COMMENTS & NOTES
A/C "HEAVEN CAN WAIT" #42-37517
2nd Lt William S.Appleton P FEH
2nd Lt Daniel L.McKeen CP FEH
F/O Leroy W.Duncan NAV CPT Awarded Soldiers medal for actions Jan 31, 1945
Cpl J.P. Judd BTG FEH
Cpl David C.Hanby TG CPT 15/4/45 ROYAN
Cpl Edward Wi.Ryan,Jr. TTE FEH
Cpl Calvin F.Reed WG CPT 15/4/45 ROYAN
Cpl Harry A.Sutherland TOG CPT
Cpl Patrick B.Whelehan ROG CPT
418th Sqdn. Crew,as above,joined 100th Group on 13/11/44.
From p.94 of
"CONTRAILS": "A near tragedy was averted on the last day of the month (Jan.1945),as a bomb laden aircraft rared low across the perameter in the fog,vainly seeking the runway. One wing dipped and carried off an engineering tent. The plane crashed and licks of flame began to consume it. Crew members leaped from the plane. "Those RDX bombs are liable to go off quick!" someone said. The pilot, Lt.W.Appleton,was jammed in and unable to free himself.The co pilot,D.McKeen, and tha englneer,E.Ryan,were vainly trying to extricate him. The large navigator,L.Duncan put his weight to the task and Appleton was qulckly removed. Speed was the moving factor and the area was quickly cleared just as the plane exploded. No lives were lost."
According to Donald Judd (son of JP Judd)
My dad, JP Judd, was the ball turret gunner in that crew, and I remember him telling me that he was the one who crawled in through the window to cut the pilot, Lt. Appleton, free. My dad was slight of build and was able to squeeze through the small window to do this. Most of the other crew members were too big. He also told me that in a conversation with Bill Appleton years later, that Appleton remembered the event that way as well. My father passed away a few year back, so I suppose there is no way to correct this story. Dad was proud of his years of service in the Air Force, but he wasn't one to put himself forward to correct an error just to enhance his own image. Nevertheless, it would be gratifying to me and the rest of the family if this story could be corrected to recognize his part in rescuing Lt. Appleton.
Letter from Duncan 16/4/87.
He was not a POW. After crash of Appleton crew,he went to crew of C.E.Hellerich and Dan McKeen to crew of J.V.DePlanque. Duncan says, " . . .Two gunners went into pool and finished. The others members were hospitalized and sent home eventually." Of the crash at Thorpe Abbotts,Duncan has this to say. "We aborted the Hamburg mission and when we got back it was 10/10 over England.Appleton volunteered to see if we could get down.We crashed alongside the runway he was absolved at inquiry because the ATS was 50' off to the right and we stalled when we saw we were off and tried to pick it up.(we still had a full rack of bombs (RDX)). We burned shortly after the crash and blew causing lots of damage there were three Soldiers Medals awarded.
Missions flown by Cpl H. Sutherland with Lt Appleton Crew: (mpf)
1. 12/4/44 Giessen
2. 12/5/44 BERLIN
3. 12/11/44 Giessen, MY
4. 12/12/44 Darmstadt, MY
5. 12/18/44 Mainz
6. 12/24/44 Babenhausen
7. 12/28/44 Koblenz
8. 12/29/44 Frankfurt
12/31/44 Hamburg-Abort-Blew tire on Take off
9. 1/2/45 Bad Kreuznach
10. 1/7/45 Cologne
11. 1/14/45 Derben
12. 1/17/45 Hamburg
13. 1/20/45 Heibrow
14. 1/28/45 Duisburg
15. 1/29/45 Kassel
1/31/45 Bremen Recall
Letter from Duncan 16/4/87. He was not a POW. After crash of Appleton
crew,he went to crew of Lt. C.E.Hellerich and Dan McKeen to crew of J.V.
DePlanque. Duncan says, " . . .Two gunners went into pool and finished.
The others members were hospitalized and sent home eventually."
Of the crash at Thorpe Abbotts,Duncan has this to say. "We
aborted the Bremen (31 Jan 45) mission and when we got back it was 10/10 over
England.Appleton volunteered to see if we could get down.We
crashed alongside the runway he was absolved at inquiry because
the ATS was 50' off to the right and we stalled when we saw we
were off and tried to pick it up.(we still had a full rack of
bombs (RDX)). We burned shortly after the crash and blew causing
lots of damage. There were three Soldiers Medals awarded.
Lt Duncan also flew as Navigator with Capt. J.V. DePlanque and was part of Lt Hellerich Lead Crew-see below
Reading Eagle-Reading PA
6 Mar 1963 Page 59 and 61.
by Dave Meister
The following stories read like finely spun tales of fiction. But they happened. Unbelievable as they may seem, they happened. These are the chronicles of a man who single-handedly ripped apart the cockpit of a B-17 bomber to rescue his pilot in World War II, (story of another person(s) continues). These are the tales of the superhumans. LeRoy W. Duncan, 305 Stevens Ave., Sinking Spring, does not look like an overpowering man. Of average height, sporting a neatly trimmed, snow-white beard and mustache and a barrel round midsection, he could easily pass for a department store Santa. But, on the morning of Jan. 30, 1945, LeRoy W. Duncan, then 26, was overpowering. Duncan , now 65, was the navigator on the B-17 nicknamed, "Heaven Can Wait." And on Jan. 30, 1945, the crew of Heaven Can Wait was leading a bombing mission over Hamburg, Germany. Ironically, Duncan was the navigator on Heaven Can Wait when the aircraft was hit with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire on a mission to Hamburg on Jan. 17. On that mission, the Plexiglass nose of the bomber-the navigator's catbird seat-was shattered by shrapnel. > Ground crews repaired the bomber after the scathed chunk of metal plunked down on the runway at Thorpe Abbott Army Air Force Station in England. The Plexiglass nose was the last item repaired, the last of the glue applied 24 hours before the morning of Jan. 30. Although crew members said the glass needed at least 36 hours to bond, the order was given to takeoff.
