Floyd Stanley “Bud” Ernst was born on 2 December 1921 in Phillips, Wisconsin. He was the fourth of five children, having three older sisters and one younger brother. He was the grandson of German immigrants and grew up in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. He worked for his parents, Robert and Clara, who were proprietors of the Point O’ Pines Resort on nearby Lake Nakomis.
On 11 September 1942, Bud went to Milwaukee and entered service into the U.S. Army Air Corps. Following his training, Private Ernst was attached to the medical detachment of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group. He spent several months at various airfields in New England preparing to go overseas. In July 1943, Ernst and the 352nd moved to Bodney, England where they were assigned the mission of heavy bomber fighter escort.
On 28 January 1944, Private Ernst was tasked with assisting Major Nathan Hylan with some tests on a local training flight. Major Hylan, a flight surgeon assigned to the 352nd Fighter Group who was also a private pilot, had made some improvements to the high-altitude escape system to improve the crew's survival rate during bailouts. Another medic, Sergeant Joseph Rubin, was also tasked to support Major Hylan for the flight. The three men made their way to Hethel where they met up with the men of the 565th Bombardment Squadron (H), 389th Bombardment Group that would be taking them up in B24J 42-10001 “Drawers”. Most of the bomber crew that day were already 20 mission veterans.
The flight commenced at 1300 hours. After taking off, the pilot climbed to 3,500ft. Just as he leveled off the aircraft, an explosion occurred just behind the co-pilot’s seat and directly above the liaison radio. The flight deck, bomb bay, and nose were immediately filled with an acrid, pungent smoke. Shortly thereafter, fire broke out in the flight deck. After an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the flames with a hand extinguisher, the pilot gave the order to abandon ship over the interphone. What followed next was chaos and tragedy.
The bombardier and radio operator are believed to have been overcome by the fumes. Maj. Hylan attempted to jump from the aircraft, but his leg straps on his parachute harness were not buckled. As the parachute opened, the harness was ripped from Hylan, and he fell to his death. Pvt. Ernst and Sgt. Rubin were then too frightened to jump and were killed when the aircraft crashed. The remaining crew members managed to parachute to safety.
Of the ten men onboard that fateful flight, five perished. The other men that died along with Private Ernst were:
· Major Nathan W. Hylan – 352nd Fighter Group
· Sergeant Joseph J. Rubin – 352nd Fighter Group
· 1st Lieutenant Lon J. Byram – 389th Bombardment Group
· Technical Sergeant Donald F. Sherman – 389th Bombardment Group
The pilot, Captain Alan L. Green, and the navigator, 1st Lieutenant James E. Williams, suffered major injuries. The flight engineer, Staff Sergeant Jonnie P. Lechmann, and assistant radio operator Staff Sergeant Halbert R. Grimm suffered minor injuries. The co-pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Donald T. Hickey was unscathed in the incident.
Private Ernst was initially buried in the Cambridge American cemetery. At the request of his parents, his remains were returned to Wisconsin in 1948. He now rests at the Greenwood cemetery in Tomahawk.