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The Cook crew: standing left to right are: Thomas J. Mikulka, tail gunner; John J. Alexander, Jr. right waist gunner; Milo E. Blakely, left waist gunner; Jay Joyce, radio operator; John R. Kyler (my Dad), ball turret gunner; John Booth, top turret gunner/flight engineer.
Front row: Lt. Emmett H. Bell, bombardier; Lt. Donald H. Caylor, navigator; Lt. Robert B. Bangs, co-pilot; Lt. Lawrence H. Cook, pilot
(© 92nd BG, USAAF, via Candy Brown)
Sgt. John R. Kyler, 407th BS, 92nd Bomb Group (H)
My father worked at Bell Aircraft as an aircraft assembler prior to being inducted into the Army Air Force on February 3, 1943, at Fort Niagara in Niagara Falls, New York. He was first stationed in Miami, Florida. He completed the Aircraft Armorers Course of Instruction at Air Force Technical School at Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado, on May 29, 1943. He received his wings and Sergeant's rating at a Gunnery Technical School in Laredo, Texas on August 7, 1943. His average of 95% was the highest in his flight. According to his log book there were also days spent in Utah, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska and Delaware.
Dad left Presque Isle, Maine, November 12, 1943, with a stop at Goose Bay, Labrador, and from there flew to Meek Field in Iceland. On November 13 he flew to Prestwick, Scotland. He left Scotland on November 14 and arrived in Stone, England, November 15. He has recorded that he left Howard Hall at 09:00 on November 22 for a place that is not legible which he left on November 26, arriving at Hamond Site 4 the same day. That is the last entry in this
book which only contained the places he travelled to during his training. I have no idea how he ever hung onto this book throughout his service but he brought it home, he still had it tucked away with his other memorabilia until the day he died.
'Gunners Wish'
I wish to be a pilot and you along with me,
But if we all were pilots where would the Air Force be?
The pilots just a chauffer, his job to fly the plane,
But its we who do the fighting, though we may not get the fame.
It takes guts to be a gunner and sit in the lonely Ball,
When the Messerschmitts are coming and the Fw's give their all.
So if we must be gunners then let us make this bet,
We'll be the best damn gunners that have left the US yet!

Dad's crew was assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group, 407th Bomb Squadron, of the 8th Air Force flying out of Podington. Colonel William M. Reid was C.O. and Colonel James J. Griffith was Squadron C.O.

I have been fortunate to locate my father's pilot, Lawrence Cook, to ask questions about my father - the questions I should have asked my father but waited too long. Lawrence was able to share some of the memories that he had of their missions flown, which were few. Lawrence flew 2 missions as Co-Pilot before flying with the pictured crew.

My father's first mission January 21, 1944, was a mission to bomb V-weapon sites at Le Plouy Ferme and Bellevue; however they were called back without bombing due to bad weather over the target.

Brunswick was the target of the second mission on January 30, 1944.
Lawrence explained a tragic incident that occurred during this mission. One of the planes lost altitude for some reason and collided with another aircraft. It was a very disturbing event to witness. I read in the 92nd History Book, "The Route as Briefed", that "The ship piloted by 2nd Lt. Wayne H. Larson, having lost altitude for some unknown reason, and attempting to regain position about 10 minutes after the target, collided with the aircraft piloted by 2nd Lt. David C. Russell. One of the ships exploded almost immediately, and the other spun down out of control." It is probable that my father would have witnessed this horrible accident and these may have been men he may have known but I will never know.

The third mission was on February 3, 1944, to the submarine base at Wilhelmshaven. Bombs were dropped on the target and all returned safely to base without incident.

The fourth and final final mission was on February 4, 1944, to Frankfurt. The bombs were dropped and the plane lurched as they were turning to return to England. They were flying at 25,000 feet and had been hit by flak knocking out the number 2 engine. The doomed aircraft was forced to leave formation and Pilot Cook dropped to approximately 17,000 feet, just above cloud cover. They became a "sitting duck". One of the reports made of the cause of crash read: runaway prop, oxygen out, aircraft fuel off. Lawrence Cook stated that he feathered the propeller and that they lost oxygen and the inter-phones had been shot out. He heard what sounded like ammunition going off in the back of the plane and they were being shot at from underneath by FW-190's. They bailed out over Belgium. I feel that my father's life was saved by the pilot in that he made sure that he was called out of the ball turret to don his parachute. The ball turret was too small to accommodate both the gunner and his parachute.

