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The Terrible Termite Himself!

In the fall of 2002 I decided to research a B-17 crew from the 100th Bomb Group. I went on line and read all I could about the John Ryan crew. In doing my research I was directed to Bill Terminello by group historian Mike Faley.

Bill had been a pathfinder with the 100th. He would fly twenty plus missions, three on D-Day and ultimately crash land in France with Rosie Rosenthal in the right seat, after being hit with flak over the Rhine River. He would be severely injured and spend months recuperating.

Bill had been flying the lead plane on the day that the Ryan crew had been shot down, 12 June 44 over Dunkirk. Ryan had been on Bill’s right wing when his aircraft was hit by flak and exploded just over the channel.

I had seen photos of Bill on the 100th Bomb Group web site. He is standing with his crew smoking a cigarette with his A-2 jacket and sunglasses on; the B-17 “Terrible Termite” is in the background. The crew had decided to name it after Bill in a fashion. Yes – this is right out of “Twelve O’clock High” or “The War Lover. ” Was he Gregory Peck or Steve McQueen?

Would he remember the June 12th mission?

I called him at his home in Las Vegas and told him who I was and what I wanted. He remembered the mission and answered all of my questions in detail. He had kept a diary of each mission and on this one, things has not gone as planned. He made it clear from the start that he had not flown the plane alone non won the war single handedly. He had been part of a wonderful team.

He was part of a crew that he liked very much. On the ground he allowed them all to address him as “Lard Ass” regardless of their rank. In the air he was “Captain. ” No monkey business, just all business…the business of war.

After our first conversation on the phone, I took it upon myself to make him my living history bomber pilot. I called him many more times. Early on he put me in touch with the two other surviving members of his crew: Louis Quiada in California and Bob Hanser in Kentucky. They, like Bill, would provide me with valuable information both verbal and written.

One night on the phone, Bill announced that he was coming to Washington D. C. for the dedication of the World War II Memorial on Memorial Day 2004. Since I only live two hours from D. C. I invited him and his lovely wife to come to Delaware to visit me after the dedication. They eagerly agreed to do so.

On my way to pick them up at their hotel in D. C. , I wondered what he would be like. We had several conversations on the phone and our topics had drifted away from World War II. He loved his family, football, his dogs, his card games with his friends, and the numerous places to eat in Las Vegas. We had come from the war years of the forties to modern day.

I parked my vehicle and walked into the lobby of the hotel at the appointed time to meet him. I had no picture of him other than the ones from sixty yeas ago or from newspaper clippings that he had sent me. Thus I would not be able to recognize him by sight. I walked to the main desk and asked what room Bill Terminello was in. The desk clerk pointed to a man at the door and said, “That is Mr. Terminello. ” I walked towards him. He was dressed in shorts with a short sleeve shirt that was not tucked in. Gray haired now in his early eighties he looked more like someone’s grandfather than the “Captain” of long ago.

Upon reaching him, I introduced myself as he did to me. There were no handshakes, just a hug like a son to a father.

He turned and introduced me to his wife Meg. We went outside and started loading the luggage in my vehicle. There hanging on the cart was his new A-2 jacket with “The Terrible Termite” painted on the back. It has been painted by his fellow crewman Louis Quiada, just like he had painted their jackets during the war. Bill had made up his mind that he was going to wear his A-2 jacket at the World War II Memorial dedication even if it was 100 degrees outside. And he did! I always felt that he did not wear it for himself; he wore it for Louis Quijada, Bob Haneser and the rest of the crew, and then for all his fellow airmen both living and dead that had fought in the skies over Europe.

The ride to my house was uneventful and the conversation very easy. He was like everyone’s favorite uncle. No pretense, just down to earth with a great sense of humor.

At my home, guests were anxiously waiting to meet Bill. Helen Kaferle of Connecticut was there. Her brother had been the co-pilot on the Ryan crew. Meg Sherback from Massachusetts was there as well. Her father had been the only surviving member of the crew. Barb Healy came from New York. Her uncle had been the ball turret gunner on the crew.

To me it was obvious that there was an instant bonding. They all shared a common event, June 12, 1944. Bill had been there; the others had relatives there, and two had relatives killed on that day.

I had a surprise for everyone. At the Georgetown airport, about thirty minutes away, Larry Kelley, owner of the B-25 named “Panchito” had graciously agreed for us to tour the plane both inside and out.

Bill had flown B-25’s during his career and confided in me that this was his favorite.

