night-time collision of two B-29 Superfortress Bombers
by Bob Hopkins
August 17, 1945 was no different from any other summer day. The
heat was stifling as usual, and the late summer humidity simply added
to the oppressive Texas sun. The war in Europe was over and the Japanese
had finally been defeated in the Pacific. Hopes for the future were
beginning to return to the American spirit as the worst war in world
history was coming to a close.
The horrors of the war, however, would be relived on that day in the
small north Texas town of Weatherford.
The event, here at home, would remind the small town residents that
no one was safe from the tragedies created by the mechanisms of that
At 5:00 p.m., the crew of a B-29 "Superfortress" (heavy bomber)
at Clovis Field, New Mexico, received orders for their last training
run before they were to ship out to join the 21st bomber group at
Saipan in the Pacific. The crew's orders were to proceed to Fort
Worth, Texas and complete five radar-controlled night bombing
runs on Meacham Field.
The bomb run was to simulate a real situation - of flying from
Guam to Tokyo and return. No personal items were to be carried by
any of the crew other than dog tags. No billfolds, notes, papers,
or anything that would give the enemy any information in the event
they were shot down.
Twenty-two-year old 2nd Lt. Edwin F. Smith of Glasgow, Kentucky, was
the co-pilot on the Clovis plane that night. He recalled that there
were 11 men on the plane, each with specific responsibilities honed
through months of harsh training.
The pilot of that plane, 1st Lt. Robert A Mayor of Buffalo, New York,
went through the usual motions as the heavy bomber left the runway.
All other crewmen diligently tended to their duties just after take-off
as the plane climbed to a comfortable "pressurized" cruising altitude
on the last flight it would ever make.
The good folks of Weatherford
were just settling down for the evening. Many were lounging in their
yards or attending the movies at one of the theaters on the square.
Others routinely took care of evening business or simply relaxed and
looked forward to the weekend.
Smith recalled reaching Ft. Worth just as it got dark or shortly
thereafter. "We flew over Fort Worth at 15,000 ft; turned east and
flew a box pattern as to approach the target from the east. We made
a good run and continued west until making a turn to the south for
a second run. Just before making that southerly turn, 2nd Lt. Robert
Knight, the Bombardier, shouted into the radio that the nose of the
plane was dropping, and to do something quick".
"OK! OK!" yelled Smith; "I'll use the elevator override knob". The
auto-pilot was letting the plane drop about 200 feet, and then correct
and go back up 200 feet above the desired 15,000 ft. altitude. "The
plane was going through the air like a dolphin", recalled Smith. "I
unbuckled my seat belt so that I could lean forward to see the altimeter
better", he said.
The bombardier began to shout once more, "Get this darn thing
on 15,000 or we'll have to come back and do this thing again". "I'm
trying", yelled Smith as he attempted to make corrections to the stubborn
B-29, but Knight, the bombardier, and the auto-pilot were basically
controlling the plane.
The pilot began to make the southerly bank when Smith heard
his commander's last words, "Oh my God!" Smith looked up from the
instrument panel just in time to see the wing of another B-29 bomber
about 10 feet from his cockpit window. The world instantly exploded
with the deafening sound of twisting metal and exploding fuel lines.
a boy at the time and mascot of the Weatherford Fire Department, was
lounging on the couch at the old jail where his father worked. He
was listening to the radio when he heard the terrible crash over the
southwest part of the city, which lit up the sky like lightning.
He immediately ran outside to witness the two mighty airplanes scattering
debris, burning fuel, and burning parachutes over a large area as
they fell toward the earth. "The engines just made a loud whining
sound," said Robertson. He reported that one plane fell in a spiral
toward the ground as the other fell in a northerly direction. He remarked,
"It was a horrible sight to see those planes fall to the ground and
feel so helpless".. All who witnessed where stunned and horrified
by the events. Some thought it was a Japanese attack while others
thought it was the end of the world. The worse thing, said Robertson,
"there wasn't anything anyone could do but watch as burning debris
fell to earth".
Smith, the co-pilot, went on to say, "I was thrown all over
the cockpit. At first I thought we had hit an airliner full of people.
I was horrified and scared and my heart was pounding in my chest.
