WWII plane crew remembered

THE HOMESICK Angel, a B-17 Flying Fortress, was shot down over France seven decades ago this year, resulting in the death of nine crew members, including a former Brookside resident.

It was the first and last mission for 2nd Lt. William D. Waters, a last-minute addition to the crew. The Homesick Angel had to be flagged down so Waters could replace the co-pilot who was suffering from malaria.

Those on the Homesick Angel were young and undoubtedly homesick, but only one of them ever saw home again after World War II ended.

With Memorial Day being observed Monday, it is a day for remembering.

Waters’ nephew, Bill Waters, a former Belmont County resident who was graduated from St. Clairsville High School in 1967, never met his uncle, but he is helping to preserve his sacrifice.

“It is important to remember all veterans, but especially those who gave their lives for their country on Memorial Day,” Waters noted. “If I was a small-town mayor, I would stop traffic and all activity. There would be a minute of prayer, their names would be spoken followed by ‘Taps.’ I don’t think that is much of an inconvenience, considering the sacrifice.

“The remaining 364 days should go to helping those vets who need support, training or whatever – help them to get back into the flow of things.”

Waters is not the only one who remembers.

Those in southeastern France remember and held a ceremony this spring to honor those on the Homesick Angel. Among those attending were Waters and his wife, the former Cindy Tomer, a former Holloway resident and a 1969 graduate of Union Local High School.

A monument to honor the Homesick Angel crew was erected this year through the efforts of ARSA, more formally known as the Association Rhodanienne pour le Souvenir Aerien, whose goal is to see “that aviation events which took place in the southeastern quarter of France are not altogether forgotten,” according to the ceremony booklet. By gathering information from files and eyewitness accounts, the association hopes “to contribute to the Duty of Remembrance.”

ARSA sometimes cooperates with local partners in organizing ceremonies. Retired Co. Ron Albers of Columbus and J. Pierre Garnier, ARSA commander, have worked together for 20 years to honor air crews.

They are not alone in remembering. Terry Smith of Pennsylvania has spent years, gathering information of that fateful day in 1943 and also contacting crew members’ families.

The former Belmont Countian said after the ceremony, he met an elderly man, who was 8 years of age when D-Day occurred, and he used an interpreter to talk “but when he got to the “Boom, Boom, Boom,” and his arms were waving back and forth, I understood what he was trying to say.” Tears were running down the cheeks of an older man, a veteran, and all he could say was “Thank you, thank you.”

Waters described his uncle’s first and last mission when aircraft from several squadrons – a total of 36 heavy bombers – took off an airfield in the Tunisian desert for the three-and-a-half hour flight to France. Telling of take-off, he noted: “The ground is coming alive!! The noise is deafening!!”

The lead aircraft’s bombardier picked out the wrong German target; some of the airplanes went back to Tunisia but others including the Homesick Angel made a second run. That run was “at the same altitude as the initial attempt, a deadly decision. Later, interviews would indicate a verbal order was given to drop the elevation by 3,000 feet to confuse the Germans, but for whatever reason that order was not heard or maybe not given.”

When the Homesick Angel received a hit forward of the open bomb bay door and just below the co-pilot’s seat, “the aircraft shudders violently as flames and smoke flow through the crippled ship,” according to Waters.

Only one man, S/Sgt. Kenneth Eslick, survived, and he became a German prisoner of war. The aircraft and the rest of the crew plunged into Lake Lavalduc, and it took nine months to locate all the airmen’s bodies.

Initially, the airman’s mother, Mrs. Oliver Waters, received a telegram about his Missing in Action with the status changed a year later to Killed in Action.

Waters’ report noted, “Time passes by and events of November 16, 1943, become faded. As years turn into decades, untold stories of valor of war will die as well. … The veterans and families who withstood the Great Depression, fought the war against the Axis enemies either in battle or at home and who gave more to their country then they took are becoming a thing of the past. Untold stories of valor and sacrifice are lost as each day passes.”

His thoughts coincide with those of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg – “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”