly. However, he would not recommend they do so. Ike had told him to assure everyone involved would be protected by Ike, if and when the truth of what had to be done would ever be exposed.
It is obvious, from all the files and documents that were deleted or modified in a large grouping of units who were, like the 563rd was doing, making the best of a rest period before Patton’s new drive required their forward movement.
The researcher, during several visits to the National Archives, continued to find falsified documents and gaps where information should have been, that had no record of what had happened. Each trip, the author showed his research to the head military archivist in the College Park Archives Military Archives, which led to him telling the author, you have discovered “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two!” and you are proving it. Not as most prove their research by finding documents with entries proving their research, but by finding what had been removed or modified in the unit documents. The modified documents were fairly easy to find. Most unit histories had been written by the same person from the time they were formed in the States.
However, when reviewing the files of the units in question, starting on 8 November, 1944, the same rubber stamp had been used and the document was signed by a different person, then on the 12th or 13th, November, 1944, the same person was again hand writing the day’s activities contained in their unit history. The rubber stamp stated in effect, There was no significant incidents to record.” During the same period, the name of the person signing the documents was not to be found in the unit manning documents.
At Ike’s HQ, the Colonel contacted the motor pool and told them to assign the driver to him for an open period of time and he was to be provided with all the open travel tickets they might need. In addition, they were given his scheduled time to leave and told them to have the staff car and driver at his quarters at that time.
Until early December when, after reviewing the falsified Congressional Medal Of Honor applications, were signed by a reluctant 2nd Lt. Harms, most days consisted of a number of small events each day, all of which tied into the overall goal as determined by the Colonel from Eisenhower’s staff, obviously with the full support of General Eisenhower. A man, who at that time, with just a few words could destroy a normal person’s career and most likely damage them so much, that their life would be very different. He was also a man, with the ability to insure anyone who appeared to have accomplished great things, could slowly be destroyed until they became subservient to the goals that General Eisenhower had set for himself. Nearly, everyone involved in this cover-up had to depend on their career in the military to assure a good life following the war. Few had the ability or the personal moral stance to risk it all and lose that following good life. Of all the men involved in the area commands, who knew that what was being done, should not be done! Only one determined, if he followed that path it would internally destroy him! Thanks to having extensive personal wealth to fall back on, he did not have to be controlled by the Army, if had quit the Army. Of all those involved who could have and should have stood up to General Eisenhower, only General Patton was going to do so! And what he was going to expose, would have historical consequences.
In ending this day’s article, one can only trust that KARMA visited General Eisenhower the day the accident took place or the day before General Patton was to transferred by air plane to the United States. With General Patton’s death, the major threat to expose what would have ruined so many careers, including those of a group of unknown OSS men deeply involved in what had been done, who had the skills and ability to insure General Patton did not live to quit the Army and expose them all, no longer existed! Perhaps, KARMA should be spelled O.S.S.
There will be one more article in this series, which will be available on the anniversary of the date 2nd Lt. Harms signed the two falsified Congressional Medal Of Honor Applications for 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott and 2nd Lt. William E. Metzger, Jr., under duress. Until then, the author wishes to challenge any and all readers out there, locate a copy of the medal appliations, or a copy of either one and share! We have now received letters from the Presidential Libraries of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, telling us they do not have a copy. We have received the same from the Library of Congress, the Department of the Army and so on. There must be someplace that does have copies. We were once referred to an Army archive that is supposed to have archived all such medal applications, supported by recently found applications to award the Medal of Honor to men, who to date had not received the award. One would think, would they not have a copy of the applications for men who were awarded the medal? WSC Jr.
Internet Sites: Memorials put in place by author’s organization and French citizens.
- Memorial to the “top secret B-24 and nearby B-26 crash site
- Memorial to the “Lady Jeannette.”
- Grave of the B-24 crewmen hidden remains, recovered and properly buried by the French
- Memorial to Lt. Noble and F.O. Dube, RCAF – Pilot of another shot down 452nd BG B-17