Donald Caylor, navigator, was wounded in the plane, he bailed out and was taken to a German hospital where he died a couple of days later and was buried in Belgium. Years later he was returned to his home town of Horton, Kansas, for reburial.

2nd Lt. Lawrence Cook the Pilot, and 2nd S/Sgt. John Booth, Flight Engineer, were helped by the Belgian Resistance and evaded capture for 7 weeks. They were captured on March 26, 1944. Lawrence was interned in Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. John was held in Stalag Luft 17B.

Sgt. Milo Blakely, Waist Gunner, and Sgt.Thomas Mikulka, Tail Gunner, were both harbored in the escape line by the Belgian Resistance and made it safely back to England. I want to note how courageous the members of the resistance were as they put their and their family's lives on the line to assist the downed airmen. Many of them lost their lives because of their role in the resistance.

I believe that Sgt. John Alexander, Waist Gunner, was interned in Stalag Luft III at Sagan according to WWII archives. 2nd Lt. Robert Bangs, Co-Pilot, and 2nd Lt. Emmett Bell, Bombardier, were also captured and became prisoners at Stalag Luft I in Barth.

My father was captured and held in Belgium for 2 days then taken to Frankfurt for interrogation at Dulag Luft, and on February 21, 1944, became a POW at Stalag Luft VI in Hydekrug, East Prussia. He, with hundreds of others, left Hydekrug on July 15, 1944. They were jammed in the hold of a boat, the Masuren, at the seaport of Memel and taken on a two-day trip to Swinemunde, in deplorable conditions. They were then loaded in boxcars and taken to Stalag Luft IV in Kiefheide, a 24-hour ride. They were shackled together at their wrists and ankles in twos and after exiting the boxcars, they were forced to run 2 miles up the road to the camp while being bayoneted and bitten by dogs if they fell behind. If they tried to

run they would be shot by the Germans waiting in the woods for the opportunity.

Stalag Luft IV
Dad was in Stalag Luft IV until January 29, 1945, at which time he was transferred from there on a treacherous ride in boxcars to his final destination, Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, where he arrived February 8, 1945. He would end his time as a German Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I when liberated by the Russians on May 1, 1945. Per my father's log book, he was flown out of Barth on May 13th, 1945, in a B-17 to France. He landed at Lyons and went by truck to Rheims where he stayed overnight. He was flown out of Rheims on the 14th by C47, landed in LeHarve and traveled to Camp Lucky Strike, 20 miles in from LeHavre. This was the last time my dad would fly in any sort of plane.
I thought you might be interested in this poem that was in one of dad's notebooks that he kept in Stalag Luft IV. I've talked to an Ex-POW who was in this camp and he could tell me about this incident. He also indicated to me the Lager that my dad must have been in in order to know the name of the unfortunate RAF airman - W/O Raymond Stephen. Following is my friend's explanation of the lightning incident when I asked him about it in reference to dad's poem

From Ex-POW, Joe O'Donnell:

'The RAF fellow was hit by lightning outside
the barracks I was in at Stalag Luft IV,
between barracks 2 and 3 in B Lager. We
called where they slept the DOG HUTS, you
could not stand up and there were 10 POW's
to a hut. On 29 July 1944, lightning struck at
the front of the hut, travelled through four
men and killed the last - he was the ground.'

W/O Raymond Thomas Stephen, RAFVR,
15 Sqn Flight Engineer, #944044, age 24.

CWGC casualty details

Upon his discharge on November 28, 1945, in Rome, New York, Dad was awarded the American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal with 3 Overseas Service Bars, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 5 Bronze Stars, and Good Conduct Medal. In the last year of his life he was awarded the Medal of Merit and after his death I sent for and received his Prisoner of War Medal.

Candy Brown
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