Folks, as you review my recent columns I trust that you will understand these young “pilot-boys” who crashed and died in preparation for war were just as much the hero as though they had been shot down on the battlefield.
More than 150 of our local native sons died in that same World War II. Some of you wept as news was received that a husband, son, or father had given his life on some foreign shore or whose body was entombed in the depths of the sea.
Try, if you can imagine it, that each of these young soldier-airmen who crashed and died in our local forests, cotton patches and cornfields brought tears to grieving mothers in Iowa, California, Texas or Illinois. Their sons had died in twisted metal or roaring flames, their mutilated or charred bodies sent home in caskets that would never be opened.
I am continuing from last week’s column with additional accounts of the incredible number of planes that crashed while stationed at our local Seymour Johnson Air Field during the last years of World War II. And while there was obviously some training of pilots in methods of escaping malfunctioning fighter planes, many simply were not able to parachute to safety.
I have concluded that if all military pilot training centers around the country were losing planes and pilots at the same rate as our local airfield, it is a miracle that we were able to get enough trained pilots, or planes, to battlefronts to win the war.
April 1, 1944 — Pilots escape as planes crash
Two Seymour Johnson Field training planes collided in midair approximately 60 miles northeast of Goldsboro late Friday, but both pilots escaped serious injury, the public relations office announced.
Lt. Richard W. Higgins, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Higgins, Farmington, Mass., bailed out three miles west of Oak City, suffering only lacerations and a sprained right knee, after his plane collided with one piloted by Lt. G. D. McDowell, son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel McDowell RFD 4, Mannington, West Virginia.
Lt. Higgins’ plane burned. Although his ship was damaged, Lt. McDowell succeeded in making a forced landing 10 miles north of Williamston. He was reported unhurt. Both planes were on routine training flights.
April 7, 1944 — Pilot dies in plane crash in Princeton section
Two crashes involving planes attached to Seymour Johnson Field were reported Friday morning by the office of public relations of the field. In one crash, the pilot was killed. In the other, the pilot was uninjured.
A single engine fighter plane on routine training flight from the field made a forced landing near the old Goldsboro airport Friday morning. The pilot, 2nd Lt. John Platner Jr. of Alabama, California, escaped without injury. A board of qualified officers has been appointed to determine cause of the accident.
Second Lt. Howard C. Weller, 22, was killed Thursday when the single engine fighter plane he was piloting crashed 3 miles north of Princeton, the public relations office announced. He was on a routine training flight from Seymour Johnson Field.
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lynn Weller Sr., of Los Altos, California. The plane crashed and exploded near the farm home of W. R. Williams, Route 1, Kenly. Death was instantaneous. A board of officers will investigate the cause of the crash.
Death certificate gives cause of death as violent trauma, with disintegration of entire body.
April 19, 1944 — Pilot killed in crash of plane near Rosewood
Second Lt. Charles G. Jones, of Dallas, Texas, was killed Tuesday afternoon when his plane crashed 3 miles west of Goldsboro.
Lt. Jones was flying a single-engined fighter plane on a routine training flight from Seymour Johnson Field when the accident occurred.
The plane went through a grove of trees and crashed on the farm property of M. F. Sugg.
Lt. Jones was the son of Mrs. Mary E. Jones of Dallas.
A board of officers is investigating the cause of the accident.
Residents of the section where the plane crashed said that apparently the motor failed, that the plane was clipping treetops near Chink’s Place, then gained altitude for a mile or so until the motor failed again.
The pilot had his wheels down but the landing was in soft ground and the ship looped over when it struck the ground, strewing wreckage over a wide area, residents said.
Death certificate lists cause of death: hemorrhaged. Many broken bones throughout body.
May 16, 1944 — SJF pilot killed in crash
Second Lt. Roger D. Schoessling of Chicago, Illinois, was killed Monday when the fighter plane he was piloting crashed during a routine training flight from Seymour Johnson Field.
Schoessling was the son of Mrs. Gladys Henrietta (illegible) of 3312 Windsor Ave., Chicago. He was 21 years old and unmarried. He had only recently arrived at this station. A board of officers has been appointed to investigate the cause of the accident.
Lt. Schoessling graduated from Chicago’s Schurz High School in 1939. By his photo was printed synopsis of his activities, including his nickname, “Stinky.” Fire Marshals; Senior Boys; German Club; Lettermen’s Club; Student Council; Track; Soccer; Civics Club; Travel Club; Camera Club; Schurz Times; Solo Chorus and Prom Committee. His preferences: blondes, strawberry tarts and Dachshunds.
Lt. Schoessling death certificate records site of crash as New Hope. Cause of death: severe burns — cremation over two thirds of body.
June 24, 1944 — SJF Flight Officer dies in accident
Flight Officer Clarence Holloway, 22, was killed instantly Friday night about 9:30 when the plane he was piloting exploded at Seymour Johnson Field just after he had completed a takeoff.
His mother, Mrs. Fred Holloway of Rock Well City, Iowa, who was visiting her son and who was staying in the home of Mrs. Henry Pike, 303 E. Vine St., talked to her son at 1 o’clock when he telephoned her that he was possibly being transferred to another field and would reach her by phone if he couldn’t see her before he left.
About midnight, word reached Mrs. Holloway that her son was dead.
Flight Officer Holloway had been at Johnson Field since May 30, and was transferred here from Richmond, Virginia. He graduated from cadet school on Feb. 8 and lacked just a little over an hour’s time completing his flying course.
The body will be shipped to his home Sunday and will be accompanied by his mother.
Lt. Holloway’s death certificate lists the crash site as New Hope. Cause of death: severe burns — cremation one-half of body.
Summary: Six crashes – four deaths. Death certificate information source, Ancestry.com.
Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, Sherwoodowl@hotmail.com, or PO Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.