Jim Strafford was the radio operator on
our father's plane and they flew 29 missions together before being shot down on November 26, 1944. They
last saw each other for a brief moment in solitary at Dulag Luft when the doors
were opened for a moment.
Shortly after we mailed our
letters to the men we learned were on the plane with Dad when he was shot
down, we received a telephone call from Mr. Strafford. Below is an
email I sent to others in our family detailing what I had learned from that
This was the first information we had learned at all about our Dad's
experiences and we were so thrilled to hear from him.
August 14, 1999
Mr. Jim Strafford
called today after he received my letter concerning Daddy. He informed me
that he was with Daddy when they were shot down and he knew Daddy well. He
said they were very close. He said it warmed his heart to get my letter.
Brought back some wonderful memories of Daddy.
They had met in Tampa
at training school and flew all their missions together. He told me a great
deal that I did not know.
He said that their
crew was a hand picked crew - composed of the best in their classes. They
were selected to go to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia for additional
training. That was where the FBI and CIA were located. He said all the
crewmembers were then investigated by the FBI for clearance. As they were
going to be the first to fly B-17ís with radar which was highly secretive.
He said with the radar they could actually see their targets. He said
Dadís crew was one of 10 that had been hand picked to go to Langley and
train for this operation.
Their crew often flew
with the colonel of the 398th, Col. Hunter, who was killed during the war.
They often were the lead plane of the 8th Air Force. He said the radar
technology was so secretive that for some reason they couldnít fly it
directly to England the had to fly to Ireland first. He flew 29 bombing
missions with Daddy, they were shot down on the 29th. After 30 missions you were
allowed to go home. The average mission lasted 8 to 9 hours.
He said they had many
close calls. He said they were bombing Hitlerís oil refinery in Misburg,
Germany when they were shot down. He said it was the primary source of oil
for Hitlerís Panzer army and tanks, so it was very heavily guarded. That
is why they were probably shot down. He said after they were hit the plane
was on fire and he was in charge of
detonating the plane so that the Germans were not able to recover the radar
technology. He lit the detonators and ran to the back of the plane only to
find Dad and his friend Phern Stout still at the back door. He said he
pushed both of them out the door and jumped himself. He said he saw their
parachutes open up and met them on the ground, where they were captured by
civilians and turned over to guards. He said the Germans knew they had
From there they were
put on a train to Frankfurt, where he said they had a close call. The
civilians were very angry with them and wanted to kill them. He said they
almost lost their lives there in the train station. He said the Luftwaffe guards did a good job of protecting
them from the crowds. They pushed them into a donut shop and called for
extra guards to help protect them. From there they went to solitary
confinement at Dulag Luft. He said in solitary it was Stout, him, and Williams. He knows
that because they opened the door once and he was able to see who was on
each side of him. He said that was the last he saw of Daddy.
He was sent to Stalag
Luft IV. His section was 90% British. He and 2 Brits
managed to escape though and he made it back home 1 day after VE day.
He said Daddyís
best friend was Phern Stout, who was a champion boxer from Missouri. They
were very close buddies "practically inseparable".
I had sent Dad's
Dulag Luft picture with my letter. He said you didnít
have to send that picture, I remember him well. He said Daddy was a really
good looking man. He said, "Donít tell your mother, but the girls
were always after your Daddy!". He said there was a very nice and rich man in their crew. He
was a 21 year old chemistry PhD, named Joe Spiess ,and Mr. Strafford
believed this gentleman was part of the Anheuser-Busch family. Mr. Spiess
would often take all the crew out for dinner in Tampa, and he said the
ladies would always be looking at Daddy.
Since this initial contact we were
fortunate to meet Mr. Strafford and his family in August 2000 at the 8th
Air Force Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia.