Jesse and The Crew of the Tremblin Gremlin

by Otis Lee Earley of San Benito

In the early morning hours of August 23, 1944, the ten man crew of "The Tremblin Gremlin" climbed into a battle scarred B24J four engined heavy bomber, and roared into the sky over southern Italy for the last time. The pilot, 20 year old Lieutenant Gordon W. Rosencrans, from Golumbus, Ohio, and the co-piIot, Lieutenant Sam Windham from Lyndell, Pennsylvania, muscled the tired old bomber into formation, and they settled in for the long flight. Their mission for this day was to bomb the Markersdorf Aerdrome, a German fighter base in the little town of St. Polten, Austria, a few miles from the beautiful city of Vienna. But the young men in the plane knew this would not be a pleasant sightseeing excursion.

Crew members seated: Roy Houck, engineer and waist gunner; Winfield (Pappy) Martin, tail gunner; Jessie M. Whisenant, radio operator and waist gunner; John D. Anthony, top turret gunner; Howard (Mac) McCullough, nose gunner; Harry L. Haynes, armored gunner, medical officer and ball turret gunner.
Crew members standing: Lt. Srthur C. Jaros, navigator; Lt. Sam H. Windham, co-pilot; Lt. Gordon W. Rosencrans, pilot; Lt. Victor H. Besser, bombardier

A few thousand feet below them, on the ground, American and British ground troops were waging a bloody battle against the desperately determined Germans, less than a hundred miles from the air field they had so recently departed. If a break through Allied lines occurred, Nazi Panzer units and tanks could occupy their airfield before they returned from their seven and a half hour mission. And, all along the long way to the target, German anti aircraft gunners raked the formations with deadly flak, and they were very good at their work. If that were not enough to worry about, the target they were going to hit was the home aerdrome for the Herman Goering Squadrons, the very best fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe. The Goering Squadrons were in Austria to try to prevent American bombers from destroying the precious oil fields and refineries in and around Ploesti, Rumania. They would surely protect their own air field with the same vicious resolve. Add to that the fact that the Germans had concentrated 650 anti-aircraft guns within a 50 mile corridor leading to the target, German anti aircraft guns and gunners were undeniably the best in the world. Fifty miles from the target, the bomber squadrons tightened their formations so the bombs would hit a more concentrated pattern. The gunners five miles below knew this and that made their fire more concentrated, too

The day had begun on a somewhat ominous note for some of the men in the tightly knit crew. Up at five a.m. as usual on a day they were to fly, breakfast at six, briefing at six thirty, and then to the planes. But today, Sgt. Harry Haynes, 20 year old ball turret gunner and armorer, from Stamford, Texas, discovered during briefing that he had left his dogtags in the tent that served as living quarters for the enlisted men, and while his crewmates went ahead to the plane, he raced back to the tent to recover them. Sgt. Winfield "Pappy" Martin, 24 year old tail gunner from Alburg, Vermont, the oldest man on the crew, [hence the nickname "Pappy"] scoffed a bit at Harry's concern, but they both knew that if they were shot down and captured in enemy territory without their dogtags, they would be shot as spies on the spot.

Then came the real shock. When the crew reached the flight line, they were advised by the ground crew that "The Tremblin' Gremlin," badly damaged on a mission two days earlier, was not available for today's mission. They were directed to the squadron spare plane, but when CpI. Roy Houck, flight engineer from Toledo, Ohio, examined the plane, he found four of the .50 caliber guns would not fire, so he rejected it. They were then sent to another squadron's spare plane, and it seemed to be in acceptable flying condition, so they boarded her, and were on their way. But the men had flown "The Tremblin' Gremlin" all the way from Lincoln, Nebraska to Italy, and trusted her with their lives, as indeed they had for their 20 previous missions.

All the men knew every little intricacy of her personality. And they looked upon her as if she were almost human. When she came home from a particularly savage air battle, with flak damage or riddled with bullet holes, they almost expected her to bleed. Cpl. Houck, the flight engineer, knew the rumble of her four 1200 horsepower engines as well as he knew his own heartbeat. Nevertheless they had a mission to fly, so they set about to make the best of the situation, with a plane they neither knew, nor fully trusted..

Then there was the matter of Lieutenant Arthur Jaros from Mount Vernon, New York, navigator on the crew. At all the briefings, the officers were advised to carry at least Major's insignia on their missions, in case they were shot down and captured. The Germans had absolutely no regard for junior officers, but they treated the higher ranked officers fairly well. Although the crew had already flown 20 missions with the typical disdain for mortality that only the very young possess, for some strange reason that even he could not explain, Lt. Jaros had purchased Major's insignia the day before, for himself and his best friend on the crew, Lt. Rosencrans. Just before they climbed into the big bomber, Lt. Jaros had sidled up to Lt.. Rosencrans and silently and somewhat sheepishly handed him the insignia. Rosy laughed and said he wouldn't need them, but thanked him, slipped them into the pocket of his fight jacket, and quickly forgot about them.

For the next few hours the crew settled into their routine duties. Sgt. Howard "Mac" McCullough from Galesburg, Illinois, in his nose turret with its big twin .50 caliber guns, kept a vigilant eye on the sky ahead to be sure the formation was not surprised by enemy fighters. Lt. Jaros with his charts, and Lieutenant Victor Besser, bombardier, from Inglewood, California, were busy getting ready for the all important purpose of the long, dangerous flight, the bomb run. In the seat beside Lt. Rosencrans, was Lieutenant Sam Windham, copilot, from Lyndell, Pennsylvania. Just behind and above the two pilots, in the top gun turret, Sgt. John Anthony, from Bessemer, Alabama, anxiously scanned the sky above the planes. Normally the assigned crew member to man the top turret was the flight engineer, who would have been CpI. Houck, but by mutual agreement and with the tacit approval of Lt. Rosencrans, the two had exchanged gun positions and Cpl. Houck always took the left waist gun, or side gun. Sgt. Haynes was in the retractable ball turret under the belly of the big bomber. "Pappy" Martin, in the tail gun turret kept a wary eye out, behind and above. In the radio operator's compartment, keeping the plane in contact with the rest of the formation and the ground was the tenth and youngest member of the crew. He was CpI. Jesse Martin Whisenant, nineteen year old from San Benito, Texas. His battle station was the right waist, or side gun. Most of the men agreed that he was the best gunner on the plane.

Jesse had become the fifth son of Henry Richard and Vesta Whisenant to enter the military services. He received radio operator and gunnery training. He qualified at top turret, ball turret, and waist gun. In the spring of 1944, he was assigned to the crew of a Consolidated B24J Liberator bomber in Lincoln Nebraska. The pilot of the crew was then nineteen year old Lt. Gordon Rosencrans from Columbus, Ohio, After Lt. Rosencrans replaced one of the crew members, the crew eventually became solidified, and thereafter they became a closely knit group of men. The rejection was a 23 year old nose gunner who refused to salute his 19 year old pilot. To Lt.Rosencrans, his refusal to salute him translated into insubordination, a breech of military discipline he knew he could not tolerate. This proved to be a prophetic move on Rosencrans' part. In their 21 subsequent missions, Sgt. Howard "Mac" McCullough proved himself to be a loyal, skilled, and courageous replacement.

After Lt. Rosencrans had gathered his crew, the four officers and six enlisted men flew to Pueblo, Colorado for final staging before going overseas. The burden of responsibilitiy weighed heavily on the nineteen year old pilot.

An excerpt from COMBAT CREW SECTION, 215th AAF BASE UNIT [CCTS][H], [PUEBLO, COLORADO]

MEMORANDUM TO ALL COMBAT PERSONNEL

First pilots will be.....referred to as airplane commander.....responsible for the discipline, performance, efficiency, and full conduct of all the men under his command..... He must asume the responsibility for the ten men and the government property with which he is entrusted. Bear in mind that the ten men who trained here as a unit are being trained for one purpose in mind-to kill the enemy, and destroy enemy property-. It must be the enemy and not you.

Indeed a great responsibility for one so young.

After staging, the men returned to Lincoln, Nebraska, to pick up their airplane. There were hundreds of brand new, shiny B24Js lined up on the airfield. After making his selection, Lt. Rosencrans had to sign a receipt for $250,000. If you misplace it, you've got to pay for it.

Lt. Rosencrans named the plane "The Tremblin' GremIin," and the famous comic strip artist, Milton Caniff, [Terry and the Pirates] a college fraternity brother of Lt. Rosencrans, painted the name and the figure on the nose of the plane.

The figure was the artist's conception of the phenomenon that occurred thousands of times to physically and mentally exhausted air crews. In their bleary minds' eyes, they envisioned wide varieties of imaginary apparitions dancing along the wings of their planes. The gremlins were nearly always described as wierd extra-terrestriaI appearing creatures, and remarkably similar. Caniff's version was a terrified gremlin that was running and trembling.

A few days after they returned to Lincoln, they were ordered to their plane one morning at 1:00 am. Lt. Rosencrans took off, circled the field three times as were his instructions, and opened his orders. They were assigned to Cerignola, Italy, as a replacement aircraft for the 767th Bombardment Squadron, 461st Group, 49th wing of the Fifteenth Air Force.

