World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
21 August 1994
I received a letter from Mark Vance of Waxhaw, NC on the same day that I received your last letter. His uncle, Raymond E. Davis, was on the Ketchum crew and he, too, is seeking information about the crash.
A statement in his letter may be a clue to the conflicting dates of the crash. He stated that Lt. Leo Crooks told him that Jack Ketchum and crew left Shipdham at the same time, going to the 70th RCD. Like I told you earlier, after Ketchum sprung the landing gear of the new loran equipped B-24, Major Stanhope, the 66th Squadron Operations Officer, made the statement that, "We will send him home by Air Transport Command." Leo confirmed that both of those crews left the 44th BG at the same time for the 70th RCD. However, a few days after their arrival there, under circumstances of which Leo was not aware, Jack disappeared. So I assume that Jack did wait for space on a C-54 Air Transport Command. He and his men were to be passengers on a C-54 ship out of Glasgow. Leo did not see Jack after that.
So, Jack and his crew may have been on a passenger list of a C-54 or B-24 that crashed. But Jack and his crew may have been held back at the last minutes before takeoff and their names possibly could have still remained on that listing. There's a lot of "ifs," and a big coincidence. But we all know that this crew managed to obtain a B-24 from the repair depot.
The time frame of our departure from Glasgow would have to stand as I told you earlier. We made Iceland on May 27th, Goosebay on the 28th and Bradley Field on the 29th. I have a picture of the crew unloading at Bradley Field. On June 13th, I was courting a beautiful blond in Austin, Texas that is the grandmother of a whole mess of our grandkids.
The crash of the ship in Scotland may have been caused by the malfunctioning of the autopilot. My assumption would be that Jack flew into a scud-roll of a spring storm, that he was on instruments and encountered updrafts that often exceed 100 miles an hour. This could have caused him to lower the nose and go into a steep dive to maintain a constant altitude, causing his airspeed to far exceed what the aircraft was designed for. Then, when he encountered the downdraft a few moments later, it was like flying into a brick wall. This probably occurred at about 10,000 feet and his aircraft could have sustained structural damage. I just described what happened to me at 1:00 a.m. over Gage, Oklahoma in the spring of 1944, only my B-24 wasn't a heavy combat ready aircraft ship and had only three on board. The flight engineer stayed in the hospital for six weeks!
Lexington, Texas is on Highway 77, 45 miles east of Austin, Highway. No. 77 runs from Canada down to South America. Stop by. Everybody knows me. I was superintendent of the Lexington School District for over 30 years.
(Taken from a letter to Ian with copy to Will Lundy)
Note: There is some speculation in this letter. Will has made comments in brackets.
July 14, 1994
It was nice to receive your letter. Your efforts to preserve the memory of Jack Ketchum and his crew are most noble.
I knew Jack quite well. Hew as being trained as a lead pilot (to lead a squadron in combat) for the 66th Squadron during the last weeks of the war. A squadron consisted of 36 [18-Will] air crews and 36 [18-Will] heavy bombers. Each squadron (at full strength) had the lead pilots. The senior lead pilot was the flight commander of the squadron. Only the pilots with the best combat performance records were selected for training in this position [PFF A/C].
My contact was only with Jack. I did not know any of his crewmembers. I was flight commander of the 66th and also the squadron instrument-flight-check pilot. I gave Jack a proficiency check ride on the Air Force blind landing system about the 15th of May 1945.
Several weeks before the war was over, the 66th Squadron received three "top secret" aircraft with much improved radar systems that were to be used in high-level night missions. These aircraft had an extra stub-wing that housed the Loran radar equipment under the fuselage and would land a little slower because of the extra lift form the stub wing. I was in training to lead the 8th Air Force on he first high-level night mission. And was the only one in the squadron who had flown the planes when the war ended. Between missions, I was attending the Royal Air Academy at Attleboro for training in the new radar system. The British facility had been taken over by the U.S. Air Force, but the name may have been coined by the Yanks.
Jack had been assigned one of these planes to fly back to the U.S. On a practice landing, Jack brought the plane in a "little hot" and sprung the landing gear. Without the plane to fly home, Jack and his crew were flown to Glasgow (Prestwick) [70th RCD for trip home-North England-Will] to catch an air transport command plane back to the U.S. This would have been the 27th or 28th of May 1945. The rest of the 66th Squadron left England the same day. An hour or two after we departed Glasgow for Iceland, I received a message by radio informing me that Jack Ketchum and crew had crashed and all were killed. I assumed that it was an air transport command plane that had gone down. That was the last information that I received concerning Jack and his crew. The air transport command plane would most likely have been a C-54 and Jack and his crew would have been passengers.
I had all of the orders for the 66th Squadron air crews with me and the orders for Jack and his crew would have been among them. The orders were to return the 66th Squadron to Bradley Field, Connecticut for redeployment to the southwest Pacific in B-29 aircraft (after a 30-day leave). When I presented the orders at Bradley Field, I was informed that our help was not needed in the southwest Pacific and that everyone in the 66th was eligible for discharge. At that moment, the 66th heavy bomber squadron of the 44th Bomb Group became history for me.
I am quite confident that the date of Jack's crash was the 27th or 28th of May, 1945. [Wrong crash. Was not on this C-54 but his own plane-Will]. I arrived at my home in Lexington, Texas on the last day of May 1945. I was notified of Jack's crash on the first leg of the flight home (Glasgow to Iceland).
[Speculation-Will] I assumed that Jack was to be a passenger on a C-54 air transport command plane. Jack could have been assigned a B-24 at Prestwick. Stripped down versions of the B-24 were sometimes used as transports. If the ship would have come from the 66th Squadron, it would have had the Squadron identification markings (a black vertical strip on each tail section just forward of the rudders and would have had guns mounted). The tail section would not have been red.
The rest of the 66th's planes had clear weather all of the way to the U.S. However, the weather in Scotland can become violent in a few minutes. I encountered weather so violent at times that it stripped all of the paint from the topside of the ship. On one occasion, my flight engineer was thrown about so violently that he received a broken femur. An electrical storm could leave a B-24 without functional navigational equipment and create structural damage that could make it impossible to control the aircraft.
I received a letter from Will Lundy on the same day that I received yours and from his description of the crash site, I would come to the conclusion that the plane was destroyed by the scud-roll of a spring storm at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. This would account for the wide dispersal of the parts of the plane. An innocent-looking cloud at the head of a storm can have updrafts and downdrafts within a few feet of each other that exceed 100 miles per hour.
I'm sure that my information is only making things more confusing. I am confident that Jack took off from Prestwick about the same time that the other ships of the 66th took off. My assumption that he was a passenger on a C-54 transport plane was incorrect and that the radio message that I received concerned a B-24 air transport command plane that Jack was flying and not a C-54 air transport command plane that I thought he was a passenger on. The time that I started concerning the radio message about Jack's crash would have to stand. [Not true. It was June 13th-Will]
Two Days Later:
Since writing the previous part of these notes, I have gone back through my records and put together an exact timetable of our departure from England. We left the air base at Shipdham on the 26th of May and flew to Prestwick. We spent the night, refueled, and took off for Iceland on the 27th. It was on this first leg of our flight home that I received the radio message about Jack's crash [wrong aircraft-Will].
My wife, part of our family, and I were in Edinburgh on the 15th and 16th of June. My wife's grandparents lived at Haseley Manor on the Isle of Wight. We were invited to tea with the present owner. The manor dates back to 1066. I intended to see Steve at Norwich, but England isn't as easy to get around in as it was 50 years ago.
P.S. I shall send Steve and Will a copy of these notes.