Biography of a Fatal Mission

From an interview with Corporal Leo Stephens, radioman and sole survivor of Jack's crew. The interview was taken after the war at his home by several mothers and wives of the crew.

Leo said they had flown their plane overseas. They left Lincoln, Nebraska and flew to an island in Maine and stayed overnight. From there they flew to Newfoundland and spent the night. From Newfoundland they flew to Iceland and stayed the night. From Iceland they flew to Wales and spent the night - and then on to England.

They spent time in England and Ireland and then went back to England, where they received their permanent A.P.O.

They were on their second mission. The first mission had been on the 14th of August, 1944 - an easy one over southern France - no opposition.

The fatal mission was to Magdeburg, Germany, the most fortified city in Germany. They were flying in a "V" formation, second to the lead plane. They had dropped their bombs and were on their way back to the base when they sustained a direct hit to the bomb bay while flying near Gerwisch, Germany.

Jack had given the order to bail out. Leo said the rest were getting ready to jump when he jumped from the plane. He was hit and lost his knee cap and was captured upon hitting the ground.

Another eyewitness was a First Lieutenant in another plane. He stated he saw the plane get hit and roll over on its back and explode. Leo said the same thing, but said it floated on its back like a leaf to the ground and exploded.

Seven of the crew were declared killed in action, one was captured and two, Jack and Corporal Louis Babini, a gunner, were declared missing in action.

After one year, that was changed to "presumed dead."

In October of 1950, the Army notified Jack's mother (his father had died from a heart attack in September) that they had identified his and his crews' remains and were sending them home to be buried as a group at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. They were able to identify one crewman separately, Lt. Robert Butler, the bombardier, but they were unable to separate the remaining eight.

They are all buried together in three coffins with the same headstone. Jack's niece, Susan (Memke) Veldkamp recently acquired a copy of Jack's Individual Deceased Personnel File. The captured German records state the capture of one crewman, the identity of seven crewmen, and the bones of other crewmen so badly burned there were no bodies. Now we know why Jack and Louis were declared missing in action.

Written by a life-long friend and fellow Eagle Scout and Pilot to Jack's mother, "Many men have lived much longer, but few have accomplished as much as Jack did in his brief span of years."