Feeding the Hundredth Bomb Group: The Service of Franklin Seibert by Matt Mabe
When Franklin (Frank) Seibert joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942, he likely never thought he would end up overseeing an operation that would be responsible for feeding thousands of meals a day to Eighth Air Force personnel; though much like his fellow servicemen, he went where the war effort needed him. A native of Maryland, Seibert grew up on a small farm in Dry Run, and taught Science at Boonsboro High School prior to the start of World War II. Seibert enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in January 1942, and went on to graduate from Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach, Florida in August 1942.
On August 18, 1942, Seibert reported to Gowen Field, in Boise, Idaho, where he was assigned to the 43rd Squadron of the 29th Bomb Group. The next day, Captain Karl Standish appointed Seibert to be the Group’s recreation officer, and would also assign him as the transportation officer shortly thereafter. In October 1942, Seibert, along with a number of 29th Bomb Group ground officers, including Robert Tienken, Horace Varian, Timothy McMahon were assigned to the newly formed 100th Bomb Group, and would become part of the group’s original cadre. On October 28th, Seibert received orders to depart for the 100th’s next duty station – Walla Walla, Washington, as part of the advance party to make arrangements for the arrival of the remainder of the Group. Seibert’s first flight as a passenger aboard a B-17 was an eventful one. In early November 1942, he accompanied Horace Varian, Bill Veal, 349th Squadron C.O., and Gale “Bucky” Cleven, 350th Squadron C.O. to Boise. While his initial flight was without incident, the return flight two days later encountered poor weather and Cleven had to fly on instruments. Seibert’s commended Cleven’s flying that day; which also echoes the same sentiments made by Bob Tienken, who reflected on his first flight with Cleven noting “We were impressed and it endeared him [Cleven] to us.”
Seibert remained with the 350th Squadron throughout their Stateside training, and in April 1943 he was designated as the Mess Officer for the 100th Bomb Group. Though Seibert had no prior experience in food preparation or management, he would soon be fully immersed in his newly assigned duties. As part of his responsibilities as Transportation Officer, Seibert maintained meticulous notes and rosters pertaining to the Group’s final Stateside movement to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Seibert noted in his diary that the Group arrived at Camp Kilmer in the pouring rain, and on May 26th, they “had a terrible march with full field equipment to the RMS Queen Elizabeth.”
When the RMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in port at Gourock, Scotland on June 3, 1943, Seibert was well prepared for the 100thBomb Group next movements that lay ahead. Seibert had orders to oversee the disembarkation process and subsequent railway transit to the Group’s next destination; Podington, England. Incredibly, Seibert saved his typed personnel roster (marked “Secret”) and handwritten notes, on receipt size paper, detailing the specific logistics of their travel. Seibert noted “have all men ready with full kit on at 0140 hrs to detain.” The group would “depart at 0740 on train D16”, pulled by the locomotive “Duchess of Hamilton.”
Upon arrival at Thorpe Abbotts, Seibert shared a room with William Cook, the 350th’s Engineering Officer, in the squadron officer’s barracks at site 4. On June 13, 1943, the 100th’s C.O., Colonel Harold Huglin met with the ground officers and assigned collateral duties in order to provide support to the various group departments. In Seibert’s case, he would remain Mess Officer, and would also serve as the Assistant Adjutant for the 350th Squadron. On a regular basis, Seibert worked closely with Bob Tienken, the Squadron Adjutant, on a variety of Squadron matters such as, personnel matters, equipment procurement, and administration of payroll. Seibert described his overall Mess Officer duties as “the job of seeing that four mess halls, an ice cream plant, a bakery, and a snack bar operated smoothly.”
For reasons that remain unknown, Seibert ceased making entries in his war-time diary in June 1943, and would not resume until September 1945; however, he continued to chronicle aspects of his service and interesting happenings on base by way of dozens of letter he sent home to his family in Maryland.
To fully appreciate the role played by the Station Messing personnel, it is important to understand their responsibilities and objectives, as articulated in the Army’s official “Mess Management and Training” technical manual. In Seibert’s case, he was required to be familiar with all phases of mess operation, including nutritional requirements, storage of foods, food preparation, mess sanitation, supervision of personnel, and mess accounting. As referenced in the manual, the “importance of ideal messing conditions cannot be overemphasized, and the first requisite is the selection of well-qualified mess personnel.” Seibert’s team at the base’s mess facilities was comprised of Mess Sergeants, Cooks, Bakers, Dining Room Orderlies, and Kitchen police. The cooks on base were required to be conscientious and reliable, utilize correct methods of preparation, and avoid wasting food supplies to the fullest extent. After the completion of training, equipment procurement, and other preparations, Seibert’s team would go on to operate the mess facilities at Thorpe Abbotts like a well oiled machine; and on a daily basis, his team served thousands of meals to the airmen and ground personnel on base.
