Tag Archives: USAAF

Kassel Mission ~ 71st Anniversary

An update from the Kassel Mission Historical Society 

As we reflect upon the 71st anniversary of the Kassel Mission of 27
September 1944, let us all bow our heads and remember the 136 wonderful men
on both sides who gave their lives that day. Let us rejoice that five of our
MIAs of the Hansen Crew are getting the attention they deserve as their
remains have been recovered at the site this summer. If you don’t know about
this, go to the Kassel Mission Historical Society group page on Facebook.
The details and a link to see the archaeological dig are there.

We are grateful to the DPAA for finally digging on this site, to our friends
in Germany who brought attention to it, to our military liaison, Rob Rumsby,
for contacting us in 2012 on our Facebook page and making it happen, and to
Eb Haelbig for taking the team there an showing them the hot spots that
resulted in a successful dig. We are still working on identifying two more
MIAs and hoping to locate the remains of the final MIA, Raymond Ische, who
was the lead 445th navigator.

Bless the hearts of all of you veterans of the mission who read this today.
You are true survivors and have stuck with this organization through thick
and thin. Congratulations to each of you on a very full, long life. And
bless all of you members, friends and family of our dear departed, and for
those of you who gather in support of our Cause–being sure the Kassel
Mission is remembered.

We still have work to do. The DPAA recovered much in the way of plane parts,
both from the Hansen plan and the nearby Bruce plane. They originally agreed
to give KMHS the pieces to display at the Kassel Mission museum in Eisenach,
but have now agreed to give them all to the German state of Hesse’s
archaeologists. We are protesting this and hope to resolve it in our favor.
We will let you know how it goes.

You will notice in the DPAA video from the Armed Forces Network news, if you
go to the Facebook Page, that the video says nothing about the Kassel
Mission. The focus is on the good work that the DPAA is doing; it mentions
the location of the dig-Richelsdorf; and that these are WWII bombers. We
intend to add the Kassel Mission and B-24s to that in the news in a press
conference we are organizing that will be hopefully in the next few weeks
where we will tell the story. Stay tuned.

To the men who died and the men who lived to tell about it, we salute you
all today.

Linda Alice Dewey
President, Kassel Mission Historical Society

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Conversations with Strangers – An Oral History Project

In October 2008, a series of interviews were conducted by students from Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) with 2nd Air Division, United States Army Air Force veterans who were stationed in Norfolk during World War Two. The interviews were filmed in Dallas, Texas, during the 61st annual convention of the 2nd Air Division Association.

NUCA in Dallas

NUCA students in Dallas, TX (2008)

Recently added to our YouTube Channel, the students recorded interviews with:

Frank and Robert Birmingham (458th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

William and Betty Berry (Bill served with 389th and 93rd Bomb Groups) (Part 1)

Ray Lemons (445th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

Robert (Lee) Swofford (445th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2)

Jack Dyson (445th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2)

Jack Kingsbery (458th Bomb Group) (Part 1)

Oak Mackey (392nd Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2)

Dale Dyer (458th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2)

Herb Schwartz (445th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2)

James H McClain (389th Bomb Group) (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

(The above list contains all the links for each portion of the interviews found on YouTube)

This oral history project set out to capture the experiences of both 2nd Air Division (USAAF) veterans and the people of East Anglia during Word War Two, by gathering oral histories from USA veterans and also their “UK friends” attending the 2nd Air Division Association Convention.

The project generated a short 5 minute film ‘Conversations with Strangers’ for use by schools and young people for raising awareness of the contribution made by American airmen (and women) to the 2nd World War and the impact their presence had on the local community while highlighting the continuing “special relationship” between the people of East Anglia, and the people of the United States.

The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library gratefully acknowledge the funding received from the US Embassy in London, which enabled the students to travel to and attend the 2nd Air Division Association Convention in Dallas.

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Disaster Over Birkenhead: October 18th, 1944

The following article and poem were written by our guest Veteran Blogger, Freddie Becchetti, a Liberator bombardier who flew 35 bombing missions into Nazi Europe out of Tibenham, Norfolk, in summer 1944, earning the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.

He was a crew member with (and close buddy of) 1st Lt. Vincent Hamilton, one of the victims of the Birkenhead explosion. Hamilton completed his quota of 35 bombing missions as a navigator, but stayed in England at the request of the 8th Air Force and died tragically in a non-combat flight.

