We’ll Meet Again: A Scholar’s Farewell

Well, here it is, my last month as a UEA American Library Scholar. It’s hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly and incredible to contemplate some of the historic events we’ve seen together, including a global pandemic, the election of America’s forty-sixth president and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who as a young woman served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War. But then, working together through good times and bad is what the special relationship between the United States and Britain has always been about, hasn’t it? The American Library and a PhD program in creative and critical writing at the University of East Anglia were an unknown flight path a decade ago, when I was immersing myself in all things noir. I watched a lot of film noir back then, so much so that I felt like I was living in black and white in my tiny studio on Manhattan’s East Side. Some of the movies I watched from that period were not about crime, but about war, and in one I heard (for the first time, I think) Vera Lynn’s unforgettable wartime anthem, We’ll Meet Again. It’s possible my dad sang it to us when were kids—he was known to belt out classics like You’re in the Army Now and Over There and was also a lover of big band music like that arranged by bandleader and US Army Air Forces Captain Glenn Miller, who died in 1944 when the plane that was transporting him to a concert for Allied troops in liberated Paris was lost over the English Channel.

My father, Flight Officer Eugene L. Solomon, a B-17 pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, himself spent some of his leave in Paris, as evidenced by his well thumbed American Red Cross map of that city. Fortunately, he never had to use the other map he carried, a silk escape map. After flying the last strategic bombing mission in Europe on April 25, 1945, the group was chosen to move to Germany as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe and initially deployed to Istres, France in June. Before that, the crew spent VE Day in London, where the crowd was ‘packed like sardines’ and my father saw King George, Queen Elizabeth, (then) Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Flight Officer Eugene Solomon, the author’s father, top row, second from left. The crew (not shown in listed order): Pilot Lawrence E. Thurston, Co-Pilot Eugene Leonard Solomon, Navigator Theodore T. Gore, Togglier (bombardier) Robert Lee Wilkinson, Radio Operator/Gunner William O. King, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Oliver T. Larson, Ball Turret Gunner Elias S. Huron, Waist (Flexible) Gunner James Lindsay, Tail Gunner Ralph Cauthen. Photo courtesy of Christopher Wilkinson, the son of togglier Robert Lee Wilkinson, bottom row at left.
American Red Cross Map of Paris for service members
Silk escape map

According to Walter E. Owens’ As Briefed: A Family History of the 384th Bombardment Group, the 384th transported Allied troops to Germany and American soldiers to Casablanca for return to the US, among other missions. The latter was known as Project Green, which operated from June to September 1945 and was, according to the 384th Bomb Group’s website, ‘a key part of the “Home Bound Task Force” that returned combat troops to the USA following cessation of hostilities in the ETO. Troops were ferried from various European locations to Port Lyautey, Morocco, there to await transport home.’ 

Dad’s crew helped redeploy the 101st and the 82nd Airborne and medical personnel from field hospitals that weren’t needed anymore, some of whom were intended to be sent to the Pacific. They repatriated French citizens who had fled France and were living in North Africa, including the wife, two daughters and son of General de Gaulle’s aide de camp. Dad told us in a family interview I conducted that the crew took the kids ‘up front and let them sit in the seat and “fly the plane”’. The crew also repatriated Greek citizens who had been brought to Germany to be slave laborers. On one of their missions, they flew to an air station outside of Munich to deliver supplies and witnessed the horrifying aftermath of Dachau concentration camp. 

Another operation my father participated in was photographic mapping duty, or as he put it: ‘they photographed the entirety of Europe at 20,000 feet.’ Except, that is, for the USSR, because ‘the Russians wouldn’t let us.’ The 384th BG was inactivated in France in February of 1946; however, my father was on active duty in Europe through July, when he returned to the US.[1] In Istres, every flying officer had to get a job in a ground position, so my dad became an assistant intelligence officer, for which he had to go to intelligence school in Wiesbaden (across from the IG Farben works, a subsidiary of which produced the Zyklon B gas used in the death camps). He was also the information education officer for the Biarritz campus of the US Army University, a program that brought professors from America and elsewhere to conduct classes for servicemen and women stationed in Europe. Flight Officer Solomon returned to the US on July 17, 1946, and was relieved from active duty on September 11, 1946.

It would take many more paragraphs to list the activities I was privileged to participate in as a UEA American Scholar over the last two years. Highlights include the honor of laying the wreaths on behalf of the Second Air Division for Remembrance Week in 2021 and on Memorial Day this year at the Cambridge American Cemetery; attending the Remembrance service and Evensong at the American Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral; staffing the long-anticipated Library launch with colleagues in May and seeing our 2nd AD veterans movingly address us from across the pond through the magic of Zoom (yes, I cried); organizing a resoundingly successful talk by my academic supervisor at UEA, crime fiction writer and scholar Henry Sutton; engaging with the public as an ambassador of American literature and culture; and furthering the Library’s memorial mission by educating visitors about the Second Air Division’s history in East Anglia.

The US Army Air Forces monument at Cambridge American Cemetery
A B-17 flyover at Cambridge American Cemetery
The author, right, with Professor Henry Sutton at his April talk

The American Library and the Second Air Division Memorial Trust have been an invaluable resource, both in my family research as well as in supporting work on my PhD thesis with the UEA American Library Scholarship. My boundless gratitude goes out to Trust Chairman Richard Middleton, Professor Jaqueline Fear-Segal and the other Trust Governors, their American counterparts in the Heritage League, the veterans of the 2nd AD and their families, Trust Librarian Orla Kennelly, fellow Scholars and library colleagues, the Millennium Library and Norfolk County Council Library system, the Norfolk Record Office and the East Anglian community.

And here’s to you, our Scholars’ Blog readers, who commented on and shared my musings on a range of American topics.

Thank you all—but let’s not say goodbye, rather: We’ll Meet Again

—post by Suzanne Solomon


[1] His service record indicates that when he was discharged, he was attached to the 368th Bombardment Squad, 306th Bomb Group, 1st AD, which ‘engaged in special photographic mapping duty in western Europe and North Africa.’ However, there may still be more to discover about his Occupation service.

4 Comments

Filed under American Culture, Books, Memorial Library, World War 2

4 responses to “We’ll Meet Again: A Scholar’s Farewell

  1. 14corps

    Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the American Library. I greatly enjoyed all your articles. I read your short story in “Cutting Edge” and look forward to your future publications.
    -Dave Mercado

  2. Christopher Wilkinson

    Wonderful post Suzanne! ,”Connecting the dots,” admittedly an over used idiom, and curiosity is what kept me going to find the gaps in my understanding of my father’s service in the 384th Bomb Group. My dad (Robert Wilkinson) would be amazed that the children of his flight crew would find each other, made possible by a technology unimaginable to them in 1945. Please keep in touch, and wishing you good luck to you in your writing and studies.
    Christopher Wilkinson

    • Thanks very much Chris! I think my father would have been delighted that the ‘next gen’ have connected with each other. And thank you for sharing the photo of the crew and for all you do with the 384th BG Association to keep their memory and service alive. Best, Suzanne

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