WWII 388th Bomb Group Post – Radio Mechanic Cpl. Roland Downs Fixing a B-17 in Knettishall, England


My obsession with the 388th Bomb Group stems from a chance encounter with a collection of negatives and photographs taken by an artist attached to the 388th in Knettishall, England.  Followers of PortraitsofWar already know the story, so I won’t go into great detail, but anyone interested should search for Alva Alegre in the search bar.
Anyway, I recently purchased a small group of photos that providentially yielded a handful of identified photos of members of the 388th BG.  In my typical fashion, I’ve fleshed out historical details and hopefully will give Mr. Downs a proper place on the internet.

I found the following info penciled on the back of the photo: “Roland Downs, Cpl. Alabama”

ALABAMA Inked on Cap

Judging by the inked info on his upturned mechanics hat, I felt that this was a likely identification of Mr.Downs.  With this info in hand I visited the 388th Bomb Group website: http://www.388bg.info/


Darn!  They already had his photo, but at least I was able to learn that he was a radio mechanic, something obvious after inspecting what he’s doing in the photo.  My next stop brought me to ancestry.com, where I do most of my genealogical research on mystery photos.  From a little bit of searching I was able to discover that he was indeed born and raised in Alabama and born on July 8th, 1923 and passed away on April 19th, 1980.  He served in the Airforce (USAAF) from 1942 until 1971.


1940 Census Record

World War II Veterans Gather at Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler – 2012 388th Bomb Group Reunion


World War II veterans gather at Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler

Posted: August 30, 2012 – 11:33pm  |  Updated: August 31, 2012 – 9:19am

<p node="media-caption">James Zographos, 93, left, who was a bombardier on a B-17 with the 388th Bomb Group during World War II, talks with Alvin Lewis, 88, who was a tailgunner on the B-17 Jamaica Ginger, on Thursday during a visit to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.</p>  Savannah Morning News

James Zographos, 93, left, who was a bombardier on a B-17 with the 388th Bomb Group during World War II, talks with Alvin Lewis, 88, who was a tailgunner on the B-17 Jamaica Ginger, on Thursday during a visit to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.

Inside the combat gallery at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, Alvin Lewis and James Zographos sat and admired the exhibit’s

centerpiece — a massive, almost fully restored World War II-era bomber.

Memories nearly 7 decades old flew through their minds Thursday afternoon as the 88-year-old Lewis and 93-year-old Zographos shared some of their experiences flying missions over Germany and France in B-17 Flying Fortresses nearly identical to the museum’s plane.

With 28 other World War II veterans who served with the 388th Bombardment Group — part of the 8th Air Force — the men gathered in Savannah this week as part of the unit’s 63rd annual reunion.

“It’s always the best,” said Zographos, who lives in Westborough, Mass. “It’s great to get together and see these guys and their friends and family every year.”

This year, the group chose Savannah for the reunion specifically to see the Mighty 8th’s B-17, dubbed the City of Savannah in honor of the 5,000th plane to be processed through what is now Hunter Army Airfield during World War II, said Henry Curvat, the 388th Bombardment Group Association’s president.

“For us to be able to come here and see this, it’s a great honor,” Curvat said. “For so many of the original members to see this B-17 and for this museum to honor them by placing the high bar H (the 388th’s unit symbol) on the plane is wonderful.”

The original City of Savannah, like Zographos and Lewis, was assigned to the 388th Bomb Group and flew missions out of Station 136 in Knettishall, England, during the war.

Zographos, who is the oldest remaining member of the group, flew more than 50 missions as a bombardier between March 1944 and March 1945.

After flying his first 30 missions, Zographos was sent home. About 30 days later he was back at Station 136.

“I went home then I volunteered and went back and did 20 more (missions),” he said. “I can’t explain that. I can’t explain a lot of things. People ask why I went back, they ask, ‘Were you ever afraid?’ I can’t answer that.”

Like Zographos, Lewis, of Dayton, Ohio, doesn’t articulate what led him to the war.

The day after he turned 18 in 1942, Lewis enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces, the next year he began flying in B-17s and by February 1945 he’d been sent to Knettishall with the 388th to serve as a waistgunner during missions in Germany.

By the end of that year Lewis had flown 13 missions and been discharged from the military.

“I was 20 years old when they sent me home,” he said. “I got home on July 4 and I turned 21 on the 21st. They discharged me in October and that was it.”

Although they didn’t fly any missions together 67 years ago, they’ve become easy friends as they’ve aged.

“He and I, like any of us, we can just sit here and talk and talk,” Zographos said.

The 30 remaining members of the 388th share a similar bond only those who fought with them can understand, Zographos said.

It may not always be easy to share their experiences, he added, but it’s important.

“We talk about the things that happened because once our group is gone — not only the 388th but all the World War II survivors — it’s going to be past history. There’s going to be nothing in the history books directly from our generation.”

Preserving and sharing the history of the members of the 388th, Curvat said, is what encouraged him to become so involved with the group.

“Through my adopted father — a close family friend, really — who flew with the 388th in World War II, I became part of this group,” Curvat said. “I’ve found spending time with these men to be infectious.

“It’s just incredible to look at what these people have done and what they went through; it’s important that we record and share that with people as less and less of these (World War II veterans) are around.”

WWII 388th Bomb Group Artist Alva Alegre – Random Snapshots Continued……

Isn’t it hard to imagine that these images were taken in 1944?  They were, and casual followers of the blog will remember that this is only a sneak peek of a larger collection of prints and negatives that I acquired from a series of two eBay auction in 2010 and 2011.  The photographer, Alva V. Alegre was a professionally trained artist who served with the 388th Bomb Group during WWII.  His treasure trove of images haunt me; my quest to figure out his life story has brought me many new leads and a number of new friends and acquaintances.






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388th Bomb Group – Visions of Wartime London – Summer 1944


Alva Alegre took every opportunity to shoot in and around London while on pass.  His images capture wartime London as seen in 1944, at a time when the Luftwaffe was still a real threat to the civilian population.  Please enjoy the view through Alva’s lens as he travels throughout the city of London!



Alva and Muse











The Royal Arcade



Close Up View of Sign

















Glenn Miller Visits Knettishall – 388th Bomb Group – BIG BAND!

August 25th, 1944,

Glenn Miller poses with some members of the 388th Bomb Group.  Only a few months later Miller went missing during a flight over the English Channel,. spurring 70 years of mystery and intrigue.  His death is still an unknown, although many suggest that he was in fact a German spy.     The second image shows the crowd during the concert – snapped by Alegre from the front of the stage.

Some of Glenn’s best known hits are Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo, A String of Pearls, Little Brown Jug and Tuxedo Junction.   Many of these songs are likely lost on my generation, but will be familiar to many of the readers of this blog.  Please check out the links listed below for some vintage Glenn Miller footage!





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