©2022 Tom Parks – All Rights Reserved
By February 1943, America had been in the war for 15 months. On Tuesday the 16th of February, my father graduated from Advanced Pilot Training and became 2nd Lt. Thomas A. Parks, Jr. That same day, the New York Daily News ran the following banner headline.
In Columbus, Mississippi, after almost eight months of training without a break, my father and his classmates were eagerly anticipating a leave. So was his mother. After the ceremony, instead of returning home to Washington, D.C., she had gone to stay with her parents in nearby Atlanta just in case “Tommy“, her only child, got a few days off.
In England, on that Mississippi graduation day, the 8th Air Force flew its 36th combat mission of the war. Sixty-five American bombers dropped 160 tons of high explosives on the German U-boat base at Saint-Nazaire, France. Eight of those bombers, each carrying a 10-man crew, didn’t return from the mission and the Air Force found itself needing eighty new airmen, including sixteen new 2nd lieutenants to replace the pilots and co-pilots they lost that day.
It would be another seven and a half months before Lt. Parks would fly his first combat mission. During that time the 8th Air Force would fly sixty-nine more missions. As more aircrews arrived in England, the number of bombers sent on each mission increased to the point that on my father’s first trip to Germany he was part of a force of 350 bombers carrying 3500 airmen. The Army Air Force would need a lot more replacements by the time my father was ready to go to war.
By the end of the war, raids of over 1000 bombers were not uncommon.
But in February of 1943, in Columbus, Mississippi, during the week of the 16th, all the newly minted 2nd Lieutenants had to do was sit around and speculate about what was coming next.
By the evening of Friday the 19th, 2nd Lt. Parks was confident enough they were going to get some time off that he sent the following telegram to his mother in Atlanta.
The very next morning, February 20th, the Army ruined everyone’s weekend by posting Special Orders Number 46.
In August of 1942, a little over six months prior to the posting of the above orders, a group of 284 cadets left Basic Training in Montgomery, Alabama and headed for Arcadia, Florida to learn to fly. Thirteen of the thirty-two names on the above orders assigned to heavy bomber transition training at the Army Airfield in Smyrna, Tennessee were part of that group.
Against some pretty long odds, by the end of September 1943, four of those thirteen pilots; Thomas A. Parks, Jr., Edward F. McDowell, Henry E. Marks, Jr., and Gordon R. Hendricksen, would end up in the same bomb group flying combat missions out of the same small airbase in England.
In late November 1943, in a letter from England written to his pal Russ Dougherty who was then stationed at Stuggart Army Airfield in Arkansas, my father brings Russ up to date on two of their mutual friends from their training days together.
Edward F. McDowell
On Valentine’s Day 1943, in Columbus, Mississippi, just before graduating from Advanced Flight Training and becoming a 2nd Lieutenant, Edward McDowell celebrated his 25th birthday. He went to Europe, flew with the 96th Bomb Group in the same Squadron as 2nd Lts. Parks, Marks, and Hendricksen, and survived the ordeal. He returned home, went to law school, became a practicing attorney, and married and raised a family.
He was the lucky one…
Henry E. Marks, Jr.
In his letter to Russ, Lt. Parks refers to Henry Marks, Jr. as, “Juney” Marks. A junior himself, when my father was growing up, his mother called him, “juney“. To say my father loathed that appellation is to understate his feelings on the matter by several orders of magnitude. So, I find it interesting that he used it in the above correspondence when referring to Henry. I like to imagine, sometime during their training, probably very early on, my father gleefully saddled his comrade with the hated nickname.
Henry Marks grew up in the southwest corner of Virginia in rural Smyth County not far from that state’s border with North Carolina.
In September 1941, eighty days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Henry traveled 300 miles north to Richmond and on Friday the 19th, enlisted in the United States Army. It is just a guess but his enlistment may have had more to do with getting out of Smyth County than patriotic zeal.
Whatever his reasons for enlisting, by December 1941, America was at war. Henry signed up to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps, ended up in the same training class as my father, and picked up the nickname “juney“.
Seventeen months after beginning basic training, Lieutenants Marks and Parks found themselves at the 96th Bomb Group based in the tiny village of Snetterton Heath in England.
At the beginning of October 1943, the two young men began flying missions. By the end of that month, they and their crews were seasoned combat veterans.
