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Never To Be Forgotten

By Francis P. McDermott
Splasher Six, Volume 37, Fall 2006, No. 2
Cindy Goodman, Editor

The author is the nephew of T/Sgt C.J, Kobis, 351st Squadron. Kobis was the ROG on the James Haddix crew. He and 8 others perished when their B-17, Sugarfoot, crashed in the North Sea on Dec. 11, 1943 while on a mission to Emden, Germany. The story of Sugarfoot appeared in the winter 2000 issue of Splasher 6.

Time was passing and nothing had been done. I had been through the Memorial Gardens at the Mighty 8th AF Museum in Savannah, GA., on several occasions, always asking myself “Where are the Plaques to the 100th Bomb Group? There were hundreds of Plaques in the Gardens but only three Plaques for 100th BG Crews. I knew that the Plaques were expensive, with the cheapest starting around $1500.00, but something had to be done to honor my uncle, T/Sgt Charles Kobis, and the gallant men who lost their lives when Sugarfoot crashed into the North Sea on Dec 11, 1943

Finally, during the summer of 2002, I decided to do something to memorialize the Sugarfoot crew. I had previously received from Jim Grosskopf, the only survivor of Sugarfoot, the names and last known addresses of all the B-17’s crewmembers. Using this information, in conjunction with some research on the Internet, I prepared a List of 20 people who I would contact to see if they would “be willing to participate with me in an endeavor that will memorialize the sacrifice of these 9 brave men for all time.” The List included my brother, two sisters, my wife, cousins, an uncle and thirteen people who are families or friend of the crewmembers, including the survivor. Also included on this list was Robert D. Abney, an original Sugarfoot crewmember who survived only because he was in sickbay recuperating from frozen hands and feet when the ship went down.

On August 25, 2002 I mailed a letter to the 8th AF Museum with a 20% deposit and a request for the design and fabrication of a 24″x24″ Georgia Blue Granite Plaque in honor of the SUGARFOOT crew of the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Six days later, on August 31st, a letter was sent to everyone on my list of 20 people. In the letter I stated “I am committed to this project until it is complete…. I will add your contributions to that which I have already paid and I will pay the remaining cost.”

What happened in the next 10 days humbled me beyond words. Several days after mailing the letter I received a note with a promise of a substantial check from Uncle Donald Derrah, husband of Charles Kobis’ deceased sister. He wrote: “Dear Fran—Great idea. I will get check in mail tomorrow. If you come up short on collections let me know. Sincerely, Don.” P.S. “I would have been his brother in law.” At about the same time I received e-mail notification from Tom Grosskopf, son of Jim, that the entire Grosskopf family (Bill, Tom, Paula, Jim and wife Avis) would be making a contribution amounting to roughly 50% of the cost of the Plaque. This was unbelievable! On September 9th I received a letter from Delores Riordon, sister of the co-pilot (John Wagner) with a generous contribution and a note that said, “I am delighted at the prospect of creating a memorial to Sugarfoot…. I am sending copies of your letter to my 3 children and hope they may contribute… If for any reason you come up short of your goal please let me know and I can help.”

When all was said and done, I received contributions from 10 people on the “list of 20”, amounting to more than $2300.00. This outpouring of generosity was simply unimaginable at the start of this project. The result was that I was able to have the Plaque fabricated in Blue Pearl Granite (Dark Blue) the finest material available. In addition, I was able to donate $400.00 to the 8th Air Force Museum after paying for the Plaque. The Plaque was installed at the 8th AF Museum during the month of December 2002. It is currently located in the lower section of one of the large walls facing the Chapel.

On March 29, 2003 a simple Dedication of the Memorial Plaque was held at the Memorial Gardens in Savannah. Those in attendance included Jim Grosskopf, sole survivor of the Sugarfoot crew, his son Tom, my wife Joan and myself. We met Tom and Jim at 9:00AM on the morning of the 29th. The sun was shining brightly and we went directly into the Memorial Gardens. We toured the Gardens leisurely and finally reached the Wall onto which the Plaque is located. After taking a few pictures we held a series of readings. Joan read “Hiflight” by officer Gillespie Magee. Tom read “Madingly,” a poem from the book “Wing Ding” which is the story of a Tail Gunner in the 8th AF. I read several passages from the same book that reminisced about the flights of the B-17’s and B-24’s that will fly no more. Jim read a short Irish poem from the same book, the theme of which is “goodbye until we meet again.” We formed a circle and two of us touched the Plaque, one with the right hand the other with the left. Knowing that the spirit of the crew was with us in the circle at that moment we said an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary” and a “Glory be to God.” That ended the dedication.

POSTSCRIPT: This project was more than one man could have handled by himself. I was indeed fortunate that I had the help and support of Jim and Tom Grosskopf, Robert D. Abney, Peggy Hardin of the 8th AF Museum, and Richard McDowell of DePue Inc., the Plaque designer/fabricator. More than 50 e-mails, 30 letters and countless telephone calls were exchanged during the process of getting the job done. I especially owe a debt of gratitude to Tom Grosskopf for his tireless support during all phases of the project.