Frederick Hellenga
Pilot,
Hellenga Crew
5th Air Force
90th Bomb Group
Donation made by
Marianna and Gary Hellenga
Blogs  (Updates, insights and ramblings from Alejandro Mena and his Team) . . .
Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by Alejandro Mena    

The Numbers Game

A philosopher once asked, what's in a name? I would ask, what's in a number? Numbers, random, occurring numbers are the subject of today's blog. Let's assemble four 3 digit numbers from the 492nd Bomb Group Crew roster and explore the randomness of numbers, the randomness of fate. Let's explore Living and Dying.

We'll start with two sets of two consecutive numbers. The first set starts with number 712 followed by 713. The second set starts with number 801, followed by 802. These 4 sets of numbers represent four very real separate crews which served in the 492nd bomb group. Forty men. Forty lives. The O'Sullivan Crew # 713 became the first crew to reach the magical 30 missions flown, finish a combat tour with the 492nd BG and go home. Six days later, the Scott Crew # 712 completed their 30th mission and also punched their tickets for home, having done their duty.

The McMurray Crew # 801 was shot down on July 7th, 1944 during the Bernburg raid. They were swallowed up by the forest and never seen again. The Herbert Crew # 802 was shot down on the May 19th, 1944 mission to Brunswick. Five of the ten man crew's remains were found and reburied in American Cemeteries. The other five were also lost and never found for many years.

Two sets of numbers. 712 and 713. Happy endings. The majority of these men lived long lives. Married. Had children. Careers. Grandchildren. Great grandchildren. The majority of them lived to be old men and died at a ripe old age, most of them in their 80s.

The second set of numbers. 801 and 802. Lost. Killed in action. All young men. In their early to mid 20s. They died horrible deaths. The majority of them were not found for many years. The world moved on, through the Cold War, The Korean War, Elvis Presley, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Beatles, the Viet-Nam War, Neil Armstrong, and Eleven United States Presidential terms. And all this time the forests of Germany held their dark secrets.

Remarkably, both missing crews were found by the same man. Enrico Schwartz is a young man who has dedicated his life to finding missing Allied air crews from WWII. His organization found the Herbert Crew # 802 who were laid to rest in 2002, 58 years after they went missing. The McMurray Crew # 801, were finally laid to rest in Arlington Memorial Cemetery in 2008. They had been missing for 64 years since going down on that July 7th, 1944 Bernburg raid. On that same mission, my father's crew, CREW 713, narrowly avoided a mid air collision with another bomber. The bomber flying directly behind O'Sullivan did not. In an instant, twenty lives were lost.

Two sets of numbers. Two radically different outcomes. Such is the randomness of numbers and of war. Bob Scott, who completed 30 missions said recently, "there are worse things than dying, being in your 20s and never coming home is one of them". Wise words from a WWII veteran. My father's crew avoids disaster. The Cary crew following behind does not. Bloody goddam war. War doesn't care. War devours all. We are left with witnesses and survivors who ask the question, WHY?

Alejandro Mena
One Comment on
The Numbers Game
  1. On Friday, June 6, 2014
    Douglas Dow wrote...

    On this day (June 6th) seventy years ago, my father met his crew (Crew 288) at Westover Field (MA), after monitoring invasion reports on the radio early that morning. The crew trained at Chatham Field (GA), but subsequent to that, their crew number never showed up in any documentation, even when they went MIA (November 11, 1944, MACR9699). He served in the 15th AAF (454/739). Perhaps that AF documented differently than the 8th, but I wonder why a replacement crew drew such a low number compared to 713, and if crew numbers had different significance based on AAF assignment.
    Thanks!

    • On Friday, June 6, 2014
      Alex Mena wrote...

      Douglas, those are all good questions. I know that bomb groups varied as to how they identified individual crews. For example, some BGs only went with a number and others went even further with a 2 digit designation. In the 492nd Bomb Group, my Dad's group, all crews were not only identified by a 3 digit number, but also by the pilot's last name. Thus, my Dad's crew was officially known as the "O'Sullivan Crew # 713" after David G. O'Sullivan, the crew's pilot and commander. As to why your Dad's crew number was 288 as opposed to my Dad's 713....who knows? the various Air Forces were run as autonomous outfits and someone, somewhere, decided to start their crew numbering system at some number. Who picked it? Why that number? I just don't know. It does seem random. Also in the 492nd, replacement crews were not given the number of the crew they replaced (suprerstition? Bad luck?) but instead were given a crew number such as R-01 and so forth. The "R" of course meaning Replacement. When your Dad's crew went MIA were they listed by the Pilot's last name?

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