1980 Nolan Crew Reunion
by Paula Will Moyer
My Dad (Ralph Will) asked my to send on the photo of the crew (Nolan's Crew - 600th Squadron - July 1980) at a reunion at my Dad's house in Elmhurst, Illinois 35 years after the crew disbanded. Dad says that the reunion was a real high point for him and for all the guys. The reunion was my Dad's idea. He had kept in touch with several of the crew members and managed to track the rest down using phone books from all over the country at O'Hare airport. Every one made it except Joe Findlay who had just bought a new business and didn't think he could leave it alone.
The reunion was just supposed to last a couple of days but went on for 10 days. No one wanted to leave once they got together. Many of the couples stayed at my parent's house. The ones that couldn't fit stayed at local motels. My Dad and Mom packed everyone up for a tour of downtown Chicago. Some just loved the city. My father continued the downtown trips for those who wished to brave the city. My mother set up sight seeing trips in the suburbs of Chicago for those who thought Chicago traffic was just too wild.
Some of the folks arrived at the beginning of the 10 days and some toward the end. Dad took a photo of 7 of the guys one day and left a space for the 8th man and took his photo later and "cut" him into the picture with scissors later. I'm enclosing that photo and a news paper article (see below) that Frank Mackay submitted to his local paper.
Paula Will Moyer
After 35 years, B-17 crew meets
to recall past, renew friendships
By Eric Paddock
Era Staff Writer
During the final weeks of World War II in Europe ten men in the 398th Bomb Group spent some harrowing moments in a B-17 over Germany.
On the ground they lived together, ate together and argued together.
During the first week of July, eight of those got together again, this time in Elmhurst, Ill., to reminisce about those days in the 8th Air Force and catch up on what each other had been doing for the past 35 years.
Frank Mackay of 533 W. Washington St. was one of those men.
After 35 years the crew was a little grayer, a little balder in some cases, but the amazing thing, Mackay said as he looked at a picture of the crew, was how little they had changed in those three and a half decades.
Most of the crew was able to make the reunion, including Ralph Will, engineer; Robert Nolan, pilot; Vernon Helms, navigator; Harry Dover, radio operator; Henry Frenchy Carbonneau, tail gunner; Willie E. Smitty Smith, togolier (bombadier); and Mackay, ball turret gunner.
They had plenty to reminisce about. In 17 bombing missions over Europe, they had become more than just acquaintances.
The crew formed in 1944 and trained for overseas flying together at McDill Field, Fla., and stayed together until the war in Europe ended and they were all sent home.
On mission days they were up at 2:30 a.m. for breakfast and briefing at 3:30 a.m. The missions lasted anywhere from eight to ten hours and sometimes longer.
Fortunately, they all made it back to the states, with only Frenchy, the tail gunner, coming back early after being wounded on the tenth mission.
Because of his obviously French last name, Mackay said, Carbonnaeu was nicknamed Frenchy because everyone thought he could speak French, even though he couldnt.
Over the years a few of the crew managed to stay in touch and Mr. and Mrs. Mackay have visited a couple of the crewmen on different occasions and some have been to Bradford.
Ralph Will came up with the idea of a 35th reunion. Will called the Mackays in March and explained the idea.
The tough part was tracking down a few of the crew. After 35 years the trail of former comrades sometimes cools.
Mackay said after trying other means, Will, whos home in Elmhurst is not far from Chicago, went to OHare International Airport and began looking through all of the telephone books for the major metropolitan areas in the country.
After some trial and error calling he was able to contact the pilot, co-pilot and togolier.
They had all gone their separate ways after the war, although Findlay and Smith re-enlisted and eventually retired from the Air Force.
Nolan runs a commercial printing plant in Yreka, Calif.; Helms is a senior engineer for Standard Oil in Taft, Calif.; Will is a retired carpenter; Dover is in pharmaceutical sales in Ashville, N.C.; Mackay is a drilling contractor in Bradford; Passmore is a chief construction inspector for Celanese in Kingsville, Texas; and Carbonnneau is a retired brick layer and carpenter in Littleton, N.H.
Howard Findlay, co-pilot couldnt make the reunion.
Only one reported a divorce in all those years. Thats quite an achievement in this day and age, Mackay said.
Wed all talk at once and sometimes somebody would remember different than someone else, Mackay said.
Like the mission when their plane was flying deputy lead on a bomb run and the lead plane had its tail shot off and another plane beside them had a wing blown off by anti-aircraft fire from the ground.
We were all scared. Every time, Mackay said.
Although the Elmhurst reunion was the first time in 35 years the majority of the crew had gotten together, it wont be the last.
- This newspaper article is from the Bradford Era, Bradford, PA.
- This article was submitted to the era by Frank Mackay.
- Scan of original article is below. Paula Will Moyer, daughter of Ralph Will transcribed the article in December 2007.
- S/Sgt. Frank M. Mackey's Diary
- T/Sgt. Ralph F. Will's Diary
- Liberation Flight by Ralph F. Will, Flight Engineer
- The Tallest Gunner in the Air Force by Ralph F. Will, Flight Engineer
- 1980 Nolan Crew Reunion by Paula Will Moyer