Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seventy Years Later - Still Missing


On April 10, 1944—the day after Easter—1Lt William Edward Cramsie awoke before dawn and dressed in his flight suit for what were still very cold conditions at 12,000 feet with no cabin heater.  Following a quick breakfast and a mission briefing at the 416th Bomb Group operations center, a pre-fab Nissen Hut near the Wethersfield flight line, Bill caught a ride out to the hardstand in the back of a canvas covered weapons carrier.  The mood was light as this would be the first combat mission flown by the group since March 26th.  The A-20 Havoc crews were anxious to get back into the air.  They had been socked-in by miserable weather in England for two weeks and wanted to get back to business.  As the "taxi" dropped Bill off at an awesome new "G" model, he noted the tail number 39699 and wondered why they left off the 4?  Not that it really mattered.  The fuselage code "5C" for 671st Bomb Squadron and individual identifier "I" were more important.  Pilots and crews of the planes normally referred to their aircraft only by the last three digits anyway.  At "699", Bill met Staff Sergeants Charles Henshaw and Jack Steward.  They would be the turret and tunnel gunners flying with him on this mission—his fourth combat sortie.

The early enthusiasm was short lived.  As the flights approached France, bound for the V-1 launch site at Bois des Huit Rues, they were met with 10/10 cloud cover—solid overcast.  While Peter Royalty, the lead bombardier/navigator, searched fruitlessly for their assigned target the German anti-aircraft batteries with their radar controlled firing centers had no visual impediment.  Flak was intense as multiple passes over the target area gave the enemy ample opportunity to zero in on them.  The result was devastating.  Every ship in the formation sustained battle damage, three were lost.  Arthur Raines was the first to go down somewhere near Hazebrouck.  Bill's plane was hit on the first pass and lost an engine, but stayed with the formation for a second pass.  This required that the remaining engine be pushed to its limits in order to keep in position.  He was hit again on the second pass.  With the cloud cover abating somewhat to the north, the formation eventually bombed a target of opportunity about 18 miles northwest of its primary target.  As they headed back to England, Bill's West Point classmate and friend Scotty Street was also hit and lost an engine.  Both of them fell out of the formation and started losing altitude.  Lt. Street was able to make an emergency crash landing at RAF Bradwell Bay after his gunners bailed out.  Bill Cramsie was heard contacting the same field and receiving a bearing to base.  He never made it. 

And so began the first day of a seventy-year-long Homeric tale that has yet to see its final chapter.  Like Protesilaus, the first Greek killed in the Trojan War, Bill Cramsie was the first member of his West Point graduating class (June, 1943) to die in combat—the First to Fall.  The similarities are not merely poetic.  Protesilaus was a suitor of Helen, considered in Greek myth to be the most beautiful woman in the world.  At the academy, Bill met and fell in love with Dee Rogers.  The Irish reincarnation, without a doubt, of Helen. 
Protesilaus was from coastal Antron, a land described by Homer as "deep in grass".  Bill's grandfather came to America from county Antrim in Ireland, a land famous for its green Glens.  History did little to preserve the memory of Protesilaus or of Bill Cramsie, they both are remembered because of the irony and tragedy of their death and the remarkable endurance of their spirit.  At the British Museum in London is one of the few surviving representations of Protesilaus, a Roman stone torso.  Also in Britain, on the Wall of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery (Madingley), is engraved in stone one of the few public memorials to Bill Cramsie.

The search for Bill and his crew did not really begin until about three years ago when Ross Stewart,
at the time a Ministry of Defence Police inspector at Wethersfield, accepted the challenge of finding "699".  In studying the Missing Air Crew Report,  Individual Deceased Personnel Files, and other documents, the law enforcement training of Ross became an important asset.  He identified a transposition of numbers in the original reported position of Bill and crew.  What could only have been a last known position of one degree, 05 minutes longitude was formally recorded as one degree, 50 minutes.  The difference amounts to about 40 miles and placed "699" well into the North Sea instead of very close to land in Bradwell Bay.  Consequently, no search was initiated at the time.  This and other corroborating evidence would place the last known position of "699" on or near Buxey Sand, merely a few miles from the point on which the RAF base was located.  Two visits by Ross and local volunteers to this shallow sand bank have identified WWII aircraft wreckage, but have not been able to confirm any of it yet as that of an A-20 Havoc.

As we mark this 70th year since the loss of Bill and crew, we remain hopeful that new technologies and continued research will one day lead us to whatever remains of this heroic but virtually unheralded crew and will provide the long awaited and much deserved closure for all those who care.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Irish to the end

When Bill Cramsie arrived at West Point in the summer of 1940 he was assigned to "Easy Company". Before long, a restructuring of the Corps of Cadets transferred Bill to Company G-1 the "G-Nomies" as they were referred to affectionately by their fellow cadets.  Sharing a room with cadet Cramsie was a stocky and ebullient New Orleans native Bob Rooney.  Both Cramsie and Rooney chose the Army Air Corps as their future and became pilots together as well as close friends.  Following graduation and advanced pilot training, they both were assigned to the 416th Bomb Group at Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Bill was assigned to the 671st Bomb Squadron, Bob was assigned to the 670th Bomb Squadron.   They became and remained close friends.


