This is a story of a young man from Chicago who becomes a co-pilot of a bomber in Europe during World War II—from training, to the assembly of his B-17 crew, the men’s struggles after becoming prisoners of war, and the discovery some sixty years later of details his surviving family and fellow crew members never knew.
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Casey & the Flying Fortress
The True Story of a World War II Bomber Pilot and the Crew
By Mark Farina
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Mark Farina
All rights reserved.
Fate Takes Us on a Journey
Our journey of discovery began in late September of 2001 when my wife, Diane, and I were planning to take my mother-in-law, Lennie, for lunch at a new restaurant at Chicago's North Avenue Beach on Lake Michigan.
We had called the day before to make sure the restaurant was still open for the season, which was to close the following day. As soon as we arrived at the lakefront, we discovered that a special event was taking place and that we would have to park a few blocks away. Because my wife and my mother-in-law had limited mobility, we instead decided to go to the popular Navy Pier with its restaurants, shops, and other attractions.
I mentioned that divine intervention seemed to play a part in this story. It began on this day because as soon as we reached the Navy Pier, we discovered that the parking lot was virtually full. We changed plans entirely and decided to drive in the opposite direction and go to a favorite restaurant of ours in the northwest suburb of Wheeling, a twenty-eight-mile journey.
After lunch at Bob Chinn's Crab House, we made our way back toward Westchester, where my mother-in-law lived. We drove by Palwaukee Airport (now called Chicago Executive Airport) and immediately noticed what looked like a vintage World War II aircraft parked on the tarmac next to one of the airplane hangars along Milwaukee Avenue. The plane had attracted a crowd of people.
Diane asked me to call the airport on the cell phone to get more information. The aircraft, a B-17 from World War II, was touring the country with a stop in the Chicago area. Diane then asked me to turn around and go back to the airport so we could see the type of airplane her father had flown. As we headed back, it suddenly occurred to Diane that it was her father's birthday, September 21st and Lennie said that she had never seen a B-17 up close.
It was like some unseen force had steered us in the direction of that airplane, from lakefront Chicago to Wheeling.
As we approached Palwaukee Airport, suddenly there it was, shining in the bright afternoon sun, the silver-colored B-17 named Sentimental Journey, with its famous artwork of actress and pin-up girl Betty Grable. Fortunately there wasn't a huge crowd, and we were able to go right up to the aircraft.
After securing tickets, I climbed aboard the plane and quickly discovered how cramped and claustrophobic it was inside. Men had to be young, thin, and healthy to pull themselves into the cockpit area (they didn't typically use a ladder) or to squeeze into the cramped space for the tail gunner or the ball turret gunner.
Considering that they were in these tight quarters for eight to ten hours, mostly in subzero conditions, wearing parachute harnesses and other heavy equipment and clothing, I could appreciate the creature comforts of airline travel today. Having been inside, I could only imagine what it must have been like for the men as they were bombarded by German antiaircraft flak and shot at by enemy fighter planes, all the while staying in tight formation as they approached their targets.
Diane, Louis, and Lennie viewed the plane from the outside and talked to a crew member, a World War II veteran who had flown B-17s. We took a few photos of the plane and of ourselves with the aircraft in the background. Lennie was restricted to a portable wheelchair, but we took her to the rear entrance, which was at ground level. She stood up, climbed the short stepladder, and peered into the back of the aircraft that her husband Casey had flown fifty-eight years earlier.
After a few more glances at the aircraft, we made our way back home, all the while talking about our good fortune in seeing the Flying Fortress.
On October 9, we celebrated Diane's birthday at Lennie's condo in Westchester about twenty miles west of downtown Chicago. Lennie had ordered a green-dinosaur Halloween costume for Louis that she was looking forward to seeing him wear. Our two-and-a-half-year-old son put on this adorable costume with its long tail and pranced around the living room to the delight of Lennie and everyone else.
This was the last time we would see Lennie alive. Just two days later, Diane's sister Nini discovered that she had died while sitting in her recliner, probably watching the news about 9/11 on television. And to think, only a few weeks earlier, something had brought us on an unexpected journey to see an old military airplane that Lennie's husband had flown in World War II.
If the story ended there, it would be interesting enough, but this was only the beginning of a historical journey that would take Diane and me from Chicago to St. Louis and on to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and eventually bring me to Los Angeles and all the way to the Netherlands. We also ventured on the information superhighway (the Internet) and got on the telephone to communicate with key people in that country.
Facing the death of one parent is difficult enough, but Diane and her two sisters now had to confront the reality that both of their parents were gone. They also had to deal with settling Lennie's estate and selling her condo. All the while we were also trying to sell our home near Midway Airport and were living in the basement of my parents' house in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago while our house was on the market.
