Thinking back in time, I can bring out of my memory my first thoughts about my Uncle Jim that were placed there by my grandmother. I can recall two times while I was growing up that my grandmother showed me a document, a Western Union telegram, and talked about Jim. I can't remember what I said, if anything. At that time I must have been nine or ten, not able to comprehend the tragedy that had taken place.
At that age all I was interested in was going to the barn, building a fort, and destroy Granddad's straw mow! I spent much time in Fawn Grove with my first cousin Jim Morris, who was the same age as I and was also named after Uncle Jim. Our both having been named "Jim" created confusion, so when we visited, I was known as "Big Jim" and my cousin was “Little Jim,” only because I was the first born, lucky me. I miss those days and I miss my Grandparents.
Thinking back now at age 52, I can see why having us grandchildren on the farm, both named, "Jim" was a constant reminder of Uncle Jim and the good times, before March 18, 1944.
I was lucky growing up; I had the best grandparents in the world. On my father's side were the Marstellers, Billy and Nellie. On Mom’s side were the Morrises, Dick and Buelah. Granddad Marsteller was a WWI veteran who was wounded in France, but that’s another story.
Time flew by and any conversation about Uncle Jim was from my mother, Jim's sister, Betty. Mom is a genealogist and has hundreds of photographs of the family. I am sure I saw many photos of Uncle Jim and asked questions about him. My overnight visits to Fawn Grove became less frequent as high school, dating, fast cars and Uncle Sam came into the picture, however, the Morris family always had time on special occasions or just for the fun of it, to gather at the old homestead in Fawn Grove. Uncle Rolland, little Jim's father, always made the ice cream and we ate, laughed, and talked years away (Delete, )with Grandma and Granddad as the glue that held us together. And that's the way it was in old Fawn Grove in the 60's and 70's.
Granddad passed away on April 27, 1985. On December 3, 1986, Grandma followed. I remember as we left the grave at the cemetery I turned to cousin Jim and said, "What are we going to do now, its the end of a generation". He responded, "It sure is”. As we walked away, we didn't think about the grave next to our grandparents, their son and our uncle, Everette N. Morris "Jim". The end of a generation, yes but it also was a beginning for us, (we didn't know at the time), to finish the search that Grandma started, to answer the question she asked our country 42 years before, after receiving the Western Union telegram "tell me about my boy"?
After Grandma and Granddad passed away, most of their possessions were divided up among the family members with the remainder sold at auction. Months later my mother asked me if I were interested in having a box full of material on Uncle Jim that Grandma had saved.
An old box was all that was left, an old box with Air Force telegrams, photographs, and personal things. Not much compared with to the life of a person, the life of Everette N. Morris, "Uncle Jim". The box was a silent witness to the war. I opened the box and began to read the letters Jim sent home, and the letters sent to him in England from the family. There also were many photographs of Jim growing up, and going off to war.
There were letters from the mothers of crew members on Jim's plane who were also killed, that Western Union Telegram she showed me and his military papers. It was all there and it began our search of the past and to find out what happened to Uncle Jim that day in the Black Forest on March 18, 1944.
Armed with the box of information that our grandmother received as a result of her constant letter writing to the US Army, my cousin Jim and I proceeded to find the 392nd Bomb Group contact Clifford Peterson, who was also shot down on March 18, 1944. A great relationship developed with Cliff, and, as a result, Jim and I joined the 392nd Bomb Group Memorial Association and attended our first 392nd Reunion in September of 1991.
The 392nd Veterans made Cousin Jim and I feel at home, and we became part of the group. We have attended many reunions of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society and the Second Air Division Association. At the reunions we constantly heard, " You boys are too young for WWII. Did your father fly in the war?" We never missed a chance to tell the story. Many knew who Jim and I were, the Books Crew boys, and nephews of S/Sgt. Everette Morris.
Every reunion since 1991 has been a memorable experience; however, there is one that I will not soon forget. Before my last research trip in Germany in 1996, I spoke to Ernie Barber, who is the 392nd Group's archivist. During the war he was crew chief for several 392nd aircraft. One of the ships named "Hard To Get" was shot down on the Friedrichshafen mission and crashed near the Books Crew ship in Hardt, Germany.
