|March 19, 2002
To: Trevor Allen
Our recent correspondence has brought to mind a story, printed in the Marauder Thunder something last year. Unfortunately I have misplaced my copy. The issue included a picture of the three people from the 394th BG, 587th SQ., Gene Sidwell, Guy Zieglar, and one other person. Accompanying the picture was story about a piece of nose art and aircraft name painted on the port side armored fuselage of a B-26 in the 587th SQ. Maybe you can help me out with the name?
I am told that the original aircraft with this panel crash-landed on return from a mission. Apparently the ground crew liked the "art" and name so well that the panel was salvaged and placed on another B-26 in the SQ. It seems the panel was doomed, however. On a subsequent mission this second aircraft (lead ship) and a wing man collided in mid-air during formation join-up. I understand that only one crewman from the two aircraft survived.
Again the "nose art" panel was salvaged and placed on a third B-26 in the 587th SQ. In late March 1945, while leading a mission over Germany, this third aircraft was hit by flak and lost behind enemy lines. Parachutes were observed, and fortunately all crew member survived and were held as POW's until V-E Day. So the story of the "nose art" panel ended. But this is not the complete story. There is a parallel story to go along with the "nose art" panel. It happens that one of my crew members and myself were associated with this "panel" in a backhanded sort of way.
I, William C. Stuckey, was a replacement pilot coming into the 587th SQ. in the middle of February, 1945. Other members of the crew were John A. Elliott, co-pilot; John Raklta, bombardier-navigator; Norman R. Spotts, engineer-gunner; Earl W. Petree, radio-gunner; and James M. Smith, armour-gunner.
There was no space in the barracks for us three officers to share the same room, so I was put, separately, in a room with three strangers. One of them sort of took me "in-hand" to help me get acquainted around, and to learn the ropes. His name is Reuben Corbin. The other two officers in the room were his crew members.
After a few days of orientation I flew my first mission. This took place on February 24th, which happened to be the 200th mission for the 394th BG. Early the next morning (Feb. 25th) I was awakened by Corbin and his two crew members stirring around in preparation for an early morning mission. As they departed, Corbin tapped me on the shoulder and said "Go back to sleep Stuckey. We'll see you at lunch time". Of course, this was the day that Corbin and his wing man collided in mid-air at take-off ---- and both crews were lost. On this day, Corbin was flying the second plane to have the "nose art" panel.
The afternoon of this day I spent with the squadron intelligence officer sorting and packing the belongings of the three people that I had known for only a short while. As a 21 year old "new" member to the group, I quickly learned that this was not a game we were playing, but the "real stuff".
Soon after we joined the 587th squadron, the operations officer inquired as to how well my bombardier could navigate. I assured him that John Rakolta was very good and that I had all the confidence in the world in his abilities. Thus John was soon transferred out of my crew and trained as a lead navigator. Among others, he was assigned to the crew of Phinney, Zell, and Lane. On March 23rd, while on a mission over Germany, the lead aircraft, flown by this crew and John Rakolta (my ex-bombardier as navigator), was hit by flak and went down behind enemy lines. Fortunately all the crew personnel survived and were held as POW's. The aircraft they were flying on this days was the third and last B-26 to have the salvaged "nose art" panel. I guess by now you understand why I feel so closely associated to the story of the nose-art panel, and how it relates to my "growing up" from a 21 year old kid into a 21 year old man. And that is the rest of the story.
Your story came through clear on the second attempt, and is now on record in my 587th BG file.
The removal of nose art from one B-26 to another was a regular practice with in the 394th. Bomb Group and across all four squadrons. In fact the 394th BG was unique in carrying out practices that no other B-26 Group did.
Now to your story, the nose art was "Black Jack" and the identities go as follows. The first was 42-107628 and the ship crash landed a Romilly, December 2, 1944, the pilot being Lt. Reubin E. Corbin. Next came 43-34228 which was the subject of the mid-air collision February 25, 1945. Again the pilot was Reubin Corbin, but this time there were no survivors. The last "Black Jack" was 44-67903 which was lost to Flak on March 23, 1945 with Lt. Harry W. Lane and crew.
So there is the story in a nutshell, short and to the point, however your letter now adds the human touch to the story.