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485th Bomb Group, USAAF in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- 485th Bomb Group, USAAF during the Second World War -

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485th Bomb Group, USAAF

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Those known to have served with

485th Bomb Group, USAAF

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

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Theodore Andrew Brown 485th Bomb Group

The recent Swampscott Historical Society Antiques Appraisals Night was successful. It was fun to see nearly 100 people learn the value of their antiques and collectibles. I brought ceramic Stengal birds given to me years ago. They were vintage 1940s, valued at about $100. Many paintings brought in for appraising were in the $300 to $400 range. But, to me, the most exciting item was a kerchief-sized heavy silk fabric with a detailed map of Germany and Belgium on one side and Germany and France on the other side. Teresa Vatcher asked everyone in the hall if they knew what the maps were from. Two people in the hall recognized the maps. These detailed maps were issued to airmen flying over hostile territory during World War II and were included in their survival kits. Of 35,000 servicemen who found their way home from enemy lands, more than half used these valuable maps. They could be folded up small and hidden if the owners were captured. They could be sewn into their clothes, or hidden in a hollow shoe heel and they didn't crackle like paper or disintegrate when wet. Soldiers in cold areas used the silk maps for warmth, in hot areas men used the maps to shield them from bugs.

Teresa, who brought the silk map in, said she used the silk maps as a kerchief and treasured it because it belonged to her brother, John Pagnotta, World War II top gunner on an 8th Air Force B-24 bomber. John told her his gun position had no heat, no bathroom, no windshield wipers. When she left to go home, without bringing her silk map to be appraised, I stopped her and said, “Aren't you going to even show your map to the appraiser?” She said, "Do you want to take it up?" I said, enthusiastically, "Yes." So she left the map with me and as she went out the door she said, "Give it to my sister to bring home." I said I’d certainly return it to Catherine Valeriani after it was appraised. I wrote a short blurb about the silk map belonging to John Pagnotta on a scrap of paper and put it with the silk map to give the appraiser a clue. (John Pagnotta was in the 453rd Bomb Group and Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor, was his commanding officer.) The appraiser was intrigued. She'd never seen a silk map before in her many years in the field. She couldn't put a value on it, for she had no idea how many were made, but she was aware of its sentimental value to the Pagnotta family. Curious, I went online the next day and typed in “silk maps WWII” on a search line. I got back the history of silk maps. I printed it out and phoned Terry and read it to her. I told her she was wearing a $300 kerchief. I’d read about old silk maps selling on eBay for $300+. Terry said I’d made her day. Perhaps she'll give it to a museum someday.

Then I called my former neighbor, Mary Brown, because her husband, Ted Brown, was a waist gunner on a B-24, and did bombing raids over Germany. I wanted to ask her if he had a silk map. Mary said, “He’d never mentioned a silk map, but he did have a thumb-nail sized compass.” She began to tell me the story of his last flight over Germany. I asked her if I could write it down for her children. She agreed and what follows here is the story she told me:

The bomber was a B-24 and Col. “Hap” Arnold was the first commander of the 485th Bomb Group, stationed in Venosa, Italy. Their mission was to bomb the synthetic oil plants in eastern Germany. After a certain number of missions, the exhausted plane crews were given rest and recreation time. The men were sent to the Isle of Capri for a rest before the next group of bombing missions.

The lead bomber of a hundred B-24s, where Staff Sgt. Ted Brown was a waist gunner, was on the way home, August 1944, from a bombing run to the Ploesti Oil Fields. They were about 100 miles from Berlin. They were under heavy ack-ack fire and the plane was hit. It was on fire and the crew had to bail out. Ted Brown said the crew never had any training in parachute jumping, or even any last-minute instruction. Over enemy territory, with the bomber on fire, they had to get out of the plane fast. The man directly in front of Ted got to the escape door and froze. He could not move. He could not force himself to jump out into the unknown through the ack-ack fire.

Ted quickly booted the terrified man out the door and Ted jumped out right behind him. (Later, the man thanked Ted for booting him out the door, saving his life.) The whole crew parachuted down into Germany. On his way down, Ted was wounded in his elbow by the ack-ack fire and his groin was cut by a twisted strap on his parachute when he landed in a tree. Ted cut himself free and fell to the ground. He was all alone, no other parachutist in sight.

He ran away from his parachute as fast as he could, and hid, for the Germans would soon find the parachute. He buried his pistol, knowing he’d be shot if he was found with a gun. He hid for five days, travelling by night, hiding by day, eating the watercress, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard he found growing in the fields. He recognized the plants as edible because he’d grown up on a farm in Vermont. He used the tiny compass in his survival kit, hoping to find friendly forces, and he hid and slept during the day.