The plane was speeding to the ground with the number one, two, and
three engines still running. I was unable to find the throttle and
the controls were completely frozen up. The night lit up and it seemed
as if everything was on fire and the only way out was through the
co-pilot's window. As I opened the window the sounds of the engines
and the slipstream were terrifying. I was so scared, really scared
and I could feel my heart beating wildly against my chest".
Smith crawled out the window up to his waist but the slipstream was
so fierce that he couldn't straighten up. He was pinned to the fuselage
facing the rear of the plane and looking directly into the number
three engine, which was still running at full power. He was hung-up
on something in the cockpit. The chances of surviving a jump from
the B-29 in this situation was next to impossible - and he knew it.
He found himself in a horrible situation, he couldn't crawl back in
and his chute would not go through the window. There was nothing he
could do. "I am a Christian", he said. "I prayed. I didn't ask God
to save my life, for my knowledge of this kind of accident told me
that it was impossible to survive. I asked God to forgive my sins
and help me prepare to die".
Smith went on to say, "I knew the plane was falling fast and then
suddenly I heard a 'thud' as something hit my right side, briefly
rendering me unconscious. I thought we had struck the ground then
I regained consciousness and found myself falling to the ground with
my parachute fully opened above me. I felt I must have pulled the
ripcord which deployed the chute and pulled me from the plane. Then
I hit the ground hard, and was out of it again".
In the meantime Ross Robertson jumped on the first out fire
engine, which quickly responded to the plane that went down on the
southwest side of town. Robertson recalled, "the plane fell on the
old Edward's farm on the old Brock Road just south of the Ranger Highway.
When we arrived it was fully involved with fire and exploding. We
couldn't get to it. About that time a car approached us at a high
speed, it had a big dent in it. The driver jumped out and told us
that a body had fallen on his car, however, it was later discovered
to be only debris from one of the planes.
The men on the fire truck decided there were no survivors on the Clovis
plane and since it had avoided falling on any houses, they quickly
re-routed their efforts to the Alamogordo plane that fell somewhere
on the north side of town.
The firemen arrived to find the Alamogordo plane in a pasture just
off the Jacksboro road (now known as Peaster Highway). It too was
burning with intermittent explosions. The B-29 had broken up before
hitting the ground, scattering debris and men over a large area. Robertson
recalled a section of wing was leaning against a barbed wire fence
on the north side of the road. The Army was quickly dispatched and
arrived about an hour after the crash. They quickly secured the area
and began searching for survivors and locating the dead.
Back at the Clovis crash site, Smith awoke to hear someone calling
"Airman! Airmen!" He answered back and knew he had been found.
A Captain in the medical corps quickly assessed his injuries and found
that he had a severely dislocated shoulder, lacerations on his knees
and thigh, a possible broken leg and a sprained back. He was quickly
given morphine and transported to the Army hospital at old Camp Wolters
"We arrived at Camp Wolters about 2:00 a.m.," Smith remembered. "The
following morning I awoke in horrible pain, I couldn't move I hurt
so bad. It was terribly hot and I had no air conditioning-not even
a fan. A Red Cross representative arrived and informed me that there
were no other survivors, that I was the only one out of both planes.
I was devastated. Why was I alive and all those other boys dead? I
felt so sad, so alone, stunned and depressed. I wanted my family,
but on the other hand, I was so relieved to learn we hadn't hit a
Later in the day the Army did inform Lt. Smith that there was one
more survivor from his plane, waist gunner Cpl. Earl E.Wischmeier
from West Burlington, Iowa. Wischmeier wasn't wearing his parachute
at the time of the crash but did have on his harness. The impact of
the crash and the spiraling plane had him pinned against the inside
of the fuselage when a parachute came sliding toward him. He quickly
donned it as fire began to engulf the plane all around him. He was
able to kick out the heat-weakened gun blister and jump.
Wischmeier managed to open his parachute about 200 feet above the
earth - resulting in a broken leg and a seriously dislocated ankle.
He had already received serious burns on both legs after kicking out
the Plexiglas blister as burning fuel running along the fuselage set
his dangling limbs on fire. He was, miraculously, able to walk about
half a mile to the Northington home and asked, of all things, for
a drink of water.
Wischmeier reported to the Weatherford Democrat, in 1945, that
he had survived because of prayer. "Anyone who doesn't believe in
prayer is crazy," he remarked. Lt. Smith was very relieved when he
received the good news about Cpl. Wischmeier and the two were reunited
in the Army hospital at Camp Wolters two days later.
