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Fletcher’s Castoria

by Joseph M. Lee, III (Bill Fletcher’s nephew)

100th BG Photo Archives

Lt. William H. Fletcher of Augusta, Georgia was a B-17G pilot in the 100th Bombardment Group, 350th Bombardment Squadron, 3rd Bombardment Division in WW II. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadets 17 March 1942 at Daniel Field, Augusta, Georgia. On the 15 November 1942 he graduated from primary training in the Class of SE-43-C at the Lodwick School of Aeronautics, Lakeland, Florida. Next he received basic training at Shaw Field, Sumpter, South Carolina and advanced training in twin engine planes at Turner Field, Albany, Georgia. He was rated pilot March 25, 1943. After being selected for Pilot Transition Training on the B-17 he was sent to Hendricks Field, Sebring, Florida then to Moses Lake, Washington and Walla Walla, Washington. He arrived in England 2 October 1943 and shortly thereafter was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group at AAF Station No. 139, Thorpe Abbotts, located in the County of Norfolk in East Anglia.

The crew was assigned a B-17G with serial number 42-39791 built by Vega (Lockheed) Aircraft Corp. The plane was named Fletcher’s Castoria which was written in flowing writing under a large figure of a gremlin. The name came from the then well known laxative Fletcher’s Castoria. The idea being that the plane would unload on the Germans what you would unload if you took a dose.

The crew members were 1st Lt. William H. Fletcher-Pilot, 2nd Lt. Richard M. Roper-Co-Pilot, 2nd Lt. George A. Browning-Navigator, 2nd Lt. Howard D. Venzie-Bombardier, T/Sgt. George A. Reid-Radio Operator, T/Sgt. J. Hubert Whitton-Engineer(First 7 missions), T/Sgt. Leo T. Callahan-Engineer (remainder of the missions), S/Sgt. Pietro J. Geaquinto-Ball Turret Gunner, S/Sgt. John J. Seman-Right Waist Gunner, S/Sgt. Alexander Sosik-Left Waist Gunner, S/Sgt. David V. Robb, Jr.-Tail Gunner. The crew was credited with flying 20 missions. Most of them were flown in Fletcher’s Castoria I and II.

On 4 December 1943 Fletcher’s Castoria was used for a local navigation and procedures check. A new crew had just been assigned to the 351st Squadron and Fletcher was ordered to familiarize them with the local landmarks. Fletcher was the co-pilot while the new pilot was at the controls. During a power off approach for runway 10 the aircraft’s right wing dropped hitting the runway at the same time the right wheel and tail wheel hit. Power was applied by Fletcher and the aircraft became airborne. \Then the aircraft reached about 50 feet altitude above the runway, it dropped to the left, hitting on the left wing. The aircraft was destroyed. The new pilot and his navigator were seriously injured. The others on board included four more from the new crew and three of Fletcher’s crew. They received minor injuries. Fletcher and his crewman were sent to the hospital overnight for observation.

Fletcher’s Castoria was not operational on 21 February 1944. The crew was assigned to A/C 42-37796 for the mission to Brunswick, Germany to bomb factories manufacturing aircraft parts. Several of the crewmembers recall that the oil filters began to clog when the flight was over Germany. However official citation records indicate that the aircraft was severely damaged by flack in the target area As a result of one or both problems they soon had one engine feathered and another smoking. As they approached the target they straggled from formation but followed the group on the bomb run. They continued behind the formation until they were near Amsterdam, Holland. At that point the crew decided to attempt a crash landing in Holland rather than chance ditching in the cold North Sea. Lt. Van Stennis and Lt. Valesh reported that they heard Fletcher call on the VHF and say that a landing in Holland would be attempted through the heavy undercast. At that time there was apparently only one engine that was close to being fully operational.

