392nd Bomb Group

The Way It Was with Birdie Schmidt

Reminiscences About the ARC Aeroclub at Wendling
Gleaned from Reports Made to ARC English Headquarters

Winifred "Freddie" Small as Aeroclub Director and I as Program Director arrived at Wendling on a dark night in early December 1943. We were escorted by Dallet Jones, first American Red Cross (ARC) Field Director for the 392nd BG. We stayed in the small hospital on the base because there was no place else to put us. During the night there were several explosions. We could hear the sound of a small plane overhead. As our room was just inside the front entrance, we could also hear people scurrying in and out. Someone stumbled out having forgotten his flashlight and came swearing back in again trying to find it. We didn't know what was going on but since no one came rapping at our door telling us to head for a bomb shelter, we just stayed in bed and pulled the covers up. Thus was our introduction to Wendling.

Within two weeks we opened the club on the night of December 23, 1943. It was specifically for the use of all enlisted personnel on the base; however, officers were welcome to use the library facilities anytime and the rest of the club on other occasions as guests of the enlisted men.

The club was of Nissen hut construction like most of the base. There was a staff of about 30 English people including our Manageress, Dorothy Blundell. The largest room in the club was the Snack Bar. There we served sandwiches, tarts, sweets, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and soft drinks in the evening. As time went on in mid-morning we opened the Snack Bar for hot rolls and beverages. This was a popular time for a break and for those who hadn't had breakfast. Later we had an afternoon coke and soft drink hour at 3:30.

Annie Claxton eventually became our cashier as General Eisenhower had requested the ARC to charge. We did a minimal amount. If we began to make money, we had a free night in the Snack Bar. That happened about once a month and kept us in a 'break-even status. Our Scottish bookkeeper, Elsa MacDonald, kept us in line here. As we understood the reasoning behind the General's request, it was because our American soldiers were better paid than their English counterparts and the General thought the soldiers' extra money could be used to strengthen the recreational service they were receiving and not embarrass their English counterparts by flashing their wealth in stores and pubs of their host English villages.

Another very important food service we had was to take sandwiches, cakes, cookies (biscuits), hot coffee, tea and cocoa, cigarettes (How times have changed!) and gum to serve outside the interrogation room to returning crews as they entered the room for debriefing. Of course, there was absolutely no charge for this service to enlisted personnel or officers as they were returning from combat.

Left to right: S/Sgt George A. Reade, S/Sgt William Bauer, Winifred Small, ARC Aeroclub Director, and Birdie Schmidt, ARC Program Director.

Airmen returning from a mission are served coffee before they are interrogated. On the wall behind the four was a map showing the target of the 392nd Bomb Group's previous missions. The photo had to be censored before Birdie could mail it home, so she cut the map out of the photo.

Other rooms in the club included a small game or card room, a larger game room with two ping-pong tables, a library and a lounge with a big brick fireplace. Letter writers abounded here. The small game room was furnished with card tables and chairs. We held Saturday night bingo parties there. The coveted prize was a fresh egg scrounged from the surrounding countryside. This beat the powdered egg served in the ground enlisted men's mess.

In the larger game room with the ping-pong tables, we ran tournaments and eventually competed with another base. Other recreational activities included a concert program on Sunday evenings as we did manage to get a piano in the Snack Bar, dancing classes twice a week for both beginners and advanced, Snack Bar Jamborees with our hill Billy Band on Tuesdays and Saturdays, German classes once a week, State Nights during which we honored GI's on the base from the particular states highlighted and Forum Nights - one of which was called "Know Your Enemy." Emmett Fore, Special Service Officer, and I visited a nearby RAF base to arrange exchange programs for these.

Another very important food service we had was to take sandwiches, cakes, cookies (biscuits), hot coffee, tea and cocoa, cigarettes (How times have changed!) and gum to serve outside the interrogation room to returning crews as they entered the room for debriefing. Of course, there was absolutely no charge for this service to enlisted personnel or officers as they were returning from combat.

392nd BG personnel sing in the snack bar of the Red Cross Aeroclub. At the piano is S/Sgt Nevin W. Geary (579th Sqdn) with S/Sgt Anthony F. Malavasic (578th Sqdn) on the accordion. The photo must have been taken soon after the Aeroclub was opened as S/Sgt Malavasic was shot down and became a POW on 31 December 1943. S/Sgt Malavasic then played the accordion in a band at Stalag 17B.

Then Lt. Col. Gilbert introduced me to J.A. Hardy, author of KEY in which Constance Bennett played. He promised to speak at one of our Forum Nights and later he did. Major Hardy was with British Intelligence and told us about his escape from a PW camp in Germany during WW I. Major and Mrs. Hardy lived close by the base so we invited them for dinner before the program. Ice cream was served for dessert and it was the first they had seen since the war here. Our ice cream was made on the base from powdered milk and powdered eggs. It tasted as good as that we were used to back home.

Freddie was transferred to Clubmobile the end of March in '44. When that happened I was made the club director but didn't receive the help of another Red Cross girl, Helen Malsed, until the first of May. Her charm, ever-ready smile, and willingness to help made her a favorite on the base.

These above photos show how much the ground crew appreciated the ARC Clubmobile.

The Red Cross Clubmobiles operated on many bases in England. They were so popular, in fact, that photos of various Clubmobiles were made into postcards by the American Red Cross. On the back of each postcard was printed "Red Cross Clubmobiles staffed by American Girls bring free hot coffee and doughnuts, cigarettes, gum, candy, etc., from the folks back home to U.S. Forces at their camps in foreign lands." These five postcards were sent home by 578th Sqdn mechanic Sgt Clayton C. Whisman.

Postcard photos from Clayton C. Whisman

Meanwhile several GI's had pitched in to help. One in particular I remember was Ferd Petrarca. He helped close the club at night giving a fifteen minute warning to one avid letter-writer so he could get his letter finished on time. The rest of the GI's just received a five-minute warning with the usual 'time Gentlemen' and the flickering of lights. Eventually, Ferd was 'spared' to us by the military in the afternoons as Jack-of-all-trades. He tightened up all the wobbly table legs in the Snack Bar, blacked stoves, etc. He was the oil that kept things running smoothly.

To thank our English staff we had a party and Red Cross pin presentation ceremony for those who had earned them for their service in the club. I shall never forget Angie, a 72-year old English woman who cycled in each day to help with the chores in the club, or Nora, a plucky, young cockney surviving the war out of context up in Norfolk. Then there was Mazie, tall, dark curly-haired "Miss Efficiency." She teased me with a sly smile about my love for raw carrots by saying, "Raw carrots are for horses, Miss Schmidt." Colonel Rendle came to this affair to pay his respects kidding that he had to check and make sure the Red Cross wasn't putting on a brawl.

Military personnel on the base were very kind to us as well as our English neighbors. For example, the engineers brought a bulldozer and really flattened the ground around the outside of the club. Then one of the neighboring farmers plowed and harrowed the ground and sowed grass seed for us. George Cadwalader of the Quartermaster Corps helped solve our fuel problems. With M/Sgt 'Vic' Vickers on hand a serious electrical problem wasn't a problem for very long. The Utilities boys made the slotted cement, in-the-ground bike racks for us on an experimental basis. These bike racks were so successful that they were built elsewhere on the base. The Ordnance boys contributed bent bomb fins from which floor stand ash trays were made. We couldn't have opened the club each day without the genial dependability of Jim Goar as Transportation Officer. He juggled vehicles and personnel not only to help us get our staff to and from work but also to help us transport our food and equipment and then set it up outside the debriefing room to serve returning missions.