Knowing that I was planning a research trip to the Black Forest, Ernie called me on the phone before I left. He said in that conversation, "Bring me back a piece of my plane Jim." I responded, "Sure Ernie, not a problem." I really didn't think we would find any wreckage, but one evening while at the home of Carsten Kohlman (my German counterpart), a man came to visit with a Vickers Control Valve taken from the crash site of "Hard To Get."
That valve was presented to Ernie at the 392nd Stand Alone Reunion in Orlando on February 23, 1997. It was an emotional moment, made even more special by the attendance of Bill Davis, son of Sgt. Roy Davis, Flight Engineer on "Hard To Get."
Also in attendance was a combat veteran of the March 18 raid on Friedrichshaften, Jim Muldoon. I had alway wanted to meet him, and finally we were able to sit down and talk about his memories about that day. As he looked through some of my research materials on the raid, we talked, and in one of his statements that I will not forget, he said, "You know, looking at this brings back memories; you don't think about what happened to those men that didn't make it after the mission was over, but I can remember looking out the window and seeing B24's explode in flames and just disappear."
I had been told that Jim Muldoon was a man of few words, and when I asked him to write something in my Liberators of Wendling book, he paused a minute and wrote, "To Jim, from a survivor, Jim Muldoon."
Shortly thereafter, we began searching the National Archives for anything and everything we could get our hands on concerning the March 18th Mission. All the information was photocopied, studied, and documented. On one of our trips a major find came at the Archives in Suitland, Maryland just before the big transfer of materials to College Park, the new facility. We found a file that contained the original un-translated German documents about the plane crash, the dog tags of several Books Crew members, plus a notebook that Uncle Jim had when he was killed. We had no idea that these items were available or that they even existed. Finally, we had something tangible and personal. If only our grandmother had been still alive to share in this.
You can only find and read so many research documents before you need to direct your efforts towards something else to keep your interest alive. Anniversary "Return to England." The timing couldn't have been better for cousin Jim and me as we needed some other direction in our research, and this was it. We had the chance to walk in the footsteps of our uncle, to see what he had seen, to stand on the main runway where hundreds of B24's left for target Germany, and to have a cold one at the "Ploughshare" where the airman calmed their nerves. There was no question; we had to go.
June 6, 1992, we departed via British Airways from BWI Airport in Baltimore, landed in England at Heathrow, and boarded a bus to Kings Lynn to our base of operations, the Duke's Head Hotel.
The next day we hit the road for a slow tour of the Wendling Base. As Jim and I walked around the WWII living quarters (huts), many thoughts were rolling around inside our heads. We looked at each building and tried to imagine what it would have been like 50 years before, and if Uncle Jim had lived in a particular hut. Not much was left anymore, most of the buildings that were in good shape were used by the local farmers for storing tractors and farming equipment.
Later, we were standing on the main runway, our imaginations running wild with the sights of B-24 Liberators taking off, hundreds of them in the sky overhead. It was 12:00 High (the movie), and we were in it. We took a photograph to capture the moment for all eternity, and it was the end of a perfect day.
The next morning we met with local villagers from Wendling at the Obelisk, where we all joined together in a memorial ceremony honoring our 392nd fallen men. It was a moving ceremony, and as I listened, my thoughts floated home to our grandmother. Many people took part in the ceremony, but the most moving part was when Col. Gilbert gave his tribute to the airmen. After the ceremony we stayed and talked with some of our new found friends. It was there that Jim and I met one of the most notable WWII English authors Ian Hawkins. This meeting, especially for me, was an interesting one as Ian was to become instrumental in helping me with information for my upcoming trips to the Black Forest crash sites.
Later that evening at dinner, we began what was to become a long term relationship with Ben Jones, a local man in his 20's who grew up around the airfields at Wendling and who, in his spare time, dug up 392nd aircraft. Mervin and Barbara Jones, Ben's mother and father, are well know to all 392nd veterans for their help and assistance to returning airman that come back and visit the WWII air base. I invited Ben to the states to attend an air show with our group, and we became the best of friends and have developed a great crash site research team.
Time sure flew by fast at Wendling, but there was still more to come on this, our first trip out of the U.S. A. On our way to London, we stopped to visit The American Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge, where so many of our 392nd men remain. A memorial service was held in their honor.