That order would save Duncan's life. The airfield was locked in a blanket of fog when Heaven Can Wait took off for its mission to Hamburg. However, less than 20 minutes from the target, the mission was canceled and the crews ordered to return. But, the pilot was unaware that the bombs on his aircraft had been fused and prepped for the target drop. In effect, the aircraft was a flying stick of dynamite. The bombardier had told Duncan about the bombs, but not the pilot. The weather back at Thorpe Abbott airfield had worsened by the time the bombers returned home. Visibility was near zero. Landing would be treacherous. (Turn to Page 61) - (Continued from page 59) After several blind circles over the airfiled, the pilot decided to land. Duncan, with his face literally planted inches away form the Plexiglass nose, guided the pilot by radio. But, the fog was just too thick. " I looked up and saw a tree over my head," said Duncan in an interview in his home. " I told the pilot, "We're too low. Pull it up, pull it up." It was too late, Heaven Can Wait had lost considerable airspeed and was now plummeting toward the ground. The right wing hit the ground first, digging into the earth with such force it folded back under the aircraft and stripped off the landing gear. The rest of the bomber crashed nose first into a freshly plowed potato field. A fuel tank on the right wing caught fire and the plane began to burn. > The impact of the crash hurled Duncan through the nose like a slingshot violently releases a rock from its leather pouch. If the Plexiglass had been firmly bonded as it should have been, Duncan would surely have been crushed by the impact. Instead, he landed 200 feet from the burning bomber-face down and in a semiconscious state. > Duncan was sanpped back to the conscious world by the smell of the burning craft. And all he could think about was the bombs and his fellow crew members. "I could hear the flames in back of me," said Duncan, "and the thing I wanted to do most was to go back to sleep. But I knew I couldn't do that. Everything was going gray. " But I could see the flames coming from the cockpit. I stumbled back to the plane and I saw that the co-pilot was yelling to me. The pilot was trapped in the burning cockpit." > Duncan climbed onto the left wing of the bomber and brushed aside the co-pilot. Getting inside the airplane was hopeless. And, reaching in from the outside and pulling out the unconscious pilot through the charred remains of the cockpit was impossible. The opening just was not there. Realizing he only had minutes, perhaps seconds, to get the pilot out, Duncan wasted no time searching for a crowbar to create a larger opening in the cockpit. He used his hands. Duncan wrapped his compact but powerful hands around the jagged edges of the metal of the cockpit and ripped it apart like a can opener tears open canned goods. He peeled apart the metal in this way until a path was cleared to the pilot. " It was like ripping a piece of newsprint, " Duncan said, " I took the whole damn thing right off." Once inside the cockpit, Duncan grabbed the pilot by the shoulders and started to lift him. The pilot would not budge. During the crash, one of his legs became pinned between the crumpled cockpit seats. Although the pilot was a big man-about 6-foot-1 tall, 200 pounds - Duncan tightened his grip on the pilot's shoulders and preceded to twirl his upper body until the leg was free. He then pulled him up out of the cockpit, flung him across his shoulders, and backed off the plane. On the ground, Duncan began to feel weak. Someone else carried off the wounded pilot, who recovered within weeks. Duncan stayed behind to warn curious onlookers to stay away from Heaven Can Wait, which had now become a ticking time bomb. Before the ambulance could get, to him, Duncan had passed out. And as the ambulance drove off, Heaven Can Wait exploded. Even today, Duncan remembers that his body behaved in an abnormal fashion on that English airfield. "I know I exceeded the strength of my body," said Duncan, a semiretired quality control consultant. "X-Rays, taken later that day, revealed that my body was one massive set of inplace fractures," he recalled. "Whatever strength I used was more than the body itself was prepared to support. But at the time, I thought it was a perfectly natural thing for me to do. I viewed the crash as a minor irritation and I had to straighten it out." Duncan received the Soldiers Medal for heroism outside of combat.
William S. Appleton Crew (left to right)
Standing: Calvin Reed (Assistant Engineer), W. S. Appleton (P), Daniel McKeen (CP)
Leroy Duncan (NAV), Patrick Whelehan (ROG)
Kneeling: J. P. Judd (BTG and Assistant Radio), Edward Ryan (TTE), Harry Sutherland (TOG), David Hanby (TG)
> "Heaven Can Wait" Crew
> Standing, left to right:
> Calvin Reed, assistant Engineer; W. S. Appleton, Pilot; Daniel McKeen,
> Leroy Duncan, Navigator; Patrick Whelehan, Radio Operator.
> Front row, left to right:
> J. P. Judd, Ball Turret & Assistant Radio; Edward Ryan, Engineer; Harry
> Sutterland, Toggalier; David Hanby, Tail Gunner.
> Flew 16 missions on "Heaven Can Wait". Crashed on home field January 31st
> returning from scrubbed mission to Berlin in heavy fog.
> Footnote: McKeen, Duncan and Whelehan are deceased.