I am named after the man who wrote this letter - James Bernard McKeon, a highly skilled attorney and my Grandma Mamie's brother. I was born on his birthday and my mom, Peter Igoe's big sister, promised him that if she had a son, she would name him "James Bernard Moore". She kept her promise.
This is one of two heart-breaking letters that JB McKeon wrote to the mothers of other Spare Parts crew members. This letter, written in the clear prose of a lawyer, is addressed to Mrs. George Baker, the mother of 2nd Lt. Thomas Baker (Bombardier) who was uninjured and sent to a POW camp deep inside German-occupied territory.
I learned that Lt. Baker evidently gave some kind of radio address from his captivity. I'd love to learn more about this but the letter contains much more information. He poignantly writes that three of the four known KIA who perished, had already had their parent's advised of their deaths. But that the mothers are hoping there is a mistake. So is he.
The letter is dated November 9, 1944 - about four months after the crash. Part of JB McKeon's wistful hopefulness, from a historical perspective is almost certainly a combination of slower communications and the massive bureaucracy of the military systems during WW II.
McKeon then goes on to mention several other crew members - Sgt. Lawrence M. Brustrom (uninjured, POW), Sgt. Louis J. McCarville (KIA - JB McKeon reveals that he thinks McCarville perished). He did.
His sentence on Sgt. Russell L. Jackson (Radio Operator) and Sgt Pete Giughello reveals that they were still in an English hospital recovering. And then, he reveals that Sgt. Robert D. Fox and Sgt. Gene L. Carroll are in a DIFFERENT English hospital and are also laid up.
This squares perfectly with what I have learned so far - the four WIA crewmen were quickly captured by the Nazis right when the plane crashed. But quickly rescued as well. I would LOVE to learn more about the details of this! For example, where was the Nazi hospital POW camp in France? Was it anywhere near Caen? Which Spare Parts had just bombed?
Sgt. Fox wrote a poignant letter to my Grandma Mamie and I have posted it here under Pete Igoe's page. He was back home in Santa Ana California by November 15, 1944.
The closing paragraph, explaining about how the officers wanted the "enlisted men" to bail out but they refused to do so is epic. Truth be told, it is the kind of story that, if true, is legend-worthy.
The final bit, about Pete Giughello getting pinned in the wreckage but somehow managing to get the rubber rafts inflated is also breath-taking. He closes by verifying the four WIA crew members being rescued by "United States forces captured the Germans in charge of the hospital".
James Bernard McKeon's letter to Mrs. George Baker does an excellent job of summarizing what happened to the men of Spare Parts after July 18, 1944. His writing has a clear feeling on his part of the faintest of hopes that "there may be some mistake in the report" and that the men who gave their lives were actually still alive.
Update: Monday, November 9, 2020
Thanks to two dear French friends I made on my June 2017 visit to France, I have learned more valuable pieces of the story. Jacky & Patrick are their names and I am just going to post the highlights of what they passed along to me. It was all in French so I won't post that here but translated, here are some great details I learned as to what happened to the four wounded Spare Parts crewmen after they were captured by the Nazis.
o The four wounded airmen were sent to a German POW hospital in Mortain, FR and had two American corporal nurses who were also POWs.
o They were subsequently transferred to a similar Nazi hospital in the city of Rennes, FR
o Rennes was liberated on August 4, 1944 by American armored forces under General George S. Patton. The wounded crew from Spare Parts hid in the basement of the hospital as soon as they realized that the Germans had abandoned Rennes. They emerged only when Patton's troops and tanks entered the city of Rennes.
o This is a total of 18 days as POWs for the WIA from the crash on July 18, 1944.
o BRUSTROM was held captive in stalag luft 4 in Gross-Tychow in Poland.
o 2nd Lt. Thomas Baker and Sgt. Lawrence Brustrom were sent to a stalag deep in Nazi-occupied territory. Both remained in captivity until August 1945.
Sidebar: In the case of the six surviving crew, it seems like it was actually lucky that they were injured. After all, the two uninjured crew members spent an ENTIRE YEAR longer than the wounded men in captivity. Also, the war ended in Europe on May 9, 1945. Why were they still in a stalag for almost 3 months after the war ended?
o Spare Parts took a direct hit by flak in the bomb bay while leaving the target, severing the control cables and forcing the pilots to attempt to ditch in the Channel off the coast of France. Right at the Village of Saint Pair sur Mer, a suburb of Granville.
This corroborates my family's oral history. My one major question here is: Just what was the "target"?
Again, relying on oral family history, the target was a Nazi-occupied railroad yard. Near Caen France.
Jacky and Patrick do provide some distances between the cities were the WIA were taken:
from St Pair to Mortain (60 km) then from Mortain to Rennes (around 100 km and there was no motorway. ...)
But how far is Caen (or wherever the "target" was ) from the crash point? Caen looks pretty far inland from the English Channel. If the target was indeed near Caen, Eddie Kaspshak and Jimmy Ruzicka did one hell of a job getting so close to a safe water landing. I think they were trying to pancake crash-land the plane in the Channel but fell literally, inches short.