My husband and I have always taken pride in our fathers’ World War II military service. Both served in the US Army Air Corp (now the Air Force). Bill, my father-in-law, was a gunner flying B-24s over Germany (in the “waist” of the plane, the middle side behind the wings); my father, Murray Zimney, was a ground crew engineer performing maintenance on the same planes before and after their bombing runs.
Bill’s last name was Beasom. My husband Buck Beasom (he says he kept his own name when we got married) is actually Bill Jr., but has been Buck since his Vietnam-era Navy days. Buck grew up hearing tales of Bill’s flying adventures, mostly (but not always) sanitized for the ears of the four children. My father Murray was far more reserved in sharing information about his days in the military. Perhaps, according to the norms of the 1950’s, his two little girls needed to be sheltered from all disturbing things. Or perhaps, as with many Greatest Generation GIs, the war traumas he witnessed were memories to be buried deep – part of a job that was now, thankfully, over and done. It was time to get on with the post-war suburban American dream.
Buck, as ex-military, has always had a keen interest in WWII history. On our first post-COVID road trip, we stopped outside Savannah in Pooler, GA, to visit the the Museum of the Mighty 8th. , the air unit which conducted the majority of the US air campaign against Germany. The force was divided into many different Bomb Groups, with each Group assigned, after training, to a specific base either overseas or domestically. Bomb Group personnel moved together to many different training bases, both here and abroad.
The museum was a comprehensive and fascinating look into WWII history. Docents are volunteers. Ours gave us a detailed tour, including a close-up look at a restored B-17 bomber, the famous “Flying Fortress” and – with the B-24 Liberator – one of the workhorses of the Army Air Corp. The museum emphasizes that all crews, whether ground-based support or pilots, were essential to the war effort.
The staff Archivist supplied information about the 466th Bomb Group, Bill’s unit, and she put Buck in touch with a 466th Group contact. Marcia specializes in research and genealogy. She and Buck have been pen pals ever since.
Marcia’s incredible discovery was a cartoon drawing in the Air Museum of Britain of a William BeaSON (a common misspelling of Beasom). It was drawn by Charles Saxon, a B-24 pilot in the 466th. After the war, Mr. Saxon had a distinguished career as a cartoonist with The New Yorker magazine, which published over 700 of his cartoons, 92 on the cover. Mr. Saxon was somewhat of a prodigy – he entered Columbia University at age 15, and was editor of their humor magazine. While in England, in between flying 40 combat missions, he drew sketches like the one below, left. The picture below, right, shows Bill with his new wife, Lorraine, my mother-in-law.
Records show that no soldier in the 466th had a name anything close to Bill’s. And really, given the resemblance of the faces these two pictures, and the misspelling by one letter, who else could be the subject of this cartoon?
As for me, I have had my father’s album of war pictures since he died in 1994. Many are unlabeled, but Buck is patiently reconstructing Murray’s service record with the 448th Bomb Group, which included six stops in the Midwest, then on to Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Brazil, Senegal and Morocco. Geographically, these are stops designed to minimize dangerous time in the air, while getting the troops closer to the European field of action.
Records for the 448th are not as plentiful as those for the 466th. From Murray’s war album, we do know that he received two Commendations in March 1945.
Over a 4-day period in March 1945, his ground crew performed seven critical operations on B-24s to prepare for a low altitude supply mission. They dropped arms and equipment behind enemy lines to Allied troops who were carrying out the final invasion of Germany. None of the aircraft sustained any mechanical difficulties “except those attributable to battle damage.” We know that the ground crews often performed all-nighters to service the aircraft. I wonder if this experience led to my father’s chronic insomnia in his civilian years.
I wish we had a cartoon of Murray, too. But at least I am learning about an unknown-to-me, very important part of my father’s and father in law’s lives. I, like all kids growing up, thought my father’s life began when he and my mother had my sister and me! I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for the sacrifices and selflessness of The Greatest Generation; this respect for Bill and Murray, and the countless others like him, has only increased with our latest discoveries.
I wonder if Bill ever saw the cartoon?
Arlene Zimney (MSLS, Syracuse University) currently serves as Secretary for OLLI-USF’s Board of Advisors. After a 30-year career in Purchasing and Contracts, she retired in 2015 and immediately became active in OLLI. She is a former Chair of the Volunteer Management Committee, and enjoys classes in literature, history, technology and the arts. She also is an enthusiastic participant in the Talking Movies and Food Glorious Food! Shared Interest Groups, and in many OLLI social events.