My column of May 27 included details of the crash of a 10-crew Army Air Force bomber near Seven Springs. That ship was not stationed at the local base but was attempting to make an emergency landing after running short on fuel.
In that column, I had written that planes from Seymour Johnson were “dropping like flies.” You may have thought I was just “whistling Dixie,” but after extensive microfilm research I am about to prove that the premise was correct. I expect many of you still have memories of a plane crashing near your home during the war. More than half of those crashes took the lives of some of our finest young soldier-airmen.
Those deaths could have been attributed to faulty aircraft, as the British claimed we had, or it could have been due the inexperience of green pilots lacking necessary skills to control them. There will ever be a definitive answer.
Beginning with this and in the next three columns, I will be “repeating” newspaper accounts of those crashes:
Aug. 18, 1943 — Fear three are dead in New Hope plane crash
A plane believed to be attached to Seymour Johnson Field crashed and burned in a cotton field at the Troy Hinnant farm about seven miles east of Goldsboro around 1:15 Wednesday afternoon, W.P. Grant, prominent citizen of New Hope Township reported.
He said that there were three men in the plane and that it was believed all had lost their lives.
“The plane was flying at a mighty low altitude when it passed over our house,” said Mr. Grant.
The crash occurred in a field about a quarter of a mile from the Grant residence. Mr. Grant said that he was not at home at the time of the accident, but received details from members of his family.
Aug. 19, 1943 – To appoint board to determine cause of crash that killed four pilots
A board of qualified Air Force officers will be appointed to determine the cause of a plane crash in New Hope Township Wednesday afternoon that instantly killed four pilots.
The Seymour Johnson Field Public Relations Office announced the dead as Capt. Gordon L. Brandt of Ann Arbor, Mich., whose wife lives at Allentown, Pa.
Second Lt. Albert J. Salmaria of Philadelphia, Pa., brother of Mrs. Stanley Shapkils of Philadelphia.
Second Lt. Nahun H. Morse of New Bedford, Mass., son of Mr. and Mrs. Nahun D. Morse of New Bedford.
Second Lt. Richard J. Ring of Westfield, Mass., son of Mr. and Mrs. William P. Ring, of Westfield.
Capt. Brandt was squadron commander and assistant director at the Lockheed Transition School at Seymour Johnson, the Public Relations Officer said. His home field was Turner Field, Ga. His wife and infant son, Gordon Jr., have been living in Goldsboro.
All three of the lieutenants, on detached service from Fort Myers, Fla., were students at the school here.
Marion Wilson, 19, saw the crash and notified the field. The bodies of the men were being shipped Thursday to their respective homes.
After I had completed this column and felt it ready for publication, something nagged, inspired or motivated me to do a little research on one of the young men killed in that New Hope crash. I concentrated on the squadron commander, Capt. Gordon L. Brandt.
A 1936, Liberty High School yearbook, Bethlehem, Pa., reproduced on Ancestry.com. confirms that Gordon was a 16-year-old graduating senior. Beside his photo were printed these words:
“Gordy might be called a story- book student, because of the fact he is a record-breaker in track, a school pride in boxing, and a letter-winner in basketball besides being a fine student in classes. It is hoped his story has all the usual happy endings.”
In 1940, I find him as a graduating 20-year-old senior at Lehigh University, where he was a member of the varsity football and basketball teams. He also ran track for two years.
I might add that the high school yearbook copied by Ancestry must have been in the possession of a member of Gordon’s family. Scribbled in ink beside the photograph were these remarks: “Dead — Kids — your uncle — Grandkids – your great uncle. Killed in W.W. II plane accident.”
Unfortunately, the wishes expressed in his yearbook would never come to fruition, for surely his life did not end with a “usual happy ending.” Wonder what ever became of Jr., his little son who was living in Goldsboro when his father perished. Today, he would be around 75.