In serving a returning mission we always covered the tables with white sheets for table cloths because we thought it added a homey touch, making it nicer to come back to. We could always tell what kind of a day it had been by the way the boys came in. If they were kidding around and talking, it had been an easy mission. If they looked like ghosts and said, "Just give me something hot" we knew it had been a rough one. They moved limply. Their hair was disheveled; faces were sweaty and streaked with dirt. Maybe they were still wearing their heated flying suits and orange Mae Wests. They clomped around in their heavy sheepskin boots to find a chair and collapse. Perhaps, they'd been on oxygen for hours. After some missions familiar faces were missed. However, if the ships weren't seen to actually blow up, there was always hope that somehow they managed to get out. Later the engineers, radio men and gunners of the crews would come to the club and talk. Talk was not so much about flak and fighters but about the empty barracks in which they'd have to sleep. Sometimes I think that bothered them more than being shot at. What could we or I do? Just listen. Their faith in flying came back. They then felt able to carry out promises made to each other that if one went down, the other would write his wife. Of course, there were also fatal accidents not due to enemy action as someone crawling back in the bomb bay to push out a bomb that didn't go and going with it.

And then there was D-Day, June 6, 1944. We served the crews at briefing and debriefing that day which meant that it was an all night and all day job. We served over 400 men going and coming that day which meant that we served over 800 in all. A greater thrill and privilege I'd never had in my life up to then as when I saw our boys off in the very early hours of D-Day. We took coffee, cocoa, lemonade, cookies and sandwiches down for serving. Everyone was happy. They all had an air of suppressed excitement, of expectancy about them. One of the boys saw some of the hard candy we had for them on the serving table and he said, "Gee, it's like Christmas." Someone else immediately said, "Yeah, don't you wish it were!" In a way it was like Christmas Eve because here at last was coming something for which you'd been waiting ages. In another way, it was just before curtain time on opening night of the big show. The cast had the spirit to work together and make it a success. Everyone was on his toes. Everything was well organized. The boys ate and drank everything we had for them. In the energy of the moment, Walter Joachim, a bombardier, gave me an enthusiastic hug and kiss over the coffee urn saying, "Honey, this is it!"

Father McDonough was giving Communion to those who desired it. The boys just knelt down every so often to receive it wherever they were in the hall. The others were buzzing around getting flying equipment checked and yet respectful of them when they passed by. Both Father McDonough and Don Clark, the protestant Chaplain, always attended the briefings and debriefings. There was an itinerant Jewish Rabbi for the base who cooperated with them.

After everybody had been served and left for the ships, we collapsed to wait for take-off. We stared at a map of the United States on the wall and talked about every section of the country. As take-off time approached, we went to stand on a parallel runway. It was cold and windy! It was dark and then the moon came out in full from behind the clouds and everything was lighted. It was perfectly gorgeous. Signal flares went up from other fields. Our fighters were in the sky darting around like so many little insects. In the distance the sky became red for a second like a flaming sunset and then it was gone. It must have been an explosion of some kind although it was too far away for us to feel any reverberations. Then the moon went behind the clouds again. A hush fell. Down to our left and over the rise in the runway toward us the first Lib slipped into the sky. On her way upstairs that tail gunner was on the ball blinking his Aldiss lamp. In timed succession the others followed - all blinking their Aldiss lamps till the sky looked like it was filled with fireflies. That was the 100th mission of the 392nd on its way.

Two more missions were flown that day. Fortunately, all crews returned safely. None of them could really see the effects of their bombing because of cloud cover over the targets. Even so all kinds of stories circulated later about the mass of ships in the channel being so thick that one could have walked across. Later the 100th mission was celebrated with a base GI party in one of the hangers. For the Aeroclub's contribution, we set up the Snack Bar for the evening in the hanger. Aeroclub cooks baked special congratulation cakes for each squadron and company on the field. Mrs. M.A. Wilde, the American Red Cross public Relations officer for our zone, came to visit us on this occasion. Helen and I showed her the club, took her to the party and checked her out in general on Red Cross procedure on the base. We had a wonderful time with her because she fitted herself right into everything.

Special cakes were also baked during this June month as "thank-you's" to the telephone operators, the S-2 boys and the medics who were so kind in helping us out when we needed them. The S-2 boys asked us to help them eat their cake. While doing so, they put on a mock briefing for us since we were curious as to what went on at one. We split out sides at their version.

At this time we helped welcome a new commanding officer on the base, Lt. Col. Lorin Johnson. It was fortunate for us that he knew our club previously when he had been deputy commander of the base. He shared the same enthusiasm and cooperative spirit with the Aeroclub that the former CO, Col. Irvine Rendle, had. We were sorry to see Col. Rendle leave but his talents were needed elsewhere. Shortly thereafter we welcomed Carl Tuttle as the new ARC Field Director. He replaced Dallet Jones who was forced to leave because of illness.

There was an accidental shooting in the Snack Bar. Luckily, the boy was not killed. He was shot by an 'unloaded' forty-five. The gun was fired at close range just across a canteen table. The bullet entered the boy's right shoulder, pierced his lung and went out his back then on out through the side of the building. It was lucky it did not hurt anybody else. This happened early in the evening about 6:30 p.m. The Snack Bar was not crowded. I was in the office when I heard the shot. Immediately, I went out; took one look; turned around back to the office and called the ambulance. People did not panic. GI's made the boy comfortable on the floor. The doctor arrived and gave immediate treatment. Then the boy was transported to a general hospital. The doctor asked me to report the accident to the MP's which I did. I was told that the authorities had been expecting this kind of thing to happen for some time. It was unfortunate that it happened in the Aeroclub. The only thing we could do to help prevent this from happening again was to check and make sure that clips were out of guns when they were carried in the building. We could not inaugurate a checking system because according to army directives, guns were to be carried at all times. This order to carry guns at all times occurred when a counter-invasion was regarded as a possibility.

Time wore on after D-Day with speculations about us going home soon becoming dimmer. So we plowed ahead as usual not knowing what to expect. A change in manageresses for the Aeroclub took place. Miss Dorothy Blundell, who previously had been active with the Dutch underground before coming to Wendling, left to work with the Women's Legion on the London docks. Mrs. Evelyn Thetford came to us on July 31st from an Aeroclub at Ascot. Norfolk was originally her home so she was happy to return with her 11 year-old son Ian. We thrived on the new ideas she brought with her.

One very touching incident also occurred at this time for the Red Cross. A donation came to the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund in the form of a biscuit tin filled up with British coppers. ;When the money was all counted, we found £5-5-2 ½. S/Sgt Alec Hurley brought it to us. His brother, T/Sgt William Hurley, and he were on the same crew. One day brother Bill flew with another crew and become MIA. Maybe Bill would turn up a POW. At any rate his buddies hoped the coppers would help. This story inspired others to contribute their coppers in ensuing months.

Standing left to right: 1/Lt Warren B. Harris, navigator; 1/Lt Frank G. Basham, copilot; 1/Lt Robert L. Egan, pilot; 2/Lt William L. Gray, bombardier.
Kneeling left to right: S/Sgt John F. Salisbury, ball turret; T/Sgt Frank B. Pope, radio operator; S/Sgt Billy S. Kennedy, tail gunner; S/Sgt Alec Hurley, waist gunner; T/Sgt William F. Hurley, engineer; S/Sgt Olson Stognor, waist gunner. T/Sgt William F. Hurley was killed in action on April 11, 1944 while flying as a substitute with the McNichol crew.

On August 8, 1944, a very exciting event occurred for the American Red Cross, Helen, and me. We were honored when one of the base defense tanks was named HELEN'S HAPPY ARC WARRIORS and a Liberator was named BIRDIE SCHMIDT ARC. It was as Lt. Col. Johnson said, "[…the 392nd's] way of saying 'thank-you' for the long months of service you have given."

The festivities started on Sunday, the 6th, when we had tea at the Aeroclub for the Liberator crew and ground crew, and tank crew. On Tuesday afternoon at 3 o'clock the christening ceremonies took place in the dispersal area opposite the Flying Control Tower. It was a beautiful sunshiney day. Just before the ground ceremonies began, they thrilled us by having the P-47 stationed here buzz the ship and the tanks.

