23.12.1944 573rd Bomber Squadron B-26C 42-107747, 1st.Lt. Clayton S. Abraham.
Operation: Railroad Viaduct, Ahrweiler, Germany
Date: 23rd December 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: 573rd Bomber Squadron (391st Bombardment Group (M)), 9th Air Force
Serial No: 42-107747
Location: Between Udler and Brockscheid, 5 miles south of Daun, Germany
Base: Roye-Amy (Station A-73), France
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Clayton S. Abraham O-751078 AAF Age 23. Killed
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Verne H. Bovie O-715700 AAF Age? PoW *
Bombardier/Nav: S/Sgt. Woodrow Wilson 13106559 AAF Age 26. Killed
Radio Op/Gunner: T/Sgt. Floyd R. Lemon 15017620 AAF Age 23. Killed
Engineer/Gunner: S/Sgt. Erik Christiansen 39012577 AAF Age 29. Killed
Gunner: S/Sgt. Melvin E. Murphy 13115935 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
* Stalag 4b Mühlberg, Sachsen.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The 391st Group action report recorded that the heaviest losses sustained by the 391st BG in a single operation occurred on this day. Upon completion of the second bomb run on the railroad viaduct, the flights were attacked by an estimated 50 to 75 Fw-190s and Bf-109s, attacking in waves of 10 to 15 aircraft to the rear of the flights. As a result 16 B-26s were reported as missing in action and the returning planes were badly battle-damaged.
After action reports from other aircraft in the formation witnessed 42-107747 dropping back with its landing gear down and both engines smoking. None of the eyewitnesses saw any parachutes in the air prior to the aircraft disappearing from view about 3 miles east of Ahrweiler.
In 2nd.Lt. Bovie’s Individual Casualty Questionnaire he describes how the aircraft started to spin at around 6000 feet and although he and one other of the crew managed to bail out he thought there was too little time for the other four to escape the aircraft before it crashed. After he was captured 2nd.Lt. Bovie saw the bodies, the day after the crash, of 1st.Lt. Abraham, S/Sgt. Wilson, T/Sgt. Lemon and S/Sgt. Christiansen in the aircraft wreckage. He saw another parachute directly above him when he bailed out of the aircraft but lost sight of it when his opened. He speculated that this was S/Sgt. Murphy as he was not amongst the dead crew members.
(1) It is unknown who captured S/Sgt. Murphy or when he was captured but he was held in the vestry of the St. Martin church in Schalkenmehren together with S/Sgts. Celeste and Carino and T/Sgt. Swenson, from B-26B 42-96182 'Miss Furie' who had also been taken prisoner in the same area.
In the late afternoon or early evening the four PoWs were marched to Daun, a distance of some 3 miles. Earlier that day at about 1525 hours, Daun had been bombed, probably by a stray aircraft jettisoning its load. When the four PoWs were led into town, houses were still burning and salvage workers were clearing rubble. According to an eyewitness, the PoWs were being beaten by their guards with boards and sticks when he first saw them. People in the street, among them soldiers of the Großdeutschland Division, Organisation Todt (Civil and engineering organisation) members, and even a member of the Polizei (Police) joined in with whatever was to hand. Several of the perpetrators were identified and named by eye witnesses but were never apprehended.
About 30 minutes later all four of the airmen were unconscious and were thrown into a bomb crater. An unknown Wehrmacht decorated Hauptmann was observed to fire so called “mercy” shots at the unconscious airmen. Young Wehrmacht recruits were also seen to fire at the bodies, as if on target practise. When they had finished a voice was heard to say that whoever could use something should take it. Thereupon 15 to 20 people rushed towards the crater and looted the bodies after which the crater was filled with rubble and dirt.
After American troops had taken Daun, they were informed of the killings. On the 23rd March 1945 the four bodies were exhumed from the crater and taken to the American Military Cemetery at Hamm in Luxembourg, for examination, identification and proper burial. Investigators found that the injuries sustained by the four airmen were consistent with the attacks described by the eye witnesses.
The investigation faced huge difficulties because the Daun population kept silent. The investigators listed 6 possible perpetrators and 10 possible witnesses. In the end only one, a Johann Billen, a former policeman, was left to stand trial. He was served the charge on 7th July 1947, however on 8th August 1947, the chief of the Trial Branch, Leo M. Goodman, wrote in a memorandum that an important witness, a boy aged seventeen years, could not identify with certainty the accused. After consultation with one Lt.Col. Ellis he closed the case “because of improper identification” and the main suspect was released. After almost two years of investigation no one was held to account for the four murders.
1st.Lt. Clayton S. Abraham. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold in Plot HH, Row 8, Grave 185. Relocated to Plot B, Row 20, Grave 25. Born on the 8th June 1921. Son of Myron K. and Helen Abraham of Portland, Oregon. Husband to Gloria June (née Callison) Abraham of Multnomah, Oregon, USA.
(Left: Courtesy: LuxAmCem-FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Woodrow Wilson. DFC, Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold in Plot HH, Row 8, Grave 184. Relocated to Plot K, Row 15, Grave 19. Born in April 1918. Son to John and Louise B (née Holler) Wilson. Husband to Alma E. (née Mullan) Wilson of Cumberland, Maryland, USA.
(Right: Courtesy: Knitomi-FindAGrave) T/Sgt. Floyd R. Lemon. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Initially interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold in Plot HH, Row 8, Grave 179. Relocated to Plot B, Row 19, Grave 25. A memorial stone was laid at the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, Section 3b, Row 5, Sandusky County in Ohio. Born on the 26th August 1911. Son to Benjamin C. and Susan Lee (née Garey) Lemon of Tiffin, Ohio, USA.
(Left: Courtesy: Linda Ellis-FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Erik Christiansen. Initially interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold in Plot HH, Row 8, Grave 183. Repatriated and buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego in Plot G-772 on the 31st January 1949. Born on the 10th December 1915. Husband to Marie J. Christiansen of Los Angeles, California, USA.
S/Sgt. Melvin E. Murphy. Initially buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot CC, Row 1, Grave 5. Repatriated and buried at the Cathedral Cemetery, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Born on the 2nd July 1923. Son to Eva Murphy of Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA.
Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks to Hermann Josef Stolz for making available his research article “Was in den letzten Kriegsmonaten in Daun geschah”, published in (ed.) Frank Güth / Axel Paul, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Luftkriegsgeschichte Rhein / Mosel e.V., Aachen 2003, p. 121-124, and for his support by sending copies of the documents he collected, and for giving further information via telephone. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.