November 13th, 1943 – Bremen
In Dad’s letter to his friend, Russ, he states that “Juney” Marks went down over Munster. The problem with that is… Munster is ninety miles southeast of Bremen. It became clear to me pretty quickly, that this story was going to require some research.
November 13th, 1943 was the 8th Air Force’s 130th mission of the war. The target that day was the German naval facility at the port of Bremen. The 8th planned to send 272 bombers from bases located all over England’s East Anglia region. Bombers from the 96th Bomb Group would join the effort.
Not every crew flew every mission and the Parks crew had that Saturday off. The Marks crew wasn’t so lucky.
The twenty or so bombers the 96th BG would contribute to the large air armada headed for Bremen that day. The bombers from the 96th took off around 7:30 in the morning, formed up with the rest of the force just off the English coast, and headed across the channel. Then, as so often happens in that part of the world in November… The weather went to hell.
A recall order was issued but only 129 bombers got the message. The Marks crew and the remaining 142 B-17s and B-24s dutifully lumbered on through the deteriorating weather to their designated target.
On the internet, the most common version of what happened next is that near Bremen, the Marks B-17 suffered a collision with another B-17 and crashed.
The document below is the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) for Marks and the nine men under his command. Whenever a plane didn’t return, this document was filled out “within 48 hours of the time an aircraft is officially reported missing“. The MACR was meant to contain as much information about the plane, its crew and their collective fate as could be gathered from anyone who might have witnessed anything related to their disappearance.
The Henry Marks MACR
The import lines are 4, 5, 11, and 13. The three Lieutenants listed at line 11 as witnesses were flying in nearby bombers and all indicate that at 11:37 am at longitude & latitude 53.30 N, 08.50 E, they saw the Marks B-17 being “Rammed by another B-17 in midair“.
Line 13 indicates that even though the witnesses believe the aircraft lost, they did not see the final outcome of the collision.
The longitude and latitude on the MACR put the collision over the German village of Schawnewede, about 10 miles northwest of Bremen and only a tenth of a degree from where the group would turn onto its bomb run.
Official reports indicate the first bombs were dropped on the target at 11:20 and the last at 11:45. At 11:37, when the collision took place, the Marks plane was at a time and position that would have put it among the last American bombers over Bremen that day.
Most online accounts say that after contact with the other bomber, the Marks’ plane immediately spun out of control and crashed, three of the crew survived, and the other B-17 managed to return to England. These accounts were written decades later and I believe are generally based on what is reported in the MACR.
The problem with this narrative is, the witnesses didn’t report a crash and German and Dutch records show the Marks plane crashing at 12:15 pm, thirty-eight minutes after the collision and 100 miles southwest of Schawnewede near the village of Ommen, in the Netherlands.
German records indicate that a German fighter pilot, Oberleutnant Wolfgang Neu, was credited with shooting down the Marks B-17 at 12:15 pm. Dutch records confirm the crash and identification of the same B-17, as well as the identification of seven fatalities and three survivors from the Marks crew around that same time.
My Best Guess
There’s no way of knowing for certain but from the information I found, here’s my take on what happened that day.
There were three witnesses to the collision near Bremen, so I believe that happened where and when they said it did. However, none of the witnesses reported seeing the bomber spin out of control. Because I do not believe thirty-eight minutes is enough time for the Marks bomber to complete their bomb run and then get down to Ommen, I believe the Marks B-17 was damaged in the collision, broke off its bomb run, and headed home along the mission’s planned return route to England.
8th Air Force maps for that day show the return from Bremen was to the southwest from Bremen over the Netherlands, a route that would have taken the Marks bomber close to the village of Ommen and, interestingly, only 60 miles due west of Munster. While still not “over Munster“, Ommen is significantly closer to that city than Bremen.
A little over thirty-eight minutes after the collision… At 25000 feet over Ommen… Twenty-four-year-old Henry Marks and his crew ran into Wolfgang Neu who was hunting American bombers returning from Bremen.
There are no reports detailing the interaction between the two enemy aircraft but Dutch reports say that the debris from the Marks B-17 was widely scattered indicating it broke up or blew up in midair.
The bodies of Marks and six of his crew were found among the debris of their fallen bomber.
