Sgt. Ward Crockett Gillespie (KIA)
Function: Waist gunner
Age: not Available
Birth Year /Place: not Available
John Ward Gillespie (1896 - 1975)
Mary Jane Poorman Gillespie (1901 - 1978)
Plot: Sec. LV, Lot 021
Enlisted Feb. 19, 1943. He was a waist gunner on a B-17; 8th Air Force; 390th Bombardment Group; 568th Bombardment Squadron; stationed at Framlingham, England. Killed in Action on 10 January 1945, during a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany. The plane was hit in the left wing, caught fire, and crashed near Dusseldorf, Germany. Body returned and burial occurred Nov. 10, 1945.
Writen by Harvin C Moore (Ward was my father’s first cousin and the only son of my great-aunt and great-uncle).
Thanks to all those who gave their lives for our country-in our family we remember my father's cousin Ward Gillespie, a B-17 Waist Gunner who was killed at the age of 20 when his bomber was shot down over Germany. He had always loved planes and when he graduated from Lamar in 1941 as Captain of the Rifle Team and entered Texas A&M, my father thought he was the coolest, baddest cat he knew. He was assigned to the 568th squadron of the 390th bomb group in Framlingham, England, and flew 22 missions including his last, on January 10, 1945, as the Allies tried to force Hitler to surrender.
He wrote a letter home on January 1 which I scanned here, and you can feel his positive spirit as he mentions his hometown friend Mark Hertz, who was on the same crew. Nine days later, after a mission briefing (see photos), they boarded a brand new silver B-17G, and enroute their target was changed from a bridge in Cologne to a bridge at Neuss, outside Duesseldorf, Germany. We know what happened because we have letters from all of the surviving members of the crew.
Ten seconds after dropping the bombs, the left engine was hit by flak and both left engines soon were in flames. Captain Skinner gave the order to bail out and put the plane on autopilot as he left his seat. The left wing of the plane tore off as the pilot prepared to jump, and as he jumped, the fuselage broke apart just above the bomb door. Captain Skinner's face and neck were torn by metal as he fell from the plane, and when his chute opened, he saw only three other chutes, not eight as he had hoped.
Ward wrote this letter home nine days before his final mission.
Meanwhile, in the plane, according to the crewmember who last them, the Houston boys were together. Ward had not been injured but was trying to free his friend Mark Hertz from his ball turrett. He could not do so before the plane crashed into a field near Neuss. Ward and Mark died with their parachutes unopened.
Mary and Jack Gillespie were informed of Ward's MIA status, and then his KIA status, with the telegrams I have posted here. Ward's body was buried at the huge US Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland, where it was cared for by an incredibly gracious Dutch family whose son "Appy" would become a pen pal of my father's brother Barry years later. The Bijl family expressed in letters the incalculable gratitude they had for Ward and the United States for leaving our homeland to take back Europe from Hitler. Three years later Ward's remains were transferred back to the US and now lay alongside his parents at our family site at Glenwood Cemetery.
My great aunt, Aunt Mary, was never the same, because Ward was their only child and the love of their lives. I remember Aunt Mary in the last couple of years of her life as she had imaginary conversations with Ward and about Ward, and those were happy moments for her even as the family grieved at her loss of mental faculties.
Ward's hometown friend Mark Hertz was also killed in the plane crash. Although he could have bailed out in time, Ward was helping to free Mark from his ball turrett before the plane broke apart and crashed near Neuss.
The Bijl family of Maastricht, Holland cared for Ward's grave for the three years he was interred at the US Cemetery at Margraten.
Ward was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously and his parents received his medals along with his personal effects, an American flag, and his dogtag.