My Father Was a Carpetbagger

Previously by Charles A. Burris: u2018This Is Like Deja Vu All Over Again' –YogiBerra

I want to strongly urge everyone watch a fascinating 2011 documentary, The Carpetbagger Project: Secret Heroes, concerning a virtually unknown aspect of World War II history. It details the background activities of a vital secret effort of the Allies in aiding the underground resistance movements throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

My Dad, Eden C. Burris, was part of this valiant effort until his B-24D crew was shot down and crashed on the night of March 3/4, 1944 at 23.10 hours North of the village of Humbercourt (Somme), France at a place called “Les Emonts.”

There is a monument plaque at Humbercourt commemorating this event erected on May 8, 2000 (the 55th anniversary of V-E Day) by the French. The plaque reads: “A La Memorire Des Lieutenants Aviateurs Americans Lonnie Hammond Jr. Et William D. Rees, Tombes A Humbercourt Le 3 Mars 1944, Au Cours D’Une Mission De Parachutage De Materiel Au Marquis,” honoring the two crew members who died during that mission parachuting materiel to the Marquis resistance. I have pictures of this dedication ceremony, the monument, and of the crash site as it appears today.

This documentary program is excellently produced and presents a broad overview of the Carpetbagger operation. I particularly enjoyed learning about the specific tasks radio operators such as my father were assigned on these covert missions.

For more details on the Carpetbaggers (and what happened to my Dad’s crew) please consult Ben Parnell, Carpetbaggers: America’s Secret War in Europe – A Story of the World War II Carpetbaggers 801st/492d Bombardment Group (H) U. S. Army, Eighth Air Force.

From page 191 of the above book:

Lt. Wade A Carpenter and crew crashed in B-24D 42-63789 on the night of March 3/4, 1944, at Humbercourt (Somme) after being hit by flak while flying at a low altitude. Burris (radio) was seriously wounded in the airplane by a flak burst prior to the crash. Dudley (tail gunner) bailed out at very low altitude and landed safely. The shock of the crash was brutal. Carpenter (pilot), Herdman (waist gunner), and Nesbitt (flying a buddy mission) were not injured. Eshleman (copilot) was wounded in the neck, Burris lost his left eye, and Johnson (engineer) suffered a broken ankle during the crash. Hammond (navigator) was killed in the crash, and Rees (bombardier) was trapped under heavy metal in the airplane with both legs crushed.

Carpenter and Eshleman walked to the village at the bottom of the hill to get help. Dr. Jacquemelle was summoned from a nearby village, Lucheux, and after some time arrived to render all possible aid to the injured. However, they could not get Rees out of the wreckage. Part of the airplane had to be cut away before he was finally pulled out. Rees and five of the crew were taken to a farm in the village of Humbercourt for care.

All eight of the fliers were taken by the Germans about noon on March 4. Hammond was buried on March 5 in the cemetery at Meharicourt. Rees was transferred to the hospital at Amiens, where both legs were amputated on March 5. Unfortunately, he was not able to take the shock and died the same day. Johnson and Burris were also hospitalized for their injuries. Carpenter, Eshleman, Nesbitt, and Herdman were taken to POW camps in Germany. Dudly managed to evade capture for a while with the help of the Bordeau-Loupiac escape network before being taken by the Germans.

Upon capture by the Germans my father was imprisoned for 18 months in three POW camps in East Prussia: Stalag Luft VI, Stalag Luft IV, and Stalag Luft I, until liberated by Soviet troops of the Red Army on May 1, 1945.

I have all the primary document materials such as military correspondence records, telegrams, letters, and newspaper accounts of his capture describing his status first as MIA then as a POW, all the censored communications and letters he wrote to my mother, his German POW camp personnel file, as well as detailed maps and descriptions of the various camps he later obtained. My parents were quite the archivists, which is especially gratifying for their history teacher son.

My father was in personal correspondence with author Ben Parnell as well as with persons in France responsible for the monument plaque who knew precise first-hand details of what happened that night so many decades ago. Several of them who aided the crew that night were still living when it was dedicated.

They had not forgotten what happened there and why.

In 2004 my father died and was buried on March 4, exactly sixty years to the day of the above events.