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The hand of fate
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 9:08 PM CDT
By James G. Smith
Special to the Selma Times-Journal
Call it the hand of fate, destiny or divine intervention, but some
people are left to ponder why they were spared while others perished.
Incidents of someone substituting for someone else and being killed
occur quite frequently in combat.
Why someone next to you is blown to bits and you survive unscathed is
puzzling. It is a question that has plagued combat veterans since the
advent of warfare.
No one has thought more on the subject than Frank S. Bolen, B-17
bombardier, United States Army Air Corps, 1942-1945.
While Frank settled the issue within himself many years ago, some
struggle for decades trying to answer the question. Being a man of
strong faith, Frank credits God first and foremost, but also credits his
fervent prayers and his wife, Frances’ prayers, and many other loved
ones on his behalf.
Bolen’s B-17 crew assembled in Salt Lake City, Utah, and began practice
runs around the southeast honing their skills.
The B-17 crew consisted of Jack R. “Tex” Thompson, pilot, David J.
Nelson, co-pilot, Frank S. Bolen, bombardier, Charles F. Bacigalupa,
navigator, Blake A. Treece Jr., radio operator, Richard R. Collins,
waist gunner, Gerald F. Gillies, tail gunner, Warren D. Godsey, ball
turret gunner and Henry F. Kortebein, top turret gunner.
It took nine men to fly, operate, deliver the bombs and defend the B-17.
The crew soon jelled and drew an assignment of delivering a new B-17 to
Ireland. The flight took about 10 hours with one stop in Newfoundland.
After dropping the plane off in Ireland for combat modifications, the
crew continued to their new duty station Bassingbourn, England arriving
there on June 4, 1944.
They were assigned to the 322nd Squadron, 91st Bomb Group (H), of the
8th Air Force.
The new crew drew a combat ready plane named “Chow-hound.”
“Chow-hound” was no stranger to combat having already completed in
excess of 50 missions by other crews.
In comparison, the famous B-17 “Memphis Belle” was retired after
completing 25 missions, although these missions were at the beginning of
the war when formations were not as tight and casualty counts much
Bolen’s crew began practice runs around the English countryside awaiting
being placed on the mission board. It came on June 20, 1944, and the
first one was certainly no milk run. Hamburg was the target and it was
heavily defended with anti-aircraft guns.
Bolen’s baptism in bombing runs was a hair raising experience. Sitting
right in the nose of the B-17, it appeared they were flying right into
the flak bursting all around them. The white cliffs of Dover sure looked
good on return after completing the mission safely.
This same crew, assembled in Salt Lake City, completed 13 missions as a
team in “Chow-hound.”
They had become very close personally knowing each other extremely well
on and off missions. It was a brotherhood, or one for all and all for
Mission 14 was to be a troop support mission on the front lines.
For this mission, Charles Sherrill was selected to replace Bolen on the
mission. In order to fly bombing runs on troop support, you had to be
checked out by the squadron bombardier and certified to do so. At the
time, Bolen hadn’t been certified, therefore, the substitute was made.
Bolen was up early on Aug. 8, 1944, to see his aircrew and plane,
“Chow-hound,” off on the mission.
He watched as pilot Tex Thompson skillfully lifted “Chow-hound” off the
runway and tucked the landing gear safely away.
“Chow-hound” circled around and headed toward the English Channel and
into the rising sun. He stood and watched until the plane was only a
speck on the horizon before turning away a little despondent that he
wasn’t onboard with his teammates
It was a long wait throughout the day in anticipation of the return from
Bolen made his way to the waiting area early to greet “Chow-hound” on
its arrival. The plane count began with plane after plane circling the
airfield before floating down to the tarmac. It was a struggle for some
with engines out and visible flak damage to the fuselage.
Crippled and lame, but proud, they came in.
Anxiety increased as more and more came in and still no signs of
Bolen continued to wait long after the main armada had returned in hopes
of a delayed return.
As time wore on, anxiety turned into panic with cold sweats and
difficulty breathing and swallowing. Finally, news came that
“Chow-hound” took a direct hit south of Caen, France and went down with
The news was devastating to Bolen.
The entire crew he had trained with and flew 13 missions were all gone.
He was the only remaining member of the original crew left to carry on.
A lesser man probably would have had difficulty crawling back into
another air plane, but Bolen knew he had to out of respect for his
As the saying goes, here is where you separate men from boys.
