Gents, Picked up SSGT John Clark's medal group at auction last weekend. Not much action on the group that day, and I was fortunate to get them at a resonable price and enjoy history hunt. Group even had his POW Stalag tag. Working to get some pictures if possible, one Aircrewman who was the Bottom gunner of the B17 may still be alive as he interviewed for a publication in the early 90's so I sent him a letter the other day. Good story on a airman who gave all.
MISSING AIR CREW REPORT: A/C #42-37970 - 20TH SQUADRON
2nd Lt.Paul A. Foust, 0-745880, P.(KIA)
2nd Lt.John M. Coppinger, 0-680367, CP.(POW
)2nd Lt.Reginald W. Kurtz, 0-790257, N.(POW
)2nd Lt.Kendall E. Mork, 0-669417, B.(POW)
S/Sgt.John C. Clark, 33279680, U/T.(POW) *
Sgt.Silvio L. Riccio, 11118028, L/T.(POW)
S/Sgt.Darial G. Hammond, 35444973, R/W.(POW)
S/Sgt.Chester A. Harvey, 35405177, L/W.(POW)
S/Sgt.Otha G. Beene, 18165821, T/G.(POW)
S/Sgt.Cornelius J. O’Leary, 31157535, R/O.(POW)
* Died during forced march in Germany, 1945.
Statement of 2nd Lt. John M. Coppinger, CP, after liberation: “I bailed out as did Lts. Mork and Kurtz, and Sgts. Harvey, Riccio, Hammond, Beene, Clark, and O’Leary. I don’t know about Lt. Foust. He was preparing to follow me. He said, “I’ll be right with you.” I don’t know if he was wounded but did not seem to be.
The navigator, Lt. Kurtz, said to me on the ground that parts of the plane fell around him as he dropped to the ground in his chute. He had the impression that the ship had blown up before Lt. Foust could bail out. My supposition is that he died in the explosion of the ship.
S/Sgt. John C. Clark was able to bail out and was injured in the left shoulder. He said to me, “I’ll see you on the ground, John.” I was told that he was a prisoner in Stalag Luft IV and died of malnutrition and pneumonia during a forced march in Germany in the winter of 1944/45.
This source was a Sgt. Henry.”Sgt. Silvio Riccio, Ball Turret Gunner. October 20, 1990:
“I had enlisted November 24, 1943, took basic training in Miami, Florida. Went to Traux Field, Madison, Wisconsin for radio operator training and then to gunnery training at Kingman, Arizona. I landed up at Moses Lake and then WallaWalla, Washington. When they needed ball turret gunners, I applied for that. Forgot my radio operator training.
.“At Walla Walla I was assigned to a crew as a ball turret gunner and assistant radio operator. Our pilot was Lt. Paul Foust; co-pilot, Lt. Coppinger; navigator, Lt. Stetner; bombardier, Lt. Mork; engineer, S/Sgt. John Clark; radio, S/Sgt. Cornelius O’Leary; ball turret, myself; waist gunners, S/Sgt. Chester Harvey and S/Sgt. Dariel Hammond; and the other gunner was Sgt. Otha Beene.“We went overseas on a Liberty Ship in November, 1943, landing in North Africa and then flew to Italy by C-47.
We were assigned to the 20th Squadron. We guarded B-17s for a while and then started flying. “Some of our missions were to Reggio Emelia A/C Factory and Marshalling Yards, Ciampino/Rome Airdrome, Northern Italy and Anzio.
We came in low there and got a lot of flak. We lost our Operations Officer and Squadron Leader on plane #422. We picked up 125 holes in our plane and flak in one of our engines. No injuries. Bombed the Monte Cassino Monastery, Athens, Budapest, Regensburg, and the sub pens at Toulon, France. We were the only Group to hit the sub pens. We had plenty of opposition and that was the first time I saw a German fighter ram a B-17. They both exploded. I was told they were Goering’s Yellow Nose Boys. We were 50 feet over the water coming out. We were running low on gas and had to land on the Island of Corsica. We stayed overnight and came home the next morning in a heavy fog.
In those days, I didn’t know what our losses were. Too busy watching our own butts! Our Group leader almost got it that day (Major Bradford Evans, 96thCO). He lost an engine on landing and almost got it in landing on the island, which was a fighter base. It was too small for B-17s to be landing on. We sweated out the landing back at our base because it was so foggy. We hit the Monastery at Cassino and Major Evans flew lead that day also.
“On February 24, 1944, we went to Steyr, Austria. We were told our fighter cover would be five minutes before the target. This was to be my 21st mission. We were to have B-24s behind us but we never saw them. As we went inland, the Germans hit us with everything they had and with no letup. I saw the 96th Squadron go down and then it was our turn. They came in, wave after wave, three to five fighters at a time. They were good pilots! They came at us from around the clock. You could have hit them with a rock, they were that close! They knew we were burning, I saw their 20mmsflashing. There were Me-109s, FW-190s, and Me-110s, and I know they were throwing everything they had, and more. I was firing short bursts. I had a Me-110 in my ball turret sights and I saw a red flash. It looked like an explosion, then smoke and it dived. I didn’t have time to follow it down because there were others. I saw another one smoking and going down. It must have been Beene firing from the tail. The plane was vibrating from everyone firing. Our intercom was out and as I got out of the ball turret it took a hit. As I got out to grab my chute, a 20mm made a hole in front of my face. I snapped my chute on and saw Harvey and Hammond trying to kick the escape hatch open. They couldn’t get it open so I bailed out the waist hatch window. I went out after them. I saw the engine was on fire and the tail of the plane was in shreds. It seemed only seconds. The wind blew me away from the plane and I was saying, “Give it time,” over and over and my chute never opened. So I grabbed the pilot chute and pulled on it and it finally opened. We went out at about 22,000 feet with the bomb bay doors open.“I landed in deep snow. I saw the enemy coming with guns and pitchforks, so I lit a cigarette and waited. We were taken by the Gestapo, with other flyers, to Dulag Luft, Frankfurt, Germany. Nofun! We were then taken to Stalag Luft VI in East Prussia. Me and nine other guys dug an escape tunnel, a good one, but it was discovered around D-Day, so we quit.“I have talked to Bob Peterson recently and our stories of life, just prior to, during, and after being at Stalag Luft IV, are so similar there isn’t much sense repeating it. It was a tough old War!”