Fig. 6-71. The remains of 42-95864 after crashing on takeoff at Station A-59, France, 29 January 1945. (photo courtesy R. E. Wilson) (Photo Missing)
28 Jan 1945, Cormeilles-en-Yexin. 497th Squadron. Aircraft crashed shortly after take-off. 1st Lt R. C. Barnard, Pilot; Capt R. M. Mitchell, Pilot; Lt M. H. Sellers, Bombardier; Sgt Robert J. Collins.
On March 11, 1961 was walking through a mall in Montgomery,
AL. paying little or no attention to what
We approached the ladies and I introduced myself as Harwell, president of the M.H.S. They confirmed that their brother was killed in France and that he was stationed near Paris. They did not know in which Group nor Squadron he was assigned. Since I knew my 344 BG was the only B-26 group near Paris in the winter of 1945, I felt that he was probably in this one which was Cormilles-en-vixen, a Pointoise suburb of Paris.
When asked the brother's name, one replied, R. M. Mitchell. I then replied that I attended his funeral. They seemed not too sure to accept this and I was not sure that I had made the right response. I exchanged phone numbers and hurried home to verify my records. I even told the ladies that he had joined the 344th BG in Jan. 1945 and was in my squadron. There are four squadrons in each group, composed of 16 to 18planes each. Realizing that there were (8) eight groups of B-26's in France in the winter of 1945 and a possible 2,000 men to each or a total of 16,000 plus. Also, cognizant to the fact that only three of us attended the funeral, I ask you what chance is there that I would come face to face with this family? Is it fate?
Upon a review of my diary and other official 344BG-497 Sqdn. records, the date was confirmed.
On Jan. 28, 1945, "Valkrie", Serial No. 42-95864, took off from Station A-59, France with Lt. R.C. Barnard, Pilot, Capt., R. M. Mitchell, Co-pilot, Lt. M. H. Sellers, Bombardier, and Sgt Robert J. Collins.
A snow storm was in progress and visibility was poor. The plane was climbing and the right engine was lost. Fearing that he might not make the circle back to the runway and the possibility of becoming disoriented in the snow storm, he chose to make a crash-landing on a frozen lake. The speed of the plane was so great that it slid into a road bank which broke the plane in half and telescoped the entire fuselage. All aboard were killed.
Since I was not on the load list for a mission on Jan. 29, 1945, Lt. Jack Havener, Lt. Fran Healy, and I were asked to attend the funeral. We loaded into the back of a 6 x 6 vehicle and rode what seemed like a couple of hours, to a military cemetery some distance south of Paris. The weather was exceedingly cold and miserable for the funeral and we were glad to return via Paris where we had Red Cross coffee and donuts before returning to Pontoise.
Facts confirming this article are my official diary of 1943-45 and military records of the actual flight, stored at the A.R.C. Maxwell Field, AL. Further, this account is covered in the Martin B-26 Marauder, Aero, Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA. by J.K. Havener.
Robert L. Harwell