One day he was hiding in a cornfield, and woke to find a group of Polish men, a forced work crew, coming through the field. The men saw the airman on the ground, but never let their German guards know he was there. As they walked past him some men dropped bread for him without looking down so the Germans never knew an American airman was hiding in the cornfield.

The fifth day he was asleep in a field and woke up to find a German policeman with his spike- topped helmet, holding a gun on him. He was brought to a nearby farmhouse, and taken to the cellar where a German officer, who spoke excellent English, interrogated him. When Ted gave only his name, rank and serial number, as required by the Geneva Convention, and would say no more, the German officer smashed him across the face with his rifle butt. Eventually the entire crew of the bomber was captured and imprisoned.

Mary Brown, back at home, received news Ted was missing in action. She did not know for three months if her husband was dead or alive. She only knew his plane was shot down on the way home from a bombing raid. Mary was working at Cushman’s Bakery in Lynn and her co-workers were amazed at her belief that Ted was alive. She felt she’d know if he’d been killed.

Lt. Cummings, who’d trained with Ted, wrote a letter to Mary. As an officer, Cummings censored his own letters and he was able to tell her, “Mary, I haven’t seen Ted for a while, but I know he is all right.” She was grateful to hear the news. Ted was alive! This was before the Air Force informed her he was in a prisoner of war camp. Ted spent 10 months as a prisoner of war in Germany. Once Mary knew he was alive, and in a POW camp in Germany, she sent him many letters and packages of food. POW mail went through neutral Switzerland. He only received one of her letters and none of the food packages.

Living conditions were harsh in the POW camp, with little food. In cold weather, the men slept head to toe, side by side, and kept their feet warm under each other’s arms. One of the prison camp guard dogs slept at night right under their compound. The men, desperate for food, got a floorboard loose, killed and ate the dog.

One day Mary Brown was invited to Boston and with a troop of soldiers standing at attention, she was presented with Ted Brown’s medals. Ted had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross, with oak leaf clusters. The medals he’d been awarded were pinned on Mary.

As the Allied forces pushed into Germany, the English from one side, the Americans from another and the Russians from a third side, the thousands of men in POW camps were moved from camp to camp, away from the advancing armies. Ted was forced into a boxcar with so many others there was only standing room and no latrine. Ted remembered the stench in the boxcar was awful. The men standing in these boxcars moving from camp to camp would be shunted to a siding for frightening hours when the Allies were bombing. As they travelled through little towns they were warned to make no sound lest they be shot. At that time there were roving bands of the retreating German army and SS troops.

On one move from a POW camp, the men went on a forced march of 100 miles, in the winter, which took 12 days, and if you didn’t keep up, you’d be shot. Their German guards were older men who didn’t really want to shoot anyone. The prisoners would get on each side of a faltering comrade and almost carry him along. They helped each other. They travelled on back roads to avoid the retreating German soldiers and SS troopers.

Ted Brown ended up in Stalag Luft III located in Sagan, near the Baltic Sea, about 100 miles southeast of Berlin. Stalag Luft III was run by the German Air Force. One day in April 1945, the prisoners woke to find all the German guards were gone. Later that day, the Russians liberated the POW camp. Ted commented, “The Russians were a wild bunch.” During the war the Germans had raped Russian women and the Russians couldn’t wait to catch and kill as many Germans as possible.

When the Russians saw the emaciated condition of the men in the prison camp, they went out into the countryside and rounded up livestock. They put on a giant barbecue for the prisoners. The Russians even supplied vodka for the celebration, which they insisted everyone should drink. With his shrunken stomach, Ted could not eat much and he only put his lips to the vodka bottle, not daring to drink a drop. The men who ate and drank too much were soon very sick.

The former prisoners of war were flown out of Germany in B-17s to France, where they lived in tents and were put on a liquid diet for several weeks before they were able to tolerate solid food. The men were told they might never be able to have children as they had been so starved. Mary said, "Our three children are proof of how wrong the doctors were about that." The men waited their turn to get on a Liberty ship and head home.

Ted arrived back in New York in late May 1945. He called Mary and said he wanted to see her alone for a couple of days, then after a couple days, he’d be ready to visit with the rest of his family. So Mary rented a room at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem for two days and told no one (except his brother Fred) where they were staying. When Ted arrived, Mary hardly recognized him, he was so thin. Mary told Ted to sit down, as she had a surprise for him. She told him about her going to Boston and being awarded his medals. She gave him his medals. He was flabbergasted for Ted was a modest man. He didn’t think what he’d done was so special. But it certainly was. The second day at the Hawthorne Hotel, Ted’s brother Fred, with whom he was very close, couldn’t wait any longer, and he came to Salem to see Ted. Ted was finally home.

Betty Dean Holmes typed up this story “from Mary Brown’s wonderful memory.” Copyright 2007 The Swampscott Reporter. Some rights reserved. Mary and Ted Brown were my neighbors for many years.

Betty Dean Holmes

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