It was eerie to return to Lennie's condo to look through personal papers, clothes, and all the other items that make up a home and a life. Each day brought a new discovery and many times a tear to our eyes.
This was a new experience for me. I had never lost a loved one so close, other than a grandparent. I also had to help make the funeral arrangements and to share the emotional toll Lennie's death had on my wife.
Lennie was a wonderful mother-in-law and a good friend to all who were lucky enough to have come in contact with her. She was extremely generous, and in the nine years that I knew her, she never had an angry or negative thing to say to me. She also had an endearing way of expressing surprise and enthusiasm about even the simplest of life's occurrences.
I discovered that my mother-in-law had saved many photos and had assembled them in scrapbooks. We found old photos of Diane, of her sisters Nini and Linda, and of their beloved brother, Jamie, who tragically died in an auto accident at age nineteen while visiting his sister in Kansas. Jamie had planned to follow in his father's military footsteps, having recently enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and was looking forward to basic training. There were also photos of Lennie and Casey as a young couple after World War II and pictures of the family in happier times.
One day as we were rummaging through all of Lennie's belongings, we stumbled upon a scrapbook about Casey from World War II. Its faded pages contained a treasure trove of information. There were photos of Casey in basic training, first with the army infantry at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and later in pilot training at Victory Field in Vernon, Texas.
This remarkable collection helped tell the story of how Casey, like so many other young American men, had enlisted in the armed forces shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There were postcards from Casey to his mother and father and later the dreaded Western Union telegrams informing his family that he was missing in action and then confirmed as a POW of the Germans.
Casey's sister Joanne, who had compiled a similar scrapbook for her husband Ed Dryjan while he was in the service, had lovingly assembled this one. Most telling were the short letters from Casey while he was a POW at Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany. For the first time, we learned that his plane had been shot down on December 22, 1943. We would later discover that the German SS had captured Casey and two other crew members three days later on Christmas Day.
The scrapbook also contained the joyous telegram informing Casey's family that he was under Allied control when the camp was liberated in March 1945, fourteen months later.
Paging through the scrapbook was like taking a trip back in time — not to peek at some vague historical figure we had read about in history books or had seen on a television documentary but to follow someone who was not only real for us but who was the father Diane dearly loved and had lost at the age of sixteen.
I was interested in learning more about Casey and what had happened to him and the crew. However, I didn't give the subject much more thought until we had closed on the sale of our house in December and until after the Christmas and New Year's holidays, which were difficult and somber with the recent loss of Diane's mom. I had no magic plan to find out more details about Casey and the crew. The project seemed to happen by accident and to develop a life of its own.CHAPTER 2
The Air War in Europe
With the surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America was officially thrust into World War II. The full impact of American involvement in the war, particularly in Europe and North Africa, would come over time as America and the Allied forces developed their industrial and military capacity and transported supplies, equipment, and men to England and North Africa.
The British had been courageously fighting the German Luftwaffe virtually alone since the beginning of the war. Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters defended their homeland in the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940. Then the British faced the onslaught of the Germans during the devastating blitz of London and other cities. The heroism and the determination of the British in withstanding German attacks cannot be exaggerated. If not for Britain's efforts, the American Army Air Forces would never have been able to create bases in England and, in combination with RAF bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and the Vickers-Armstrong Wellington, to eventually claim air supremacy over Europe.
More than sixteen million young American men and women enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces and began training in the marines, the army, the air forces, the navy, the coast guard, and the merchant marine.
The United States Air Forces were then a part of the army known as the Army Air Corps. Not until after the war would they become a separate branch, the US Air Force.
The bomber crews came from many backgrounds, from the East Coast and the West, from the North and the South, from the big city, farms, and small towns. These widely diverse individuals trained together stateside and became one unit before making the perilous journey across the Atlantic Ocean by troop ship.
One thing most of them had in common was that they were young kids suddenly asked to grow up quickly so that they could save the world from the oppression of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperialist Japan.
In Europe and North Africa, the Army Air Corps consisted of the Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth, and Fifteenth Air Forces. The Ninth was originally based in Egypt and participated in Allied operations across much of North Africa before moving to England. The Twelfth operated in the Mediterranean Theater out of North Africa, and the Fifteenth operated from bases in Italy after the Allied forces secured Sicily and most of the mainland.
The most famous of the air forces serving in this theater of the war was the mighty Eighth Air Force, based in England. Casey Paulinski and the crew of his B-17 Flying Fortress would meet their destiny as part of the Eighth Air Force's Ninety-Second Bomb Group, 407 Bomb Squadron, based in Podington, England.