Lt. Rosencrans made a detour on the flight to buzz his parents' home in Columbus, Ohio. On the vacant lot beside their home his mother had spelled out "Goodbye,Good Luck" in newspapers weighted down with bricks. The little worthwhile detour cost enough fuel that he ran out of gasoline on the taxi strip at Gander Lake, Newfoundland, their first stop on the long flight. They made overnight stops at The Azores, Marrakech, Tunis, and on to Italy.

In their 46 days of war, they usually flew missions every two days. They had been over Germany, France, Northern Italy, Hungary, Yugoslavia, two terrible missions over Ploesti, Rumania, and a previous mission over Austria. Lt. Rosencrans says the worst were over Ploesti and Austria.

And now they were over Austria again, and had yet another gruelling mission to complete.

Then came the time all bomber crews dreaded. Lt. Rosencrans called out to the men on the intercom "Watch out for fighters, we're coming on the target." Almost immediately the bomber squadrons were attacked by an estimated 60 to 75 Messerschmitt ME 109s. Then the unthinkable happened The superchargers on the engines of the plane failed, the engines lost power, the plane lost airspeed, and cursing bitterly, the two pilots were forced to pull the crippled plane out of the comparative safety of the formation. Lt. Rosencrans opened the bomb bay doors and jettisoned his bombs very near the target. Once out of the formation, the crew of the cripple were left to defend themselves alone, while the rest of the formation watched helplessly. The integrety of the formation had to be preserved for the mutual protection of the rest of the squadrons. They had problems enough of their own. The fighters were ripping through the formations with a furious vengeance.

The guns of the B24 J were designed to cover the ship from all directions, and it was a formidable target for a single fighter, but the gunners were no match for the deluge that swarmed over them today. They were attacked by some 20 of the Messerschmitts. Slashing from all directions, they divided the fire from the guns of the embattled bomber and raked her repeatedly, from one end to the other with murderous .30 caliber machine gun and 20 millimeter cannon fire. Sgt. Martin was probably the first to be hit. Tail gunners usually lasted about 20 seconds in a battle such as this, and Sgt. Haynes in his belly turret noticed almost immediately that Martin was not firing his guns. He called Sgt. Anthony in the top turret and told him to cover the tail high and he would try to cover the tail from behind and low. One of the things the gunners loved about the B24 was the twin tail arrangement. The top turret gunners could shoot dead behind the planes, between the two rudders, without worrying about damaging ther own planes. When the ball turret could not elevate enough to cover from dead astern, Haynes called "Dive, Skipper" or "Pull her up, Skipper" and Lt. Rosencrans would oblige. Sgt. Haynes flamed an MEI09 from a head on attack, and the pilot bailed out. Just for a second or two, Haynes had the pilot hanging in his parachute in the sights of his twin .50 caliber machine guns, was tempted to fire, but could not bring himself to kill the helpless man. In a few minutes he would come to regret his humanitarian decision. Everything happened so quickly during those few minutes of desperate fury that some of the men disagreed on the exact sequence of some of the events, but there can be little conjecture about the results. Sgt. Martin was injured in the tail gun turret. Cpl. Houck was hit, rendered unconscious, and fell to the floor of the plane. CpI. Whisenant at his right waist gun received cannon shells and machine gun fire through his gun station that severed his right leg at the knee.The same burst of cannon and machine gun fire was probably the one that destroyed Sgt. Haynes' belly turret, driving the shattered shards of plexiglass and aluminum into his unprotected face and neck. A cannon shell passed through the turret, grazing Haynes' neck and leaving a gaping four inch long gash as it went through. An inch and a half sliver of the plexiglass penetrated his right eye. He reached up with his gloved hand, pulled it out, and continued to fire his guns. Cpl. Whisenant found a way to balance himself on his one remaining leg and shot down two more of the fighters after his wound was inflicted. He was credited with three kills {some say four} on that last mission. Haynes discovered he was being bathed in his own blood from the wound in his neck, and then made an even more frightening discovery. The exploded ball turret was being drenched with high octane aviation gasoline pouring from the right wing tanks that had been riddled by gunfire. No longer able to fire his guns for fear the flames from the muzzles would set the plane afire, Sgt. Haynes left his turret.

When he climbed out of his own little world under the belly of the plane, and into the fuselage, he was shocked by the bloody carnage. Cpl. Houck lay unconcious on the floor, Sgt. Martin was crawling through the tunnel door from the tail gunner's compartment, also wounded. CpI. Whisenant was balancing himself on his remaining leg, swinging his big gun laboriously, from side to side, firing at everything he could bring the gun to bear on, and there were plenty of targets.