William Edward Cramsie
Robert John Rooney
 
As fate would have it, both were lost in combat during WWII.  Bill went down in Bradwell Bay on April 10th, 1944 (416th Mission #10).  Bob tragically died on his 65th and last required mission March 21st, 1945 (416th Mission #246).  The mission to Vreden, Germany on this day 69 years ago was successful and the aircraft were returning to base.  Bob Rooney was leading one element of A-26 Invaders.  Another element of 416th aircraft trying to join a formation ahead of Rooney was on a collision course with Rooney's flight as they flew west into the Sun low in the sky before them.  The leader of that flight, apparently blinded by the Sun, overran Rooney's plane and both ships went down with all lost except Rooney's bombardier/navigator Robert Kirk.

It was a tragedy in every sense of the word.  Rooney's friends awaited his return to celebrate his impending transfer back to the U.S.  There would be no celebration this day.  Earlier this week, my wife Doris and I visited the grave of Bob Rooney at Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.  It was a very poignant moment and we felt humbled to be in the presence of Rooney's spirit as representatives of those veterans still with us and the 416th extended family.  His memory and that of his dear friend Bill Cramsie shall not fade as long as there is breath among those who know of their deeds and dedication.  We are saddened but honored to remember both of these heroes today.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

A few names that the older generation might recognize

From an anonymous email, proof that there once was a day when Hollywood did more than protest:

*       Stewart Hayden, US Marines and OSS. Smuggled guns into Yugoslavia and parachuted into Croatia.

*       James Stewart, US Army Air Corps. Bomber pilot who rose to the rank of General.

*       Ernest Borgnine, US Navy. Gunners Mate 1c, destroyer USS Lamberton.

*       Ed McMahon, US Marines. Fighter Pilot. (Flew OE-1 Bird Dogs over Korea as well.)

*       Telly Savalas, US Army.

*       Walter Matthau, US Army Air Corps., B-24 Radioman/Gunner and cryptographer.

*       Steve Forrest, US Army. Wounded, Battle of the Bulge.

*       Jonathan Winters, USMC. Battleship USS Wisconsin and Carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. Anti-aircraft gunner, Battle of Okinawa.

*       Paul Newman, US Navy Rear seat gunner/radioman, torpedo bombers ofUSS Bunker Hill

*       Kirk Douglas, US Navy. Sub-chaser in the Pacific. Wounded in action and medically discharged.

*       Robert Mitchum, US Army.

*       Dale Robertson, US Army. Tank Commander in North Africa under Patton. Wounded twice. Battlefield Commission.

*       Henry Fonda, US Navy. Destroyer USS Satterlee.

*       John Carroll, US Army Air Corps. Pilot in North Africa. Broke his back in a crash.

*       Lee Marvin US Marines. Sniper. Wounded in action on Saipan. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Sec. 7A next to Greg Boyington and Joe Louis.

*       Art Carney, US Army. Wounded on Normandy beach, D-Day. Limped for the rest of his life.

*       Wayne Morris, US Navy fighter pilot, USS Essex. Downed seven Japanese fighters.

*       Rod Steiger, US Navy. Was aboard one of the ships that launched the Doolittle Raid.

*       Tony Curtis, US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus. In Tokyo Bay for the surrender of Japan.

*       Larry Storch. US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus with Tony Curtis.

*       Forrest Tucker, US Army. Enlisted as a private, rose to Lieutenant.

*       Robert Montgomery, US Navy.

*       George Kennedy, US Army. Enlisted after Pearl Harbor, stayed in sixteen years.

*       Mickey Rooney, US Army under Patton. Bronze Star.

*       Denver Pyle, US Navy. Wounded in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Medically discharged.

*       Burgess Meredith, US Army Air Corps.

*       DeForest Kelley, US Army Air Corps.

*       Robert Stack, US Navy. Gunnery Officer.

*       Neville Brand, US Army, Europe. Was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

*       Tyrone Power, US Marines. Transport pilot in the Pacific Theater.

*       Charlton Heston, US Army Air Corps. Radio operator and aerial gunner on a B-25, Aleutians.

*       Danny Aiello, US Army. Lied about his age to enlist at 16. Served three years.

*       James Arness, US Army. As an infantryman, he was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy.

*       Efram Zimbalist, Jr., US Army. Purple Heart for a severe wound received at Huertgen Forest.

*       Mickey Spillane, US Army Air Corps, Fighter Pilot and later Instructor Pilot.

*       Rod Serling. US Army. 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific. He jumped at Tagaytay in the Philippines and was later wounded in Manila.