The aircraft dropped out of the undercast near Amsterdam and began receiving anti-aircraft fire. Fletcher dived to rooftop level and began looking for an open field. He made a belly landing near Halfweg, which is halfway between Amsterdam and Haarlem. No one was hurt. Fletcher, Venzie and maybe two others stayed with the aircraft setting off incendiary grenades to try and burn the aircraft. The other crew members scattered to try and evade. The aircraft began to burn at the waist so the four men started to leave. However the Germans had begun arriving and the airmen were quickly captured. Only John Seman was successful in avoiding capture that afternoon. He hid under a haystack and the German soldiers could not find him. The next day he made contact with a nearby Dutch family who took him into their home to hide him. He stayed there for several days and then what happened next is not exactly clear. It appears someone informed the Germans that Seman was at the house. The family found out and told Seman. He decided to have the family turn him over to the Germans so they would not harm the family for hiding him. All crew members ended up spending the remainder of the war in POW camps. Fletcher was in Stalag Luft 1 at Barth, Germany. All returned home safely after the war ended.

Moments after the plane crash landed a Dutch citizen named Mr. C. L. Kroon arrived on the scene. He witnessed the capture of the crew by the Germans. He also spoke to one of the crew members who was probably the copilot Roper. Mr. Kroon also brazenly took photographs of the aircraft the next day. They show that only the waist of the aircraft burned. Mr. Kroon is presently attempting to locate the family that hid Seman and hopefully more details on that event will be forthcoming.

Fletcher’s Castoria II was A/C 42-31220. It was flown on subsequent missions after Fletcher was MIA. It survived the war and was scrapped at Kingman.

Compiled by Joseph M. Lee, III, 306 Shadowsoor Drive, Decatur, Georgia 30030, U.S.A. (Nephew of William H. Fletcher) Fletcher is a veterinarian with a small animal practice in Athens, Georgia. He resides in Nicholson, Georgia. (first written in fall of 1980)..pw

Letter from Mrs W.A. Dicus, Aunt of the George A. Browning the Navigator on the Fletcher Crew to Lt. Fletcher’s mother.

Clinton, South Carolina
17th March 1944
My Dear Mrs. Fletcher,

After my chat with you over phone Saturday I’m afraid I didn’t make things quite clear to you in regard to the message we had received from the wife of the Bombardier of our boys ship, so I am sending this copy of her letter for you to see.

Would like to make this clear to you too, George Alfred Browning who is the Navigator on the ship which your son Bill is pilot of, is not my son but a nephew whom I had raised since the death of his parents when he was only two. Of course he couldn’t be dearer to me if her were my very own, for this is the only house he has ever known and he loves me like a Mother.

This letter was written to George’s sister, Mrs. Taylor, who is living here with her small son while her husband is overseas.

The news that you gave us together with the news Mrs. Venzie gives in her letter certainly gives us lots of hope and I feel quite sure we will be hearing something official now soon.

In George’s letters he often spoke of Bill and what a wonderful pilot he was etc.

Mrs. Fletcher you asked for a copy of the crew of the ship. I found in reading over this letter of George’s (or Alfred, as we call him) where he gives the list he had quite a bit to say about the ship and Bill too so I decided just to send it on to you also – It is a letter he had written before X-mas to my daughter, May Dicus. You can return it sometime.

Any further news you may have I’d certainly appreciate your passing it on and I assure you I will do likewise.

I noticed in the Augusta paper that you have two other sons besides Bill. Are they in the service too? I have a son with the Marines in the Southwest Pacific and another son in the Naval Air Corps.

Trusting we will have other good news in few days now.

Cordially,
Niatlie Browning Dicus
(Mrs. W. A. Dicus)
15 Cleveland St.
Clinton, South Carolina

Letter From Lt. William Fletcher to Dorothy Fletcher (His sister-in-law)

William H. Fletcher 0798998
350th Bomb Squadron
100th Bomb Group (H)
APO 634 % Postmaster
New York, New York
Oct 25, 1943

Dearest Dot,

Hey Sweetheart. Your letter of Sept. 27, finally reached me today and sure was glad to hear from you. This is the fourth base I’ve been on since we landed over here so my mail has a hard time catching up with me. It seems this is to be our permanent station so maybe things will straighten out, hope. Hope so.