The plane was shot to pieces, and literally falling apart. Feeling he and Lt. Windham could no longer keep the big bomber in the air, and while some of the men of the crew could still survive, Lt. Rosencrans reluctantly sounded the bail out alarm, and ordered the men by intercom to bail out. Sgt. Haynes, though badly injured himself, began to help his crewmates out of the doomed bomber. First he opened the escape hatch in the bottom of the ship. He then helped Sgt. Martin into his parachute and through the escape hatch. Next, he slapped Cpl. Houck into semiconsciousness, put his chute on him and pushed him out the hatch. CpI. Whisenant was still standing on his left leg firing his gun, blood pouring out of the severed right one. He said "Jesse, we've got to get out! Right now! Let's go!" He then put a tourniquet on Cpl. Whisenant's leg, strapped him into his chute, told him "Good luck, Jesse" and tossed his little friend out the open escape hatch, pulling his rip cord as he fell through. When he reached for his own chute, he realized it was full of bullet holes, so he went to the place near the open bomb bay doors to get the spare chute, always kept there. While he was strapping on the chute, he was surprised to see Lt. Windham precariously climbing by the open bomb bay doors, to be sure all the men got the message to leave the plane. The two then left the rapidly falling aircraft through the open bomb bay doors. Almost simultaneously, the big bomber exploded, and Lt. Rosencrans was blown through the bomb bay, miraculously unhurt. The Lieutenant pulled his rip cord immediately, at 20,000 feet, and promptly lost conciousness from lack of oxygen When he recovered his senses, he was horrified to discover that the fighters were strafing his falling crew, himself included. One of the bullets had grazed him on the back of the head. He slumped his six foot six inch frame in the chute as if he were dead, and the fighters went for the live targets. When he was sure the fighters were gone, he remembered the insignia Lt. Jaros had given him. He hastily removed his Lieutenant's bars, and replaced them with the Major's insignia.

One of the targets was Sgt. Haynes who was strafed all the way down. He had a peculiar habit the other men kidded him about. He always flew with the collar turned up on his flight jacket. The habit probably saved his life, because the turned up collar found its way into the gaping wound in his neck and stopped the flow of blood before he reached the ground. As he came under fire from the fighters, he remembered a few minutes earlier when he could have killed a German pilot in his parachute and cursed himself for not having done it.

Poor CpI. Houck fared the worst in the strafings. Already badly wounded, he was riddled with bullet wounds while hanging helplessly in his chute.

The displaced crew of "The Tremblin' Gremlin" had exacted a terrible price from the Luftwaffe for the loss of their own plane. The gunners were credited with seven fighters shot down on their last mission. Those were seven of Germany's best pilots in precious planes they could not afford to lose.

Lt. Rosencrans landed on the north-south runway that was the target the squadrons were bombing. He says that although his bombs didn't hit the target, he did. The Germans picked him up and took him to a hospital. Sgt. Haynes was not hit by the strafing fighters, but when he approached the ground he realized he was about to land on some high voltage electrical wires, so he unstrapped the chute and fell from about ten feet in the air, landing on his feet. The shock stunned him for a few seconds, and when he came to his senses, he found he was surrounded by towns- people who were very angry about being bombed by the American airmen. Although he didn't understand their language, there was no mistaking their intent. From the gestures they were making to each other, he knew they were going to hang him on the spot. Unexpectedly, a German Gestapo officer came to his rescue, and took him away from the angry mob at gunpoint. The Gestapo officer then moved Haynes to a civilian police station where he was reunited with some of the other crewmen.

Most of the crew were picked up by civilian police and transported to that same police station by truck. It was on this trip that OpI. Whisenant died from loss of blood, a few minutes after they were captured. When Haynes saw his best friend Jesse's body lying on the floor of the station, not knowing he was already dead, he knelt down to tighten the tourniquet on his leg. As he leaned over Jesse, a German soldier hit him on the back of his head, with a rifle butt, knocking him unconcious. When he regained conciousness, Jesse's body had been taken away.

Jesse was buried in a small cemetery in St. Polten with some other American airmen who had been shot down and killed on previous missions over Austria.

Haynes, Martin, and Houck were all taken to the same small hospital for treatment of their wounds. Aside from the injuries he suffered in the air, Sgt. Martin also broke an arm when he landed on the ground. Cpl. Houck survived, in spite of the many wounds he received. Although his wounds were serious, Sgt. Haynes was the only one of the three men able to be on his feet, and he helped the other two as much as he could while they were recovering in the hospital.

The injured men were treated by a young Austrian doctor who was married and had a baby daughter. Although constrainad by lack of adequate supplies and medicine, he was compassionate and skilled. In gratitude for his kindness, the captured men saved the dry milk from their Red Gross packages, and gave it to him for the baby. No milk was available for the civilian population in Austria at that time.