There were no survivors from the Alamogordo plane, piloted by 1st
Lt. Aubrey K. Stinson of Caneyville, Kentucky, which was also on a
training mission from a completely different bomber squadron. Many
of the bodies from both planes were burned beyond recognition and
scattered about the fields.
The following day brought hundreds of sightseers and souvenir
hunters to the both sites to collect mementos or to simply satisfy
their curiosity. The army attempted to secure the scene as best as
possible but the area was too large to cover completely.
The reality of the crash had haunting effects on the two survivors
of the Clovis plane as well as the citizens of Weatherford.
With the exception of the local veterans who had previously witnessed
the reality of war, nothing could have prepared these people of the
horrors of that hot August evening. It was to date, one of the worst
mid-air collisions in the U.S. according to the Glasgow Kentucky Daily
The Weatherford Democrat reported in 1945 that the Saturday
after the crash, Mary Edwards was out in the pasture with her father
on their farm just south of town where the Clovis plane crashed. She
came upon a shoe and went to pick it up to find a foot in it. The
ordeal was quite disturbing to the young lady. Army personnel quickly
took the shoe, as soon as they learned of it.
Mildred Edwards (now Mildred Beard), of Weatherford,
was working in Fort Worth
when the crash happened on her father's farm. She quickly rushed home
to find her family's farm swarming with military vehicles and men.
"The fences were cut, and the cows were out" she said. She reported
that the incident was quite disturbing and disruptive to the lives
of her family for quite some time.
About a week after the crash, Ross Robertson said he and a friend
were going fishing on town creek not far from the crash site of the
Alamogordo plane. As the boys walked down near the creek they found
a crucifix necklace hanging in a tree. Just below it was a fully-loaded
50-caliber machine gun, apparently missed by the recovery team that
had hit the ground with such great force that its barrel had been
bent into an "L" shape. His father contacted the Army, which quickly
arrived to claim the articles. Ross said "the smell of burned flesh
and gasoline lingered in that area for years".
Smith and Wischmeier were released from the Camp Wolters Army
Hospital after 34 days. Smith remembered that he had no clothes, no
wallet, nothing. The medical staff had cut his flight suit off in
the emergency room the night of the accident and he was missing his
right shoe. The missing shoe was located on the Edward's farm with
the end chopped off. Smith realized then that the propeller on that
number three engine chopped the end of the shoe off and must have
broken his right leg in the process.
Smith reported, "With the help of the Red Cross, I was able to obtain
a khaki uniform, hat and a pair of shoes from the PX. I had no insignia".
The Army gave him a one-way train ticket back to Clovis, New Mexico.
Return to Empty Barracks
After 36 days, Lt. Edwin Smith had returned to his home base. He went
on to say, "At first I was quite anxious to return to my barracks
where we all lived as a crew. The barracks was quiet and empty as
if nobody had ever been there. The beds were there with blankets still
on them and the windows had been left open just like we left them.
There was mud on the blankets from rain. All of our personal belongings
had been packed up and sent home to our families, our uniforms were
gone from the flight line".
Smith went on to say, "I sat down on my bunk to pray for the souls
of my crew and I cried. I needed counseling; I was 22 years old and
in the last 36 days had endured just about all I thought I could stand.
I felt guilty. If I had kept the plane at 15,000 feet perhaps the
accident would not have happened. Smith then sadly remarked, "I grieve
today as I did 57 years ago." "I will die with that grief in my heart."
To this day no
memorial or marker stands to remember the lives of those brave men
that flew on that mission so many years ago. Many of those who remember
the crash have passed on as well. The Weatherford Democrat
re-visited the story in a wonderful article in September 1991, as
did the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 when Smith returned
to Weatherford for a brief visit.
Smith still lives in Glasgow, Kentucky with his wife. He has three
children and seven grandchildren. He is 79 years old and continues
an active work life to this day. Smith stayed in contact with Cpl.
Wischmeier until his death in 1993.
In a letter to Bob Hopkins of Weatherford,
dated October 2002, Smith stated, "My soul is full of sadness for
the families of these 18 young, patriotic Americans who made the ultimate
sacrifice for their country; they gave their lives, but not in vain".
