[ Age 85 ] As a World War II bombardier, he recorded in a secret diary the months he spent in a German POW camp
By Frederick N. Rasmussen
October 24, 2006
Reamer E. "Buzz" Sewell, a retired airlines ticket agent and Air Force navigator and bombardier who kept a secret diary documenting his experiences as a World War II prisoner of war, died of heart failure Friday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. The longtime Severna Park resident was 85.
Mr. Sewell enlisted in the Army Air Corps a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After completing training and attaining the rank of lieutenant, he joined the 387th Bombardment Group in England in 1944.
He was the lead navigator and bombardier on the Angel Puss, a B-26 Martin Marauder bomber that had been built at the Glenn L. Martin Co in Middle River.
On Oct. 12, 1944, Mr. Sewell was aboard the Angel Puss with seven other crewmembers on an early-morning bombing run to a tank assembly and repair plant in Saarbrucken, Germany. It was his 15th mission and one for which he would be decorated with the Silver Star.
"Only four out of 20 bombers were able to reach the target area. The others were either shot down or could not penetrate the German flak field," said a son, Thomas C. Sewell of Strongsville, Ohio. "To make up for the 16 missing planes, he led the others around three times to make sure the target was hit."
After successfully hitting the target and turning for home, the Angel Puss was hit by German flak and went into a steep dive. With its engines dead, pilot Phillip G. Simkins ordered his crew to bail out while he struggled to control the mortally wounded bomber.
"The situation moved so fast it was like a dream. The alarm bell began to ring and I heard Phil shouting 'Bail out!'" Mr. Sewell later wrote in his diary.
With a last look around the pilot's compartment, Mr. Sewell dived headfirst through the open bomb bay door and pulled the ripcord on his chute.
After landing in a tree and breaking an ankle, he was taken prisoner by the 119th SS Panzer "Ghost" Division. He spent his first week in solitary confinement, where he was interrogated, and then was placed in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp for Allied airmen.
In January 1945, he was moved to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany, where he remained until being liberated by Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army on April 29.
From the day he was shot down, Mr. Sewell began keeping the highly detailed, yet not critical, written-in-pencil diary, hidden in his socks. Diaries of POW life were not allowed by the enemy.
"He wasn't critical in case it was found," his son said.
"American troops arrived this morning with quite a display of gunfire and fireworks!!! My greatest thrill was a P-51 that buzzed the camp and gave us a victory roll at 10 a.m.," Mr. Sewell wrote of liberation day. "Sure is a happy day for the 40,000 POW's in the area!! The American flag was run up over Mooseberg at 12:35, and over the camp at 13:00."
A month later, Mr. Sewell arrived by ship in New York Harbor.
"Rations were not good and he had stomach problems the rest of his life," said another son, Douglas E. Sewell of Severna Park. "It was the single most significant event of his life. He was both a witness and part of history."
Mr. Sewell was born in Wilkinsburg, Pa., and was a graduate of Allegany High School in Cumberland. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park.
He worked as an Eastern Airlines ticket agent for 24 years at what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport until 1979, when he retired.
"He spent the better part of 50 years trying to locate Phil Simkins, and he finally did in 1999. When he was recovering from open-heart surgery, [Mr. Simkins] called, and we know it helped him with his recovery," Thomas Sewell said. "We were trying to plan a reunion when Phil died two months later."
Mr. Sewell was a student of Egyptian art and liked traveling across the country in his camper.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 5 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Ruth Marie Dubbert; a daughter, Ann W. Sewell of Crownsville; and two granddaughters.