Also in the hospital was a huge Russian private who had been captured a few weeks before the Americans arrived. He had suffered a broken arm. Predictably, the men called him "Ivan." He reciprocated by calling all the Americans "Joe." Since none of the Americans spoke Russian, and he spoke no English, they communicated by crude sign language. He once motioned to Sgt. Haynes that he could get him into the underground, and to freedom if he wanted to go. Haynes motioned in return that he could not abandon his friends. In their present helpless state, without Sgt. Haynes' help, the Germans would have shot them in their beds. Ivan nodded that he understood. But Ivan had no desire to escape. Return to Russia would have meant the firing squad for him. Russian privates were not permitted to be captured. They were required to fight to the death, and Ivan wanted to live. When Ivan's arm was nearly healed, he deliberately broke it again. This happened twice while the Americans were confined in the hospital. Haynes saw him once in the kitchen lay his nearly healed arm on a table and rebreak the arm with the back side of a meat cleaver. When the Americans were transferred to a prison camp after their wounds had healed, Ivan was still in the hospital.

For the next seven months, the surviving crew members were prisoners of war. If their enemy captors were not brutal enough, the weather might have been even more savage. The prisoners were marched all over Europe during the coldest winter ever recorded. The Allied armies were advancing on all fronts in late 1944 and early 1945, and the Germans were determined that they would not allow their prisoners to be liberated. They were guarded by 60 and 70 year old German privates, and numerous highly trained guard dogs. When the Allied armies approached, the Germans marched the men in the opposite direction, until they were met by yet another army, and all the time, the weaker of the men died along the way.

After his liberation, Haynes charted on a map of Europe all the routes they were forced to march, and those wanderings covered most of German occupied territory of that time

Sgt. Haynes was briefly reunited with an old friend at one of the prison camps. He doesn't remember which camp. Lt. Jaros, known to the Germans as "Major" Jaros, the brilliant Ivy Leaguer, who spoke seven languages fluently, had found a place as an interpreter for the varied nationalities in the camp.

Lt. "Major" Rosencrans enjoyed fairly good treatment as a Major until one of his crewmates, another lieutenant, jealous of the better treatment Rosencrans was receiving, informed the Germans that he was really a lowly lieutenant. The Germans were infuriated at his deception, and punished him brutally. Lt. Rosencrans, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a bonafide Major will still not call that man by name, although he will tell what position he held on the plane.

Lt. Rosencrans kept a diary of all the major events during his imprisonment. The Germans did not allow the practice, so he had to conceal his writing from them. The last entry reads as follows: April 29. My birthday. It is now 1200 [hoursl and there is a tank battle and rifle skirmish just outside the camp, We are going to be liberated!!! Americans are here. P 51's buzzed us-God! we are happy. Bullets are singing overhead. We are in the tents. 12:40 The American flag just went up in Moosburg. We are free!!! They are here.

The folks back home suffered tremendous anxiety after they learned the plane had been lost. Returning crews reported seeing six chutes leaving the burning, falling plane, and all wondered if their loved one were one of the survivors.

Mrs. Whisenant received a letter dated 12 October 1944 from Nathan Twining, Major General, Commander of The Fiftenth Air Force.

My dear Mrs, Whisenant:

I am sure that you will want to know the circumstances, meagre as they are, surrounding the most recent flight of your son, Corporal Jesse M. Whisenant who has been missing in action since August 23,1944 when the Liberator on which he was waist gunner failed to return from an operational flight over Markersdorf, Austria.

Interrogation of returning crews has revealed that Jesse's ship was attacked by German fighter planes in the general vicinity of the target, and in the intense action that followed your son's aircraft was severely damaged. The stricken ship fell out of formation and, losing altitude rapidly, soon disappeared in the clouds. It has been reported that six parachutes emerged from the falling plane. Every effort is being made to obtain further details on the present status of the crew, and you may be assured that the War Department will notify you as soon as any additional information becomes available.

The bravery and efficiency which Jesse displayed in many combat operations will serve as an inspiration to those who remain to carry on the fight which he so nobly advanced. On behalf of his many friends, I extend this heartfelt sympathy.

Mrs. Whisenant received a letter from Major General J. A. Ulio dated 28 February 1945.

My dear Mrs. Whisenant:

I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President, the Air Medal has been awarded to your son, Corporal Jessie M. Whisenant, Air Corps. The citation is as follows:

AIR MEDAL

"For meritorious acheivement in aerial flight while participating in sustained operational activities against the enemy from 31 July 1944 to 13 August 1944"

Those 14 days included the following missions:

1. 8/2/1944 7 hours and 35 minutes to Avignon, France, target: Railroad bridge.

2. 8/3/1944 5 hours and 10 minutes to Friedrichshafen, Germany, target: Aircraft factory

3. 8/6/1944 3 hours and 15 minutes to Miramas, France, unspecified target.