Only three airmen made it out of the plane, the waist gunners, S/Sgts Francis Ferrick and Eugene Fennell and the co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Wilbur Hyman Brown. Brown and Fennell were badly injured and spent more than a month in a German hospital before being sent to their respective POW camps. Even though Ferrick had an ankle injury, he was imprisoned immediately.
Bomber crews did not normally wear their parachutes during missions. They wore a harness to which they clipped the chute once given the order to prepare to bail out. I believe that after the bomber was damaged in the collision, as a precaution, Marks gave his crew the order to don their parachutes… I think, whether they bailed out or were blown out of the bomber, that precaution may be why Lt. Brown and the two sergeants survived the catastrophic destruction of their aircraft.
By the end of December, when Henry Marks’ co-pilot, Lt. Brown reached Stalag I, the POW camp where he would spend the rest of the war, Lt. Thomas Parks was already there, having been shot down on November 29th, sixteen days after his pal “Juney“… On another 8th Air Force mission to Bremen.
Gordon R. Hendricksen
Like Marks and McDowell, Gordon Hendricksen had been with my father from the very beginning of his military service. It is a puzzle as to why he is not mentioned in my father’s letter to Russ. After all that time together, they had to have been acquainted with one another. I can only infer, that they just ran in different circles.
In Columbus, Mississippi, on the 16th of February 1943, when 23-year-old Gordon Hendricksen became a 2nd Lieutenant, he was exactly one week away from what would turn out to be his last birthday.
Like my father, Gordon joined the Army Air Force in early 1942. They went through flight training together, went through crew training together, crossed the Atlantic together, were sent to the same airbase in England together, and, on November 29th, 1943, on the same mission to Bremen, they and their crews were both declared missing in action at exactly the same time… 14:40.
It is at this exact moment their fates radically diverge.
At 14:40, on November 29, 1943, my father and his crew bailed out of their stricken bomber, were captured, and became prisoners of war, and at the end of the conflict, were liberated and returned to the United States where they all resumed their lives.
At 14:40, on November 29, 1943, Lt. Gordon Hendricksen and his crew disappeared from the face of the earth… forever.
The Hendricksen MACR
When I first looked at the document, I immediately noticed… The crew Lt. Hendricksen disappeared with was not the crew he trained, crossed the Atlantic, and arrived with at the 96th Bomb Group in England.
The Original Hendricksen Crew
I found them in a separate MACR from December 20th, 1943. It appears after 2nd Lt. Hendricksen disappeared over Bremen on November 13th, 1943, eight of the nine members of Hendricksen’s original crew were assigned to fly with pilot, 1st Lt. Stanley Budleski and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Bernard Jackson.
At the same time, Hendricksen’s original co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Robert Lawrence Arsingstall, Jr. was promoted to pilot and assigned a crew of his own. By the end of the war, Arsingstall had been promoted to Captain and awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Robert returned to the States, married, raised a family, and died in 2007 in Oklahoma City.
The eight members of the Hendricksen crew assigned to fly with 1st Lt. Budleski weren’t so lucky. On the 20th of December, 1943, on their sixth mission together, they were shot down… on yet another mission to Bremen.
Four of the original members of the Hendricksen crew died on that mission, along with their new pilot and co-pilot. The remaining four members of the original Hendricksen crew survived as prisoners of war.
November 29, 1943 – Bremen
Why Gordon was flying with another crew on this mission, is lost to history. Because he was a 2nd Lieutenant and his co-pilot that day was a higher-ranked 1st Lieutenant, Stanley C. Wells, a possible explanation is, that the crew was that of Lt. Wells and for that mission, he had been assigned command duties involving the leading formation. Pilots given that kind of assignment would ask another pilot to fly in their seat so they could concentrate on the larger responsibility of guiding the group.
The only thing that is known for sure about what happened to the plane Hendricksen was piloting that day is, they left England for Bremen, Germany and they didn’t return. There were no witnesses. No wreckage was ever found. No bodies were ever found. The supposition is, for reasons unknown, they crashed in the North Sea or the English Channel. They were not the first airmen to disappear this way and they would not be the last.
After the war, on September 3rd, 1945, 2nd Lt. Gordon Hendricksen and the men he flew with that day were declared deceased and their names were added to the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery in England. The monument is inscribed with over 5000 names of Americans missing in action or lost or buried at sea during WWII.