We’ve been working pretty hard since we joined this outfit but can’t complain about things. This is the best field I’ve seen over here bar none. The food is good, we have good quarters and the men are swell fellows. They have had us flying practice missions almost everyday getting us ready for the real thing. We were alerted for a trip to Germany last night but it was scrubbed so I still have my first one to make. Sure will be glad to get started on them for I want to finish and get back home. It will probably take some time to get 25 missions in now as the weather is pretty bad. I’m in hope tho’ that I’ll finish by spring at the latest so then I can have a June wedding. I’m not worried about getting back but I don’t want to waste so much time.

How are your travels coming these days? You sure are getting around a lot now. Wish I were there to go around with you. If and when I get back to the states tho’ I’m not going to move around any more than I have to.

Sweetheart, I have something to say and this is as good a time as any. You know there are a lot of things that could happen over here and tho’ I’m not expecting any thing to happen, I want to be prepared. Should word come through there that I am missing in action don’t take it too hard for that doesn’t mean much. At the worse, I can only be a prisoner in Germany and will still get home at the end of the war. And too if I go down, it maybe in occupied territory and there’s a damn good chance of getting back in that case. There are some of the boys coming back from over there every day for there are ways and means of getting out, It may take five months to get out but it can be done. Don’t give up until you’ve had definite proof that I’ve been killed. You know how hard a job that will be so there’s no need to worry. And too, I have to get back for a June Wedding, remember.

If the worse does happen tho’, I want you to know that you’re my favorite girl. Honest, you’re damn swell, and I think the world of you. They don’t come any better than you I don’t care who they are. I only hope Gloria turns out to be as sweet and lovable as your are.

Have to close for now but I’ll be writing regularly so don’t worry. Hope you will write again soon and give me the news. Just the kid brother who is thinking of you.

Bill

P.S. Have heard that two of my friends who went thru cadets, Sebring, and their planes are down in Germany already. They came over with me and at that special school with me. They were both from Atlanta.

Letter from Mrs John Callahan, mother of the TTE on the 21 Feb 44 mission – he was from the DeMarco crew and was “Originial 100th’ to Mrs Fletcher, mother of Lt W. H. Fletcher.

Central Falls
Rhode Island
July 7, 1944

Dear Mrs. Fletcher,

I received your welcome letter telling me that your son was the pilot on my son’s plane. So your son was the pilot, well I am thankful to you and your son. Leo (T/Sgt Leo T. Callahan who replaced the regular TTE on the mission of 21 Feb 44…pw) that is my son wrote me that he didn’t get a scratch so I owe my boys life to your son’s good work.

I received a letter from a Mrs. McClain, she comes from Gadsden, Ala., poor soul, she writes that her son poor soul she writes that her son is missing in action. And her son saved my son’s life you might have read it in your home town paper his name was Lt. Stewart McClain. Poor Stweart he hasn’t been heard from and his poor Mother is heart sick and his poor Dad has died from the shock.

I will write Leo this week and tell him I received a letter from his pilot’s Mother, I will also tell him to share his boxes with him.

Leo’s address is T/Sgt Leo T. Callahan Stalag Luft (3) Germany. Prisoner of War.

Thank you for writing. I remain Respectfully,
Mrs. John Callahan

Letter to Mrs. Fletcher, Mother of Lt. W.H. Fletcher from Mrs. Bettie R. Venzie

Wednesday Noon
August 2, 1945

My Dear Mrs. Fletcher;

I just did write a letter to you but since that time I received mail from a girl whose husband is also a prisoner of war and she received a letter from him recently. In the letter he told his wife he just seen your son the day before. I don’t know when the letter was dated but thought you would like to know that someone who knew Bill well had seen him. It makes it so much nicer of the boys are with someone they know.

I’ll close now as I haven’t any more news to tell you but I am hoping to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Bettie Venzie

The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta, GA., Tuesday Morning March 7, 1944
Augusta Officer Reported Missing – Lieut. W. H. Fletcher Downed in Holland

First Lieut. William H. Fletcher, 21, son of Mrs. Mary Lou Fletcher, of 2478 McDowell street, and the late Dr. Orlin K. Fletcher, is reported missing in action over Holland according to information received yesterday by his mother from the War Department.