4. 8/7/1944 7 hours and 15 minutes to Blechhammer, Germany, target: oil refinery

5. 8/9/1944 7 hours and 05 minutes to Almas/Izito, Hungary, target: oil refinery.

6. 8/10/1944 8 hours and 15 minutes to Ploesti, Rumania, target: oil refinery.

7. 8/12/1944 5 hours and 50 minutes to Genoa, Italy, target: gun emplacements.

8. 8/13/1944 6 hours and 30 minutes to Genoa, Italy, target: gun emplacements.

9. 8/14/1944 5 hours and 50 minutes to Frejus, France, unspecified target.

Nine gutwrenching, long range missions in 13 days over some of the most dangerous territory in the world.

It might be appropriate to note that what is believed to be the last letter Jesse wrote home was dated August 10,1944, during those days of "sustained operational activities." He opened the letter by writing:

Dear Mother and all:

Well I'm still alive and working, so by that I guess I'm all right. The tone of weary resignation is evident in his greeting.

All the men were listed as missing in action for several weeks, until the Germans began to identify the survivors by name as prisoners of war. Mrs. Whisenant was notified that her son was not a prisoner of war for which she had held out hope, but had in fact been killed in action on August 23, 1944.

After the surviving crew had been liberated, and returned to The States, they began to write letters to Jesse's mother to try to offer condolences and encouragment. Sgt. Mac McCullough, nose gunner, wrote a very sensitive and touching letter to Cpl. Whisenant's mother after he was returned to the United States. Although by virtue of his being in the nose of the plane he knew nothing of the happenings in the rear of the plane where her son Jesse was, he was picked up by the same civilian police that captured Jesse In the letter he said; "We were picked up by civilian police and taken in a truck to the police station. It was on that trip that Jesse died, from loss of blood. Sam [Windham], Vic [Besser] and I carried him into the hospital where attendents said he would be given the best of care and a decent burial. He was a swell guy, and the best radio operator a crew could have. He fulfilled his duty to his crew and to his country with the utmost skill and courage, and I have nothing but good to say about him, and I can assure you you had a son to be mighty proud of. I know he paid the supreme sacrifice, but don't feel it was in vain. All of us who went 'over there,' went because we felt there was nothing too good for you folks back home."

When Harry Haynes returned to his home in Stamford, Texas, he found he could not do what he knew he needed to do. So his mother wrote to Mrs. Whisenant on his behalf. In the letter she wrote: "Harry sat down twice to write you but said 'Mother I just don't have the heart, when I was spared, and Jesse had to go'. He said Jesse was a truly hard fighter, and a brave, clean boy, and he would cry when he talked about him."

After Lt. Jaros was returned to the United States, his wife wrote Mrs. Whisenant:

"After their plane had been badly crippled, the boys all had to bail out from a height of 23,000 feet. They were all more or less wounded, Jesse and the Haynes boy more than the others. Arthur became separated from the others when he landed, so he knew little of Jesse's death until the other boys and he were reunited at the transient airmen's camp about a week later."

"The boys said Jesse died shortly after they reached the ground, and that he did not suffer. The boys were at his burial in Austria so they know definitely that he was given a proper burial. It was a hard blow for the boys to take, for they were all very close, and loved each other. Art said that Jesse was the best gunner on their plane, and it was he who shot down three of the seven Messerschrnitts that were shot down by their gunners over the Vienna target".

ln an article that appeared in The Columbus, Ohio Evening Dispatch, Lt. Rosencrans was quoted as saying:

"My waist gunner, whose leg was blown off, stood on his one remaining leg and shot down two more of the fighters before machine gun bullets hit the gas tanks of our plane and blew it up. That was the most heroic deed I ever saw and I'd like his folks to know it. He was Cpl. Jesse Whisenant, from San Benito, Texas. After parachuting he died on the ground."

Harry Haynes returned to college, became a dentist, and very prominent in his home town. He still lives in Stamford, Texas. A few years ago he returned to St. Polten, Austria to visit the grave of his good friend. When the grave was not where he knew it should have been, he was enraged, thinking the grave had been destroyed. When he learned that Jesse's body had been returned to America and is now resting in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, in San Antonio, Texas, he drove the several hundred miles to spend some time with his friend of many years ago. Unfortunately, Harry is now in poor health, and is in a nursing home in Texas.

Arthur Jaros, upon his return to America, traveled many hundreds of miles round trip from his home in Mount Vernon, New York to San Benito, in deep South Texas to talk with Mrs. Whisenant personally. He and his good friend Rosy Rosencrans fought long and hard with the War Department to get all the medals Jesse was entitled to be awarded. Jaros traveled to Washington and was successful in his efforts. Unfortunately, neither Haynes nor Rosencrans have been able to locate Arthur Jaros of late.

