Postscript to Pace Allen Article

A message from Jim Ashlock on the heels of the posted article provided an additional detail about Pace Allen’s parachute jump.

Ashlock said he saw “Pace this morning and he told me he wasn’t shot down.”

When reading war stories about men bailing from  flaming aircraft we immediately assume their plane sustained battle damage that compromised its airworthiness.

I should have looked into this a bit further before writing the post. But I didn’t because like many folks, I assumed the plane had been shot down by enemy fire.

It does not say this in the 409th history book. It simply states the plane lost engines and had to be evacuated.

According to Ashlock, Pace told him “the plane caught fire on its own.” One engine failed on the way to the bomb target. The other engine failed and caught fire on the way back. Hence, the pilot and his crew, including Pace Allen, hit the silk.

Pace told Ashlock that maintenance crews had been working on the plane “the night before. So something must have been mechanically wrong with the engines.”

It speaks highly of the crew’s bravery to continue on to the bomb target after one engine quit. Can you imagine completing a bomb run into enemy territory on half the power while all the time wondering if and when the other engine is going to quit?

It’s no wonder our World War II veterans were called the “Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw!

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Over Coffee, A Surprising Story!

Jim Ashlock has a good friend in Tallahassee.

They meet with friends every day for coffee at the Village Inn restaurant. Most of the time the conversation is about friends, family, grandchildren, and politics. Occasionally, the talk turns nostalgic.

“When it does,” says Ashlock, “we learn things about each other that sometimes surprise us.”

For instance, at one of the coffees recently, Ashlock’s friend told him how he bailed from an airplane over France during the war. He landed in friendly territory, but broke his leg on landing.  He said he bailed from an A26 Invader on November 29, 1944 at 4:30 p.m.

He was a gunner, Ashlock’s friend said. He said he was in the 642nd squadron of the 409th Light Bomber group of the ninth Airforce.

 ‘I remember that moment like it happened just minutes ago,” said his friend regarding the jump. “I didn’t have time to think about much but clearing that plane. It was on fire and breaking apart.””

“We called it ‘hitting the silk.’ We knew we might have to do it sometime,” said Ashlock’s friend, “We preferred not to think about it too much though. Just hoped the shutes would open up when we needed them to.”

Ashlock wrote Sixfox asking her if she could share any information about his friend. Sixfox wrote back confirming his squadron and said that he was on Lt. Bullock’s plane November 29, 1944, on a raid against a supply depot at Landau. They lost both engines, bailed out and were picked up by friendly ground forces.

The 409th history book on page 292 said this about Lt. Bullock’s plane – “…lost power on left engine but continued to target. Returning toward base, the right engine cut out and he left formation and a few moments later the entire crew bailed out. All landed safely and picked up by ground forces.”

The history book did not identify the type of light attack bomber Lt. Bullock was piloting. It may have been an A20 instead of an A26.

According to the history book the first A26 mission for the 409th was December 15, 1944. So, Ashlock’s friend may have confused the A20 Havoc with the A26 Invader. The Invader had just arrived at Bretigny, France, and 409th personnel were receiving training on the A26 and preping the planes for combat.

That was a long time ago and a lot was going on in the transition from the A20s to the A26s besides flying combat missions and repairing airplanes. So it”s understandable that Ashlock’s friend might mix up the two planes when telling his story.

When Ashlock had asked his friend if he had any official records all he could say is “I have it right here in my head and I was awarded a Purple Heart for the broken leg.”

So he wrote Sixfox because he needed records confirming his friend’s story. Sixfox had Ashlock contact Donetha, the widow of Ralph Bullock, pilot of the plane that went down and she confirmed that Ashlock’s friend was a crew member on her husband’s plane. She also knew about their parachute jump from her late husband.

With these records, said Ashlock, he could get his friend a certificate and lapel pin in the Caterpillar Club. This club recognizes those whose lives were saved by a parachute.  After authentication by the parachute maker, in this case the Switlik Parachute Company of New Jersey, the applicant receives a membership certificate and a distinctive lapel pin.

