Mission No. 8 for the newly arrived 398th Bomb Group to the 8th Air Force Theater of operations was to Berlin. It would be the fourth such trip to the German capital in the month of May 1944. And before the war was over, the total would be nine. Planes from all four squadrons took part in the May 19 raid, but they were scattered in two formations. Jean Miller led A Group and Judson (Fred) Gray the B Group.
The mission would be remembered as the day the 398th lost its first plane and crew in combat. Ira ONeil and his men were on their fifth mission, and it was their second time around for Berlin.
It was one of those long hauls out over the North Sea, across the neck of Denmark, and then almost a straight shot southeast to Berlin. A wide pass out of the city and then back home on somewhat the same route. The mission narrative described the flak over the target as heavy and accurate on the bomb run. Indeed it was, as at least one 88 made a direct hit in the nose of the ONeil aircraft as it was on the wing of deputy leader Bill Markley. The plane immediately began to drift to the right. At the same moment, the lead bombardier, Gil Goldman, in the nose of Millers lead B-17, unloaded his rack of 100-pound incendiaries.
Keith Anderson, a regular copilot on the Miller/Gene Douglas lead crew, observed the following drama from his observers position in the tail turret:
When we dropped our bombs I looked down and saw several bombs drop right on the ONeil plane. He had drifted directly under Bob Nelsons plane in the high element and apparently no one saw it in time to hold up the bomb release. George Graham, the radio operator and one of the two survivors of the mishap along with navigator Howard Baer, corroborate this view in the accompanying articles. When Graham and Baer met at a reunion many years later, the two remember seeing another parachute descending. They saw just the chute and harness. Nobody was in it. ONeil had jumped
but had fallen out of his chute.
Others who perished on the ill-fated ONeil B-17 were Roger Comer, copilot; Merritt Deull, bombardier; Dale Schaupp, engineer-gunner; Joe Barzano, ball turret; Gerald Farren and Frederick Cone, waist; and Robert Jenkins, tail gunner.