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

WWII Bellerose, Long Island B-18 Bomber Crash in Neighborhood Backyard


Occasionally I revisit my WWII photo collection to cull through material I’ve overlooked.  In this instance, I found a real gem that I somehow never took the time to research.  I remember buying this photo at a local flea market with the intention of doing some research on the crash incident, but never got around to it.  I assumed that the wreckage in the image was from a B-17 or C-47, but it turns out to be from two B-18 bombers that collided mid-air over Bellerose, Long Island on June 17th, 1940.  Eleven men died in the crash, and one Bellerose citizen died of burns following the event.  Scanning the internet, I was able to find an advertisement for asbestos siding from 1940 that makes reference to the event.  This photo is an incredibly close up shot of the event.  A fireman’s hat and jacket can be seen on the wing of the B-18 in the backyard of the burned home.  Incredible.

I was able to find an article written by one of the local survivors of the crash:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/june-online-only/survivingaplanecrash.html

Also, a minor league baseball played died in the fiery inferno.  Here’s an excerpt from the Baseball in Wartime website:

“On Sunday, June 16, 1940, Bedient sent his parents a telegram stating that he was spending the day with his wife at Great Neck. At around 9:00 A.M. on Monday, June 17, two twin-engined Douglas B-18 Bolo bombers, escorted by two fighter planes, left Mitchel Field on a routine training flight. The two bombers carried a crew of 11, including Second Lieutenant Bedient. Just 15 miles from Mitchel Field, above the densely populated area of Bellerose Manor on the eastern edge of Queens, New York, the two bombers were executing a maneuver at 2,500 feet. One plane had to pass under the other and there was not enough clearance. The two planes collided and crashed in flames. One landed within a block of a school and the second smashed into a one-story residence that instantly went up in flames. All 11 crewmen — two of whom unsuccessfully attempted to escape by parachute — perished in the wreckage.”

http://www.baseballinwartime.com/in_memoriam/bedient_hugh.htm

UPDATE 

An author who is writing a book on the B-18 emailed me with the following technical info on the two planes that crashed.

Douglas B-18A – AAC 37-576 Accepted 17 May 1939 and immediately assigned to Langley Field, VA. To Mitchel Field, NY 10 November 1939. Accident 17 June 1940 at Bellerose, Long Island, NY 1LT P. Burlingame, collided with B-18A 37-583 (q.v.), w/o. Coded 9B45 and 9B43 at the time, order uncertain.

Douglas B-18A – AAC 37-583 Accepted 9 June 1939. Assigned to Langley Field, VA 10 June 1939. To Mitchel Field, NY 12 November 1939. Accident 17 June 1940 at Bellerose, LI, NY, 2LT R. M. Bylander, collided with B-18A 37-576 (q.v.), w/o.

Thanks!

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 Artist in England 1944 – Alva Villamor Alegre


From the depths of my collection comes a series of amazing negatives taken by a member of the 388th Bomb Group stationed at Knettishall England in 1944.  I have over 300 images from this collection and will slowly be posting them over the next few months.  Keep checking back for updates.  The medium-sized negatives are in immaculate condition and came to me rather inexpensively from an eBay auction. Enjoy!

Alegre was a Phillipino born artist who passed away in the early 1950s at the early age of 40.  I one day hope to find a piece of his art!