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Mission to railroad yards at Dresden, Germany
14 February 1945 | Weisel, Germany
The 306th Bomb Group, 369th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 111, Thurleigh, England. Thurleigh was located five miles north of Bedford and originally built for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. During 1942-43, the runways were extended and extra hardstands added to accommodate the heavy American bomber groups. The 306th Bomb Group commenced operation in October 1942 and continued until April 1945, flying over 342 missions. This was the longest tenure by any American combat unit at a RAF base and one of the most famous. Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth) visited Thurleigh to commemorate the naming of the B-17 Rose of York. The base had four hangers and sixteen living and communal sites around the airfield. The emblem at right was insignia for the 369th Bomb Squadron.
On 14 February 1945, a mission was scheduled for heavy bombing of the railroad yards at Dresden, Germany. See the above map that shows the planned route. Of the many aircraft sent off that day, two crews of the 369th Bomb Squadron and their ships did not return to base. One of those aircraft was a B-17J Flying Fortress 42-102975 nicknamed “Verna E.” The pilot was 2nd Lt. Jack S. Hanley. Hanley and his crew were hit by flak which caused them to leave the formation. Two engines were shot out and the aircraft was losing speed. A message was relayed to First Air Division that Hanley would try to land at Field B-53 on the continent because he was running low on fuel. However, as the crew slowly made its way unescorted across Germany trying to reach the front lines, the aircraft was hit again by flak which shot out a third engine. This occurred over Coblenz in the Ruhr Valley. The plane crashed at Weisel, about 25 kilometers south of Koblenz, Germany.
Staff Sgt. Piepenbrink, who was new to this crew, landed some fifty miles inside the German front lines. He was captured immediately by a flak battery crew. Shortly, he was joined by nose gunner Sgt. Herbert R. Whitaker. Within four or five days the entire crew had been captured and gathered together. The crew was sent to the interrogation center at Dulag Luft – Oberursel near Frankfurt am Main. Missing Air Crew Report 12325 was filed when the crew failed to return to base.
Herbert Raymond Whitaker
Sgt. Herbert Raymond Whitaker (36895904) was the nose gunner. He was born on 20 March 1924 in Ashley, MI, the son of Osmar R. and Velma E. Witaker. In 1945, his parents lived in Ithaca, MI. He was a public school principal and educator for 25 years. He also owned a small business and volunteered in a variety of missionary work. Whitaker died at age 77 on 7 October 2001 in a terrible automobile accident in Florida and was buried at Manasota Memorial Park, Brandenton, FL.
Daniel F. McCarthy
Sgt. Daniel F. McCarthy (31041451) was the radio operator.
Victor J. Coppa
Sgt. Victor J. Coppa (33598338) was the radio operator. He was born on 14 January 1924 in Philadelphia, PA. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 5 April 1943 in Philadelphia.
Coppa died on 11 October 1995 in Delaware County, PA. He was buried in Valley Forge Gardens, King of Prussia, PA.
Raymond Charles Hanson
Sgt. Raymond Charles Hanson (37562365) was the ball turret gunner. He was born on 18 January 1923 in St. Paul MN. Hanson died on 18 March 1999 in Minneapolis, MN.
Staff Sgt. Frederick Piepenbrink (31029571) was the tail gunner. He was born on 30 June 1919 in Massachusetts, the son of Claren and Ada Piepenbrink of Waterton, MA. He married Elizabeth D. Piepenbrink died on 3 February 2003 in Cohasset, MA and is buried in the Woodside Cemetery, Cohasset, MA. He is honored at the U.S. Air Force Memorial Foundation website.