December 4, 2007 Update:
An historical marker has been established at the Weatherford
Public Library, which is located in the general location above which
the tragic collision took place. Perhaps you could update Mr. Hopkins'
fine article. - Ann Hafften, Weatherford, Texas, December 04, 2007
Airmen Involved in the Crash
Lt. Robert A. Mayer, Airplane Commander
Lt. Robert L. Knight, Bombardier
Lt. John W. Burtis, Navigator
Officer Robert Q. Zaliska, Radar Operator
Sgt. Clifford. D. Longmire, Engineer
Robert H. Aparian, Radio Operator
Jasper C. Wilson, Jr., Gunner
Willard Byarly, Gunner
Anthony J. Agliata, Gunner
Edwin F. Smith, Co-Pilot/Flight Officer
Earl F. Wischmeier, Gunner
Lt. Aubrey K. Stenson, Airplane Commander
Lt. Harold N. Swaim, Co-Pilot
Lt Gordon E. Myers, Navigator
Lt. Binson W. Cohen, Bombardier
New York City
Lt. Edward E. Lahmers, Flight Engineer
Donald E. Lefebure, Radar Operator
Johnny A. Mosely, Fire Control
Donald E. Reed, Gunner
Clarence A Jurgens, Gunner
THEY REST IN PEACE...
brought out the worst that mankind had to offer but it brought out
the best as well. Millions of men joined up to fight in the armed
services. The Army Air Force was fully a volunteer operation. No one
was forced to fly and no other armed service lost as many men as did
those brave flyers. Some squadrons in the Army's Eighth Air Force
(The Mighty Eighth) lost up to seventy percent of their bomb groups
over France and Germany during the hard years of daylight bombing
by the American Forces. The Fifteenth Air Force, stationed in Italy,
suffered similar losses.
The B-17s and the B-24s were excellent heavy bombers. The war
could not have been won without them. By 1944-45 they were beginning
to be replaced by the new B-29s. They were bigger, could carry more
bombs and were equipped with pressurized cabins and radar but were
criticized by many of the pilots as having problems that needed to
Colonel Robert Morgan
2002, Col. Robert Morgan (USAAF - WWII), sent a letter to the City
of Weatherford and the Parker County Historical Society encouraging
a memorial to remember those men of the Weatherford crash of 1945.
Morgan wrote: "I have been asked to express my feelings about the
two Boeing B-29's, which crashed in Weatherford,
TX in August 1945. I was not aware of the incident until Bob Hopkins,
who is working to memorialize this incident, contacted me.
Mr. Hopkins contacted me because I am best known as the pilot of the
B-17 "Memphis Belle" but I also flew 26 more combat missions in the
Pacific against Japan after I flew the Belle.
On 24 Nov 44, I led the first B-29 raid on Tokyo in my plane "Dauntless
Dotty". You can read her bio on my website at www.memphis-belle.com.
A lot of brave men were lost training in B-29s and also flying them
in the Pacific theater. The B-29 initially had a lot of mechanical
problems and it took courage and bravery to keep climbing into those
beasts until the mechanical issues were corrected by Boeing and military
Had the U.S. not pursued the war against Japan in these mighty bombers
(with huge losses of planes and personnel), along with dropping the
atomic bomb from the B-29's "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar", we would never
have prevailed against them and the U. S. would have lost WWII.
In times like these it must be understood that the cost of freedom
is and has always been very high. The true heroes of that war are
the men and women who gave their lives for their country and did not
come home as I did.
Therefore, the crews of the two B-29 bombers that crashed over the
city of Weatherford,
Texas in August 1945, must not be forgotten. I encourage any effort
on the part of local organizations and your city government to work
together to create some kind of memorial to honor their devotion,
dedication, and courage.
Our generation is slowly passing as new ones emerge to carry on the
spirit of the American people. It would be a pity to allow the memories
of those boys of those planes to slip into oblivion. Please do what
ever you can to honor their lives".
Col. Robert K. "Bob" Morgan
The Memphis Belle & Dauntless Dotty
were mighty planes flown and operated by mighty men. They played a
pivotal point in winning WWII.
They trained, they flew, they fought, and they gave the ultimate sacrifice.
They will forever be remembered, as Tom Brokaw termed, "The Greatest
Generation". May God bless them all.
© Bob Hopkins