Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Old Photograph

Who are these men?
Six young men, the crew of a B-26 Marauder, in September of 1944. The war rages in Europe. The caption seems to indicate that they are at Lake Charles Army Airfield (LCAAF). I wonder where these men are going. I wonder where they've been.

Now LCAAF had been home to a B-26 Replacement Training Unit (RTU - the 336th Bombardment Group) up until 1 May of '44. Perhaps these gentlemen were passing through and stopped by because they had trained there. (I've visited old training haunts, it's a common thing. See this post over at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid. We military types do wax nostalgic at times.)

That photo was sent to me by one of my readers. Seems he found it in a box of his family's things. He mentioned that he knows the photo is not of any of his uncles or his Dad. They were too young for World War II.

Over on Facebook I've got friends doing some research on this photo. One thing they found was an obituary for a Clarence G. Doane. He served in the Army Air Forces in World War II. This photo was attached to that online obituary. So, speculation is that he is one of the crew members above.

Mr. Doane was certainly the right age. He was born in 1923, so he would have been 21 when this photo was taken.

We know he was an electrician after the war. But the obituary doesn't go into any more detail. One hopes he led the good life, he certainly earned it.

Now in the photo I have speculated (based on headgear alone) that the 3 gentlemen to the left are officers and the 3 to the right are enlisted men. This photo (found here) seems to bear that out.

Another B-26 Crew, Note the Headgear

Now it's not how the guys are positioned in the photo. But in this photo, the 3 guys wearing the "fifty mission crush" caps (see below) are definitely officers, based on the cap. The three guys on the right are wearing what my Dad called an "overseas cap". What I would have called a "flight cap" (the polite term for said headgear) and what was apparently officially known as a garrison cap. Also depicted below.

50 Mission Crush Cap

Garrison Cap

Now I have no other objective proof of who is who. But there is this. B-26 crew makeup (which could vary) is shown in the picture below.

Six men: a pilot and a co-pilot (both of whom would be officers), a bombardier-navigator (shown in the nose, also an officer) and three gunners. The gunners would be enlisted men (normally sergeants of some kind, which did not endear them to the other branches of the Army) and are shown at the back of the aircraft in that drawing above.

Over the night, the busy aviation detectives that I know were busy looking through the various parts of the Internet for more information on this crew. Seems they found something...

Note the picture above. Apparently the man to the far left in the photo is First Lieutenant Robert Starkey Sr, the pilot. While I don't know if the aircraft in the picture is the one 1Lt Starkey was flying that day, the tail number given matches this -
Martin B-26G-25-MA Marauder - 68148 (397th BG) shot down by AAA Apr 8, 1945.  MACR 14263 (MACR = Missing Aircrew Reports)
From the evidence above at least two men from the crew were seen to jump from the aircraft. There is also evidence that Mr. Doane spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.

Were these men flying together that day? (Odds are, they were). Who survived other than Mr. Doane? If anyone.

Were they flying that aircraft in the photo? I also know the aircraft departed Venlo in Holland on the mission to Peine.

So that's what I know so far.

So which of those crewmen is Mr. Doane? If he is indeed in the picture. Who are the others besides 1Lt Starkey? Which of them survived the war? What are the circumstances of that photo?

There is a lot of history stashed away in attics, basements and garages around the country. My heartfelt thanks to reader Bob for sharing this with us. And thanks to my buddies over on Facebook for tracking down all of this data.

1944 was 70 years ago. Most of the men who served are gone, those who remain are very old. A 17-year old in 1944 would be 87 today. There aren't many of them left.

Mr. Doane died in 2012 at the age of 90. 1Lt Starkey would have been 89 this year.

History. It's made by real men and women.

Update #1:

Bob, the gentleman who inspired this post, has been in touch with additional data. Sadly, three more of the crewmen of B-26G 44-
68148 have been identified. All three were killed in action. They were -

  • SSgt Johnny G. Neal of Oklahoma, gunner. Age unknown.
  • SSgt Joseph V. L. Thomas of Los Angeles, California, Engineer/Gunner. 23 years old.
  • 2Lt Glenn W. Poulson of Williamsburg, Iowa, Bombardier/Navigator. 22 years old.
2Lt Glenn W. Poulson

In theory, that's five men of the six depicted in the photo accounted for. I say in theory because the photo was taken in September of 1944 and the aircraft piloted by 1Lt Starkey went down on 8 April 1945. (Yes, exactly one month before the war in Europe ended.) So it's possible that there were crew changes between September of 1944 and April of 1945. But the man second from left does bear a resemblance to 2Lt Poulson. It's hard to tell.

But seeing as how that's not a lot of time (a little over six months) barring accidents and such, it's quite likely that the crew depicted above are the same ones who crewed 44-68148 on that fateful day in April. Two men were seen to depart the aircraft, four have been accounted for as Killed In Action, one (Clarence Doane) was a POW. Only one man remains a mystery.

As he wasn't listed here -

We may be able to presume he joined Mr. Doane in a POW camp for the last month of the war in Europe.

Update #2:

From my fellow Lexican RRL, I received the following cryptic remark -
The sixth man was the co-pilot, 1st Lt. Roy G. Schindler. He survived the war and died in 1985. More later...
I guess we might say of this crew, that all are now accounted for. None of them are still alive, I hope that they're all together on the other side, telling tall tales and having a cold one.

Thank you gentlemen. Some of us will never forget...


  1. My ex- father -in-law was a tail gunner who flew I believe 20+ missions. These men were unbelievably brave!

    1. 20+ missions? He's lucky to have survived, that's a lot of missions!

  2. Along the same theme, have you seen this article? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2587919/Former-dustman-salvaged-5-000-historic-photographs-WWI-heroes-action-RUBBISH-DUMPS.html

    1. Wow! Great link Pogue! I may have to do a follow up to this post. It amazes me what people throw away. Literally destroying historical artifacts because they don't know any better or they just don't care.

  3. These inter-tubes are a wonderful thing. You couldn't possibly have constructed this narrative as quickly as you have 20 years ago. Today the number of on-line resources... photos, databases, records repositories, personal narratives, and the like... are huge and growing, as are the number of people with an interest in mining them. We live in amazing times.

    1. Yup, in the old days this kind of research would have taken weeks AND required travel to various archives I'm thinking.

      From the time I received the photo to actually posting this was less than 16 hours. Had a lot of Lexicans over on Facebook tracking stuff down for me. So the Lex connection is strong as well.

      The sheer amount of data out there (on this here web of world wideness) is stunning.

  4. I would like to thank Sarge and all of his friends for bringing the story of these six brave men together, four who lost their lives, two surviving as POWs. This all started out as a simple question about an old photo that I had and snowballed into a tale of bravery and sacrifice that took place nearly seventy years ago.

    Bob T

    1. And there's more.

      Thanks to you Bob, for giving us the opportunity to honor these men.

  5. If you want a great read about WW II B-26 ops, read the book "Flak Bait" about the WW II ac of that name and its crew. They set the record for most missions until surpassed by a bird named "Mild and Bitter." I read the original 1948 hardcover at our local Carnegie library in Jr high--currently unavail. The 1983 paperback on Amazon is $121.60 new, $49.95 used. Suggest your local library or inter-library loan..

    1. Wow, the name of that book takes me back. I think we read the same kind of stuff when we were young, Virgil.

    2. The wonderful daughter and SIL bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for my Bday. Supposedly you can download library books on it. As soon as I get it figured out then this will be one that I search for. Thanks, Virgil.


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