At last report, Lt. Victor Besser still resided in Inglewood, California. Sgt. Winfield "Pappy" Martin still lives in his home town of Alburg, Vermont.

Corporal Houck, who survived the terrible multiple wounds he suffered in Austria, returned to Toledo, Ohio, but died a few years after the war ended. Perhaps his body had been too severely punished.

Neither the brave and loyal Lt. Windham nor Sgt. McCullough can be located.

Rosy Rosencrans retired from the Air Force and now lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, with his wife of many years. That union produced eight children. A few years ago a friend of Rosy's printed the hand written copies of Rosy's diary, bound in leather, one for Rosy and one for each of his children. After several contacts with Rosy by this author, he presented one of those priceless treasures to me.

The fate of Sgt. John Anthony, top turret gunner, presents something of a mystery. All the men seemed to believe he had survived the mission. However, none of the newspaper clippings, letters from the crew, military documents, personal or telephone interviews mentioned or knew of him after that last flight. Rosy was quite adamant in his assertion that Anthony had indeed survived. It would seem that he left the plane, since his turret was in plain view of Lt. Windham and Lt. Rosencrans, and they would have known if he had been killed or injured in the plane. Also when Lt. Windham made his way to the rear of the ship on his courageous passage to be sure all the men left the plane, he would have passed through the area where Anthony stood to man his guns. If he had been injured or dead, Windham would surely have seen him, and reported what he saw. Perhaps he was killed in the explosion that blew Rosencrans out the bomb bay doors. Maybe he was killed by the strafing fighters, or by angry townspeople, as had nearly become Sgt. Haynes' fate. He might have drifted in his chute into the area being bombed by his own squadrons. In any case, Harry Haynes has in his possession an official Air Force document that lists a Sgt. John Anthony as being killed in action on August 23,1944. If, how, when, or where he died will probably always remain a mystery.

A study of the group flight records reveals that the spare plane was the only craft lost from the 461st Group of three squadrons that day. Sgt. Haynes found out after his liberation from prison camp that the spare plane that was assignad to his crew that day was not even supposed to fly, much less be flown in combat. It was scheduled to be cannibalized for parts for the squadron's airworthy planes.

Sgt. McCullough in his letter to Mrs. Whisenant wrote the following testimony to the confidence the men all felt in their own beloved "Tremblin Gremlin:" "I firmly believe that if we had been in our own plane that fateful day last August, we would have returned safely from that last mission." There were many casualties in the returning aircraft. None of the men have been able to say how many other groups were in the formation, and if there were losses in those squadrons.

In my research for this story, I was graphically struck by the love, courage, sense of duty, and gritty inner striving for survival this story embodies. Farm boys, college students, shoe salesmen and other youngsters from all economic, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds answered to the same clear call when the lives of their crewmates and themselves were threatened. I became convinced that every plane on every mission had its own tales of spontaneous bravery and heroism, if we only knew about them. Certainly thousands of incidents of raw courage, and dedication to each other and to duty occurred that were considered so commonplace during those terrible days that they went unreported and unrecorded.

During the afternoon I spent with Harry Haynes in Stamford, Texas, he told me of events that he and the rest of the crew had experienced. One of the stories was about a mission over Ploesti, Rumania. As always on missions to Ploesti, the squadrons were badly shot up. On the long flight home ,the formation reduced speed to let the damaged planes keep up, for their protection. Sometimes marauding fighters would ravage the returning formations, trying to pick off some of the damaged bombers. Single crippled bombers with exhausted and injured gunners were no match for the fighters. On one occasion, the formation was joined by a badly damaged American P51 Mustang fighter. The Mustang pilot assumed a position beside and very near to "The Tremblin Gremlin." Sgt Haynes could clearly see that the Mustang pilot was badly injured, and barely able to fly the crippled fighter. A few minutes after the Mustang had joined up, a B 24J also made its way into the formation. Although the plane bore different markings from all the others, the men assumed it was one from another group, returning from a different target. After a few minutes, the formation felt comfortable with the straggler. Suddenly the stranger's gunners opened fire at point blank range on all the planes within reach of their guns. The wounded pilot of the P 51 was the first to recognize what was happening. Unhesitating, he plunged the damaged fighter down on the imposters, firing all his guns as he dived. The Mustang fell in flames. Two of the B 245 also fell in flames. All the guns of the squadrons fired on the intruder, and it fell out of the sky. Haynes saw it crash into the ground below. The crewmen found out later that they had fallen victim to the infamous Kampfgeschwader 200 Group. These were German crews flying captured Allied planes who attacked American formations whose crewmen who were exhausted, and sometimes wounded, their guards down, on the route home. The German group used captured Bl7s, B24s, P51s, Spitfires, and Mosquitos. Haynes marveled at the bravery of that unknown Mustang pilot who gave his life so willingly in his vain effort to protect the bombers at any cost.

