October 13, 1923 (Norwalk, CT) – December 31, 1943; 19 years old
Unmarried; there are reports he was engaged to a French girl; see story at the end of this page
Last local address: 11 Westport Avenue, Norwalk
Enlisted January 7, 1942
Service number: 11041277
392ND BOMBER GROUP, 578TH BOMBER SQUADRON
Awarded the Air Medal (three times) and the Purple Heart Medal.
Norwalk High School Class of ’41
Target: ST JEAN D’ANGLEY (FRANCE)
31 December 1943
AIRCRAFT: #42-7605 (NO NICKNAME) “T-Bar” 1st Mission
Cause: German fighters 9 KIA, 1 POW
On the last mission flown in 1943, the 14th Combat Wing accomplished an excellent bombing task. The target was an airfield southeast of St. Jean d’Angely, France. The Intelligence Annex to Field Order No. 173 stated that the target was “a continuation of the attack on the Luftwaffe only attacking it in its training stages rather than production or finished products.” The 392nd led the 2nd Bomb Division with 27 ships taking off and 23 bombing the briefed target. Fifteen mostly single engine enemy fighters were encountered, including 6 Me-109s, 7 FW-190s, and 3 JU-88s. #42-7605 exploded going into the target area due to this fighter action.
Mission loss circumstances: Eye-witness account of a returning Group crewman was “ship #605 blew up going to target area; no chutes seen.” Near Montlieu-la-Garde, Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes, France. Sgt. Malavasic’s later ‘Casualty Questionnaire’ report after the war noted the following brief remarks: Their ship left the bomber formation over the target at about 1215 hours, altitude 18,000 feet; (though not available in this single page report, it is presumed that enemy fighter attacks caused this aircrew’s downing); that all other crewmen were in their respective positions either seriously wounded or dead at the time of this plane’s destruction; and that the aircraft struck the ground about (20) miles from the target.
According to French researcher Bernard Ballanger, 1st Lt McKee was flying near the end of the 445th Bomb Group formation when they were attacked by a band of German fighters coming from all directions. A French eyewitness saw his B-24 start to smoke and then leave the formation. It exploded into several pieces. A burning wing fell on the home of Mrs. Yvonne Bourdejeau, who died on January 20, 1944 from burns. Another eyewitness saw one of the crew fall to earth in his turret, held in place by his safety harness and seemingly asleep at his guns. Two parachutes were seen and an observer watched in horror as one of them was strafed by the fighters and killed. The other parachutist was tail gunner Sgt Anthony Malavasic, the sole survivor. He was captured within an hour of landing.
Burial Records: The crewman who was strafed was buried initially in the village cemetery in Bédenac, France; the rest of the crew was buried initially in the cemetery of St. Vivien. U.S. Cemetery lists record the following; At the RHONE Cemetery, (28) miles west of Cannes and (16) miles inland (France): McKee (Grave C-11-1); Walker (Grave D-6-6); Dinsmore (Grave A-6-19); and Sackal (Grave A-12-5); Simons (Grave D-1-24). No records exist on any of the other deceased crew members, German or U.S. On recorded citations, McKee, Walker, and Simons are noted as having been awarded an Air Medal and the Purple Heart; Sackal was given awards of an Air Medal with (2) Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart; and Dinsmore, the Purple Heart.
CREW POSITIONS AND STATUS:
P l/LT. Thomas R. McKee KIA
CP 2/LT. Thomas G. Walker KIA
N 2/LT Robert S. Dinsmore KIA
B 2/LT Lee Simons KIA
Engr T/S Ward Meeker Sackal KIA
R/O T/S Thomas C. Morrison KIA
NG S/S Horace Greely Murphy Jr KIA
WG S/S Richard E. Painter KIA
WG S/S Marion E. Nuzum KIA
TG S/S Anthony F. Malavasic, POW
A memorial to the McKee crew near their crash site was unveiled on December 31, 1947, by the organization French Memory. Each anniversary since then, flowers have been laid at the memorial and at Mrs. Bourdejeau’s grave. In another tribute to the McKee crew and other Allied airmen who participated in that mission, a street in Montlieu-la Garde was renamed “Rue du 31 Décembre 1943.”
Google Maps link to the monument: https://goo.gl/maps/hBEYGnJr2fGU5uWd9
The picture above/left has a plaque at the bottom, when translated, says: On December 31, 1943, large formations of American flying fortresses, coming from bombarding objectives in the region and heading towards cognac, crossed the sky of Montleiu Garde at high altitude. The last fortress in the formation attacked by a German fighter was hit and exploded, scattering bodies and pieces of the plane within a radius of one kilometer. There was also, in addition to the crew, an innocent civilian victim in the person of Madam Bourdejeau from Chadeau. The American aviators were buried in the cemetery of Saint Vivien and their graves maintained and flowered until the repatriation of their bodies to the United States. The monument erected here in their memory was unveiled four years later on the anniversary of this tragic event. The American troops based in Bussac never failed to commemorate this day, and since their departure, the Souvenir Francais [a French association for maintaining war memorials and war memory] continues to preserve both the monument and the memory. Eyewitnesses were kind enough to tell what they had seen and their stories are kept in the archives of Souvenir Francais of Montlieu La Garde.
There is a story at THIS web page that says, “Sgt Sackal’s grave is decorated with flowers every month and peanuts in memory of the moments spent when he met his friend and in particular during the cinema sessions they shared together.” Presumably his fiancee.
Buried Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial, Draguignan, Departement du Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France; Plot A, Row 12, Grave 5.