Fred has submitted the story and poem in honor of Vince and in appreciation of the local people who have helped to preserve his legacy. Our warmest thanks to Fred for sharing the following….

FIRST LIEUTENANT VINCENT P. HAMILTON, 1924–1944 (An Appreciation by His Bombardier, Freddie Becchetti)

During a short but life-defining six months in 1944, Vince Hamilton was my closest friend, my comrade-in-arms, my best buddy. In England, we bunked in the same hut, we went pubbing together, we went biking together among English villages in search of fresh eggs, we joked with English girls we met along the way, we spent our leaves together dancing with pretty English girls in nearby Norwich and in London, we joined with Londoners dodging buzz-bombs, teasing with the girls in Picadilly Circus, dancing with the London girls in giant dance halls, having tea in our seats at the cinema and riding cramped up together in the tiny nose compartment of our B-24 Bomber on our missions.

vincehamiltonWe were inseparable, so even though it has been almost seventy years, he has remained in the loving part of my memory since I first met him in March 1944 in training, high in the frigid skies of Wyoming.

In that same year, we completed 35 bombing missions into Nazi Europe, which made us eligible to go back to the United States. He would be able to serve as an instructor while waiting for a possible assignment to B-29s in the Far East for the final assault on the mainland of Japan. But the Eighth Air Force needed topflight navigators to carry on the war against Germany, and they asked Vince to remain in England.

I returned to the States as a bombardier instructor, but Vince agreed to stay in England. One month later I learned by rumor that he had been killed. I assumed that he had gone down in combat, but learned later that he had died at the age of 20 in the October 18, 1944, explosion of a malfunctioning B-24 Bomber in a stormy sky over Liverpool, England and that he was joined in death by 23 other American airmen passengers, most of them with their quota of 35 missions completed.

freddievinceIn spite of our closeness, we knew very little about each other’s family or background. He told me that he was from Brooklyn, New York, but he did not fit the Brooklyn stereotype that I had formed from movies. He didn’t speak of “dese, doze or dem guys,” and he was generally gentle in nature; although we did see him visibly angry when our pilot once failed to follow his navigational directions and almost flew us over the capital of Portugal on our way from Africa to England.

He asked me where I was from, and he burst out laughing when I told him I was from New Mexico. “New Mexico!” he roared. “What are you doing in the American army?” Whereupon, I explained to him that New Mexico was one of the forty-eight states in the Union. He kept laughing and asked, “New Mexico! What do they do there? Are there any Indians there?”

He didn’t know what to say when I told him that I had been brought up by my Tigua Indian grandmother.

After the war, I tried to bring the crew together with whatever addresses I had gathered while we were flying. The only address I had for Vince was “East 120th Street, New York City, “ which was not enough for me to contact his family. So I know nothing more about Vince Hamilton than what I was able to learn from him during those hectic six months of war with him.

If you had to do a war, Vince Hamilton was a good friend to do it with.


Doug Darroch of Wales was 16 years old when he witnessed the explosion that claimed Vince’s life. He would learn later that 24 young American airmen died in the crash…the entire crew. Fifty-one years later in 1995, that same Doug Darroch, his family and his community installed a rugged stone stele in Birkenhead as a monument to honor those 24 airmen and American airmen in general.

A roughly-hewn stone stele stands in the British city of Birkenhead, across the Mersey river from Liverpool.

[Editor’s note: in anticipation of any confusion, Birkenhead is technically in England, but is indeed very close to the Welsh border, about 17 miles away from the northern town of Connah’s Quay.]

by Freddie Becchetti

There were sweeping squalls,
and the thunder rumbled
across the fields of Wales;
Here and there, a sheet
of October rain from out
the earth-hugging clouds.

From her upstairs window,
a woman saw a silent aeroplane
drop from the gray of the sky
and hover in the misty air
as its wings fell free
and its heavy body twisted
down to earth in flames
and greasy, blackish clouds.

From a football field,
an army officer looked up
and followed with his eye
the terrible dive into the earth
and the rise of fiery smoke.

An artillery officer thought he heard
a bursting shell from overhead
and then the whining dive
of a machine in agony,
with jagged pieces fluttering
in the air like wingless birds.

From Oxton Road to Birkenhead,
a tender lad of sixteen years
took notice of the mournful scream
of an aircraft’s dive to death,
and that night, with curiosity,
he walked the railway tracks
to the circle of lights
where men and machines
searched the smoking ruin
for the living or the dead
and for the answer to why
the machine had fallen.