After we left the cemetery, we were treated to a luncheon in a private room at the famous Duxford Airfield. There were aircraft everywhere at Duxford, and we understood that they all flew. It is one of the finest aviation museums in the world, unfortunately we had only a few hours to spend. Also this was the first time I ever sat in the cockpit of a fully restored flying B-17, the "Mary Alice." Getting ready to leave Duxford, we were treated to the landing of one of only three P38's left flying in the world. It came in over the field in a high speed pass and did a slow roll right in front of Roger Freeman, Jim Morris and I. Roger excitedly said in his British accent, " Wasn't that wonderful!" We both agreed!!
Off to London, and, among other things, Jim and I visited St. Paul's Cathedral and the American Chapel to see "The Book," Britain's Homage with the names of 28,000 American war dead, and the name of S/Sgt. Everette N. Morris, U.S.A.A.F. One page is turned every day for eternity. This visit was a part of the trip we will not soon forget.
(Lorraine)St. Avold, France
On our trip to Cambridge Cemetery, England, we were with the 392nd Bomb Group on the 50th Anniversary Return Tour. While we were there, we met Henry Vaughn on one of his daily visits spending time at the grave of his Wendling bunk-mate John D. Ellis.
Our stop at the Netherlands Cemetery was to photograph the name of Lt. John S. Murphy, who lived in my wife's hometown of Delta, Pennsylvania A B-17 Navigator with the 486th Bomb Group his plane was shot down, and he was last seen on April 10, 1945. His name is engraved on the Wall of the Missing.
Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place of my uncle Pvt. Harold E. Griffith. Uncle Harold was with the 120 Inf., 30th Division, known as "Old Hickory." He was killed four days before Christmas, December 21, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge.
Following in the footsteps of my Uncle Jim and his crew was our final stop at Lorraine Cemetery in France. Many airmen on the March 18th raid on Friedrichshafen still remain here. Karen and I, along with Ben, paid a visit to the grave of Lt Walter C. Raschke.
The research road, that has taken us one step closer to finding the answers we seek, is filled with emotional stops along the way. Visiting the cemeteries is one of these emotional stops. As we walked in silence among the white stones and look at the names, we were humbled by the thousands upon thousands of crosses. What were these men like ? Where were these men from? What would they have become? Does anyone mention their names anymore? What about their families? Why weren't they sent home? Many questions with no answers. The road becomes difficult, but we continue through the crosses towards our final destination.
I remember having a conversation with Ben Jones, my English counterpart. I made the statement, “Let’s go the Black Forest in Germany and find the crash site of the Books crew." Ben replied, “Let’s do it. When shall we go?" I replied, “Next year, on the 49th anniversary of the crash; that’s when we should be there, on March 18, 1993.”
So that was the plan, and we stuck to it. I made the flying arrangements, and gathered the necessary historical documents on the town where the aircraft crashed. Ben Jones prepared a letter to the German community announcing that we were coming and our interest in meeting with the town archivist and mayor to gather information and possibly visit the site. Several weeks later a letter arrived setting up a meeting with a town official in Schramberg, Germany. With this small invitation, Ben Jones, my wife Karen, and I put together our first research trip on the road to the Black Forest.
We arrived in England and stayed with Ben’s mother and father for a few days and again visited the old Wendling air base. Then we crossed the English Channel to Rotterdam and stayed with friends of the Jones' in Enschede, Holland. Heading south we stopped at the American cemeteries listed in the previous link, and finally we arrived in the Black Forest town of Schramberg, just a few miles away from the crash site.
On March 18, 1993, forty -nine years after the Books crew was shot down, we were on a mission. Not a mission like the boys had been on, but we may have felt some of the same nervousness. What would we find? Would anyone talk to us? What if we came all this way and found nothing! I was really nervous, and my thinking was making it worse. Maybe I had made a mistake thinking I could find out the answers to all my questions! What made me think that these people cared about what happened to my uncle and his crew 49 years ago. Little did we know at that moment that they did care. Soon it became apparent to all of us just how much information was here and that these people wanted to tell their story.
