My Life-Long Quest for my World War II Airman Father

The title "Carrying Fire" is taken from Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, in which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell talks about his own father. “I had two dreams about him after he died. I don’t remember the first one all that well. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothing. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen that he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

398th Bombardment Group

The Mighty 8th

398th Insignia "Hell From Heaven

The 398th Bombardment Group was originally activated at Ephrata Army Air Base, Washington, on March 1, 1943, but the group first assembled at Blythe AAB, California with its 600th, 601st, 602nd and 603rd Bombardment Squadrons. Group Commander was Lt. Col. Frank P Hunter, a West Point graduate from the class of ’33. Following a brief stay at Geiger Field, Washington, the group transferred to Rapid City AAB in South Dakota in June 1943, where intensive training of both air and ground personnel in simulated combat conditions took place.  The men of the 398th were looking forward to deployment with the Eighth Air Force soon.

601st Squadron

602nd Squadron

602nd Squadron

603rd Squadron

But in July 1943, the 398th was re-designated a Replacement Training Unit (RTU) and charged with training other, less experienced units for combat. This was a hard blow for the whole outfit, but they took their duties seriously and by December 1943, had trained 326 separate combat crews. In January 1944, their RTU duties were completed and they once again became an Operational Training Unit (OTU) and accelerated their own preparations for combat deployment. On March 24, orders were issued for the advanced echelons to set up operations at Station 131, Nuthampstead, England. Both air and ground units arrived there on April 22, 1944.

Nuthampstead Airfield

The 398th was the last B-17 unit to join the 8th Air Force, delayed mostly because of their RTU duties during much of 1943. Several groups that came later were all B-24 Liberator units. The 398th was also the only B-17 bomb group in the 8th Air Force not to retain the original new aircraft they had flown from the states. Instead, their stateside planes were replaced with a full compliment of planes already modified for combat. Tails on 398th B-17s were painted with a white “W” on a black triangle against a red field.

398th Tail Insignia, Triangle W

The 398th was then assigned to the 1st Combat Wing of the 1st Air Division, alongside two established bomb groups, the 91st at Bassingborn and the 381st at Ridgewell. These two groups were already battle-hardened veterans. The 91st was one of the early pioneers of the 8th Air Force’s campaign against Germany, and the 381st had been in combat for over ten months. The 398th was in good company and had high standards to live up to.

With long awaited D-Day only a month away, many of the 398th’s early operations were in support of the Allied invasion of France. Later would they would face many deep penetrations into Germany, to cities such as Meresburg, Ludwigshaven, Hamburg, Berlin, Schweinfurt, Kassel, and Munich; missions that would cost them dearly in lives and aircraft. (To see part 2 click here)

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