Colonel Johnson expressed his appreciation of the American Red Cross and what the Aeroclub had meant to the men here by presenting a shiny silver Liberator for me to christen. So thanking the Colonel and assuring him the Red Cross service would continue, in the name of the 392nd BG I broke a bottle of coke over the nose gun christening the ship the BIRDIE SCHMIDT - ARC. After that, I was happy to present the crew and ground crew with cigarette lighters as good luck tokens. The lighters were given to me by Mr. Harry Palmer, ARC Executive, Zone 1. Small Red Crosses were emblazoned on them. The crew and ground crew were thrilled with them. I was too.

Birdie Schmidt christens B-24 Liberator #42-50387 by smashing a wrapped bottle of coke over a nose gun. Clustered around the ship are the crew, ground crew, and base personnel including (left) Lt. Col. Lorin L. Johnson, (center) Lt. Don McCammond, base PR Officer; Harry Palmer, ARC Executive, Zone 1; Ed Puhl, ARC Field Supervisor; (far right) Mary and Frances Roche with their father Morris Roche, Lord Fermoy.
Left to right: Birdie Schmidt, Frances Roche, Mary Roche, Morris Roche (Lord Fermoy) and Lt. Col. Lorin Johnson, 392nd BG Commanding Officer. Frances Roche was Princess Diana's mother.

Then we all moved over to the tanks. And in the same manner, Helen christened the lead tank HELEN'S HAPPY ARC WARRIORS. Helen presented the tank crew with pipes. The tank crew were resplendent in battle dress - fatigues, helmets and goggles. These boys were all ex-combat men. The Lib crew had their flight jackets on with the backs decorated with the ship name and the ground crew ran true to form in fatigues. It was a wonderful occasion during which many pictures were taken. Just as the christening ceremonies were finishing, the mission out (#148 Target: La Perthe A/F) began returning. So we hurried to the debriefing area to serve it.

Helen Malsed (left of tank) prepares to christen a base defense tank while Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Lorin Johnson (right of tank) and base personnel look on.
This photo was taken just after the christening of the 392nd BG base tank, HELEN'S HAPPY ARC WARRIORS, honoring Helen Malsed, ARC Aeroclub Program Director for the 392nd. Seated atop the tank left to right: Helen Malsed, Harry Palmer (ARC Executive, Zone 1) and Ed Puhl (ARC Field Supervisor).

That evening we celebrated with a good Luck Dinner in the Aeroclub Card Room. Guests included: all the crews; the Colonel; the CO of the ship's squadron, the 576th; the CO of the tanks; the public Relations Group and others on the base officially connected with the affair; visiting Red Cross personnel; and Lord Fermoy and his two daughters, Mary and Frances. Previously, Col. Rendle in his official capacity as CO of the 392nd in a neighborly fashion had become a friend of Lord and Lady Fermoy and their children as they lived not far from the base. They were invited to attend the christening but only Lord Fermoy and his two daughters could come. Today both Lord and Lady Fermoy are deceased. Mary still lives in the King's Lynn area. Frances is now the Lady Shand-Kidd and the mother of Princess Diana.

I have often been asked why it was that Hoffman's crew wanted to name their ship for me. I'm told Hank Hoffman said, "We were undecided on a name for our bomber and argued about it for 20 missions. Finally, someone suggested Birdie and it went over unanimously."

For the record, the flying crew and ground crew with their home addresses at that time are listed below.

Pilot 1st Lt. Henry W. Hoffman…….…….Pop…….…….Flushing, NY
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Chester E. Gorton……….Peewee…….…….Denver, CO
Navigator 2nd Lt. James H. Randall….…..Jamie Boy…….…….Littlestown, PA
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Donald C. Wise…….…….Uncle Donald…….…….Milkensburg, PA
Engineer T/Sgt. Robert E. Boney…….…….Nubbin…….…….Sumter, SC
Radio Operator Cpl. William H. McNutt…….…….Mac…….…….Plainfield, NJ
Right Waist Gunner S/Sgt. Virgil H. Dopson…….…….Dobby…….…….Sioux Falls, SD
Ball Turret Gunner S/Sgt. Otto B. Sanders…..…Sandy…….…….Columbus, OH
Left Waist Gunner S/Sgt. John A. Kamacho..Eyes…….…….Seattle, WA
Tail Gunner S/Sgt. Robert F. Goo…….…….Bob…….…….Dayton, OH

Ground Crew

Crew Chief M/Sgt. Joseph Haluka……….……Joe…….…….Carteret, NJ
Sgt. John J. McDonough……..…Mac…….…….Philadelphia, PA.
Sgt. John E. Kappeler……….….Elmer…….…….Pittsburgh, PA

Birdie Schmidt ARC's crew. Standing left to right, 2/Lt Donald Wise, 1/Lt Henry Hoffman, 2/Lt James Randall, Birdie Schmidt, 2/Lt Chester Gorton, Cpl. William McNutt, S/Sgt Robert Goo. Kneeling left to right, T/Sgt Robert Boney, S/Sgt Otto Sanders, S/Sgt John Kamacho, S/Sgt Virgil Dopson.

Today (1994) the members of the flying crew with whom I am in touch (Don Wise, Bob Boney, Virgil Dopson, Otto Sanders and John Kamacho) all know that Henry Hoffman and Bob Goo are deceased. We do not know for certain what has happened to Chester Gorton, James Randall, William McNutt or the ground crew Joe Haluka, John McDonough and (John) Elmer Kappeler or the artist, Sergeant Arthur Olsen (believed to be Arthur H. Olsen, 578th Engineering Section) who painted the picture on the plane. Arthur Olsen, the painter, is not the same as Arthur W. Olson of Oswego, Illinois, of the 392nd ground echelon. I also know and remember him as a regular attendee at the Aeroclub.

The next day after the christening the ship returned from a mission in which the target was Sindlefingen - the Mercedes-Benz aircraft engine plant on the southeast outskirts of Stuttgart.They had been shop up with John Kamacho, left waist gunner, wounded. Others wounded that day that I know about were S/Sgts. Judd and Flesey. John Kamacho had a flak wound in the right thigh which was quite serious. However, the medics successfully sewed him up and I was able to visit him later in the hospital.

Meanwhile the rest of the crew went on leave. Some went to Edinburgh wearing their flight jackets with my name - as the name of their ship - very visible on their backs. Before these crew members came back, there were other GI's coming into the club telling me the crew was in Edinburgh and asking if I knew Polly Wallace in the Red Cross Club there. Of course, I knew Polly. We had done KP together in the BACK THE ATTACK show located on the grounds between the White House and the Washington Monument. This was part of our training and service for an overseas assignment in September 1943 in Washington, DC. Then we each happened to be assigned as part of a group of 50 Red Cross Staff

The Hoffman crew display their A-2 jackets with their plane's new name.

Assistants to come to England sailing on THE MONARCH OF BERMUDA from Brooklyn the end of October 1943. We arrived in Liverpool the first part of November. There we quickly boarded a train for London coming into King's Cross during an air raid. In the dark we were loaded onto 2 ½ ton canvas-covered trucks to make the journey to our assigned billets. After being deposited there with our footlockers, gas masks and other allowable luggage, a cup of hot tea graciously served as indeed calming. The boys were excited in their reporting over one of life's serendipities - that of meeting another Red Cross girl who knew and shared similar experiences with "their" Red Cross girl and vice versa.

Scotland was a favorite place for GI's to go on leave. The Scottish people were very kind and the place had not been so scarred by the war on London. Customs and dress, particularly the men's, could be different. A fun thing to do was to get a picture taken in Scottish kilts. I remember Jimmy Smith brought his picture back in full kilt regalia to show me.

I was kidded about the ship all the time. I knew when it came back from a mission with #1 engine feathered and about every flak hole in it. Major Chuck Lowell, then CO of the 576th Bomb Squadron of which the ship was a part, in official capacity dutifully escorted me to an officers' Dance on the base. He related that there were prize cracks floating around about that ship all the time. If something were to go wrong with the ship before reaching the target, it would have to abort and return to the base. An abortion, no less! GI's looking to the future could be heard to say under their breath with a knowing wink, "Just wait till that ship comes back early sometime." If these people ever stopped ribbing me for a minute, I'd have thought something was wrong.

At the end of August in 1944 after the christenings and no end of the war in sight, the Aeroclub under Helen's able direction put on a Gypsy Party for the entire base in celebration of the 392nd's first Anniversary in the ETO. It was the first dance that this Aeroclub had ever seen. On this base all dances had been held by individual organizations who waited their turn from week to week. Special permission was obtained from division for us to have two dances on the base in one week. RSVP's from all the girls invited were received. Helen had enlisted the help of willing GI's for their party. Consequently, corsages were made for the girls. The Aeroclub took on a Romany atmosphere with the club personnel dressed in Gypsy costumes and appropriate decorations throughout. Johnny Flore's orchestra provided music for dancing in the snack Bar, Lounge and Game Room. The Card Room was used for crystal ball gazing and palm reading a la Helen's imagination. A floor show completed the evening.

With fall in the air in late September of '44, the army said it was not cold enough for fires to heat the club. An adequate fuel supply for the winter months ahead was a real concern. Yet we needed to take the chill off a room in the morning. Being resourceful, we obtained the heavy pasteboard rings that came wrapped around the bombs. They were treated with a wax material and burned readily, giving off plenty of heat. These rings could also take the place of kindling wood for starting the log fires in the fireplaces. Ah, warmth, thanks to ingenuity.

Field Marshall William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside, meets with 392nd BG personnel during a visit on 22 September 1944.

Lord Ironside [Field Marshall William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside] was the most important speaker at the Aeroclub during that month. But two children's musical shows held in the Snack Bar stole GI's hearts. Star of the first show was a little 8-year-old violinist. At the close of the program, he was lured off the stage by GI's with offers of gum till he ended up with a whole pack in his mouth! Then he got his wish to meet an American girl. He told Helen and me all about the bombings he had been through, all about his brothers in the forces. One brother who was a flier had recently been shot down over Germany.

A little 6-year-old girl was the star of the second show. She sang and danced her way into the hearts of all GI's completely. In fact after the show they began signing papers that she should go to Hollywood. Both these shows brought pictures of the kids at home from all GI pockets.

Halloween of '44 meant another dance at the Aeroclub. Decorations were a problem but we managed to scare up some pumpkins. Corn stocks were rare in the English countryside so straw doubled for them. Black paper couldn't be had, so the paint shop painted brown paper black. We had our witches and cats. A good time was had by all.

It was football season on the base. To help make it a success and be a little bit like home, we served coffee and sandwiches at the games. That went over so well that football games became red letter dates on our calendar for the rest of the season.

Football was taken very seriously at the 392nd BG. The top two photos show the game against Tibbenham on 27 November 1944 while the bottom photo shows the game on 15 November. The pennants carried by the mascots proclaim "Wendling." The referee in the middle photo appears to be an MP, complete with white helmet.

There were two meetings for Red Cross girls that October. One was for Club Directors of this district to pool ideas on club operation and meet the people to whom we wrote those monthly reports. The other was for Red Cross girls in the surrounding Aeroclubs. It was good to meet our neighbors and get together on a friendly basis of being a Red Cross girl rather than thinking about business. Although we did talk shop and extend challenges for table tennis and bridge tournaments with other bases

We did initiate a furlough service in our library that month. The librarian wrote to the proper people in popular vacation towns for literature about the spot. Much was received which helped boys make up their minds about where they wanted to go for a pass or leave. Train schedules were also available with this service. Another service carried on by the librarian was package wrapping. Many an Air Medal was wrapped by the librarian to be sent home. With Christmas not far off, she was stocking up on wrapping paper, string and boxes of all sorts.

I was invited to speak this month at one of the local "Women's Institute." They asked me to talk about "The Women of America: that was a large order. However, narrowing it down to the average woman's interests in those days, I included food for the family, clothing for herself, the home with its arrangement and conveniences and the part she played in church, school and community life. I added a quick look at women in business and the professions and closed with the hope of sharing our ideas and plans in the post-war world. I was interested in exchanging ideas with these women because before joining the American Red Cross, I was Director of Women's Activities, broadcasting feature news using the pseudonym of Irene Allen over WFJM in Youngstown, Ohio. It was good to make their acquaintance since our Aeroclub was a part of the airbase that affected their lives during the war. I also had a chance to explain just what an Aeroclub was and what the American Red Cross was accomplishing with it.

A very embarrassing incident occurred at the Aeroclub which I'll share for the record. Many knew about it at the time and were part of the drama. My only salvation was that I was security conscious. This is how it happened:

One night a GI who was a stranger to us wandered through the back door of the Aeroclub's kitchen asking where he could get food. He spoke with a Dutch accent and consequently that frightened the girls working in the kitchen - particularly since he shouldn't have been there in the first place. To a couple of MP's who were always about, this GI's clothing wasn't quite right. Besides they had never seen him around before. He was a striking person with a bald head and a Dutch accent. He left to find the proper entrance to the club. Meanwhile, I remembered the story I had heard from the MP's that there were supposed to be two escaped German prisoners of war in the vicinity. In view of all this, I decided I better report these happenings to the OD {Officer of the Day} since our club had been alerted on other occasions to watch for strange persons. telephoned my report to the OD and said he could do what he liked if anything. He scared the wits out of me when he said he'd be right down. By this time the focus of our attention had turned up in the library. To the members of the staff, he had a furtive air about him. Then the OD arrived with a host of MP's and descended on the hapless man. In the flurry of questions that followed, the poor man didn't know who his CO was; he didn't know this and that and the one man who he said could identify him declares he never saw him before. So the OD called to check rosters and his name can't be found anywhere. Thus he was taken to the Guard House. After all that, one of the boys in the club piped up that the center of our attention had moved into his barracks that day. Ooooh, I threw up my hands and told him to go to the Guard House immediately and identify this lost soul. Frankly, I think we were all a little disappointed. We thought we'd caught a German spy and he turned out to be a bona fide new arrival, Cpl. Herschel P. Van Sickle, from Indianapolis, Indiana. Hope he forgave us all. Lou Seguin, author of the 576th DOPE SHEET, said Cpl. Van Sickle was told it was rough in the ETO. Now he believes it.

There were buzz bombs over Wendling on one of those dark October nights. I saw one explode. It was the most helpless feeling because nothing could be done about them. When they were overhead, I thought, "Go on you so and so and don't you dare stop." The one that I saw explode was about five miles away. I was coming across the drive from our quarters going into the club when I heard what I thought was a Lib flying overhead. As I came into the passageway to the club, I thought, "That's awfully low for a Lib to be flying at night and besides that doesn't really sound like one. I turned and ran back out to see what the trouble was and realized it must be a buzz bomb. At that moment one of the boys came tearing out of the club yelling, "That's a buzz bomb!" I stood there frozen - fascinated to see what would happen. I heard the motor cut out; saw a huge, red-yellow flash of light; and saw tons of smoke just like "Old Faithful" erupting. Then it was as if someone had shot off a gun standing right beside me and I felt the whoosh of air. Reality returned as I thought to myself, "You dumb-bell, you'd better not stay out here; you better go inside and see what is happening."

Nothing was broken, not even windows. More buzz bombs started coming but they were farther away. The staff became upset and wanted to go home to their kids. The club emptied in about two minutes. Luckily, there were no causalities. The close one - the one I saw explode - had landed in a pasture.