*       Gene Autry, US Army Air Corps. Crewman on transports that ferried supplies over "The Hump" in the China-Burma-India Theater.

*       Wiliam Holden, US Army Air Corps.

*       Alan Hale Jr, US Coast Guard.

*       Harry Dean Stanton, US Navy. Battle of Okinawa.

*       Russell Johnson, US Army Air Corps. B-24 crewman who was awarded Purple Heart when his aircraft was shot down by the Japanese in the Philippines.

*       William Conrad, US Army Air Corps. Fighter Pilot.

*       Jack Klugman, US Army.

*       Frank Sutton, US Army. Took part in 14 assault landings, including Leyte, Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor.

*       Jackie Coogan, US Army Air Corps. Volunteered for gliders and flew troops and materials into Burma behind enemy lines.

*       Tom Bosley, US Navy.

*       Claude Akins, US Army. Signal Corps., Burma and the Philippines.

*       Chuck Connors, US Army. Tank-warfare instructor.

*       Harry Carey Jr., US Navy.

*       Mel Brooks, US Army. Combat Engineer. Saw action in the Battle of the Bulge.

*       Robert Altman, US Army Air Corps. B-24 Co-Pilot.

*       Pat Hingle, US Navy. Destroyer USS Marshall

*       Fred Gwynne, US Navy. Radioman.

*       Karl Malden, US Army Air Corps. 8th Air Force, NCO.

*       Earl Holliman. US Navy. Lied about his age to enlist. Discharged after a year when they Navy found out.

*       Rock Hudson, US Navy. Aircraft mechanic, the Philippines.

*       Harvey Korman, US Navy.

*       Aldo Ray. US Navy. UDT frogman, Okinawa.

*       Don Knotts, US Army, Pacific Theater.

*       Don Rickles, US Navy aboard USS Cyrene.

*       Harry Dean Stanton, US Navy. Served aboard an LST in the Battle of Okinawa.

*       Robert Stack, US Navy. Gunnery Instructor.

*       Soupy Sales, US Navy. Served on USS Randall in the South Pacific.

*       Lee Van Cleef, US Navy. Served aboard a sub chaser then a mine sweeper.

*       Clifton James, US Army, South Pacific. Was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

*       Ted Knight, US Army, Combat Engineers.

*       Jack Warden, US Navy, 1938-1942, then US Army, 1942-1945. 101st Airborne Division.

*       Don Adams. US Marines. Wounded on Guadalcanal, then served as a Drill Instructor.

*       James Gregory, US Navy and US Marines.

*       Brian Keith, US Marines. Radioman/Gunner in Dauntless dive-bombers.

*       Fess Parker, US Navy and US Marines. Booted from pilot training for being too tall, joined Marines as a radio operator.

*       Charles Durning. US Army. Landed at Normandy on D-Day. Shot multiple times. Awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Survived Malmedy Massacre.

*       Raymond Burr, US Navy. Shot in the stomach on Okinawa and medically discharged.

*       Hugh O'Brian, US Marines.

*       Robert Ryan, US Marines.

*       Eddie Albert, US Coast Guard. Bronze Star with Combat V for saving several Marines under heavy fire as pilot of a landing craft during the invasion of Tarawa.

*       Clark Gable, US Army Air Corps. B-17 gunner over Europe.

*       Charles Bronson, US Army Air Corps. B-29 gunner, wounded in action.

*       Peter Graves, US Army Air Corps.

*       Buddy Hackett, US Army anti-aircraft gunner.

*       Victor Mature, US Coast Guard.

*       Jack Palance, US Army Air Corps. Severely injured bailing out of a burning B-24 bomber.

*       Robert Preston, US Army Air Corps. Intelligence Officer

*       Cesar Romero, US Coast Guard. Coast Guard. Participated in the invasions of Tinian and Saipan on the assault transport USS Cavalier.

*       Norman Fell, US Army Air Corps., Tail Gunner, Pacific Theater.

*       Jason Robards, US Navy. was aboard heavy cruiser USS Northampton when it was sunk off Guadalcanal. Also served on the USS Nashville during the invasion of the Philippines, surviving a kamikaze hit that caused 223 casualties.

*       Steve Reeves, US Army, Philippines.

*       Dennis Weaver, US Navy. Pilot.

*       Robert Taylor, US Navy. Instructor Pilot.

*       Randolph Scott. Tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected due to injuries sustained in US Army, World War One.

*       Ronald Reagan. US Army. Was a 2nd Lt. in the Cavalry Reserves before the war. His poor eyesight kept him from being sent overseas with his unit when war came so he transferred to the Army Air Corps Public Relations Unit where he served for the duration.

*       John Wayne. Declared "4F medically unfit" due to pre-existing injuries, he nonetheless attempted to volunteer three times (Army, Navy and Film Corps.) so he gets honorable mention.

*       And of course we have Audie Murphy, America's most-decorated soldier, who became a Hollywood star as a result of his US Army service that included his being awarded the Medal of Honor.