Three and a half years ago, I cleaned out my grandparent’s apartment. My grandmother, Nanny, had just passed away. My mom had gone through the important paperwork, but there was still lots to do. I boxed up many things, hoping to go through them one day. And, slowly, I am going through everything. One day, I may even find that banana-shaped spoon my sister keeps asking me for.
Today, I found a piece of history. I found my grandfather’s list of WWII missions, typed by typewriter.
Just one week ago, I went to the WWII museum in New Orleans and spent hours with Debbie learning about Operation Overloard (the invasion of Normandy that started on D-Day). As I read the document in my hand, I thought that I was looking at an artifact in the museum.
MISSIONS – EUROPEAN – THEATER OF OPERATIONS
FRANCE JUNE 8 – ETAMPS — Faireasy
FRANCE JUNE 10 – CAMBRAI – Rough for some of the fellows
FRANCE JUNE 14 – Le BOURGETS (PARIS) Flack Gunners were hot
FRANCE JUNE 17 – LILLE – *Not bad
GERMANY JUNE 17 – HAMBURG – Flack – Plenty of it tough holes in ship
FRANCE JUNE 19 – BORDEAUX – Bad weather turned back – Flack Mild
FRANCE June 20 – WATT – Buzz Bombs Flack Moderate
FRANCE June 22 – ROUEN – Flack moderate to light
FRANCE June 28 – LEON – Flack light
FRANCE JULY 4 – TOURS – Flack light
FRANCE JULY 6 – CROSSVILLE – More flack – Not too close
GERMANY JULT 7 – LEIPZIG – Plenty flack – German must have been mad
holes in wings gas tank
FRANCE JULY 9 – VILLERS DE HOSPITAL – Pretty good
GERMANY JULY 11 – MUNICH – Plenty of flack
GERMAN JULY 16 – Some more flack more holes sweater somemore
GERMAN JULY 18 – PEENEMUNDE – Flack not close long ride
GERMAN JULY 20 – LEIPZIG – Flack holes – rough worried for a while
FRANCE JULY 24 – ST.LO – Helped the ground forces no flack
FRANCE JULY 25 – ST LO – Went again really paster the enemy
GERMANY AUG 4 – ANKLAN – Flack light not bad
GERMAN AUG 5 – NEINBURG – No flack good trip
FRANCE AUG 8 – CAEN – Flack very heavy holes in ship engine hit
BELGIUN AUG 9 – MALMENDY – Flack light not bad
FRANCE AUG 11 – BREST – Flack light short ride not bad
FRANCE AUG 13 – LOUVIER – Flack light but fairly accurate
GERMANY AUG 14 – STUTTGART – Plenty of flack accurate holes in ship
GERMANY AUG 16 – LEIPZIG – Flack heavy rough holes in ship
BELGIUN AUG 17 – NAMURE – Flack accurate not too heavy
BLEGIUN AUG 26 – ANTWERP – Flack accurate not too heavy
My grandfather’s typed notes that read like a weather report, if only the word “flack” were replaced by “rain”. I suspected that flack = enemy fire, but I looked it up on Wikipedia to be sure: Flack is anti-aircraft warfare. That means that every second of every mission, my grandfather and his crew did not know if they would make it to the next second. War is horrible.
According to the typed notes, they flew 29 missions total. According to the 351st bomb group online records, my grandfather flew 31 missions (search for Edward Ryan or serial number 13099759). There was a second mission on 20 June and a missing one on 12 June. I am not sure whose records were more accurate — and both could be flawed. I remember my grandmother saying “your grandfather flew X missions over Normandy and Germany”. I just wish that I remembered what number X was.
Then, I remembered a story I was told about the plane my grandfather flew in, the Huba Huba. I was told that it was shot down in the very next mission after my grandfather’s last mission. So, I wanted to see if these records could verify that (I don’t remember who told me or when, so seemed like a good fact to check). When I looked at the records, I realized that my grandfather’s crew flew on multiple DIFFERENT B-17s. (If you look at the online records again, you’ll see that each missions lists the aircarft number). The last plane he flew went on two more missions. The last mission of that aircraft (mission # 199) was gunned down, killing all but two members of the crew (who became prisoners of war). I was still a bit bothered that it was not “the next” mission AND the fact that I couldn’t verify the aircraft’s nickname.
So, I googled “Hubba Bubba” and found a plethora of links about bubble gum. After reading two newspaper article that I found a year ago from my grandfather’s WWII reunion weekends, I realized the plane was the “Huba Huba” (sometimes written “Hubba Hubba”) and I came across a newspaper article about the plane that went missing.
That was aircraft 43-37557. During it’s fated last mission, mission 185, the plane never returned, presumed to have been shot down. The previous mission, mission 184, my grandfather and his crew were on that plane. Although mission 184 wasn’t my grandfather’s last mission, I know that this is the plane he was referring to. First, the name of the plane matched. Second, he would have known that the plane did not return to the base in England. What he did not know was that 8 of the 9 crew members survived and became prisoners of war.