On the following day the funny stories began circulating. It seems some Captain ran out of his barracks and threw himself into what he thought was a ditch. It turned out to be just a puddle of water. Ouch! The boys in the control tower (so I was told) ran out to see the low buzz job at night before they realized it was a buzz bomb. Enough. I expect there were many more such incidents.

I remember two weddings at which I was someone from home to be seated on the groom's side of the church. One was Dick Martinelli's. He missed the last mission with his crew when their tour of duty was over. They had now been sent away and felt sorry they were not able to attend Dick's wedding. So Eve Thetford, our Manageress, and I represented the crew and someone from home. Tragically, he was killed when he flew his last mission with another crew.

The other wedding was Russ Mohr's. He married a Welsh girl, Maude, in London. This Welsh wedding was celebrated in the customary fashion for three days. Weddings customs vary around the world. But always the bride and groom look their radiant best. After their vows are made, rejoicing may be simple or lavish depending in the perceived proper way and the pocket book. I was honored to be invited to both weddings.

A cold November in 1944 was upon us. The most important thing was to work out a method of keeping the club warm. We did succeed rather well considering that we had worn-out stoves, cracked firebricks (sometimes none at all!) and grates that continually fell out. This could not be helped considering that the rest of the base was in the same predicament. We were on the Utilities list for replacements as soon as they became available. Firebricks fell out of the Lounge and Library wood fireplaces. We put an order in for the Clerk of the Works to deepen these fireplaces so they wouldn't smoke so easily. What happened was that the bricklayers had to put the firebricks back in as they were and wait for the approval to deepen them to come through miles of Ministry red tape. Then they would tear them all out again to deepen and rebuild. It was wasteful of time, energy and material to say nothing of the teary, coughing and inadequate heat problems smoky fireplaces caused. To further save on our coal supply, a very precious item during the winter, we secured a field range from the QM to do some of our baking in it. It took a bit of getting used to by our cooks. However, those in charge at the mess hall were very helpful in lending one of their men to show our cooks how to operate it. I relate these experiences only as examples of some of the frustrating, mundane living problems we always faced.

Thanksgiving was the 23rd of November that year. For many of us it was our 2nd Thanksgiving in the ETO. In light of the daily problems we faced, being miles from home, missing loved ones, the loss by death and those MIA around us and the visible destruction of war in England, what did we have for which to be thankful? Upon reflection, we weren't suffering on the Continent in some prison or refugee camp; we had enough to eat, clothes to wear, ways to keep warm; our loved ones and our country were not being ravaged by evil, power-hungry madmen. All we had to do was look around this England and see the legacies of war, be thankful this was not happening at home, be thankful to the English and other allies for standing up to dictators, be thankful we had the equipment and support from those at home, be thankful we had committed men and women to pull our weight in this struggle and be thankful for all those who had already given their lives in this conflict so that we could enjoy the freedom we had. In that atmosphere Thanksgiving was celebrated that night in the Aeroclub with free buffets set up in the Lounge, Card Room and Snack Bar. With Helen's help a big sing was held in the Snack Bar.

About this time the Red Spot Club surfaced. This organization had been going on for three months without either Helen or me knowing about it. It came out when one of the members was sitting in the office and accidentally pulled one of our red, wooden Bingo markers out of his pocket. He looked at it and said, "Well, I guess our boys will be starting a Red Spot Club in southern England tonight." That started a stream of questions on my part. Our ships were not able to return to our base from the mission that day because of weather conditions. So they landed at another base with Red Spot members aboard. Thus the assumed founding of another Red Spot Club. The club was made up of GI's and our women on the staff at night. Each member might ask another to produce his/her Red Spot at any time. If the person asked couldn't produce the spot, that person had to give the inquirer a penny or if this took place in the Snack Bar, the person asked had to buy the inquirer a coke or coffee. Of course, if there were other members present when a Red Spot was asked for and the person being asked couldn't produce his/her spot, that person had to pay them each a penny or buy them all drinks. This created quite a lot of fun in the Snack Bar. Such shenanigans, however, were hard on keeping a supply of Bingo markers.

This Red Spot Club grew fast during December of 1944. They took it upon themselves to help out with anything that needed doing around the club. For this holiday season, they helped decorate the club by tacking up greenery and holly, making crepe paper rope chains, cutting out tin stars, making chaff balls for the trees, stringing popcorn and helped as hosts at the children's party we had.

The Red Spot Club's services were invaluable for Helen was transferred at the end of the first week in December to the Aeroclub for the 44th BG at Shipdham where her services were urgently needed. Everyone was sad to see her leave. I had resigned myself to being alone again when suddenly we found a Red Cross girl fresh from the States was to join us. She was Jane Mallory from Garden City, Long Island, New York. A royal, rookie ribbing she took well from those who were about to see their second Christmas in the ETO. Seriously, the boys were glad to see someone so recently from home. Her effect was magically nostalgic. Her stamina and willingness for work were welcome. Without her we couldn't possibly have carried out our extensive celebrations planned for December when Helen left.

On the 2nd and 8th of December, the 392nd celebrated their 200th mission which had occurred on November 11, when the target was the synthetic oil refinery at Bottrop. On the 2nd, the 207th mission, target Bingen, according to Bob Vicker's book THE LIBERATORS FROM WENDLING, "…would go down in the 392nd's history as one of the roughest missions ever flown in terms of aircraft and aircrew casualties. It would be the highest attrition the Group would ever suffer through the remaining missions of World War II. It was also ironic that the evening of this date, the 200th mission party celebration for all enlisted men of the 392nd was planned."

Before we knew about the losses suffered in the returning mission the celebration had begun. The Aeroclub had thrown open its doors early for an afternoon tea dance. It was crowded. However, the evening formal dance was really jammed. The club was decorated with banners, greenery and flowers. We had inverted a parachute in the Snack Bar by hanging it from the ceiling and draping the shroud lines with chaf. The Card Room was a popular eating place lighted by candles on each table.

The formal invitation to the 200th Mission party and dance.

The food was free and our kitchen staff had baked a large cake with the words "Here's To the 200th Mission" decorating it. It disappeared as soon as it was put out. The officers served the men on this occasion. Working likes beavers, they dished out ice cream, opened cokes, checked coats, etc…

We helped in hostessing lady overnight guests for the enlisted men's party on the 2nd and the officers' party on the 8th. Guests were housed in one wing of the hospital. Our matron for the occasions checked reservations and showed girls their accommodations.

We also celebrated with a Victory Dinner this December for the crew of the BIRDIE SCHMIDT -ARC.;They all had finished their missions in one piece despite the fact they were really shot up with "Eyes" (John Kamacho) wounded on the first mission after the christening.

The Aeroclub was thrilled to receive a citation commending our service to the 392nd from its Commanding Officer, Col. Lorin L. Johnson, upon the occasion of our first anniversary on the base. It was read at the close of our anniversary program on the 23rd of December by a member of the Aeroclub Committee, Sgt George Bremer. The anniversary program was entitled THE MARCH OF RHYME and was written by PFC Lou Seguin with a musical accompaniment by Sgt Bob Jewell.

Col. Johnson's letter of thanks to Birdie Schmidt's on the Aeroclub's first anniversary at Wendling.

Since there were to be three successive days of celebration - our anniversary, the 23rd; Christmas Eve, the 24th; and Christmas, the 25th - we thought we should keep our anniversary celebration simple. Therefore THE MARCH OF RHYME was short and aptly capped with free ice cream and cake for all. Mrs. Bone, our first cook, baked and decorated for us two huge cakes with congratulary messages. These were borne on the stage at the appropriate time in the script and lighted by candles around them. Helen managed to return from Shipdham for the evening's program. Freddie, of course, couldn't for she was serving the U.S. First Army on a Clubmobile in Belgium.

On Christmas Eve a candlelight sing was featured in the club. This was literally so as the club was lighted only by candles. The base Glee Club presented a spirit-lifting program of song concluding with carols in which everyone joined in singing.