Seibert took great pride in the quality of his mess facilities and in the men with whom he worked:
16 March 1944: “I have been making changes and additions to my mess… The floor has always been so rough, we could never keep it clean, so I’m putting an inch of smooth concrete over it all. You can imagine what a job it is…”
14 May 1944: “The major accomplishment from last week was my centralized baking plant for the base. We built the large oven months ago…whatever is possible, they [the personnel on base] will get a share of. Whether it is chocolate cake or hot rolls….my baker cannot be stumped.”
Seibert also set up a small ice cream plant on base, though in war-time England, ingredients were not always easy to come by:
20 June 1944: “At last I am making ice cream on a big scale. Tomorrow I’m actually feeding 100 gallons to my enlisted men. What a job.”
6 July 1944: “We bought 100 lbs of strawberries yesterday. I put them in storage over night and today made ice cream with the real berries. I sampled it this afternoon with the Colonel. He ate three dishes, so I suppose it will be permissible. Also made apple turnovers in the bakeshop. “
In addition to enticing Colonel Thomas Jeffrey with his ice cream operation, Seibert was also able to share the fruits of his labor with Glenn Miller, following his concert at Thorpe Abbotts:
2 September 1944: “Glenn Miller was on our post last night and gave a wonderful concert…One of our majors told him of our bakery and ice cream plant. When he finished eating, he said why not take a look. So we went over and had a new blend of cherry. We found him to be just another American wishing he too were able to be entertaining us back in the States.”
Seibert catered events both big and small on base, ranging from baking a cake for an enlisted airman’s wedding, to helping organize festivities for the group’s 200th mission party:
4 October 1944: “The 200th mission fiesta was a huge success. The big event on Saturday afternoon was the BBQ. Along with pork and beef BBQ sandwiches, we served potato salad, cole slaw, and fresh rolls from my bakery. Cookies were given for dessert. In conjunction with this I had a hot dog stand and ice cream counter to make it really American. You should have seen the folks go for all this free stuff. Some of the guests had not seen cream for 5 years. All the fellows seemed to agree that it was worth the effort this one time but never again will we try to adequately feed and accommodate a total of 5,000 people.”
During the holidays, Seibert and his team worked to ensure the 100thBomb Group could enjoy a taste of home, even in war-time England. Seibert saved a copy of the original menu they distributed, adorned with a Christmas tree design and a list of dishes to be served –
19 December 1944: “The cooks are getting ready for the big dinner on Monday. I don’t have the turkey yet but it is supposed to come today.”
Equipment and supplies were often in short supply, but the Station Messing team at Thorpe Abbotts sought out ways to make improvements and maintain a quality operation:
8 March 1945: “It has been difficult lately to get dishes and serving spoons. Yesterday I went to Cathedral City and bought 1,500 dinner plates for our enlisted mess. Man! What a stack of plates.”
16 March 1945: “We just got back from visiting the 96th Bomb Group and trying to find new ideas that might be applicable to ours. They are a few months older than us and are even better established in some ways.”
In his numerous letters and comments, Seibert never forgot whom he was working to serve, and he spoke of the respect he had for the men flying to combat missions, such as Bucky Cleven and Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal. His team also ensured meals were available when the airmen returned from missions:
8 April 1945: “The chicken was very good tonight and they boys really went for it after just coming in from a mission over the Reich.”
By August 1945, Seibert had enough points to go home, and was offered the chance to do so by Horace Varian; however after two days of consideration, Seibert informed the 350th’s C.O., Major Charles Robbs, that he would like to stay until the end. Seibert would ultimately be a part of one of the last groups of 100th Bomb Group personnel to depart Thorpe Abbotts. At 0640 on 25 September 1945, Seibert, along with William (Bill) Carleton, the 100th’s Engineering Officer, Horace Varian, and others boarded a B-17 and took off from Station 139 for the last time. They would touch down in New Hampshire five days later.
Franklin Seibert concluded his active duty service on January 3, 1946 at Fort Meade, Maryland; however Seibert remained in the U.S. Air Force reserves until September 1956. He married Dorothy Royer on December 21 1945, with Horace Varian serving as his best man. Seibert also returned to teaching science and math to high school students; an occupation he would continue for 36 years. Following Seibert’s death in August 1994, his wife Dorothy remarked “Frank was looking forward to the next reunion. The friendships that developed during the years together were very important to him, and the memories will last.”
After scanning and cataloging the more than 500 photographs and documents that were in Seibert’s collection, I can attest that he thought very highly of all the men he served with and he treasured the history of the 100th Bomb Group. Seibert saved everything – and I mean everything – from rosters at Wendover Field from 1942, to flyers and menus from the group’s 200th and 300th mission parties, to photos of the sergeants that worked for him, labeled “my four great mess sergeants.” Seibert’s meticulous notes and photographs also enabled the 100th Bomb Group Foundation to further honor multiple personnel that we previously had little information on, such as the group’s Chief Baker Thaddeus Cybulski, and other members of Seibert’s team. Seibert’s extensive photo collection is now available to view on the Foundation’s website. The 100th Bomb Group Foundation wishes to extend its sincere gratitude to Seibert’s daughter, Mary Ruth Reis, for donating her father’s collection, including his uniform, to the Foundation.