2nd Lt. Gordon R. Hendricksen: (24) Pilot – From Heron, Minnesota, before the war, Gordon lived with his brother and his brother’s wife and worked on their farm.
1st Lt. Stanley Clark Wells: (24) Co-pilot – Stan was from Southern California. He and his wife, Evelyn, were married in California on November 28, 1942. Stanley died in Europe exactly one day after his and Evelyn’s 1st anniversary.
2nd Lt. Joseph Watson Taylor: (22) Navigator – “Taylor” was from Verona, New Jersey. A graduate of an elite prep school, by the time he was 21, he had gotten a degree from Dartmouth.
2nd Lt. James “Jimmie” Valentine Rose: (28) Bombardier – The oldest member of the crew, Jim was from Los Angeles and lived there with his wife Miriam and their infant son… Jim Jr. In 1940, on his draft card, Jim, a former member of the Lake Erie Summer Theater and a graduate of the El Capitan School of Stage and Screen, listed his occupation as, “Freelance Actor“.
T/Sgt Edwin E. Bowersox: (22) Radio Operator – Ed grew up west of Allentown, Pennsylvania in rural Snyder County. He was single, worked on his parents’ farm, and was their only child. He died 12 days after his 22nd birthday.
T/Sgt William J. Vargo: (23) Top Turret Gunner – Another Pennsylvania native, Bill grew up south of Pittsburgh in the area around Uniontown and before joining the Army, worked as a laborer for the WPA. Bill was single and the 2nd oldest of seven children of Hungarian immigrants.
S/Sgt Lewis Earl Devoe: (24) Ball Turret Gunner – From Spokane, Washington, Lewis had attended Washington State University before the war. He was single and at 5’4″ and 123 lbs, was the perfect size for the cramped, claustrophobia-inducing confines of a B-17 ball turret.
S/Sgt Jack Cozette Clackley: (20) Right Waist Gunner – From Greenville, Alabama, this tall, blue-eyed, red-head worked at an Alabama cotton mill before enlisting. He was the youngest member of the bomber crew.
Cpl Ferdinand “Fred” A. Monier, Jr.: (21) Left Waist Gunner – From San Antonio, Texas, Fred worked at the Paul Wright Electric Company before enlisting.
S/Sgt Garnet John Wood: (26) Tail Gunner – From Batavia, New York, before the war, Garnet, a machinist, was employed by the Eastman Kodak Company. At the time of his disappearance, Garnet’s younger brother, John was also missing in action in Europe. His older brother was serving with the Army in Hawaii.
Garnet, the crews’ other red-headed gunner left behind a wife, Helen and a 4-year-old son, James.
Smyrna and B-17 Transition Training
In Columbus, Mississippi, on February 20th, 1943, when the 32 new pilots assigned to heavy bomber training in Smyrna, Tennessee got Special Orders Number 46… they were blissfully unaware of what was in store for them. All they knew was, that they had one day to get to Smyrna and report for duty.
The pace of their education was about to kick into high gear. By August, Lt. Parks would be on a ship in a convoy headed for England and the war. That meant, he only had five months to gain a complete understanding of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress… The most complex aircraft of its day. Pilots were expected not only to learn to fly the plane but to acquire a thorough working knowledge of all the bomber’s avionic, hydraulic, fuel, communications, weapons, and life support systems.
For my father, there was a growing realization that his understanding of all the component parts of the B-17 could mean the difference between life and death for him and the nine men under his command.
It was a heavy responsibility.
That is probably why, from this point forward, there are almost no personal photographs. It is also why his mother would spend the rest of the time he was flying B-17s complaining that he was not writing her enough letters.
2nd Lt. Parks arrived at Smyrna Airfield on Saturday, February 21, 1943. It had been almost exactly six months since his first solo flight back in Arcadia, Florida and he had a little over 201 hours of flight time in various single and twin-engine aircraft to his credit. In the next five months, he would put in an additional 275 hours flying big, four-engine B-17s.
2nd Lt. Parks begins his first letter in a month to his mother with an immediate apology, followed by an explanation for his tardiness. “We’re on the flight line six hours a day and ground school three“.
On days he wasn’t flying a B-17, or in ground school, he spent time in a Link Trainer.
Originally created in 1929 to teach pilots how to fly at night using only the instruments in their cockpit as a spatial reference, Link Trainers were the state-of-the-art when it came to flight simulators during WWII.
