A Legacy: The Trees of the 398th
The World War II legacy left by the 398th Bomb Group can be traced in any number of journals, books and records. It can be traced by the veteran's themselves, who to this day, more than a half century later, still gather to tell and retell their stories of the air war. But, as the ever-lengthening years pass, the number of storytellers diminishes. One day there will be no first-person interviews with those that were there. Those who knew the sounds, the smells, the noise and yes, the terror of aerial warfare. Who will remind the coming generations that these things really happened? What will cause them to wonder of these things.... and hopefully seek out the historical documents that will tell them what happened?
Can a tree do this? Can four trees do this? The 398th Bomb Group Memorial thinks so, witness the trees that have been planted in the United States and overseas as memorials to the 398th in general, and to the 398th men killed in action in particular.
It was a program begun in 1986, when a 398th tour party returned to Station 131, there to plant a pair of trees beside the beautiful memorial that had been dedicated in 1982. Willis Frazier, the 601st Squadron's Operation Officer had the honor of representing the group in the planting of an oak tree. At the same time, Malcolm Osborn dedicated an aspen tree on behalf of the Friends of the 398th. It was Osborn, along with Vic Jenkins, who led the UK drive to build the memorial.
National Museum of the US Airforce - Dayton
In 1989 the tree scene shifted to Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. During its annual reunion held at Dayton, the 398th set down an oak tree with a bronze plaque, joining dozens of other Air Force groups and squadrons with similar memorials at the famous AF base. Bill Comstock led the dedication, assisted by Mrs. Frank P. Hunter and Chaplain James Duvall.
The year 1992 saw two more trees set down in Europe, both in cities ringing of memories of WWII. Merseburg.... dreaded Merseburg, the city of synthetic oil targets, hundreds of Flak Guns and ... the death scene of many 398th airmen. This time however, civic, social and educational leaders of the city met the 398th tour. They joined Dick Frazier and his fellow 398th travelers in planting a tree at the entrance to Merseburg Castle.
Also on the 1992 tour agenda was a stop at Neuss and a tree planting in a civic park not far from the very spot where Col. Hunter's plane went down, killing all on board except pilot Fred Gonzales. At that time, every member of the 398th tour group took the opportunity to place a spade full of soil at the base of the tree.
We remember.... and may the trees planted by the 398th help the coming generations remember also.
Excerpted from 398th Memorial Association Flak News, Vol.12 No. 1.
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