As promised, here is the brilliant interview with Norman L. Keepers about his time in the war. His time with the 417th starts at around 25 minute mark, but you will want to hear his whole story which is very fascinating. I have also posted a link to the interview on the Letters, Diaries and Tributes page of the Night Fighter History Menu. Enjoy!
In mid October I was contacted by the nephew of Norman L. Keepers. Norman’s journey to the 417th started at age 16 when he enlisted by lying about his age. He was an Armorer and Arial gunner on B-25s in the Pacific Theatre, B-29s stateside before being sent home and honourably discharged because they found out he was underage. He was out for about 60 days, then re-enlisted on his 18th birthday. He went to Germany with the Occupation Army and ended up at Fitzlar Army Air Base as a P-61 Gunner. On a training mission on a gunnery range, there was an apparent timing mix-up and a P-47 from the 366th Fighter Group (also flying out of Fritzlar) accidentally shot the wing off Norman’s P-61 which was right down on the deck. He and the radar operator bailed out so low that they they got one swing in their parachutes before hitting the ground. The pilot went in with the ship. Norman smashed into a tree and shattered his pelvis. He spend months in the hospital before returning to Chicago. Norman’s talents didn’t end with the war as he eventually became a world-renowned Harley-Davidson mechanic. How cool is that?
Norman’s nephew completed an on-camera interview of him at age 95 and I hope to soon have a link to that interview to post on this website. Until then, here is a photo of Norman with his P-61,
In April of this year, I was contacted by the the grandson of Charles Farhbach. His grandfather was a photographer for the 417th NFS and he had a number of photos that he wanted to share on the site. I did not have a lot to go on with respect to Charles’ full story, but using the photos, a reference in the Illustrated history of the 417th and a bit of searching, I was able to piece together the following:
He joined the squadron on 18 of March 1943 in Kissimmee, FLA. He likely traveled as part of the 417th group when it left Camp Kilmer in late April of 1943 and sailed for England on the Queen Elizabeth. He spent time in North Africa (the photo below is Charles in taxi in Oran)
And Southern France:
He photographed a Bob Hope Show, in Germany in 1945:
There were 3 other “group” photos in the collection I received. None have the names of the individuals in them, or the location they were taken. If you spot someone you know, or are familiar with the location, please comment on this post.
As I have said before, one of the things that I love about working on this site is helping people to make connections. Earlier this year, I was contacted by the daughter of an instructor who taught at a Radar School in Boca Raton. Her father – Tom, mother – Elizabeth and aunt – Eileen struck up a friendship with Raymond Christensen of the 417th during his time training in Boca Ratan. In her possession was a telegram, photo and letter sent by Ray to Elizabeth and Eileen and she wished to pass these items along to someone in Ray’s family. That connection has now been made and I have copies of these items to share with you.
The telegram was sent by Ray shortly after he left Boca Ratan for Kissimmee. At the time, he was on orders not to reveal what he was doing and eventually secretly sailed to England.
A letter from Ray to “the girls” Elizabeth and Eileen.
This is a transcript of what I believe the letter says:
Dear Elizabeth and Eileen,
It’s been months since I’ve heard from you children. Am I on your casualty list? Frankly I feel very much alive. From time to time we work a bit hard or at lease put in a devil of a lot of time trying to make somebody think so. We have high hopes of a let up soon and a bit of vacation.
By now I have become quite accustomed to the ways of the English and find it quite pleasant to live here. Socially, I should say – the food is not so hot. I’ll even forgive some of the stuff we used to get back at Boca Raton. The food really isn’t so bad but so much of the same. At present I’m not on good terms with the potatoes. It seems I’ve seen entirely too much of ‘em.
Aside from that everything is even better than I had expected. I can almost dance like a good Englishman. Can’t waltz as gracefully and there’s a number of folk dances I look silly at but I have oceans of for trying. There are some pretty decent ballrooms I’ve located and some good music. Loads of girls even in camp we have enough WASPs to hold quite a good sized party. Not like our stay in Florida and ???. Not a single Net(?) Cadet. How wonderful. Even so, I wish I was dancing with Pompanos Belles in yea old service center cadets or no cadets. Regards to your parents. Ray.