We woke up to a white Christmas day as a heavy hoar frost covered the ground. The fog that went with it caused the mission scheduled to be cancelled. A party had been planned originally for 130 orphans and refugees from Dr. Barnado's Home for Boys in Lexham and the Holm Hale village school children as well as those of our staff. The men on the base acted as hosts. The party was under Jane Mallory's supervision and in her report she related how it happened:

After picking up all the children in the nearby villages they were taken down to the perimeter where they all had the opportunity of seeing the inside of a Liberator. This in itself was quite a thrill for most of them it was their first real closeup view of an aeroplane. At this point the GI's really had their hands full in keeping order among 160 very eager kids. The children were then piled back in the trucks and brought back to the theater which is right next door to the Aeroclub. Here they were greeted by the base orchestra which rendered several appropriate numbers. Then the children themselves put on a program of their own consisting of country dances, songs and recitations and this really brought the house down. They did an excellent job and to see some of the smaller children, age 5 and 6, breaking forth in song and dance, was a sight to behold. The children were then shown several movie cartoons of POPEYE and MICKEY MOUSE, which they just loved. Throughout all this program, the children were climbing all over the laps of the GI's themselves, and it tugged at my heart to see the expressions on the faces of the GI's. Perhaps it being my first Christmas with the GI's I didn't really know what to expect - but it certainly did move me greatly to see their reactions to these underprivileged children.

After the movies were over, the children were brought over to the Aeroclub and seated at long tables in the Snack Bar - which incidentally was very attractively decorated with packages of candy wrapped up in red paper and holly and Christmas greens placed along the tables. For refreshments, we served tea, cakes and fruit jello. We had planned to have ice cream, but at the last minute the freezing unit broke down. As it was late in the afternoon by this time, we drew the blackout curtains and lighted up the candles and at the psychological moment Santa Claus came bursting into the room - much to the glee and shouts of the youngsters. One of the GI's acted as our Father Christmas and did an excellent job of it. After passing up and down the tables talking to all the children, he went up onto the stage where the Christmas tree was and piles of presents stacked up all around it. These presents were bought by money donated voluntarily by the GI's who insisted upon such a donation. There was a present for each individual child with his or her name on it. Incidentally, this required a great deal of work before hand, purchasing 130 presents for the children that had been invited. I say 130 children because that was the original list that had been planned on - but when the children actually arrived we counted 160 odd noses. For a short while we were rather at a loss as to what to do about the present situation but after much scurrying around we hastily wrapped up enough extra packages of presents and candy for those that hadn't received any. So in the end it turned out all right and every child received an individual gift. Santa Claus read out the name on each present and that child raised his hand and the package was taken to him by the GI's acting as hosts. It all ran off very smoothly and the children were very well behaved. With full stomachs and full of Christmas spirit the children were piled back into the trucks and taken home.

392nd BG airmen help Santa spread Christmas cheer to local children in 1944.

Wow! What a Christmas day! Thanks went to Jane for chairing the affair and recounting in detail what happened and to all of the 392nd who helped make it happen and our staff who gave their all. Our staff had worked very hard in producing the food for these children, fixing the tables and helping to serve. They brought their own children when they came to work on Christmas. The children went to the party in the afternoon. After Santa Claus had gone and the tables were being cleared and hats, coats and boots being put on, Capt. Don McCammond, Station Public Relations Officer, commented to one of the staff women about what a lot they had given up to help us have a Merry Christmas in the Aeroclub and now they would have so little time for their Christmas at home. Her reply was, "Oh, our Merry Christmas is over. We have to go home now." It was worth every effort by all involved.

After a day like that, how did we follow it with a meaningful night in the Aeroclub? Jane's report continues:

On Christmas night, with the club filled to capacity, we had expected to have a show. However, at the last minute they disappointed us. So instead we played the recording of Dicken's CHRISTMAS CAROL with Ronald Colman. This was also a free food night in the Snack Bar. Plum pudding with rum sauce, fudge, nuts and apples were served. As I wandered around the club that night, I frequently came across small groups of GI's singing Christmas carols and appearing very happy. So many of them told me that it was the best Christmas they had ever spent away from home. That in itself was very gratifying and certainly more than enough compensation for all the work we had in preparing for it.

Since our staff had worked so hard for us to make our Christmas celebration in the club a success, we celebrated with them on Boxing Day with a dinner in the Snack Bar. We had a true English dinner with turkey, bread sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, and plum pudding with rum sauce followed by apples and mixed nuts with cokes to drink.

Naturally as soon as Christmas had passed, thoughts were turned to the New Year's celebration. We honored the New Year on the evening of January 1 with a capacity crowd in the Snack Bar by featuring a PUNCH AND JUDY show as presented by five members of the West family. Those versatile performers also incorporated instrumental variety numbers and a Community Sing to complete the evening's entertainment. This gave us a good start for the programs to follow in the month: Weekly News Summaries; Slides of the Results of the Week's Bombings; Concerts by our Base Orchestra and musical entertainers from London; and tournaments for bridge, ping-pong and snooker. One program of intense interest concerned Japan. The speaker was John Wesley Palmer who had lived in Japan for many years. Many of our combat men thought they might be sent to the Pacific Theater after completing their missions in the ETO.

We were delighted this month to receive a £50 gift from the Enlisted Men's Club and the Officers Club for the purchase of new books and publications for the Aeroclub Library. £15 a month was to be an on-going contribution for this purpose. We were most grateful for it. It was gratifying to see the esteem held by the men for the library.

The physical operation of the club this month was difficult. Cold weather and the flu took its toll on the club and on our staff. When the Manageress, cooks and the Red Cross gals lend a hand in the kitchen, on the counter and stoke fires, you know it was our last legs we were on to keep the club operating. But we succeeded in spite of the fact that our hot water supply froze in the tower and left us for two days filling every available container to heat water. To top it all our cold water also froze for a few hours. We kept the clerk of the Works busy thawing us out. To their credit they had deepened our two big fireplaces so they didn't smoke at all. We could bank coke up in them now. We found that a combination of coke and wood really provided the hottest fire.

About this time the Infantry call-up came. Replacements were needed on the Continent. It left us short of help because our details were taken away. But that problem was soon solved by giving us two 'stood down' lead combat crew men each day. Thanks to Jim Goar, Transportation Officer, he assigned us a driver from the motor pool who was familiar with all our daily runs. That helped keep us afloat.

In spite of those current difficulties in operation and the need for more infantry men, we had begun to look ahead to the time when hostilities would cease. The Aeroclub was really the leisure time center for the enlisted men on the base. As such we wanted to be prepared to deal with that extra leisure time when it came. Our thought was to get the men more involved with programming in the club - especially educational programs that could apply to their future. They had been away from home too long and needed a positive, hopeful attitude for their futures.

As it happened, I wasn't to have a part in carrying out future plans. I found out in February that I, too, was needed on the Continent. In addition, on the 15th of February, 1945, while serving a returning mission (#238 Target, Magdeburg) the BIRDIE SCHMIDT - ARC went down. Information outside the debriefing room was confusing. A new crew was flying it. I had not met them. It turned out to be Lt. G. O. Hubbart's crew. Did they get out? According to the "Combat Missions Diary" in Bob Vickers' book THE LIBERATORS FROM WENDLING, "…This ship…was seen to be losing altitude and dropping behind near the IP. The crew dropped their bombs about half way down the bomb run at 1137 hours and continued to follow the Group formation until 1255 hours. At this time and position 5238N-0743E, the bomber was seen to be falling considerably behind again losing altitude. It was last seen at 1333 hours crossing the enemy coastline. Nothing more was known about this crew and aircraft. Bombers returned around 1455 hours with (2) battle damaged."

I thought for years that the ship had gone down somewhere in the waters off the east coast of England and that all aboard were lost. Imagine my amazement when I found the following letter waiting for me upon my return from the 392nd Orlando Reunion in May, 1990.

