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Texas | Features | World War II

LT. CLYDE "SPARKY" COSPER
B-17 Pilot
367th Bomber Group

Hometown: Dodd City, Texas

by John Troesser
Lt. Clyde Cosper WWII pilot
Lt. Clyde Cosper in flying gear
Photo Courtesy The Texas General Land Office

A B-17 crashed near the town of Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England on November 13, 1943. The only thing that prevented the plane from landing directly on the town, was the Herculean effort of the man at the controls who managed to pull the plane up high enough to clear the rooftops. Under one of the rooftops was an 11year-old girl who was awakened by the huge engines. They were only a few feet from her and their deafening roar has remained in her memory ever since.

The plane crashed in a field well clear of the village, but the full bomb load exploded at impact and the plane was blown into so much shrapnel. One resident was pinned inside his milking shed by a piece of the airplane's tail, but was otherwise unharmed.

"Miriam" had taken off earlier with its crew of 10 and was waiting for the other planes in the flight to join it. The mission was to bomb German U-boat berths at Bremen. The weather was bad, the take-off was dicey and the climb for altitude was worse. The plane flew into a thunderhead and the downdraft threw it into an abrupt dive.

The Pilot, 26 year-old Lt. Clyde Cosper ordered the crew out using the intercom and they didn't need to be told twice. Nine parachutes opened and nine men came down bruised, but alive. Lt. Cosper stayed at the controls.

Witnesses saw the plane in flames as it neared the town. One resident saw it pass inches from his very own roof. At first - older residents thought it might be a German plane - but the local schoolboys recognized it at once as a B17. For once schoolboys were useful.

The crash was just one more to the Army Air Corps - and it was dully recorded by a mere few lines in the squadron logbook back at the base at Thurleigh, Bedfordshire.

Chuck Vondrachek, top turret gunner
Chuck Vondrachek, top turret gunner and last surviving crew member of the B-17 "Miriam"
Photo Courtesy The Texas General Land Office

Lt. Cosper's family back in Dodd City, Texas got the dreaded telegram. His mother Miriam, the plane's namesake, never fully recovered from the shock of learning about Clyde's death and she killed herself in 1954.

There the story would've ended if not for the efforts of several people. One was the girl, Maureen Knopp who has since grown. She met someone on a trans-Atlantic flight some 10 years ago and related the story of her close call. This person directed her to Gordon Richards, an Englishman, who has become historian to Cosper's 367th Bomber Group. Richards was able to find out the name but few other facts.

Maureen Knopp at 11
Maureen Knopp at age 11
Photo Courtesy The Texas General Land Office

Then at a "1940s" event in September of 1990 - Maureen saw a man in an American Air Corps tunic and talked with him. He was the town librarian Alec Kennedy - the man who had organized the event. He spoke with Tim Robinson, a reporter who "took up the search on behalf of the Bucks Herald (the local newspaper)." The Herald started the campaign to build a memorial to Lt. Cosper - "Princes Risborough's Forgotten Hero."

Robinson spent months searching for clues. Remarkably he was able to locate two members of Coster's crew and also Cosper's younger brother Moss who still lives in Dodd City.

The story reached the ears of the architect who had built the Princes Risborough Library and he offered his services free toward the development of a memorial to sit on the library grounds.

Government permission for an excavation was granted in 1989 and several interesting objects turned up. One of Clyde Cosper's "Dog Tags" and the metal insignia from his cap. Another item was the intercom switch - left in the "On" position.

Tim Robinson flew to Texas to interview Moss Cosper and his wife Jimmie. He learned that "Sparky" had trained at Curtis Field - which has become the airport at Brady, Texas. His aptitude at flying fighter aircraft put him in the top 10% of his class. That qualified him to go to Bomber Flight School outside of Waco - the same base where Lt. Loyce Loraine learned to fly.

Robinson also learned that the family didn't know the details of the event until several months after they were informed of Clyde's death. The story is also told of how he once pulled a prank that was popular with Texas airmen, but was frowned upon by the brass. He telephoned his mother to expect a surprise the next day and he buzzed the family farm with his B-17 flying at an altitude of about 100 feet.

Lt. Cosper portrait
Painting of Lt Cosper in dress uniform
Photo Courtesy The Texas General Land Office

Dedication of the Clyde W. Cosper Texas State Veterans Home

Date - Memorial Day, May 28th, 2001, 11:00 a.m.
Address - 1300 Seven Oaks Road, Bonham, Texas.

Maureen Knopp will be flying in from England to attend the ceremonies and Chuck Vondrachek, the last surviving member of the B-17's crew will be in attendance as well. Jimmie Lois Cosper, Clyde Cosper's sister-in-law will also be on hand and all three will be available for interviews.

The event is being hosted by The Texas Land Commissioner, David Dewhurst.

John Troesser
May 2001
Our thanks to The Texas General Land Office and Commissioner David Dewhurst for making the information and photographs available to us. The English information comes from material written in the Buck's Herald Newspaper in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England.

Readers' Comments:
I was doing little surfing and looked for images of Princes Risborough ... and came across the story of Lt Clyde "Sparky" Cosper. Fascinating. Thanks for the memories. - Eric Samuel Web Master Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway

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