Now sixty years later, much older and not as thin or agile as he once was, he slowly made his way up the ladder at the front hatch. With some effort he got into the pilot’s seat. At this point I stepped away from the airplane. I was in no hurry and I did not want Bill to be in any hurry. He could sit there as long as he wanted. He pointed out things to his wife and explained how they worked. You could hear the excitement in his voice. After a few moments she came out of the plane and Bill sat there all alone. He was going back in time and I knew it.

This was his time now. A time that he was not obligated to share with anyone. I would ask no questions and he offered nothing. After a short while he climbed down out of the B-25.

He was smiling and telling me how great this had been. I asked him if it brought back memories and he said, “Yes, both good and bad. “

Later we went to lunch, and the relatives began asking questions. AS always he made it clear that he had not won the war alone. He had only been a small part of it. Back at my house I had him try on my B-3 jacket. He laughed saying he did not remember how heavy they were. Then in a solemn moment he described what had happened to the Ryan crew. There were some tears, but they were short lived. For the relatives, he had answered some important questions and they were grateful.

The day was truly one to remember.

The next day I took Bill and Meg to Dulles Airport to catch their plane home to Las Vegas. As we stood on the sidewalk outside the terminal we said our thanks and our goodbyes. Then as when I had first met him I leaned over and hugged him. He is not Gregory Peck or Steve McQueen. No, he is better…much better. It’s easy to see why he is part of the “Greatest Generation, ’ and to all the veterans like him I say, “Thank you!”

Editor’s Note:
Crew was on it’s first mission. Aircraft was hit by flak over Dunkerque at 0853 hours at 24, 000 feet. The #4 engine caught fire and the right wing broke off near the the #4 engine inducing a spin – five or six chutes may have come from this aircraft. Sherback had no recollection of leaving the plane and believed he must have been blown clear. A German officer told him the plane exploded and all remains went into the sea. All the KIAs above are commemorated on The Wall of the Missing at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.

Letter to Harry Cruver from George L. Sherback, sole survivor of the John F. Ryan Crew date September 1, 1996:
Harry; Sorry about the long delay in replying… About the 14 June 44 mission. (1) The reported fire in #4 engine is in error. Actually was intact and the fire was between #3 and #4 in what I thought (and still do) was as fuel tank fire. My last observation from the radio room was a fairly large hole that was enlarging as the ship skin was melting. (2) The first sign of trouble was a report from the waist of smoke followed almost immediately by “There is a lot of fire on the right wing. ” (3) A short time before the wing fire report, Lt. Carl S. McGinty-BOM sustained a wound to one of his feet. I ask if I could help but was told by Lt. Hans J. Chorpening-NAV to wait a minute to see if he could take care of McGinty. Shortly McGinty agreed that nothing further could be done in the aircraft. (4) My last clear memory in the plane was putting on my chute and heading to the waist where the guys were getting ready to get out. I recall being at the ball turret support when the lighting went out. My next vague recollection was thinking that it was so quiet and such a beautiful day. Next memory if lying on the ground with blood all over the place. There were Germans on a bank approximately 30 to 40 yards away calling for me to come out. My first thought was to stay put and have them come and get me, but still bleeding, I unfastened my chute, threw my escape kit aside and walked out. I later was told the area was mined and the Germans were afraid to come after me. I was lucky, I guess, to have missed the mines. (5) Conversation with German officer after receiving first aid for my wounds, he was a Cambridge graduate and spoke excellent English, informed me the aircraft had exploded and fell in the channel with the loss of all my comrades. As for the German officer at the crash site, I have no idea what he told me. (6) As a complete Ryan Crew this was the first mission. During June 6 to June 10, this was during the time the 100th was flying two missions a day, I seem to recall that Ryan and Fenner flew at least one or more of these with other crews. I may be wrong here but the memory is fairly strong. (7) Post Crash Info: From the bunker I was taken to a hospital in Lille were my wounds were treated. Next stop was Frankfurt for solitary confinement and interrogation, after which I was sent to the Orthopedic hospital in Meiningen for about one month – then to Stettin near the Baltic. Left this camp on Feb 6, 1945 and marched eighty-six (86) days until liberated by the 104th Division on the Mulde River near Helle, Germany. We were then flown to Camp Lucky Strike for shipment home. Was discharged at San Antonio, Texas in the fall of 1945. That’s it Harry, it would be nice to have more details, but nothing will change the reality of the loss of nine excellent people with whom I was granted the privilege to live and fly with – even for a short time. . Regards George.