1940-1941 — Forest Park, IL
(As of 2009, updated 2014) My mother Florence Conlon Novak (88, deceased in 2014) was one of Frank J Conlon's first cousin, and recalls a few details. Frank was known as ‘Frannie’ while growing up. He was the youngest in his family, and the only son. Frank enlisted in June 1941 (before Pearl Harbor), and his parents were much against the enlistment. He didn’t enlist in Chicago, he did it in Washington DC, apparently while visiting his sisters Rita and Bonnie who lived there.
Historians of the 301st Bomb Group were most helpful. Frank's unit (353rd Squadron of the 301st Bombardment Group - Heavy) self-deployed to England in 1942 (as part of Operation Bolero they took a week flying their B-17F's from Maine to Canada to Greenland (BV1) to Iceland, then Scotland, and finally Chelveston, England) to become part of the 8th Air Force, where they flew several missions over France (in the early days, US bombing missions might have 20-40 B-17s; it would take another 2 years of aircraft production and crew buildup before there'd be 1,000 plane raids over Germany). After the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the 301st Group self-deployed to Africa (Oran, then Biskra) to help form General Jimmy Doolittle's new 12th Air Force. On their first mission against Rommel's Afrika Corps supply docks at Bizerte, Tunesia, his plane was shot down (along with another bomber) when their raid of 19 bombers was attacked by 27 German fighters. There were conflicting reports in Air Force MACR 16038; initially the crew was reported missing, then when Allied ground forces captured Bizerte on May 8, 1943, a United Press dispatch on the same date reported the crew captured and hospitalized. However the Germans and Italians never reported the crew as POWs (via the International Red Cross), and on 28 Nov 1943 (one year later) the crew was declared MIssing and Presumed Dead. MACR 16038 (one of the images on this site) has the now 'accepted' account, where B-17 #41-24369 made the bomb run over Bizerte on 3 engines, became a 'straggler', and while being pursued by 6 German fighters, went down into the Mediterranean Sea with all guns still firing, and the B-17 exploded when it hit the water. The 301st Group's official history contains a full account of this action (see site images) under the name "Maher" -- the pilot of Frank Conlon Jr's B-17. Theirs has the unfortunate distinction of being the first 301st Group B-17 to be shot down in Africa. The 2nd B-17 shot down during the same action was the group's more famous "B-17" known as the "Bad Penny", from the 301st Group's 32nd Squadron. Another 'first-person diary' mention's Maher's co-pilot Tobey along with the "Bad Penny". This was the first of the 301st Group's raids in North Africa, and the reason for conflicting accounts is that MACR 16038 wasn't created until after the war was over, hence some conflicting accounts.
Frank and his crewmates all have their names listed on the "Tablets of the Missing" at the US North Africa American Cemetary near Carthage, Tunesia. Frank also has a tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Section "G". Photos & other details are also on this site.
By Chris Novak, email@example.com, first cousin once removed of Frank J Conlon Jr.