1940-1942 — Forest Park, IL
(As of 2009, updated 2016) 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. Frank J. Conlon Jr. grew up in Forest Part, IL and was a 1935 graduate of Proviso West High School.
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 only twenty or so 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, Frank Jr's plane was shot down (along with another 301st Group 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 #41-24374 lost an engine before reaching Tunisia, made the bomb run over Rommel's supply docks in Bizerte, Tunisia on 3 engines, became a 'straggler' on the return home to the 301st Groups Algerian base, and while specifically being pursued by 6 German fighters, went down into the Mediterranean Sea with all guns still firing. The B-17 exploded when it hit the water. The 301st Group's official history "Who Fears" contains a full account of this action (see site image "First African Mission") 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 only dubious distinction is that when you're first to be shot down, more details were preserved in the group's official history. The second 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".
Source: War Diary of Lt. William Seaton Arnett, 301st Bomb Group
Source: Another reference to 1st. Lt. Will S. Arnett's diary
Source: 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy)
Source: One of the images on this site is entitled "The African Missions", and is a page taken from the 301st Bomb Group's official history "Who Fears" published in 1991. It mentions Lt. Maher who was the pilot of Frank J. Conlon Jr's B-17F: #41 - 24374 (aka 124374).
This was the first of the 301st Group's raids in North Africa, and as MACR 16038 wasn't created until 1946 after the war was over; there are some conflicting accounts due to memory recall. One of the conflicting accounts is an apparently erroneous press release mentioning that Conlon and two others were captured as POW. However no subsequent prisoner info was ever received, and the entire crew was declared dead (FOD = Finding Of Death) in November 1943 -- one year after being shot down; 6 months after the Germans were driven out of North Africa.
This is footage of B-17s taken in North Africa in December 1942, about 2-3 weeks AFTER Frank Conlon's plane was shot down. I've managed to catch the "tail numbers" of some of the planes, and verified that they are also from Frank's 353rd squadron of the 301st Bomb Group (Heavy). The B-17 with the "Pegusus" nose art (41-24348) was also from the 301st. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgdwcWl2jdU
Note1: This was SO early in America's WW2 involvement, that few aircraft had nose art, and only their aircraft number on the tail (like "Memphis Belle's" '124485').
Note2: The 301st Group self deployed 35 B-17s from England to North Africa (97th Group and 301st Group), arriving at Tafaraoui near Oran, Algeria, on Tuesday November 24th, 1942 (16 days after Operation Torch - Allied Invasion of North Africa -- commenced). Normally a B-17 group will average 21-40 bombers (9-10 crew each) (400) and another 3,600 ground personnel (which hadn't yet arrived).
Thanksgiving was November 26th. They did NOT have turkey, only hash or stew (three times a day, per Lt. Will Seaton Arnett), and the first B-17 mission was scheduled for Saturday November 28th.
This early in America's WW2, the average B-17 crew size was only 9 instead of 10, meaning the 301st arrived in Algeria with 315 aircrew to do any/all work including engine maintenance, reloading machine guns, refueling (1,800 gallons hand-pumped from 50 gallon drums into EACH plane). THEN the crews had to hand-crank eight 300lb bombs up into EACH bomb bay. Did I mention that it was MUDDY ?
Out of 35 arriving B-17s, 19 participated in the first raid, and two of those aborted due to mechanical problems.
Lt. Will Seaton Arnett's diary entry of "Mission 7" where Frank Conlon's B-17 (co-piloted by Arnett's classmate & friend Toby) was shot down:
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 marker in Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Section "G" (MG-303). Photos & other images and details are posted as part of this page.
Famed WW2 reporter Ernie Pyle had met some 301st Group 353rd Squadron airmen in England, and followed their deployment to North Africa. I don't know if Ernie had met or knew Frank Conlon Jr, but as with Lt. Will Seaton Arnett's diary, additional background info is here.
St. Petersburg Times, Dec 29, 1942, Ernie Pyle "House of Jackson" column - part 1
St. Petersburg Times, Dec 29, 1942, Ernie Pyle "House of Jackson" column - part 2
St. Petersburg Times, Jun 4, 1943, followup column
Frank's high school Proviso West had maintained a memorial page for him and other WW2 veterans, but the page disappeared as of late 2015. http://www.proviso.k12.il.us/bataan%20web/Conlon_F.htm
By Chris Novak, firstname.lastname@example.org, first cousin once removed of Frank J Conlon Jr.