Considering all the fine young men who are lost in wars, it would be difficult to say what impact the loss of one five foot three inch, one hundred twenty five pound, nineteen year old farm boy from the small town of San Benito, Texas named Jesse Whisenant might have had on the world. However, there are those of us who believe that every young man who died cost the rest of us more than we could afford to lose.

This story evolved from a poem I wrote about Jesse, my childhood friend. Jesse and I grew up in the same community around San Benito, Texas. We went to the same small school in Rio Hondo, Texas, a few miles from San Benito, and coincidentally, both our families moved to San Benito at about the same time, where we again attended school together. Although he was some three years older than I, we just seemed to get along. I was very small for my age and he was, too. We were both born into farm families, and The Great Depression was at its worst while we were very young. When Jesse was in his early teens, he left the family to work around the neighborhood for a small wage and a place to live. He did this, not because there was anything wrong within the family, but to lessen the financial burden. He was the eighth child in a family that eventually numbered eleven.

This was not uncommon in those days, as many young boys did the same thing for the same reason. I was very pleased when Jesse began to work and live on my uncle's farm. Although I still lived at home ,I also worked there when my uncle needed extra help. The best part of the arrangement was that Jesse lived with my grandmother and my uncle during those years and we saw each other nearly every day. We became something of a team. Although very small for our ages, we were paid to work, and that meant a hard day's work in those days.

We grew up small statured, but strong, doing men's work. We both learned to drive tractors at an early age and we usually drove in the same field. With his competetive spirit, that meant a contest every day to see who could cover the most ground. No matter how hard I tried, I could never beat him at anything we did together. He could pick more cotton, irigate more land, hoe more corn, and anything else we worked at. He knew I would not want him to let me win any competetion with him, and I respected him for that. All was not drudgery, though, because we had some happy times doing what we were required to do, and somehow it didn't seem quite so hard when we did it together.

Then World War Two came along, Jesse enlisted in the United States Army Air Force, and left on the sixth of June, 1943. The parting was hard, because I had never had the kind of friend he had been to me. I've often wondered if he felt the same way about me.

After his death in the summer of 1944,1 missed him very much, but did not know anything about his military record, or the manner of his death. As the many years passed, my thoughts often turned to our days together. For some reason I didn't understand, in 1986,1 experienced a compelling conviction that I needed to record my sense of grief and loss in some way. I believed that many others felt the same way about their friends who were lost in the war. I had written quite a bit of poetry, in high school, and though I had not written anything since 1945, I decided that would be the best way to try to express myself. Most of the poem had been written, when I realized I had to know more about Jesse's last days. In the many years since Jesse and I had been friends, all his family that I knew had died or moved away from our community. Purely by chance one day one of my friends mentioned that his wife was Jesse's niece. That was the key that opened the locks to a story that eventually overwhelmed me with its enormity of love, courage, and dedication. She gave me the address and telephone number of one of Jesse's older brothers whom she said might be able to help me. After phoning the older brother, Norman, who lives in central Texas, I was delighted to learn that he had most of the military records, letters from the Air Force, newspaper clippings, pictures, letters from the surviving crew members, and other memorabilia the family had collected of Jesse. He was very helpful in that he sent me copies of all the information he had. I met twice with Norman, and he was very understanding and supportive of what I was trying to do.

What really provided a great deal of help was an old crew roster, vintage 1944, including addresses and home towns. Using the crew roster, I was able to locate Winfield Martin, in Alburg, Vermont. Next I was able to contact Harry Haynes in Stamford, Texas. After several phone calls, I traveled to Stamford to interview him at length. He gave me many documents I was able to use to finally unravel some of the events leading up to Jesse's final days. Haynes also provided me with the current address of Gordon "Rosy" Rosencrans, pilot of the plane, and he also was very helpful in providing many details about their experiences.

As always when catostrophic events are occurring at split second intervals, some of the details of the last flight of the crew of "The Tremblin' Gremlin" are somewhat obscured by the different perceptions of the men involved in the desperate fight for survival. I found that what Sgt. McCullough wrote in his letter conflicted with some of what Sgt. Haynes remembered and related during our talks together. Sgt. Haynes disagreed with some of the context of some of the newspaper clippings, and Lt. Rosencrans disagreed with some of what Haynes remembered. Sgt. Winfield Martin wasn't exactly sure of some of the events the others agreed completely on. They were all telling the true facts as they knew them, but in the split second images of the action as it occurred, their memories recorded them differently. In this story, I have used all the material at my disposal in an effort to correlate them as best I could and substantiate them by using all official USAAF documents available.

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