Ashlock submitted the information he’d collected. Now he’s waiting for them to induct his friend into the Caterpillar Club.

“He’s a great guy,” said Ashlock, “a wonderful friend and I just wanted to gain him some extra recognition. He was only eighteen when he had to bail out of that plane.”

Over a cup of coffee, sometimes you hear surprising stories. Ashlock did recently from his friend, Pace Allen, a member of the 409th.

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Pace Allen Saved by Parachute Over France?

Sixfox sent me an email today. Pace Allen hit the silk somewhere over France in late ’44 or in early ’45.  Sixfox is looking for an official record documenting this to pass on to one of Allen’s friends.

The reason I say late ’44 or early ’45 is because Allen tells his friend that he bailed from an A26. This plane did not enter service in Europe until late November of ’44.  The 409th moved to Bretigny, France, in September of ’44 and flew a few missions in the A20 Havocs before the A26 arrived. So if Allen bailed from an A26 it was when he was at Bretigny and after the A26s were transitioned into service.

I have examined the 409th history book and have yet to find Pace Allen listed anywhere therein. Now I haven’t spoken with Sixfox, but she seems to think Allen served in the 642nd. I’d say if Sixfox says it, then it probably is right.

What we are looking for is some kind of an official record documenting Pace Allen’s jump. His friend would like to have this information in order to have Allen inducted into the Caterpillar Club, an organization that recognizes those whose lives were saved by a parachute. Apparently this organization is asking Allen’s friend for some documentation corroborating Allen’s account.

Allen says he does not have documentation. He just remembers that he bailed out of an A26, landed among friendly forces, and broke his leg in the process. But according to the Caterpillar Club authorities, memory is not enough to become a member.

I have yet to find anything in the 409th history book about Allen’s incident. If anyone reading this has a memory or a written record of Allen’s parachute jump, please get in contact with me or Sixfox. We need to know so we can pass this informaltion on.

Hope all in the 409th are well and having a good time. Me and the wife certainly are. Take care and talk to you soon.

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With Lt. Col. Crabtree (L) in Picture Below

In the picture below all but the man on the far right were named.

In speaking with Deaner this evening (Thursday, 18 Feb 09) he was able to name the crew member as Davison. He could not remember Davison’s first name. If he was in the 640th with Deaner, it may have been S/Sgt. John T. Davison, whose name appears in the 409 history book on page 121 right across from S/Sgt. Lester A. Deaner’s name.

Checking the 409th Association roster produced John Davison’s name, address, and phone number. A quick call to Davison confirmed that he had flown one mission with Crabtree. He did not remember Deaner, though he did remember the mission. “It was the third one,” he said, “and the first successful flown by the 409th.” Like Deaner, he described the mission as pretty uneventful. “Some flak,” Davison said, “but otherwise pretty quiet.”

Davison who is now eighty-five possesses a lucid mind and speaks with alacrity. He flew sixty-five missions before returning to his home in the United States.

“As we entered Europe I shot down a few German planes when I wasn’t taking pictures of our bomb runs,” said Davison. “I remember we started with 30 or 40 gunners and by the time we moved into France it seems like we were down to fifteen or so.” Davison said it was pretty rough going as the 409th began attacking German military positions in Europe.

Davison said that he lived through three crashes, the most dangerous one being his last mission when his over-loaded plane could not get up enough speed to leave the runway. He said they ran off the end and slid down an embankment with a full load of bombs. “Thankfully,” said Davison “the plane didn’t blow. I don’t know why it didn’t. I guess it just wasn’t our time to cash it in.”

So, here are the full names of the men in the picture below and their ranks at the time the picture was taken:

(Left to right) Lt. Co. Martin P. Crabtree, 1st Lt. John T. Ertler, S/Sgt. Lester A. Deaner, and S/Sgt. John T. Davison.