Our first stop was at the Bergermeister’s office in Schramberg, and right away we received some bad news. The contact person we were to see was ill; however, another person by the name of Carsten Kohlmann, a local historian, might be available. As it turned out, this was our first meeting with Kohlmann, who is now one of our most respected research team members. Basically speaking, if it weren’t for Carsten, most of the crash site photographs and eyewitness accounts would never have been possible. That first meeting was a short one, but he was impressed with the historic documents we had, and we were impressed with his knowledge of the crash that was very near his home. He was unable accompany us to Hardt, the site of the Books crash, but he was very interested in continuing a dialogue with us. He gave us some great information and direction on how to go about finding information, “Talk to the old people."
We went directly to Hardt and found the office of the Bergermiester. The Mayor Hurbert Halder was a young fellow who could speak some English and was very interested in our visit and the documents we had on his community that were taken by the American Graves Registration some 49 years earlier. It was hard at first for us to understand some of his questions, but it all worked out. While we were in the office, a man came in who had seen the crash of the Books plane, and he described the crash in detail on a large map in the mayor’s office . The mayor’s secretary, a young man, did the translating. Then a call came in from a man who heard we were in town who would take us to the crash site. Another stroke of luck! The mayor offered us his secretary for translations, and we were off to pick up Georg Laufer who would take us to the crash site of the tail section of the Books plane. I looked at Ben Jones and said, “ This is unbelievable; it’s almost like it was meant to be." And shortly after we would have another surprise in store for us that would be unbelievable.
Georg Laufer leads the way to the crash site Georg Laufer, a 70 year old man, was in the military, had been wounded, and was home recuperating on Saturday, March 18, 1944. He was to report for duty the next Monday. Georg recalled that at 3:00 that afternoon the 392nd Bomb Group was returning from Friedrichshafen when they were attacked by Me109 fighters. The air battle took place over the town of Hardt. As Georg watched, white puffs of smoke came from four of the Liberators. They were hit, on fire, and started to fall back from the formation,
while one of the planes (we know now to be the Books plane) fell from the sky and looked as though it were going to crash on the nearby Kopp farm. Just before the plane crashed, Georg recalled the pilot pulled the plane out of the dive. It looked to Georg as though they had made it when all of a sudden it blew up. The cockpit was propelled out of site while the tail section turned very often as it fell. Georg continued, “I put on my snow skis and went to the place Steinreute where the tail section had fallen. A soldier Sgt. Dan Jones was still alive in the tail gunner position. Another man soon came, and we both attempted to remove this man, but it was not possible because his legs were tangled in the crushed aircraft. He died a short time later. Exploding shells and small fires in the aircraft caused us to move away from the plane. It was then I picked up a piece of wreckage, which was strictly forbidden, and took it home."
Information was coming so fast I couldn’t keep up with it. I was watching Georg and listening to him speaking in German and also listening to our interpreter at the same time. It was hard to believe that we were standing on the spot where part of the plane came down with the same man who had been here 49 years earlier. I looked at my watch and pointed to the time; it was 3:00 PM. Georg shook his head as if he understood. We didn’t say anything; we both knew what the other meant. This was the exact time that the plane had blown up some 49 years earlier. We had done it! We had come to Germany, found what had happened, and talked to an important eyewitness to the crash.
As we walked back to the car we stopped and talked to the owner of the property, Sofie Kopp and thanked her for allowing us to visit the crash site. Still to this day, 49 years later wreckage from the Books plane is found in her garden every year.
As we drove Georg back to his home, I heard our young translator and Georg talking from the back seat, and just as we were turning into Georg’s driveway, our translator said, “I have some good news for you ,Jim. Georg wants to give you the part from your uncle's aircraft that he picked up 49 years ago." Ben, Karen, and I all looked at each other in disbelief. It was a piece of the ball turret from the Books Plane, which had been lying in his basement for 49 years. Georg said through the interpreter, “Soldiers came to this place after the war and wanted to know about wreckage and what happened. We told them nothing and gave them nothing, but I’ll give it to you in remembrance of your uncle. I’m sorry about your Uncle, and all the others that died here."
We made several more stops at the place where the crew’s bodies were taken after the crash. Exhausted, we drove back across Germany into Holland for our trip back across the English Channel. Back in England before heading home to the US, Ben and I stopped in to visit Ian Hawkins, an English writer, who is well known among 8th Air Force personel. Ian was a great help to me while planning the research trip, and we thought it would be a good idea to stop in and say "Hello," and thank him personally.