And finally a photo with a message on the back that is quite poignant , “Somebody has to go up there”
Raymond Christensen and his pilot Joe Leonard failed to return from their mission on May 13th, 1944. You can read more about Raymond Christensen in the Letters, Diaries and Tributes page of this website.
Happy 2021 everyone!
I’ve been a bit remiss in getting these additional photos from Peter Fitzgerald’s collection up on the site. Not a great start to 2021 for me, eh? Finally, here they are.
The photos were taken in Kassel, Germany. I don’t have a lot of information on the others in the photos but the building behind the 3rd shot down looks to be the same building in several other photos located in the Faces of the 417th gallery (1st gallery about midway down). I’m guessing this was a popular spot to have a photo take at camp.
If you spot someone you recognize, please get in touch so that I can update the photographs. Note, I have also added these to the Faces of the 417th gallery.
Merry Christmas to all and too all a good night. Best wishes for a safe and happy 2021.
Something that I love about this website is that it enables connections. For me, this is increasingly important in a world that is dealing with the impacts of Covid-19, social distancing and a divisive election. I believe that reaching out and making connections with others help us keep perspective.
This month the website connected me with the son of Peter Fitzgerald, a member of the 417th. After a quick exchange of a few emails, I had a bit more about Peter’s time in the 417th and some great, new pictures to share.
Here is what Peter’s son had to share about his father’s time in the 417th:
Peter Fitzgerald enlisted on January 15th, 1943 and arrived in Scotland on January 13th, 1944. His main job during the war was a truck driver hauling bombs and other things and was attached to the chemical warfare group. The mission of which was to be at the ready in case the Germans decided to use chemical weapons. Peter landed in Europe on D Day +3 with his truck and trailer on the beach.
Later in the war, Peter was assigned to the 417th and worked as the crew chief on Markey/Hade’s Lady. Here is a photo of Peter in the cockpit of the plane:
At the end of the war, Peter was assigned to demolition duty destroying planes. Here are several photos of that demolition, including one that has roughly 43 planes in the pile:
Here are two more photos of Peter, but it is not known if the individuals with Peter are from his time with the 417th or earlier in the war. In the first photo, Peter Fitzgerald is in then center:
Peter is on the left in the photo below:
Peter Fitzgerald was discharged on January 31st, 1946.
I will add these photos to the permanent galleries (Faces of 417th). If anyone can identify the individuals with Peter or wishes to get in contact with Peter’s son, drop me a note and I will help make the connection!
Sorry for being away for so long. Like just about everyone I have been distracted by other things going on in the world right now. Anyhow, I am back at it with a couple of updates.
The first update relates to my post in March of this year about the crash and rescue of a 418th crew in Dutch New Guinea in 1944.
The update is that the book is now available as is a website (details later in this post). The book is titled “KAIS: A true story of a daring rescue in the swamps of New Guinea, summer 1944″
Here a summary of the story:
On Thursday 27 July 1944 a B-25 bomber of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron is on a routine mission over the waters surrounding New Guinea near the Birds Head Peninsula. The crew sights a Japanese schooner and start their attack run, flying low and fast over the water. The attack succeeds but the bomber is hit and it’s pilot, 2Lt Ira M. Barnett, cannot fly it back to base. He decides on a crash landing in a remote swamp area, some 300 miles behind enemy lines. Barnett puts the plane down safely, air gunner Harold “Chief” Tantaquidgeon takes over command in the swamp.
Navigator Tom Wright wrote: “At the second attempt he slid over the water and grass and we heard tsching, tsching, bushes hitting the wings. Suddenly the plane swung to the left, breaking in two just behind the bomb bay. Chief and Pete were thrown out. The wing had hit a tree, too thick to break”
A rescue team, led by Dutch 2nd Lieutenant Louis Rapmund and Australian Army Captain ‘Mac’ Gillespie sets out from the island of Biak to save the crew. Flown in by Catalina flying boat, river Kais is their only way in and out of this green hell of jungle and swamp. For three weeks their small group of Allied soldiers use the Kais to fight both their human enemy and nature to find the crew and bring them back to safety.
