P 1/Lt Melvin S. Meeker 579th Sqdn KILD CP 2/Lt Samuel Levitt 579th Sqdn KILD B 2/Lt Mathew J. Radosevich 579th Sqdn KILD E T/Sgt James M. Parker 579th Sqdn KILD RO T/Sgt Thomas J. Leyshon 579th Sqdn KILD
On this date, six 392nd BG planes took off from Topeka Army Air Base on a navigation training mission to Duluth, MN. First in line was B-24E #41-29052 which took off at 0631 hours. Aboard were five members of the Meeker crew. Navigator 1/Lt Milton M. Planche was scheduled to go on the mission. However, he'd been to see the medics about a cold and was grounded by Group flight surgeon Capt (later Major) Robert M. Holland. The other gunners did not fly because they were examining new ball turrets that had just arrived at Topeka.
According to the Report of Aircraft Accident, 1/Lt Meeker was at 5,000 feet when he flew into a thunderstorm. It was thought that he lost control of the a/c in the severe turbulence. In his effort to regain control, he placed excessive stress on the wing section; it broke off where the outboard wing panel and #4 motor joined. The plane then made a short turn and at 0730 hours, it crashed at a very steep angle 10 miles southwest of Boone, IA. All aboard were killed.
1/Lt Planche has always felt that if he'd been aboard, he would have plotted a course around the thunderstorm.
He asked to be transferred to another 392nd BG crew. A day or two later, Planche was dining at the Officer's Club with his wife. A young officer came to their table and told him he was leaving the next day for overseas.
Planche overslept. He hurriedly dressed and hopped on a bus back to the base. At the main gate, he was met by a lieutenant in a jeep who told him his bags had already been packed and were on the plane.
Planche was taken to Base Operations, where Group navigator Capt (later Lt/Col) Kenneth Paddock had everything ready for him, including navigator's equipment and maps already marked with the route. Taken to the runway, he climbed into a plane already in position for take-off and met his new crew for the first time.
He flew with 578th Sqdn pilot 1/Lt John J. Reade from then on. They became a lead crew; Planche finished his combat tour on 31 May 1944.
S/Sgt John P. Scott, a tail gunner, remembers that the six Meeker crew enlisted men had planned to go into Topeka that evening to celebrate their imminent departure for overseas.
There were no vacancies on any 392nd crews, so Scott applied for pilot training. He passed the exams and physical and was waiting for assignment to a school.
A crew on its way overseas then stopped in Topeka. They needed a gunner and Scott was selected. He thus became a ball turret gunner in the 44th Bomb Group. He was wounded by shrapnel on his second mission (13 Nov 1943). On his 24th mission, to Friedrichshafen on 18 Mar 1944, his plane was hit by flak over the target. He bailed out and was lucky enough to land in Switzerland, where he was interned for eight months.
Radio Operator S/Sgt Thomas White flew as a gunner with several 392nd BG crews. He finished his combat tour in June 1944.
Gunner T/Sgt Charles E. Zschiesche was transferred to 1/Lt William W. Clifford's crew. They were killed in action on 8 Oct 1943.
Gunner S/Sgt John E. Fagan flew five missions with 2/Lt Frank Gonseth's crew. He may have then transferred to the ground crew, as a man with that name served in the 10th Station Complement Squadron.