The young Augustian, pilot of a Flying Fortress, has been missing since February 21, it was reported. Lieutenant Fletcher in his last letter home had completed 18 missions over enemy territory. Last November he was awarded the Air Medal after completing five missions and then in December the Oak Leaf Cluster was given him for exceptionally meritirious achievement while participating in five combat missions over enemy occupied Europe. His courage coolness and skill reflects great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the Unittes States, the citation read.

The youngful pilot went overseas last September after training at Maxwell Field, Ala., Lakeland, Fla., and Shaw Field, of Sumter. He later received his wings in Albany, Ga., and then went to Sebring, Fla., for additional training. He came home on leave and from here he went to Moses Lake, Wash., for bomber training before going overseas.

Lieutenant Fletcher, a native of Augusta, attended Richmond Academy and the Athens HIgh School. He was employed at the Augusta Arsenal before he enlisted in the Air Corps early in the war.

His father, before his death here several years ago, was on of the best known ex-servicemen in Georgia. As a veteran of the Spanish-American War he was active in the formation of veterans organizations after that war. As a member of the local National Guard he went to the Mexican border for duty in 1916 as a Lieutenant, going overseas later with the 31st Division. The local Veterans War Post here is named in his honor.

Besides his mother, Lieutenant Fletcher has a sister, Mrs. Jo Lee, Jr., of Augusta and two brothers. George H. Fletcher and Orlin K. Fletcher, Jr., both of Augusta.

Lieut. Fletcher Prisoner of Nazis – Mother Receives Card From Him in Germany

First Lieutenant William (Bill) Fletcher, 21, of Augusta, reported missing in action after a bombing raid over Germany in a Flying Fortress February 21, is a prisoner in Germany.

Mrs. Mary Lou Fletcher, his mother of 2473 McDowell Street yesterday received a postcard from her son dated February 28. The card, which was dated February 26, was received through the War Department.

Directed to “Dearest Mom,” the postcard said; “This was a surprise to me as well as you. Got my whole crew down without a scratch. Treatment is very good and I’m contended. Don’t worry about anything and wait patiently, Don’t write me here.”

Lieutenant Fletcher was the pilot of a Flying Fortress. He received his wings at Turner Field, Albany, Ga., and went overseas in September 1943.

Last September Lieutenant Fletcher was awarded the Air Medal for completing five successful missions and Oak Leaf Cluster for exceptionally meritorious achievement while participating in five combat missions over enemy-occupied territory. In his last he had completed 18 missions.

Lieutenant Fletcher is a son of the late Dr. Orlin K. Fletcher, who was one of the best-known ex-service men in the state. He was instrumental in organization of the Spanish War veterans here and as a National Guardsman went to the Mexican border in 1916. Later he went overseas with the 31st Division. The Veterans of Foreign Wars post here is named in his honor.

Mrs. Jo Lee, Jr., a sister, and two brothers, George H. Fletcher and Orlin K. Fletcher, Jr., reside in Augusta.

Series of Postcards from Lt. Fletcher mailed from POW Camps

KriegsgefangenlagerMarch 5, 1944
Dearest Sis, An quite well and happy so don’t worry. Have Helen go to Hector Powe, Norwich and pick up a battle jacket of mine. Be sure she also gets a pair of wings & bars embroidered of Silver wire. Write real often. My love to the kids and Mom.
Regards as always, Billy

KriegsgefangenlagerJune 20, 1944
Dear Orlin, Just a word to let you know all’s well. Our food is still good and there’ no work so can’t complain. The news has been good of late so don’t expect to be here much longer. Hope everything at home is o.k. (No word yet)
All for now, Love Bill

KriegsgefangenlagerOct. 31, 1944
Dear Folks, Am well but not too happy. Have had four letters and two parcels from Mom since Oct. 13. Hope I hear from your and Gloria soon. Have the Xmas turkey ready for think I’ll be there. Lloyd gave me quite a surprise.
Write soon and give my love to all. Bill