This is an extraordinary story of survival and heroism of Allied soldiers and air men; American, Australian, Dutch and Indonesian, supported by the local Papua’s.
In 2019 the author followed in the footsteps of the rescue team, trying to find the wreck of the bomber. With a group of five he travelled up the Kais river and into the swamp. It resulted in an unexpected meeting.
The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle version at this link:
You can also find more details on the website that is dedicated to this expedition Airwarnewguinea
A second expedition is planned in 2021. How cool is that!!!!
A big thanks to Bas Kreuger, the author of the book, for getting in touch with me thru this website and allowing me to publish details of this story.
As for my second update, here is a teaser: “A 12 year old finds the “army issued” personal diary of his father, a member of the original 417th NFS….”
Stay tuned as I get the details of this diary uploaded & posted on this site.
Cheers and Stay Safe!
UPDATE: Added a few photos from this event at the bottom of this post.
I’ve had a quite a number of international visitors to the site in the past month. Normally, most visitors are looking for photos or details of family members. In this case, a visitor from the Netherlands is looking for information on the 418th Squadron B-25H plane that crash landed in Dutch New Guinea on 27 July 1944. The plane number was 43-4422.
Here are more details:
“I am writing the story of a crash landing of a B-25H of 418NFS on the Vogelkop of DNG on 27 July 1944. Ira M. Barnett and his crew (Thomas Wright, Pete Whipland and Harold Tantaquidgeon) landed in a huge sago swamp some 60 miles from the coast. An extensive rescue operation by the 5th AF including elements of the 2 ERS (Emergency Rescue Squadron), 41st Infantry Division, 5th AF HQ rescue section, Australian Army Jungle Training School, 25 PRS (Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron) and Dutch NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administration) together formed a rescue team that went into the jungle and swamp to bring the crew of B-25H 43-4422 back to safety.
The report of the rescue reads like the script of a Hollywood movie.”
If any of our readers has information related to this rescue or the individuals involved: 2ERS: Harold Manser, Donald C Brickner, Leslie A Lange; 418NFS Norbert J deBoer, Albert R Sorbo, Caroll “Snuffy” Smith, Kerstetter and Barnett and his crew; 25PRS Charlie D Crow; Australian Army William Gillespie, Thomas William Scott, Donald Stanley Riordan, Alexander Sidney Goddard; 41st ID Victor J Krause; NICA Louis B.J. Rapmund, Silas Papare), then please get in touch via the comments section to this post or drop me an email via the Contact page.
Caption: B-25 Crew plus rescue team
Caption: Saturday 19 August 1944 around 1330pm the rescued crew flew back to the base:
Related to my previous post, here is another one of those great connections that this website helps make possible. In 2019, I was contacted by reader, with the following story:
“My uncle, 2LT Thomas E. Cartmell, was a pilot with the 417th NFS in March and April of 1945. I have had the opportunity to read, photograph, transcribe and compile the 343 letters he wrote to his sister, his parents, and his girlfriend (later wife) during his wartime experience. The letters chronicle his training, from preflight through transitioning to the P-61 Black Widow.
He was assigned as a replacement pilot to the the 417th, joining them at LaVallon in March, 1945. He moved with them to St. Dizier, and then to Giebelstadt, Gerrmany.
On April 26th, 1945, Tom and his RO 2LT Hal Anderson were shot down and killed by friendly fire over the Dillingen Bridgehead. It was their first and only combat mission. ”
Dr. Hughey has compiled the collected letters and created a beautiful website to honor the memories and tell the story of a young man who went off to war, but did not return. I have placed a permanent link to “2LT Thomas E. Cartmell USAAF-A Young Man Off to War” on the Letters, Diaries and Tributes page of the 417th-nightfighters website.
Alternative, you can click here, and go directly to Dr. Hughey’s website .