Then we headed home to contemplate what we had seen and heard in the Black Forest that must have seemed so far away during the war. So far away from the hometowns where these airmen grew up. I was thinking as we flew home how the war made less sense then it did before we came here. I was sure I knew why they died, and now it makes no sense. The Germans we were at war with 50 years ago are now our friends. What is going on; I must be missing something. I think the real reason my uncle died so far from home 49 years ago was so that I can now visit this place Hardt 49 years later without fear or hate. But what a price was paid. The search continues.
I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I would like to find the families of the crew members who flew with my uncle. With all the information that I had , finding the families seemed to be at the top of my “things to do” list. I felt sure that other family members would want to know what happened to their father, brother, or son. How to proceed was the big question. No one had been in contact with any of them for over 50 years except my Grandmother.
Again, she was the key to the puzzle. The mothers had written constantly to each other after the boys were shot down. They passed photographs back and forth and letters, lots of letters with names of brothers and sisters and their addresses. They were all there in that box that Grandma had saved so long ago.
The months passed, and my phone bills increased. I was getting nowhere fast. The families had moved since the 40’s. Back then they had no zip codes and no area codes. I needed some way to find a lot of people fast. The newspaper seemed the only way to go. The search for the families began in September of 1993. And who better to begin with than the family of Lt. Dallas O. Books, the pilot.
I called the local newspaper in the town where Lt. Books lived. In this case The Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I talked with Tom Pfankuch, a staff reporter, explained about my research, and asked if the paper would be interested in doing a story on Lt. Books. The Telegram jumped on the story, and my research material on Lt. Books was on the way to Wisconsin. Pfankuch kept in touch for a few weeks and told me that Lt. Book’s father was the chief of the fire department. When his son was shot down, it was a major story. Pfankuch had also made contact with the brother and the son of Lt. Books. Things were sounding good, and on September 12, 1993, on the front page of the Sunday news, the headline read, “Reviving the Tale of Old Glory." It was a great article with a photograph of Lt. Books and a photograph of his grave. I was proud of the article, and as I read it over and over again, I wondered what my next step should be.
Two days after the article ran in the paper, the son of Lt. Books called me on the phone, “Hello Jim, this is Bob Books; my father was Dallas Books from Eau Claire, Wisconsin." It was the first time I had spoken to one of the family members of the crew. Seven years have passed since that conversation. I can only remember bits and pieces, but that's not important now. What is important is that Bob and I share something in common, the loss of family and the desire to keep their memory alive. And we share something else; as our friendship has developed over the years, we talk about Bob’s father, my uncle, and the other crew members -- what they were and what they might have become. This web site is our memorial to them. Our hope is it will make future searches by 3rd and 4th generation Crusaders easier by seeing our research. For us, the second generation, Memorial Day is every day.
Bob invited me to Wisconsin to go over some of the information I had compiled and to visit the boyhood home of his father and the cemetery where he was laid to rest. In the winter of 1994, I took Bob up on his offer and flew to Milwaukee for several days to visit with Bob and share information about his father and the crew.
After a few days of getting to know each other, we headed to Eau Claire, the boyhood home of Bob’s father Dallas O. Books. This was a special trip for me because of being with Bob, the son of Lt. Dallas Books, the leader and the glue that held the crew together when the going got tough as in the Gotha mission, Berlin, and Friedrichshafen.
The town of Eau Claire, where Dallas grew up, was not much different than Fawn Grove, where Uncle Jim grew up. The house is still there and the school where Dallas attended, as are Uncle Jim's in Fawn Grove. The local VFW in town still has members that remember Dallas, same as with the Fawn Grove VFW. Dallas’s brother still lives in town, as do Jim’s brothers. And in the local cemetery, an American flag flys over a military gravestone with the inscription at the bottom: March 18, 1944, same as in the cemetery in Fawn Grove. We may have been in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but it could have been Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania or Osborne, Kansas or Hartford, Connecticut or Salem, Oregon or Youngstown, Ohio or Woburn, Massachusetts or Chattanooga, Tennessee or Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The Books Crew could have been from any one of these towns.
While driving around town, Bob showed us the places his father spent time growing up. Most of the buildings are still there as they were 50 years before. This made the trip all the more interesting. A visit with Bob's Uncle Duane was also planned. It was interesting to hear him reminiscing of days gone by growing up with his brother Dallas. The last stop was at Lakeview Cemetery to visit Dallas’s grave. A special moment at the end of a long day.
