FRANK N. STEGBAUER|
World war II Memories
(Taken from letter to Will Lundy)
November 22, 1984
I received your letter of October 16th. I certainly have enjoyed your book about the 445h Bomb Group and particularly about the 67th Squadron. I shall try to give you my recollection of Sgt. Joseph M. Meskinis, as I have been able to reconstruct the times from my records and memory.
The Wahlen crew was assigned to the 67th in February 1944 as you stated. Because of a shortage of navigators, I was assigned to another, more experienced crew to fly while the rest of the Wahlen crew were undergoing group training. (Pilot R. C. Griffith and R. L. Thornton).
I had flown about four missions before I was reassigned back to Wahlen's crew. I flew several missions with Wahlen and then on April 1, 1944, I was selected to go to PFF School for special training. I was sent to the 93rd on TD for this training. When I got tot he 93rd, the class was not ready to start, so I just laid around.
A few days later, I heard from Wahlen about the incident in which Joe Meskinis was killed (April 8th 42-52293 G Judy's Buggy). Since the school had not started, I requested to return to the Wahlen crew and not go to the school. The request was granted and I returned to the 67th sometime around the 12th of April. (Crew to rest camp on 14th.)
Upon my return, Wahlen informed me the crew had been decimated. While on a mission, the aircraft encountered several fighter attacks, and was badly damaged (two engines out). Our two waist gunners, Charles Ray and James Warren, had been badly wounded in the buttocks and legs when a 20mm shell burst in the waist between the two waist gun positions.
The aircraft had other serious damage. Wahlen was able to nurse the aircraft back to England (8 April 1944). He then ordered the crew to bail out and he and Pino, the copilot, landed what was left of the aircraft.
All bailed out safely, but Joe Mesilinis. They found him on a hillside. His chute had not opened. The rip cord handle was still in the chute. The handle was not fouled. Apparently, for some reason, he just did not pull the cord. Joe and I were good friends. Our friendship started because we both had type AB blood and we always said we had to stick together in case either of us needed a blood loan. As a result of that incident, S/Sgt. Robert Tonga went yellow (excuse the phrase, but I just do not know how to put it any other way) and was put on non-combat duties and reduced in rank.
The Squadron Commander, Bob Felben, I think, then made up a composite crew, and gave it to Wahlen. However, I did not get on the crew, as I was set up to fly as a lead navigator and Wahlen was not a lead crew. Simply because his crew did not have the experience with the new crewmembers.
My memory, and that is subject to error, tells me that probably the reason Wahlen's name does not appear on the August 1944 listing, is because the crew had gone home. You may remember from February-March, till after the invasion, there were many, many missions flown. It seems Wahlen was always flying. I languished, doing not much of anything but teaching how to navigate with a G-box to new navigations joining the Squadron. I only flew when the 67th led the group. I am certain Wahlen and the last of the original crew had gone home by August. I came home in November 1944.
From the time I left the Wahlen crew, I flew with Bill Aldridge and when Bill finished, I finished up with Dale Benedom. I had teamed up with John King as bombardier and he and I finished together. I still have contact with Bill and John. Bill lives between Dallas and Fort Worth and retired from the Air Force. John lives in Palos Verdes Estates, Palos Verdes, California. He also retired from the Air Force.
I still have a rather complete 201 file intact. Some of the pages are rather brittle, but still readable. If I can help you on some of your research, it would be my pleasure to try. I have some very deep feelings for the 67th. Bill and I attended a 44th Reunion in San Antonio a couple of years ago. As you can imagine, a lot of old stories were told. My doctor in Memphis, John Young, is a famous flight surgeon at the 67th. He went on to the 14th CW, before my time in the Squadron. It was by chance during a yearly physical the subject of the Mighty 8th came up and John and I realized we had been in the same squadron but at different times.
Sorry for the tardy reply, but I have been at our winter home in Florida and was delayed a bit in getting your letter. Hope this note solves what happened to Joe Mesicines. He was a good man.
Frank S. Stegbauer