8 May 1990

Dear Mrs. Larrick:

It was Feb. 15, 1945, and I was a co-pilot on a crew about to fly their first mission out of Wendling. Approaching our assigned aircraft that morning we were surprised to see a large red cross on one side and, of course, the good looking gal on the other. "Who is Birdie Schmidt?" we asked ourselves - and no one knew. We were determined to find out when we got back. We never did return but I thought some day I'll find out who she is and tell her what happened to her B-24.

It wasn't till I joined the 392nd Memorial [Association] that I ran into your name only to learn you were off to Asia! Now that you're back, perhaps, this will reach you.

I imagine you know by now what happened although the account of our mission in LIBERATORS FROM WENDLING provides little clue. It was a mission beset with problems from the outset. In fact we were a half hour late in getting off due to a faulty prop governor being repaired and left in a complete fog. We did get to our formation over the Channel, however after having the #2 engine run away (same faulty prop governor) and having electrical problems. We were hit on our bomb run to Magdeburg losing both 1 and 2 engines, the latter which had a prop that wouldn't feather. However, we were manageable but were dropping about 1000/minute and eventually had to bail out in the clouds at 5,000 feet over Muhlhausen, Germany. Later that evening we were all brought together at Nordhaysen in various stages of repair - the nose gunner had been shot and some of us had a few bruises - but we all survived and made it back to the states eventually. I was separated from the rest due to illness and spent most of my time on the road retreating with the German Army - a long story.

Anyhow I hope this reaches you. It's been fun reading about you and knowing more about you. Some day, if you have a negative of that particular B-24 that I could borrow, I'd be most appreciative.

John Kenyon

After receiving this astonishing letter, I found him through the telephone information and called him. In fact, I was so excited I called Col. Gilbert to let him know what happened. He, too, was amazed. I called Bob Vickers to let him know there was more information available on the crew for the revising of his book. Then I received this letter from John Kenyon as a follow-up to our phone conversation which became his profile.

21 May 1990

Dear Mrs. Larrick,

It was great to hear from you and I'm only sorry I didn't get to you sooner - like 40 years ago or so. I often thought I could do so through the ARC but never got to it!

I find that I do not have current addresses of our crew but I'm attempting to get them.

I was separated from the crew shortly after being taken prisoner. I became ill at Dulag Luft - Wexler and was transferred to the hospital at Hohenmark, Oberursel. After a week there I was sent back to Wexlar but due to transportation problems, walked most of the way. At Wexlar I joined a group of 150 who were sent to a camp at Nurnberg, but again we were to walk most of the way. When we did get on trains, they were continually attacked by our own fighters. We preferred walking - preferably at night despite the snow, etc.

When we arrived at Nurnberg, the camp had been evacuated so we headed for a camp at Munich. We were caught up in the German retreating Panzer division, Wehrmacht, SS and civilians with our worst fear our own planes which had complete mastery of the skies. (This was March 1945.)

After three weeks of this, we finally got behind barbed wire at Stalag VIIA Moosburg very thankful to be off the road. We were liberated April 29. Shortly thereafter were flown to Reims and from there I was taken by hospital train to Sissonne - thence to Camp Lucky Strike, fattened up and sent home.

Due to all these little detours, I never did catch up with my crew although I was able to learn they were OK through the grapevine at Moosburg.

Since I was married while in flight training to my high school gal, I came home to my wife, finished College (Wesleyan University in Connecticut), went to work for Aetna Insurance Company for 34 years, retiring to Chatham, Massachusetts in 1982. We have two sons and one daughter (four grandchildren) all in the Boston area.

Kind regards,


P.S. We talked so much - but I think you said to send photos. Well, here's one. You can see it flatters a little so I'll send it.

I am still filled with wonder when I re-read these letters. I have had negatives made from prints of the ship at the time of the christening and prints from these. He was a recipient.

Pictures taken at the time of the christening of the Liberator - BIRDIE SCHMIDT - ARC - have been distributed to many people. I know now from careful reading of the "Combat Missions Diary" in LIBERATORS FROM WENDLING that the date recorded on the back of these pictures is incorrect. The mission flown the next day after the christening was to Sindlefingen where John Kamacho received his flak wounds. That was August 9. As I delved through my old scrapbooks to record this story of the Aeroclub with the 392nd, I found that my own report to ARC English Headquarters states the christening as August 8. I had accepted the dating on the bottom of the original prints as correct. Perhaps the pictures weren't printed until august 10. However, I believe the evidence is irrefutable to support the date of august 8 for the christening.

I was not at Wendling to close the Aeroclub when the time came, so I don't know how that happened. But I do know it is time to bring this to a close.

I was transferred to the ARC Cinemobile Unit which became Showmobile as the war ended in Europe. A Showmobile was a ton-and-a-half personnel carrier converted by the British to a traveling stage. The right side of the truck came down to form the stage. There were legs to be screwed into the side that would support and level the stage on uneven terrain. There was a small piano on board, a P A system and a record player. We did not have the motion picture projector as the former Cinemobiles did. ;Two of us were assigned to a Showmobile. Each shared the driving. My partner was Hazel Worden from Utica, New York. Hazel could play the piano well and sing. She sang the solos and together we did duets such as YOU GOTTA ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE etc. in the half-hour shows we did. I acted as Mistress of Ceremonies using some chatter routines on my own. The objective was to entertain companies pulling guard duty of four hours on and four hours off in small towns at the close of the war. Because of their guard-duty time schedule, the men in these companies could not get away to see the famous entertainer shows such as the JACK BENNY SHOW touring Europe. So we 'hit the chow line' of a guard-duty company at noon, found out who could play a musical instrument, sing, dance or whatever talent was there and incorporated them into our show which we performed as soon as possible after the noon meal. We then traveled on and repeated the same thing with another company for the evening meal. On special occasions we did a 9 o'clock show.

Then as the need for Showmobile lessened and the need for Civilian Actress Technicians in Army Special Services increased for their Soldier Shows, the ARC loaned Helen Malsed and me to 7th Army Special Service Soldier Shows. Because of our college and before-college theater experience - Helen's at the University of Minnesota and mine at Ohio State - we were cast by Dwight Deere Wyman to play Kitty and Amy in CHARLIE'S AUNT at the Staadt Theater in Heidelberg, Germany. After a run there the show was scheduled to go on tour in the ETO. However, because the war had ended in Japan, the men (actors) in the show were recalled to their units and Helen was called home because of the illness of her mother, the plans for continuing the show on tour were canceled. My two-year tour of duty was almost up. I was allowed a two-week vacation before coming home. So I took it in Switzerland with my Showmobile partner Hazel Worden. I arrived back in the States on the fifth of November 1945.


Writing this has been an emotional experience by bringing out memories from the misty corners of my mind. I shall always be grateful to people who operated behind the scenes for the Aeroclub by their approval of what we wanted to do on the base for the men and then releasing the personnel to help us do it. These people were the three commanding officers of the 392nd, Colonels Rendle, Johnson and Gilbert; the station's Executive Officer, Col. Bush; the Sub-Depot Officer, Col. Wall; the station's Adjutant, Major Fritsche; and Col. Rendle's driver, Harold Bandelier, for his kind courtesies to us.