Bolen was integrated into another crew and assigned to the B-17 “My
The pilot, David McCarty was from Birmingham, Ala., making the
transition for Frank much easier. They flew two missions in “My Baby”
before it was grounded for damage repairs.
The next mission to the I.G. Farben Chemical Plant in Ludwigshafen,
Germany was flown in “Roxy’s Special.”
On board this mission was David McCarty, pilot, Neil M. Mylin, co-pilot,
Donald L. Brazones, navigator, Frank S. Bolen, bombardier, John Cangemi,
top turret, Frank F. Trim, Jr., ball turret, Charles E. Beebe, waist
guns, Floyd Z. Dillon, tail gun, and Henry R. Schuls, radio operator.
On Sept. 8, 1944, short of the bomb drop near Ludwigshafen, “Roxy’s
Special” took a hit ripping off a wing.
A spin ensued pinning Bolen and navigator Don Brazones in their nose
bubble followed almost immediately by an explosion blowing them free of
the air craft. Bolen and Brazones were the only two survivors of “Roxy’s
They both parachuted down, but not together, therefore neither knew the
fate of the other until later. Bolen eluded capture for 7 days before
being picked up and carted off to Stalag Luft 1 near Barth, Germany
after interrogations. Brazones had been picked up before Bolen and
processed through the channels to Stalag Luft 1. The two were reunited
at Stalag Luft 1 where they spent the remainder of the war.
On Sept. 14, 1944, the day Bolen was captured, Frances gave birth to
their first child, Linda, in Selma - a child Bolen would not see until
returning from imprisonment and the war.
The “Roxy’s Special” crash site was near a Lutheran Church in
Ludwigshafen. A very respectful group of Germans removed the remains of
the air crew and buried them in the local cemetery. After the war, the
remains were turned over to American authorities and they moved them to
a National Cemetery in Northern France.
In 1947, Bolen served as casket bearer for David McCarty when he was
brought home to rest in Birmingham.
In a strange twist of events, John Cangemi’s remains came up lost. A
frantic call from Gaspar Cangemi to Bolen and Brazones in 1993 asked for
help in locating his brother’s remains.
They obliged and after working through several Federal agencies were
able to find John Cangemi in a cemetery in Minnesota. The family,
according to Gaspar Cangemi, were not notified of the burial or his
whereabouts. After permission was received to remove the remains, John
Cangemi was moved to a family plot in New York.
The crash site of “Chow-hound” went virtually untouched until recently.
Although details of actual events immediately following the crash are at
best unclear, it is known French citizens witnessed “Chow-hound” come
down and were chased from the scene by German SS troopers. It is also
known that three bodies were seen and apparently removed from the
wreckage site. The three men, Charles Sherrill, Warren D. Godsey and
Richard R. Collins eventually found their way into Overseas American
Cemeteries in France.
Not until 2004 did JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) excavate the
crash site of “Chow-hound” and recover what remained of this gallant
crew. The remains were turned over to the CIL (Central Identification
Laboratory) in Hawaii for positive identification.
Finally after 62 years in an ugly scar in the ground near Caen, France,
the “Chow-hound” crew is coming home. As far as we know, there had been
no activity on this site until now and no monument to these men except
the ugly scar in the ground caused by the impact.
JPAC remains vigilant in its pursuit of all sites, but apparently is
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. Of the 78,000 still
unaccounted for from World War II, there remains 35,000 deemed
recoverable. How long must these families wait for results? It seems
cruel and unjust for families to wait 62 years for closure to these
On Aug. 24, 2006, there will be a special interment at Arlington
National Cemetery for the crew of “Chow-hound.”
Bolen’s original crew will finally be laid to rest on American soil.
What a wonderful day, and what a sad day too. Home at last these too can
claim their rightful place in the white polished markers of Arlington
National Cemetery. A place so sacred, it is reserved for our national
Frank and Frances Bolen will not be able to attend the ceremonies, but
will be represented there by David and Linda Bolen McKay, son-in-law and
daughter. I’m sure the day won’t pass without some thoughtful
reflections by Bolen who remains to bear witness of his fallen comrades.
Welcome home “Chow-hound” crew; may we never forget your contributions
to America and freedom around the world.
Information has come forth indicating three bodies were recovered from
the “Chow-hound” crash site in 1944, and eventually found their way into
Overseas American Cemeteries in France. Those three men were: Charles
Sherrill, Warren D. Godsey, and Richard R. Collins.