The lad watched and never forgot,
especially when he learned
that twenty-four young men like him
had died in that flaming dive.

Later he learned that the twenty-four
were from a land across the sea,
where mothers, fathers, family
with joyful flowers in their hair
waited for their return from war.
As the boy grew to be a man,
there lingered in his mind
the shriek of that fatal dive,
the glare of the searching arc lights
and the grim discoveries
among the jagged sheets of metal.

His books of history told of how
the airmen from America came
to join with airmen of Britain
to carry the battle to the foe
in lumbering, rattling flying crates
loaded with death and destruction.

He read of their death by thousands
high in the frigid skies by day,
while the British found death at night
to drive the cruel enemy back
and rid the world of his evil.

Still curious, the boy turned man
uncovered the names of the twenty-four
and found that many of them
had lived through battles
five miles above the earth
and were near to returning
to their homes across the sea.

He looked on them as friends
and their country as a friend,
so he gathered neighbors and kin
and planted a stone memorial
to the twenty-four American men
and to the friendship with the land
from across the ocean wide
that sent them to join with
British warriors in time of need.

All hail to Doug Darroch–Friend!

USAAF Liberator 42-50347 exploded without explanation over the fields between Little Storeton and Landican. To read more about the incident, visit this page for further details and eyewitness accounts.

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‘To All the Young Women of England’

We have been busy updating our contact information in preparation for our new biennial email newsletter for veterans of the 2nd Air Division and their families. One of the veterans, Fred Becchetti, wrote to us to say that he reads the blog, and offered to contribute! Of course, we happily set him right to the task. This makes Fred our inaugural 2nd Air Division Veteran Guest Blogger, and we’re thrilled to have him! We should call him Poet Laureate, too, because his first contribution is a poem in appreciation of some good wartime company. Read on….

On a night in 1944 an 18-year-old girl named Audrey from Harleston, Norfolk attended a dance at Tibenham, home of the 445th bomb group. There she danced with Bombadier Lt. Freddie Becchetti. In his diary, he would write, “I danced with a girl named Audrey, and she danced like a dream!”

Many years later in 1995, Becchetti, after retiring from the U.S. diplomatic service, toured England. He visited his wartime bomber base and actually found Audrey and her family in Harleston. He and Audrey corresponded until her passing in 2006. Meanwhile, Becchetti had written the following words:

To All the Young Women of England Who Took Us Into Their Lives and Danced With Us

You were life and goodness! You were beauty, hope, Peace!
You were laughter and warmth, Softness and Light;
You were Love! Cheer!
You were Rhythm and Grace; Kindness and Heart!
You were real.
You were Joy!

And wasn’t it all fun? Wasn’t it exciting?

What an adventure it was to meet on the dance floor and
     wonder if the other could dance and then discover
     that yes! She could and yes! He could, too!
And the two of you would settle into the rhythm, and he
     would do his best steps and find that yes! She
     could follow him, this pretty English girl three
     thousand miles away from jitterbug America
     in the middle of England!

You could feel the sweat trickling on your back and see
     a glisten across her forehead
     just above the sparkle
     of her young and beautiful eyes
     as the music got faster
     and your bodies moved together smoothly
     until it was just as though
     the two of you were one
     in how you wanted to dance the song.

You felt the elbows and shoulders of others,
     but after a while you didn’t feel anything
     as the two of you became the music
     and the music became the two of you
     and you drifted off dreaming
     in the happiness of being young,
     while the world outdoors went to hell.

Then you danced a slow one:
     the dreams came quietly;
     you held to each other
     cheek to the warmth of the other’s cheek;
     arms in close;
     a brushing of her curls on your neck;
     a bold touching body to body;
     but only for a fleeting moment,
     for those were different times.
     And the slow song ended
     even though you didn’t want it to end.

The two of you stood together
     alone in the middle of the floor
     as others drifted off,
     and you held to each other,
     cheek on cheek
     arms in close,
     until the music left your body.

The young women of England who danced with us,
The young women of England who talked to us,
The young women of England who took us into their lives.

How much we loved you then!
And we will forever love you,
For you were life!


We’re so thankful to Fred for sharing his poem with our readers. Fred will appear again as guest blogger, so stay tuned! As you can imagine, he’s got many, many fascinating stories to share.

USAAF dance at Tibenham (from our bomb group history library)

USAAF dance at Tibenham (from our bomb group history library)

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