Like many people who came from all parts of our country to serve in or along with the Armed Forces, I had many 'small world' experiences with the 392nd: There was Carroll Cheek whose father knew my father because of his father's ministerial association with Community Institutes in Ohio. My father supervised these institutes in the Agricultural Extension Service at Ohio State University… Then one day Lt. Wright quizzically looked at me while I was serving a returning mission and said, "Say, haven't I seen you somewhere before?" We discovered that he had. It was when I was broadcasting for WFMJ in Youngstown, Ohio. He was the person who used to bring newspapers to the station from the VINDICATOR. This was the newspaper that owned the station… Lt. Col. Joe Mason, CO of the 352nd Fighter Group, dropped in out of the blue one day to see somebody from home. We each lived in the same suburb, Upper Arlington, of Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from its only high school, Arlington as it was popularly called. He had been one of its outstanding basketball players. He eventually had five enemy planes credited to him from the 352nd FG… A cross-town suburban rival with Arlington is Bexley. Lt. Robert Rapenport "Rappie" (577th) hailed from there… Ralph Jordon of Arlington, whose little sister was my little sister's special high school friend, and I after many queries from our families finally found each other at Wendling. He was a M/Sgt in the 465th Sub-Depot… Last but not least is "Sandy" who by coincidence was S/Sgt Otto B. Sanders, Ball Turret Gunner on the BIRDIE SCHMIDT -ARC. He moved with his family to Columbus from West Virginia when he was about ten years old. He went to Central High School obviously, because of its name in the center of Columbus. Today we talk frequently on the phone and from time to time in a conference call with other members of the crew.

Through the years since 1945, there have been many pleasant contacts with people formerly associated with the 392nd… I remember Vince Donahue, a sincere friend of the Aeroclub and the Sergeant assisting Emmett Fore in Special Services. He married Esther Pace who happened to be an Arlington girl whom I directed in a production of LITTLE WOMEN when she was in the Junior Drama Club in Arlington and I was a senior at Ohio State. On the base it was Vince who brought me glowing reports of Glenn Miller and his Band Concern performance. I couldn't go because I was sick with the flu…

Judging by this photo of the T2 hangar at Wendling, Birdie may have been the only one at the 392nd BG to miss Glenn Miller's performance on 28 August 1944.

I unexpectedly met Don Williamson (577th) when he came from Troy, Ohio, to attend a meeting at our church, First Community, in the late '50s. Later, he and his wife, Inez, visited our family when we lived in Titusville, Florida… Keith Chapman (577th) and his wife, Wanda, came to visit us in Titusville. However, they had to come to the hospital to see me. I was hospitalized with bursitis in a frozen right shoulder. That was 1977… Two years after my husband, George Larrick, succumbed to cancer, I moved back to Columbus, Ohio, from Titusville, Florida, in December 1985. Feeling restless with our two boys grown and gone from home, I obtained a teaching position at Fujian Teachers University in Fuzhou, The Peoples Republic of China. While there on mid-year break at school in 1987, Sally Kauffman, an Arlington friend teaching at Hwa Nan also in Fuzhou, and I met Carroll and Mabel Cheek in Hong Kong at the Mandarin Hotel for High Tea. Carroll and Mabel were visiting their daughter Kathy and her family in Hong Kong. It was fun to meet somebody from home half-way around the world like that… I returned to Columbus from my two-year teaching assignment in July 1988. In 1989 I made my first trip back to Wendling since leaving in 1945. This was for the 392nd Memorial Rededication in October. It was a very moving experience thanks to Carroll Cheek who chaired the memorial refurbishing and Col. Gilbert and the Board of Directors… In 1991 after finishing a skit for the luncheon entertainment for the 50th anniversary of the 1941 graduating class from Ohio State, Willard Levine (576/8) sought me out to ask if I had been on the 392nd BG base in England. He had had sandwiches and coffee many times when returning from a mission without either of us knowing we had been in the same graduating class from Ohio State… In August 1993 while visiting the British Air Museum at Duxford, I met John Gilbert and Ian Hawkins. Ian is the Editor for the 392nd's history. John is an associate member. He was one of the young children who attended the Christmas party hosted by the men of the 392nd and the Aeroclub on Christmas Day 1944. He never forgot that party and what it meant to him. After the war he and his family whose home had been destroyed lived on the base in the Flying Officers Club. [John said later that he and many other evacuees were moved onto the base. "It was a godsend to us at the time," he says, "as after we got blitzed out of Norwich we lived in Wendling and our water was from a well outside and a toilet at the bottom of the garden until they moved us onto the base."] They lived there until their homes were ready about eight years later…

Since attending many of the 392nd BGMA meetings after my return from teaching in china, I have been grateful for the opportunity to know better the men of the 392nd, meet those I didn't know at all and especially meet their wives and children. It is to the wife of Keith Roberts (578th), Patty, who is a travel agent specializing in the U.K. and to the 392nd for helping me get to St. James Palace in London on June 24, 1993, to attend the 'kick-off' reception for The American Air Museum in Britain Appeal. The Appeal is chaired by Field Marshal The Lord Bramell, KG, of The Imperial War Museum and co-chaired by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Grandy. His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, KG, is the Patron of The American Air Museum in Britain Appeal. Charlton Heston is the Chairman for the Appeal in this country.

I had the opportunity to visit Duxford in August because I had previously planned to go with a study group from my church to hear several well-known theologians in the world today at Cambridge. Duxford, as many of you know, is just outside of Cambridge. Ted Inman was away on vacation at that time. However, David Lee, Assistant Director, and Colette Byatt, Secretary, welcomed the whole group for a tour through the museum which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. The group was honored to be joined by John Batchelor and his wife Liz, David Butler from the Wedgwood factory and his wife Ann, and in addition to Ian Hawkins and John Gilbert, other English friends of the 392nd including Denis and Hilary Duffield, Ben Jones and his father Mervin Jones and my friend from Little Wilbraham, Joan Collins.

Bill Case (578th) and his wife Mary Ellen who live in Dayton, Ohio, have been supportive audience members when my friend Sally Kauffman and I were speakers about China there. Sally as I have mentioned taught near me in China and she has accompanied me to several 392nd reunions. Bill and Mary Ellen have also been in the audience when I was performing with Grandparents Living Theatre's production I WAS YOUNG - NOW I'M WONDERFUL.

I had the opportunity to attend the American Red Cross Overseas Association's annual Memorial Service held in Washington, DC, over Veterans Day weekend 1993 to coincide with the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial. There I heard Sue Richter, Vice President, Military and Social Services, ARC National Headquarters, speak about her and her Red Cross women colleagues' service in Vietnam. She talked about the uniforms they wore, the stifling heat and humidity they endured, the pounds of M & M's they ate because they wouldn't melt in the heat, their varied transportation - jeeps, trucks, planes, their intense, emotional, creative and tiring work, the music of the period to which they all listened - WE'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE and LEAVING ON A JET PLANE, the games and programs they planned to take the war off a service man's mind for a while and Mail Call - something for which everyone waited. As she concluded, she referred to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and her poetic response to a toast in November 1892 honoring Red Cross women who served on battlefields. Clara Barton spoke about the questioning people had for the usefulness of women in such a situation. Wouldn't they faint at the sight of blood or scream at the sight of a gun? Wouldn't their skirts get in the way? Why did they want to go? Simply to answer a human need. So we see that after all the thread is still the same through generations of Red Cross women. It is to answer that human need the best way they know how.

Now speaking for the WWII generation, we all were young once. So I've taken Bob Tays' (578th) to write one's story down and wrote this story of the American Red Cross Aeroclub at Wendling and my life as a Red Cross girl in the ETO during WWII. In so doing not only did it take much time and many lumps in my throat to go through old reports and scrapbooks but also to verify information through telephone calls and the use of Bob Vickers' book THE LIBERATORS FROM WENDLING and Lou Seguin's daily THE 576TH DOPE SHEET. To them I am grateful. This generation understands the strivings and supreme sacrifices made for a better world. The 392nd can be proud of the leadership its members have and are contributing in the 8th Air Force Historical Society and the 2nd Air division in linking the past to the future. So to borrow Myron Keilman's (579th) phrase, "Lest We Forget" about what happened and about what we cared, write your story. May your story and this story in some small way help younger generations understand why they are the way they are now that WE'RE WONDERFUL!

Birdie Schmidt Larrick visited Wendling in 1988; here, she stands on what is left of runway 08. Although both she and the airfield have changed in many ways, her engaging smile would still be recognized by any airman who knew her or saw the nose art on "her" plane.