Book: Hell's Angels

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ALMOST IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the cessation of hostilities, beginning at the end of May 1945, the 303rd was sent to Cases Air Base, Casablanca, French Morocco, where it operated under the direction of the Air Transport Command to return servicemen and equipment back to the States. As it developed, the unit was unneeded in this capacity and was inactivated on July 25. Most of its veterans had already left for home, and those that remained soon followed. The group was reactivated during 1947 but was soon put back into cadre status without ever being made operational. It was activated once more for a brief period from 1951 to 1954 before being shuttered again. Various organizations have been assigned the 303rd designation since that time, but any claims to the original group’s lineage are nothing more than contrived.

RAF Molesworth is still extant and active seven decades after the end of the war. It is one of only two former Eighth Air Force bases that U.S. forces still operate. It is no longer an air base as the runways, ramp and most of the wartime structures have been plowed up or demolished. However, the main hangar and two smaller hangars remain in service in various capacities. Although there have been many units based at Molesworth since World War II, the current tenant is the gracelessly named Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe Analytic Center. It is operated by the Defense Intelligence Agency and staffed by servicemen from the United States and its European allies.

Regardless of what happened to the 303rd or to Molesworth, they both became part of the nearly nine thousand men who served with the bomb group from 1942 to 1945. Most of those men came of age during their wartime service, and those that survived went home to create new lives, new careers and new families. And as they turned their energies to things other than war, they transformed the United States into the greatest nation on earth. Their legacy and that of all the World War II generation is ubiquitous. The postwar stories that follow of various 303rd men are representative examples.

Frank Boyle entered the radio business several years after the war. He eventually went to work with Eastman Radio in Detroit in 1956 and retired as chairman in 1985. Today, at ninety, he still operates his own consulting business and brokers the acquisition and sale of radio stations. His service with the 303rd is never far from his mind. “I still have the same nightmare—a fear of opening the ball turret door at seven thousand feet and dropping my body into it—closing and locking the door. Then turning on all the operating machines, oxygen, heated suit, microphone cord, camera switch and automatic computing sight . . . and testing two .50-caliber guns over the Channel.”

George Buske, whose chest and abdomen had nearly been torn away by enemy fighters on the mission to Bremen aboard the Jersey Bounce Jr. on December 20, 1943, returned home to Upstate New York after the war. Against all expectations he had a long career in the lumber business, and had children and grandchildren before passing away in 2003, sixty years after being so terribly wounded.

Medal of Honor winner Forrest Vosler was discharged from the USAAF in October 1944 before many 303rd veterans—who would complete full tours—had even arrived at Molesworth. He later went on to serve thirty years with the Veterans Administration. He went West in 1992, at age sixty-eight.

Eddie Deerfield went to school after the war and earned a BS in Journalism from Northwestern University. He was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army reserve and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. In Korea he commanded a psychological warfare detachment that transmitted radio broadcasts to the enemy. He later worked as a reporter and byline columnist for the Chicago Daily Times and was news editor at WGN-TV. Deerfield next served as a Foreign Service diplomat with the U.S. Information Agency for more than twenty years, retiring in 1988 as a counselor in the U.S. Senior Foreign Service. He had earlier retired from the Army reserve in 1983 as a lieutenant colonel. He currently resides in Palm Harbor, Florida.

Deerfield’s pilot, Bob Cogswell, was killed while flying B-29s during the Korean War. He was part of a raid on the Namsi airfield on October 23, 1951. His aircraft was attacked by MiG-15s and caught fire immediately after dropping its bombs. It was last seen headed for the Yellow Sea, under control.

When the war ended, Richard “Dick” Johnson moved to the little fishing town of Deale, Maryland, east of Washington, D.C. He started a contracting business and remodeled homes while also working for the City of Annapolis. He bought a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser in 1968 and still owns it. Johnson wrote the author recently: “I don’t take it out very often anymore since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. I am now required, because my airplane is only eighteen miles from Air Force One, to file a flight plan every time I want to fly.” Johnson is ninety-two at the time of this writing.

John Ford, one of the 303rd’s first “old hands,” went to work for the Ford Company immediately after the war and was part of the magnificent American automobile heydays of the 1950s and 1960s. He worked in a number of different disciplines and rose to become the manager of industrial engineering at the massive Wixom assembly plant in Michigan—the factory that produced the Lincoln line. He retired from Ford after thirty-two years of employment. He also served as a reservist in the Army’s quartermaster corps and retired as a major after six years of active service and thirty-four years of reserve service. He currently lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Mel Schulstad stayed on active duty and transitioned to the Air Force upon its formation as a separate service in 1947. He enjoyed a very successful career and retired as a colonel in 1965. Following his retirement, he was very active in promoting professionalism in counseling for alcoholics. A recovering alcoholic himself, Schulstad was the founding president of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors, and was beloved and respected for his compassion and empathy. He had celebrated nearly fifty years of sobriety at the time of his death in 2012. Schulstad was a tremendous advocate of the 303rd, and although he was reluctant to highlight his own heroics, he engaged audiences for hours with the achievements of his comrades.

Van White—who had washed Jimmy Doolittle’s aircraft so carefully in Kansas City before the war—was caught up in the great jobs upheaval as men returned from the war. He worked off and on with the Santa Fe Railroad in Winslow, Arizona, for several years before taking a job selling safes. After working out of his car for several years, he started the Albuquerque Safe Company; White had fallen in love with Albuquerque when the 303rd had been based at Alamogordo in 1942. Through tremendous hard work, he and his business prospered, and he retired in 1988. White still lives in Albuquerque and is a tremendous booster of the city and the surrounding area.

Charles Spencer’s heroic actions during the January 26, 1943, mission to Bremen cost him his ears, nose and much of his face, as well as parts of his fingers, hands, toes and feet—victims to frostbite following a vicious air battle. He also lost an eye and much of his remaining eyesight. Spencer subsequently underwent thirty-six separate plastic surgeries in the States. With the support of his wife, he attended seminary. Soon after graduation, he began a ministry to the men of the Kansas State Soldiers Home at Fort Dodge. He stayed for thirty years. Despite his injuries and the loss of a son in a plane crash, he maintained his faith in God. He passed away in 1998, leaving his wife of fifty-six years, Jeanne.

Recon, the 427th Squadron’s loyal terrier bitch, was killed by a jeep during the group’s short stay at Casablanca.

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