Crabtree was the pilot and group leader. Ertler navigated the group to the mission target. Deaner  and Davison were engineer/gunners. Deaner manned the “belly” or “tunnel” gun position and Davison manned the turret gun. Both guns fired 50 cal. amunition.

“Those guns were deadly,” said Davison. “Once you zeroed in, those guns would shred a German plane to pieces.”

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Lester Deaner recalls first successful 409th A-20 bombing mission

Crabtree (L) and crew who led first successful 409th mission 19 April 1944

Crabtree (L) and crew who led first successful 409th mission 19 April 1944

Lester Deaner (2nd from right), a 640th tunnel gunner now living in Clovis, California, says he flew in “the first successful bombing mission of the 409th.” There was a mission prior to this one, but it did not produce a successful bomb run, as Deaner recalls.

April 10th, 1944, the 409th made a test run. Thirty-six A-20s and their crews made a quick sweep over the English Channel and returned to base.

The next mission was for real and it was officially designated the first mission flown by the 409th over Nazi occupied Europe. This first mission came up empty, however, as the planes failed to locate the target they were supposed to bomb.

“It’s been a long time,” Deaner said, “and my memory isn’t what it used to be. Maybe other 409th vets can fill in some of the details I can’t recall.”

“I flew that very first mission with Col. Maxwell,” said Deaner, “I remember Col. Maxwell and our navigator having an argument over where the target was in France. I don’t know who was right or wrong. I just remember we had a different navigator the next time I went up with Maxwell.”

The next mission came on April 19th, the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride. Lt. Col. Crabtree flew the lead plane and 1st Lt. Ertler was the navigator-bombardier. “We found the target,” said Deaner, “and took it out with some very accurate bombing.” The target, code-named NoBall, was a V-1 rocket launching installation in France.

Deaner recalls flying tunnel gunner with Lt. Col. Crabtree on that mission. “We stood for a picture (see above) next to our A-20 Havoc,” Deaner said, “after the mission.”

That was the first and the last time Deaner flew with Crabtree. “I’ve often wondered what happened to him,” Deaner said. “Never heard of him again after that mission. Wonder if anyone in the 409th might know what happened to Crabtree? I would like to know.”

Deaner said he flew a few more missions with Col. Maxwell. After that he flew 30 missions with Capt. Gerald Brady and ten or so missions with Capt. Johnny Davis for a total of 56 missions. Davis, as Deaner recalled, survived WWII, but died in combat during the Korean War.

Other 409th veterans may remember the April 1944 preparations and the missions. Family members of veterans are encouraged to ask questions or share the stories they’ve heard. Please tell us what you remember of the preparations leading up to and including the missions that occurred April 13th and 19th. What do you recall? What events impressed you and how?

This is a call for more information. We would like to hear from you!

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About This Blog

This blog is devoted to the history of the 409th Light Bombardment Group of WWII.

Mostly this is a journal I am keeping as the official historian of the 409th. My hope is that it will stimulate serious research into the origins, the developement, and the wartime activities of the Light Bombardment Group.

The 409th flew the fast and supple Douglas A-20 Havocs and, toward the end of the war, the Douglas A-26 Invaders. Though it is desired to provide historical information about these two light attack bombers, this blog is really about the men and women who comprised the group that supported, maintained, and  flew these machines. It is also about missions – how they were planned, how they were executed, what happened, how the men who flew them were affected, who lived and who didn’t and why. And leave and base activity and what was going on while the pilots, navigators, and gunners were flying in harms way.

History is an interesting thing, especially military history. In the heat of battle men see, hear, and experience the same events, but often interpret them differently. In order to get as accurate a picture of these events as possible, it requires information from each man and woman involved. It is hoped that this blog will help garner such information by promoting dialogue among surviving veterans and their family members.

So there it is. This blog is herewith opened for input, stories, criticism – whatever it takes to fleshout the history of the 409th as accuratelyas possible. There are some mysteries that need solving. More clarification is needed if this generation and those to come are to have a good understanding and appreciation for what the 409th Light Bombardment Group contributed to the World War II effort.

More to come.

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