While the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was the most celebrated and publicized of the heavy and medium bombers in World War II, it was by no means the most mass produced or the most used heavy bomber. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator and its crews played an equally significant role in winning the air war in Europe. In addition, the twin-engine North American B-25 Mitchell bombers and the Martin B-26 Marauder made important contributions to the success of the American and Allied efforts.
For more than sixty years the crews of the B-17s and the B-24s, airplane buffs, and historians have debated the virtues of the planes. While there is no clear-cut verdict as to which was better, the spirited debates will continue as long as there is a fascination with historical aircraft.
The B-17 and the B-24 were four-engine heavy bombers, which saw the lion's share of missions over Europe. Both aircraft were designed for ten-man crews: a pilot and a copilot, a bombardier, a navigator, a flight engineer/top turret gunner, a radio operator, a ball turret gunner, two waist gunners (left and right), and a tail gunner. As the war progressed, B-24 crews were trimmed to nine men.
Though the air corps may have seemed exciting and even glamorous to those trying to join or to people back home reading about its exploits, the bombing missions were extraordinarily dangerous and emotionally challenging for the brave men who ventured skyward.
I was surprised to learn that the bomber crews in England suffered more casualties than the marines fighting the bloody battles in the South Pacific. Early in the war, the Army Air Corps said a bomber crew carrying out twenty-five missions had completed its tour of duty and could return home, but it was statistically impossible for a crew to survive that many missions. The casualty rate was that high.
Aircrews had advantages on the ground: reasonably comfortable beds, usually in barracks, hot meals, and entertainment at local pubs or while on leave in the big city, London. This was heaven compared with what the combat soldier endured: sleeping outdoors in all kinds of weather, scrounging for food, or eating K-rations from a can.
The airmen forgot all these advantages as soon as their planes took off on a mission and they struggled to get into and stay in formation on the way to the target and to fend off German antiaircraft artillery flak and enemy fighter planes.
These were the circumstances that Casey Paulinski, Hank Roeber, and the crew of their B-17 Flying Fortress faced as they set off on a mission to Osnabruck, Germany, to bomb railroad marshalling yards on December 22, 1943. On this fateful day, as they made their fifth mission together, there would be a new man aboard the B-17.
Staff Sgt. Royce McGillvary, a native of Gary, Indiana, who had grown up in Nova Scotia, Canada, replaced waist gunner Lawrence Anderson, a Boston native who had been killed in an accident on the ground in Podington. McGillvary took Anderson's spot alongside Sy Wolfson. McGillvary had been a replacement on a number of missions with different crews but was never assigned to a permanent one. Hubert O'Neill had been sidelined for three of the previous missions due to a severely infected toe, which had kept him hospitalized.
In the front of the B-17 were the officers, typically second lieutenants: bombardier George Sokolsky of Rochester, New York; navigator Donald McPhee of Burlingame, California; pilot Hank Roeber of Long Island, New York, and copilot Casimir "Casey" Paulinski of Chicago, Illinois. Directly behind these officers were enlisted men, all staff sergeants: the flight engineer and top turret gunner, Walter Sybo of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; radio operator Hubert O'Neill of Lynn, Massachusetts; ball turret gunner Clayton Verlo of LaCrosse, Wisconsin; waist gunners Seymour "Sy" Wolfson of Akron, Ohio, Royce McGillvary originally from Gary, Indiana, and tail gunner Irvin Sumpter of Ramona, Oklahoma.
The crew had assembled and had begun training on the B-17 at Moses Lake and in Spokane, Washington, in the summer of 1943.CHAPTER 3
Casimir Jerome Paulinski
Casimir Jerome "Casey" Paulinski was born on September 21, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the youngest of three children born to Adam and Eleanor Paulinski, immigrants from Poland. Casey grew up in the Brighton Park neighborhood on Chicago's southwest side and attended Tilden Technical High School. Before enlisting in the military, he worked as a printing pressman at the Coyner Company.
Casey's first cousin, Joe Bruch, remembered him as being a fun-loving, likable guy whom he palled around with in their youth. Bruch would serve in the navy as a torpedo man second class in the Philippines, New Guinea, and other spots in the South Pacific during the war.
Like millions of other young American men, Casey enlisted in the military for the required year of service. On April 3, 1941, he was inducted into the army at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. After three days and two nights of travel by train, he arrived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training and was assigned to Battery B, Fourteenth Battalion, Fifth Training Regiment, Field Artillery Replacement Center.
His first two weeks were spent quarantined with other new recruits to safeguard against any disease or illness that could be spread to other soldiers.
Loneliness and the rigors of basic training took their toll. Casey wrote to his parents on April 12 that one soldier had committed suicide and another had gone on a four-day hunger strike. In general, life as a private in basic training was monotonous.
Excerpted from Casey & the Flying Fortress by Mark Farina. Copyright © 2016 Mark Farina. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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