Heading east on the return trip, we stopped at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, where we spent a few hours looking at the WWII aircraft. Also of interest to us was an electronic mission board of the March 6, 1944 raid on Berlin. As the Books Crew was on this mission, the display was of particular interest to us.
Bob and his family are the only family members of the crew that I have spent time with; however, I have had contact with and made lasting friendships with most of the other family members of the crew. In most instances the best and fastest way to find family members was to go through the local newpapers. This worked most of the time; however, some newspapers weren’t interested in doing a front page story as The Leader-Telegram had done. I had to be satisfied with a small article in the “local” section with maybe a small photograph of the crew member that came from that town. Nevertheless, it’s the best way to proceed, and 100% of the time I received a response from someone.
Since our last trip to Germany in 1993, Carsten Kohlmann, my German counterpart, has been researching the four Liberator crash sites of the 392nd Bomb Group and sending information in the form of eyewitness accounts and photographs. With this new and exciting information, another research trip to Germany was planned for the Spring of 1996.
Unlike the first trip, this time we had a plan. We put together a research team that would document all aspects of the crashed aircraft. Ben Jones, our English researcher, would shoot still photographs. Ben is also an expert in identification of B-24 wreckage parts. Carsten Kohlmann, our German connection, would arrange all visits to the crash areas and meetings with eyewitnesses. Most importantly he would translate all eyewitness meetings with the local German people. Carsten would also plan meetings with the Mayor of Hardt, Hurbert Halder, who became interested in the crash of the Books plane during our 1993 visit. Kipp McCleary, a friend and local business man, would operate a video camera and document all meetings with eyewitnesses and visits to crash areas. My job in all of this was to meet with the German eyewitnesses that had first hand knowledge about the crashes of the 4 Liberators and, in particular, the Books crew and the death of my uncle and to remember as much information as possible.
Two weeks before our arrival in Hardt, several news articles were prepared by Carsten and sent to local newspapers announcing our research visit. In the articles he asked eyewitnesses and anyone having plane wreckage that would be willing to let us look at it for identification purposes to make themselves known and available to meet with us. These news articles had the desired effect as was evident the day we arrived, Carsten was on the phone all morning with eyewitnesses wanting to speak with us and show us wreckage from the four plane crashes. It was the beginning of a research trip that I would never forget.
Our trip began from Baltimore- Washington Airport (BWI), landing in Reykjavik, Iceland with a two hour layover. On to Frankfort, Germany where we rented a car for the four hour trip into the Black Forest in Southern Germany.
We drove directly to the home of Carsten Kohlmann, relaxing for the remainder of the day and catching up on our upcoming week. At the Kohlmanns, the phone constantly rang with eyewitnesses of the crashes in the local towns. All totaled, 16 people called wanting to share stories, wreckage parts and their feelings on that day, March 18, 1944. The people that called/ read the articles in the newspapers that Carsten had written several days earlier. One man said he had taken the instrument panel from the B-24 Liberator (the Books ship) that crashed in Hardt. Several years before he gave it away, and now he tried to remember to whom it was given. The cockpit windshield from the Books ship was in a chicken house less than a mile from the crash site. It was referred to as “ the Great Window” probably because of its thickness. B-24 glass was several inches thick to provide some protection from flak bursts and shells. Another man became very emotional on the phone; his wife had been killed during the war by allied bombers. He told Carsten he would have killed Chester Strickler (only survivor of the Books plane) if he had seen him bail out of the stricken bomber. There was not much I could say except I understood his grief from the loss of his wife. These types of emotional eyewitness accounts were a preview of what was to come as almost everyone in the villages had lost loved ones during the war.
After the calls stopped we had a great German meal provided by Carsten’s mother. We then had a chance to relax and catch up on the upcoming activities.
I also had the great honor to present Carsten a citation from the State of Pennsylvania for his research on a Pennsylvania native, (my uncle) Everette N. Morris. The citation was my way of saying "Thanks" for all of his help. A few days later a similar citation was also presented to the Mayor of Hardt for his help. After that we talked some more, then left for our bed and breakfast rooms for the night.