Oct. 29, 1943 – Thunderbolt pilots train in Goldsboro
Those single-engined planes Goldsboro residents have watched hurtling through the skies were confirmed at Seymour Johnson Field as Republic Thunderbolts — one of American’s most celebrated fighting ships.
Lt. Col. William S. Steele, who was stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii when the Japs struck at Pearl Harbor, is the commanding officer of a Fighter Group, transferred to Seymour Johnson Field from Westover Field, Mass.
A school for the training of replacement pilots, fliers new to the handling of the Thunderbolts will receive instruction from veteran airmen, many freshly returned from combat zones ranging from the Aleutians to the Mediterranean, Col. Steele said.
Instruction will cover regulation flying, preliminary formation flying, scouting and combat training in the Thunderbolts, high altitude fighters, the commanding officer explained.
Col. Steele is a native of Staunton, Va., and the son of Maj. and Mrs. L.B. Steele. Maj. Steele is on the staff of the Staunton Military Academy.
With a background of two years in the infantry after his graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1936, Col. Steele was awarded his wings at Kelly Field. In March of this year he was transferred from Wheeler Field and assigned to the New York Fighter Wing. In June he took command of the Fighter Group he now commands.
Mrs. Steele is the former Elizabeth Loudon, daughter of Dr. John P. Loudon and Mrs. F. Jones Loudon of Yakima, Wash. Col. and Mrs. Steele are the parents of a 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Nov. 1, 1943 – Johnson Field fighter pilot dies in crash
Fighter Pilot Second Lt. Joseph B. Dooley of Johnson Field met death in a crash of two planes, which occurred near New Bern Saturday afternoon, it was announced from the field public relations office.
The planes were reported on a routine training flight from Johnson Field. Both crashed and burned. Lt. Edward L. Thompson, pilot of the second plane bailed out and was said to be unhurt.
Lt. Dooley was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph B. Dooley of Amarillo, Texas. The remains were sent to Goldsboro Sunday and will be sent to his home in Texas on Monday. The military escort will be Second Lt. Richard L. Nickerson.
Dec. 8, 1943 – Pilots save Rosewood home
Pilots attached to Johnson Field Wednesday were credited with having saved a Rosewood section home from destruction by fire Sunday afternoon.
On a routine flight, the pilots noticed the residence, occupied by R.W. Pierce, was in flames. They brought their planes to a landing in a cleared space near the home, joined in the fight to save the dwelling.
When it appeared there would not be enough water from the well to stop the fire, one of the pilots raced back to his plane, zoomed to Johnson Field, got fire extinguishers and returned. The home was saved except for a part of the roof, reports said.
Jan. 29, 1944 – Johnson Field pilot dies in Thompson Chapel crash
Second Lt. Arthur B. Smith, 24, of Buhl, Minn., was killed Saturday about 10 o’clock when his Army Air Force plane crashed and burned while on a routine training flight from Seymour Johnson Field. His body was descried as badly mangled.
The plane, a fighter ship, crashed and burned near the farm home of R.E. Cox, 3 miles north of Goldsboro on Saulston Road.
Lt. Smith was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur L. Smith of 327 State St., Buhl, Minn. He was unmarried.
A board of officers has been appointed to investigate the cause of the accident.
Witnesses returning from the scene said that the plane was first noticed to be in trouble while over the farm of Ed Combs, about 6 miles from where it hit the earth. It was flying “very low” at the time, witnesses reported, and the pilot was apparently fighting for control.
Mar. 18, 1944 – Pilot escapes injury in forced landing
The pilot was uninjured and the plane received only minor damage when a fighter ship flown on a training flight by Second Lt. James C. Reasman, Jr. stationed at Seymour Johnson Field, made a forced landing in a ploughed field about 1 mile southeast of Black Creek Friday afternoon.
The landing took place at about 5:30 p.m. A qualified board of officers has been appointed to determine cause of the accident.
Summary from today’s column: three crashes — six deaths.
Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, Sherwoodowl@hotmail.com or P.O. Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.