The trainer responded to pilot input on flight controls and rotated through three axes. It simulated all flight instruments as well as conditions such as pre-stall buffet and spins. With its removable opaque canopy, it was very useful for instrument and navigation training.
In those days, there were no computers as we know them. The Link Trainer was an analog device that had more in common with the mechanical bull made popular by John Travolta and Debra Winger in the movie, Urban Cowboy.
As noted in his monthly Flight Record (see below), while he was at Smyrna, 2nd Lt. Parks spent eight hours in a Link Trainer.
Flying Over Atlanta
In the March 16th letter to his mother that contains his apology for the long delay in writing her, he tells Virginia that he was, “over Atlanta last night“. 2nd Lt. Parks doesn’t mention that he was in the air for five hours that evening and that in that time period he had been over Atlanta twice.
On the evening of March 15th, to practice cross-country nighttime navigation, he flew a B-17 on a non-stop two-and-a-half-hour flight from Smyrna, Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia, and back to Smyrna… The first time as pilot, the second time as co-pilot.
GROUNDED in Atlanta
My father remembered a training flight from his time at Smyrna where, because of bad weather ahead of them, he, as pilot, made the command decision to set down at an airfield in Atlanta and spend the night with his grandparents. From looking at his flight record for March, I believe that happened on March 19th.
The Smyrna – Cochran (Georgia) – Smyrna round-trip on that day took them right over Atlanta and the flight record shows they flew from Atlanta to Smyrna on the 20th with no indication of how they got to Atlanta.
From Newspapers.com, I was able to confirm there were severe afternoon and evening thunderstorms on the 19th in the Nashville/Smyrna area. After landing at an airfield in Atlanta, my father called his grandparents who came and picked up the “boys” and took them home for the evening.
In the following letter, 2nd Lt. Parks’ grandmother, Jennie Walton refers to the event. It is a little over a month later and she is still greatly troubled that she was not better prepared for her grandson’s surprise visit.
The B-2 Flight Cap, B-3 Flying Trousers, and A-3 Flying Jacket pictured above are examples of the gear that 2nd Lt. Parks and his fellow pilots were issued at the end of March 1943 just before moving to Lockbourne Army Airbase in Ohio.
Lockbourne Army Air Base – Columbus, Ohio
On Monday, March 29th, the pilots were transferred from Smyrna, Tennessee to Lockbourne Army Airbase for more of the same… Day and night flying, takeoffs and landings, Link Trainer sessions, and ground school.
In addition to flight time, the Army Air Force also tracked how many landings a trainee made in each flying session.
Before arriving at Lockbourne, the most landings my father had made in one session were ten and he had done that by making a landing every 15 minutes over the course of two and a half hours.
The following flight record for 2nd Lt. Parks’ time at Lockbourne indicates that during his first flight session on his first day of flying at Lockbourne, he made fourteen landings in thirty-five minutes… first as pilot and then as co-pilot… that’s a take-off and landing every 2.5 minutes for 35 minutes… twice.
I assume these were what is called “touch-and-go” landings… Upon landing, as soon as the B-17’s wheels touched the runway, the pilot would apply full power and take off again. The co-pilot would re-set the flaps for flight and raise the landing gear as the pilot gained altitude and turned on a downwind leg to get in position to land again. Once they reached an altitude of 500 or 1000 feet, the pilot would turn on a short base leg and then quickly turn for an approach. As the pilot lined up on the runway, the co-pilot would adjust flaps for landing and lower the gear. Once the bomber’s wheels touched the runway… Full power… And the process started all over again. It would have been a very busy and stressful thirty-five minutes for the young pilots… And, to add to the pressure, it looks like they were being observed by Capt. Catton.
Welcome to Lockbourne.
Leaving Lockbourne Army Air Base at the end of April generated a blizzard of paperwork. What follows is a sample.
LAST VISIT HOME
On May 1st, 1943, 2nd Lt. Parks and his fellow pilots finally got the leave they had been anticipating since February… a total of 14 days. During that time my father would travel to Washington D.C., visit his parents, and then travel back across the country to Moses Lake, Washington… By train. He had to report for duty on May 15th… no later than nine o’clock in the morning.
For some, this leave would be the last time they would ever see their families.