The next few days were spent investigating five (5) different crash sites. The investigative report, eye witness accounts, photos and our personal notes may be found by clicking on the map or site buttons below.
I can’t help but wonder as I look at the above photograph, of what all was lost in the Black Forest on March 18, 1944. One can only imagine what might have been had Jim survived the war. Perhaps a farmer like his father, or maybe a lawyer, as he attended Temple University. How many more cousins would I have had? What would they be like? And the most interesting question what would my mother and father have named me? And what would I have been doing for the past 15 years without this research? How about all my research friends like, Ben Jones from England, Carsten Kohlmann from Germany and Bob Books who developed the 392nd Web Site, and the list goes on and on. It would never have met any of them. It’s amazing how one man’s life has touched so many other lives even 55 years after his life came to an end.
The research undertaken has lasted over 15 years and has taken many twists and turns. You are constantly being pulled in different directions, but I’ve been careful to stay on a course relating directly to the March 18th mission to Friedrichshafen. You might think that after so many years the drive I had in the beginning would drop off and the intensity of the search would diminished, however the opposite has happened. The more information I received the more I wanted. Time has not diminished the drive for information. We are still finding documents and photographs in the National Archives that we never knew existed. A good exasmple is recently I found a way to view the history of the 392nd Bomb Group on 16mm microfilm, that included day by day directives from the base commanders, squadron histories and photographs of damaged 392nd aircraft returning from missions. Every day has brought something new, but what good is all this information ??
Several years ago when I started down the path of realizing I was getting older, I started looking for some justification for my own existence. I decided this research could be the way to help thousands of 2nd generation family members who were looking for information about their fathers, brothers, and cousins who were killed in the war and had no ideas about where to start looking. My search has been a way for me to give back what I have received and to justify my life and do something good to help other people.
I am not alone in this task as other researchers involved with the Books crew project have come together, formed a team, and made ready this knowledge to share with the world. We have been brought together for all the right reasons: to document, understand, and remember what happened to those who came before us so that the terrible price these men and women paid for peace will never have to be paid again.
Ben Jones, a crash site researcher from Litcham, England, is young, aggressive, and will try anything once. Just the person I needed to stay excited about a research project. We met in Wendling, England, the wartime base of the 392nd Bomb Group in 1992. A common bond has developed between us that will last for the remainders of our lives.
Carsten Kohlmann is a serious German researcher, who is interested in and studied the history of the Black Forest. Our meeting in 1993 was a great stroke of luck. Carsten’s research credentials are unquestionable, and our common research goal has brought with it a bond that will last a lifetime. Without him the questions concerning the crash of the Books Crew would never have been fully answered, and my most valued possession, the compass from the Books cockpit, would never have been found.
Bob Books is the son of Lt. Dallas O. Books, 579th Squadron pilot. As Dallas was the glue that held the crew together during the war, Bob is now the glue that holds us together as we build this site in memory of all the men and women who lost heir lives flying and supporting the B-24 during the war. One must only log on to the 392nd Web Site to realize the hundreds of hours he has spent to build this great memorial to his father and all the others who were lost.
Greg Hatton, a POW researcher who I met only several years ago, has influenced me in many ways. It’s hard to keep up the intensity after so long a time, especially when the information stops coming in. Greg was a fresh new face with a lot of good ideas on how to present my findings and started me thinking about the computer age of research and video interviews. His new and fresh ideas keep us moving in a new direction with the same final goals, to document and understand.
The family members of the crew, who live all over the US, and the information they shared with me made me feel that I actually knew the guys that flew with my uncle. Sometimes along the way I had the feeling that I was giving them more information than they really wanted. I understand that it is hard for them to have the sustained enthusiasm I have had these last 15 years. For some reason it just hung around and wouldn’t leave. It might have come from those letters from Carsten in Germany and from Ben in England. It was like Christmas every day as the photographs, eyewitness accounts, and documents just kept coming and coming and coming. I got so excited I needed to share the information with someone and the families were the ones I shared with.