KriegsgefangenlagerNov 11, 1944
Dear Folks, Letter received Nov. 6. Most appreciated. All’s well but an ready to move. Maybe it will be soon. Have heard from Mom & Gloria which made me quite happy. Wish they had sent some pictures tho’. Lloyd sure gave me a big surprise. Hope he and Bettie will be happy. Must close. My love to the family.
Wrtie often and don’t worry about things here. Bill

WESTERN UNION

QA21
Q.BA610 NL PD=CAMP MYLES STANDISH MASS 5 1945 Aug 5 pm 11 59
Mrs JOE LEE, JR=
1415 HEATH ST AUGUSTA GA=
DEAR SIS ARRIVED BOSTON AUG 5 HOME BY WEEKEND BREAK NEWS TO MOM GENTLY LOVE TO ALL=
BILLY

The Augusta Herald, Augusta, Ga. Thursday, May 31. 1945
Lt. Fletcher Free

First Lieutenant William H. Fletcher is safe and well after having been freed on May 13, by the Russians from Stalag Luft at Barth, Germany, according to a letter received by his mother, Mrs. Mary Lou Fletcher, of 2473 McDowell street.

Lt. Fletcher had been forced down over Holland on his 23rd mission with the American Air Force, February 21, 1944.

Two other Augustans, Dick Stearns and Asbury Gridley were in the same camp with Lt. Fletcher. Both are in good condition and will precede him home by about a week, Lt. Fletcher says.

On the way from Barth he was flown over Hamburg, Bremen, Wessel and the Ruhr Valley. Lt. Fletcher said, and saw nothing in these cities but complete destruction.

Augustan Meets Another Georgian in Nazi Prison Camp for Aviators
The Augusta Chronicle  August 19, 1945

The setting of a German prison camp for aviators provided the meeting place for two young Georgia fliers who were recently at Camp Gordon’s personnel center for a day prior to 60-day leaves. They were First Lt. William H. Fletcher, 2473 McDowell street, Augusta, and Second Lt. William B. Hart of Columbus, Ga. Upon termination of their leaves these officers will report to Miami Beach, Fla., for reassignment.

The veterans became friends when there were imprisoned for 14 months at the German camp, Stalag Luft I, and Georgia was the mutual bond between them during the long confinement.

Lt. Fletcher’s capture resulted from a forced landing in Holland when was piloting a B-17 on it’s twentieth mission enroute to Brunswick, Germany. Mechanical trouble in the ship brought it crashing to the ground whereupon the crew were soon surrounded by Germans and forced to surrender at the point of rifles.

After a few days in a civilian camp Fletcher was sent to Frankfurt for interrogation. Failing in their attempt to force the flier to talk the Germans sent him to the airmen’s compound, Stalag Luft I, Barth. Pommerania, where 10,000 other fliers were imprisoned. Here the meeting with Lt. Hart who had been captured four months previously ensured for Fletcher.

Lt. Hart was there by virtue of having been shot down over Bremen, Germany just after a tour of duty. Three flak bursts ripped the plane of Hart’s, just after the target was turned off. The first burst hit the nose of the bomber, he declared, injuring the navigator, the second burst struck the pilots compartment and bounced off, and the third landed in the radio room killing the radio operator and left waist gunner.

Such events made Lt. Hart’s first parachute jump obligatory, but he said everything happened so quickly he didn’t have time to be frightened. The crewmen landed in the outskirts of a town where they were captured by an anti-aircraft gun crew confined in a local home for questioning. Later Hart was sent to the camp in Pommerania.

In the interview the fliers paid high tribute to the Red Cross saying this organization had supplied them with necessary equipment for entertainment and also with food parcels, which prevented them from practically starving to death.

Lt. Fletcher completed his interesting experience upon liberation. He went back to London and married his fiancé in Caxton Hall, Westminster, London. This was July 11, 1945 and now he is anxiously awaiting completion of arrangements, which will allow his bride to come to American to live.

Lt. Fletcher’s decorations include Pilot’s Wings, the Air Medal with three clusters, the ETO ribbon and one battle star. Lt. Hart, who has four and a half years in the service, wears The Purple Heart and the Air Medal.