I will always be grateful to the 392nd veterans who helped me and gave me encouragement and told me what a great job I was doing. I remember a special phone call I received from California from a 392nd veteran who had read an article in the 392nd Memorial Association newsletter about our proposed original trip to Germany. To say the least I had a great many reservations about the first trip and the information we could possible find. The caller told me what a great thing I was doing, and he wished me all the luck in the world. That was all it took; one small phone call from a veteran and the trip was on with no more reservations on my part. I remember the first time I called Cliff Peterson who then was the 392nd group contact on the phone and asked him about some information on my uncle. He said, “Oh, incidentally, I was shot down on that same mission." Just one of hundreds of coincidences.
Ian Hawkins, the world renowned English aviation author, with all his contacts throughout the world, has been a great help in my search. Ian can put you in-touch with just about anyone in the world who has anything to do with the air war over Europe. I consider him a great friend, and we continue to communicate.
There are many more people with whom I have crossed paths during my research that shared information with me. Many stories have come to light in the past few years that are very interesting and are similar to my story. I hope my experiences will be an inspiration to others who are just beginning their own searches and can see from my search what information is available and can be found.
Bill McGuire is another one of my closest research friends whose father was killed on the Friedrichshafen mission. Bill has researched his father’s death with the same intensity that I have used for my Uncle. We have shared information with each other, and I have always been impressed with Bill’s concentration on the smallest details of his search. As I have chosen this web site to document my search, Bill has chosen to write a book After The Liberators: A Father’s Last Mission, A Son’s Lifelong Journey. I remember that he would send me information and ask me to comment on some of his thoughts for his book. I would start to read, and tears would stream down my face as I would read his words about growing up without a father. What a lasting tribute to his father this book will be. I’m proud to know him. I stood up and cheered when he took a B-24 ride in the All American. With his son filming, the B-24 took off from Republic Aviation Airport in New York City. Bill was shown on the video. As the plane lifted off the runway and gained altitude, I could see the excitement building on his face. Bill was probably thinking about his dad as he pointed out the right waist window towards the Statue of Liberty and shouted over the engines, “God Bless America !” Watching the video I couldn’t help but grin, cry, and think to myself, “Good for you, Bill McGuire, good for you." I had that same feeling one year later when I took my B-24 ride.
My wife Karen has been an active participant in my research, and none of this would have been possible without her full support. She seemed to enjoy herself as I dragged her all over the world: tramping through the Black Forest and skipping dinner and supper till she almost dropped over from lack of nourishment. When I asked her if she wanted to go along on the 1996 trip she said, “No thank you, dear. Been there, done that. You go and have a good time."
I remember a conversation I had with the only survivor of the Books Crew Chester Strickler during a visit with him in 1993. We were talking about the day he bailed out of the plane and his memories of his buddies going through training and then into combat. Chet said, “I don’t know why I wasn’t killed with the rest of the crew. I don’t know why I was spared,but your Uncle Jim was killed. Maybe it was meant for me to live and tell you the story. I just don’t know?"
Was that the reason? I don’t know either, but it’s something to think about. How many aircrews were there with one survivor? Were they just at the right place at the right time, or were they supposed to come home and do something important in their lives, or was one of their offspring meant to invent something the might cure a disease and save thousands of lives? What is the Master Plan? As the Books Crew research came to a close, my questions became deeper. What about the German boys that were killed? Weren’t they praying to the same God to protect them? Another statement I constantly hear that brings up questions is “Your Uncle gave his life for his country." I guess there is no other way to say it. To bring comfort to the families of the soldiers is Number One. I have formed my own opinions after talking to family members for 15 years. My Uncle didn’t give his life for his county, but rather it was taken from him. Maybe it doesn’t matter, and the whole thing is just a play on words; however , it is interesting to note after I talked with one of the families from the Books Crew, that the mother, still to this day, 50 years later, doesn’t blame the Germans for her son’s death, but rather our government for sending him into harms way. Opinions on questions like these come and go, and I am constantly changing my mind. My search for justification for my Uncle's death and other questions about the horrible events that happened during the war will never be answered on this earth.
Several years ago my first cousin, knowing that this research had become all-consuming, said to me, “One of these days your Uncle will just come walking through that door." An interesting point of view, and maybe he was trying to tell me something. And if he did come walking through the door, I would hope to hear him say, “You did a good job, Jim."
It has become perfectly clear that I will have to wait my turn like everyone else to finally receive the answers I am searching for. Till that day comes, this passage from the Bible seems appropriate and suggests God's answers to all of my questions:Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13