B-17 F #42-30385 KIA 26 July 1944

In July of 1944, the 301st Bomb Group flew 21 bombing missions in 26 days. On the 26th, their target was a Natzi aircraft engine plant near Vienna, Austria. Things went south when the fighter escorts didn’t show up. Almost half the bomber group went down in flames by over 100 German fighters. My cousin pilot 2nd Lt. David Kerr was one of them.

74 years latter, we found the crash site with the help of several local Austrians. This is what it looks like today. There are thousands of pieces of the aircraft scattered for many kilometers. Many are clustered near these 360º images I shot on my trip there in 2018.

Letter home from Vienna:

Dear Family,

I am taking my boy Ryan to see the crash site today. Yesterday the family that owns the property treated me like a king. The son of the ranch refused to let me cary my backpack up the mountain. We talked for hours after this incredible exploration over dinner.

Upon arrival, my most gracious host presented me the radio operators chart holder complete with their call tag #30385. This I will give to his sister Mary Ann in Texas when I return. The green coloration on one piece of the aluminum left no doubt this was David’s B-17 F model. He also gave me three 50 caliber rounds (defused) and a couple of squares of flack jacket armor.

3 local Austrians spent most of the day with me cataloging everything from flight controls to bomb fragments. One guy dug up parts with his metal detector at every turn (Steve you would be impressed with his skill). His older brothers were on the scene right after the crash in 1944. Not aware of what this really was, they described it as Christmas-like with all the silver, red and green bright colors – the smell of burning spruce.

As I reached the summit with the family Cocker Spaniel, I was greeted by only the birds and the wisp of the cool mountain air. A cuckoo bird in the distance chimed in. In the distance to the west, a 3000 meter snow caped mountain top stood majestically across the valley below.

From the Rocky Mountains, to the Smoky Mountains it’s the most beautiful forrest I have ever trekked. There is no underbrush like Tennessee, so you can see a long distance down the steep slopes.

The tranquil nature of the landscape juxtaposed with the most violent event imaginable, was odd. It felt so incredibly peaceful in the midst of a 74 year aerial graveyard. It remains like sunken shipwreck. There is a large opening in the dense tall spruces near the top of the ridge line were trees will not grow again. This would be a fitting place for a small monument to the crews.

We found plexiglass from the plane which indicated to me an explosion before it had a chance to burn. We located the precise location were most of the crew where found, buried and reburied in 1947 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri.

The sole of a boot, shredded nylon, even large pieces of of a leather glove lay scattered on the hillside 74 years later. In David’s plane alone every 500 lb. bomb but one detonated on the way down. A hole the size of baseball in the massive propeller blade was shot clean through. Most of the airplane is less than the size of your fist, and they lay at every step for hundreds of yards down the steep slope.

Some of the airmen in parachutes were witnessed catching on fire going down. I believe that much of the crew were probably killed in the explosions, and most likely died instantly, including David and his copilot.

Eye witness accounts of the fall have been well documented by our host. He has a vast database of information with a map detailing debris over more than 6 kilometers of the area.

The year after this infamous tragedy the area was overrun by the Soviets with fierce fighting. The grandmother of the current property owner was killed in a 1945 rocket attack on her property. Ironically, this was the high-water mark of the Soviet push west in this region.

Our Austrian friends grandfather was able to survive the war and surrendered to the American forces. He told me that most locals in the past have not wanted to discuss the WWII history in this region. This is changing he said.

The family is very protective of this sacred ground and have done a great job keeping it as-is. At their request, we will keep its location a secret. My hope is, that this might give some closure to family still living that never knew their fate. Like so many horrible wars, many times, they just never came home.

2nd Lt. David Kerr and family on his last visit to Nashville.

Video narrative of 21 missions in July 1944

Fox 17 News Story:

3D Simulation

AI Animation of David Kerr

D-Day Disaster

D-Day heros:

Bill and Ed

It’s not often you get a chance to interview a World War II hero, especially one from the Allied invasion at Normandy, France. Bill Allen and his wife Idalee were gracious enough to spend a few hours with me today. This was particularly poignant, because my paternal uncle was with him on that fateful day.

Bill and Uncle Ed were new recruits to the Navy, and among ten’s of thousands of young Navy Corpsmen for the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944 – a mass medical mobilization for a predicted massacre.

After 6 weeks of basic training and another 6 weeks of corpsman school, they headed for Europe via Nova Scotia. Easter Sunday 1944, they left Halifax for Great Britan. Rough waters along the way were so intense, they needed bunk straps to keep from falling out of their racks. One Sunday morning they noticed it odd that there were no worship services. Since the ship had no Chaplain, Bill and Ed organized a group of 12 sailors that formed a fellowship on Coast Guard LST 523.

Shortly after arriving at Plymouth, England they hit the ground with a two week course in chemical weapons defense (the allies were unsure of Hitlers intentions, as the war intensified on two fronts for the Germans). The corpsmen drilled on Seabee boats practicing loading and unloading of the combat vehicles and supplies: (LST’s – Landing Ship, Tank*). One day they were instructed not to unload the heavy equipment after the daily exercise. They knew what was coming next.

LST 523 made four runs to the Normandy beach heaving over 15 foot ocean swells along the way. On the fourth and final sortie, off Pointe du Hoc, they came straight down on a German mine amid-ship.

Bill had just come top-side from the galley. On the bow, he began conversing with two Army soldiers. One of them suggested they grab a seat in an armored truck close by. Shortly after they sat down, the catastrophic mine explosion sent slices of metal and men in all directions. According to Bill, the truck sheltered him from the raining debris that were shredding men into pieces all around him. Gaining his senses, he jumped ship just as the end of the 328′ long boat disappeared below the water. It had been sliced in half by the explosion. A fellow sailor Jack Hamlin, was close by in a small raft. They made their way to an anchored Liberty Ship and taken aboard to relative safety.

At zero hour, my uncle Ed was on the other end of the vessel. Bill said Ed never talked about his experience, and Bill never asked. All Bill knows is Ed somehow made it to shore and to an aid station. That was 2.5 miles from where they were hit. At the end of the day, 117 soldiers and sailors were dead of the 145 aboard LST 523: 28 survivors. Of those, all twelve of the prayer group were in one piece.

After spending a month or two in Foy, England they shipped out via Scotland on the HMS Queen Mary, to New York and then to Norfolk. They were instructed to expect assignment to fleet Marines in the South Pacific, and were given 30 days leave. A month latter they boarded a train thinking they were headed west, for the far east. To their surprise, they ended up at the the Great Lakes Naval Base Hospital. They were both assigned state-side hospital detail for the rest of the war. Apparently, one of the detailing officers decided they had seen enough combat, after (4) D-Day landings, and one ship blown out from underneath them.

Uncle Ed went back to Murfreesboro and made a professional life in the funeral business establishing Roselawn Cemetery and Funeral Home. For the next 45 years, he cared for families all over Middle Tennessee with the same compassion, respect and reverence as his fallen comrades on the Normandy beach. In 1990, Ed died of a heart attack at his Church deacon’s meeting. Bill Allen was seated next to him and received his last goodby. The funeral was one of the largest in local memory.

Bill Allen is happily married, working part-time at Ed’s former funeral home, and doing God’s good work. He is a very healthy age 90.


Pharmacists Mate 3rd Class

More details of the mission can be found below. The Nova video can also be found on YouTube.

Location of the ship wreck off Pointe du Hoc

D-Day Sunken Secrets: Buy the video of the PBS documentary for $2.99 on iTunes (the LST portion of the video starts at 1 hour and five minutes).

Tennessean Article May 25, 2014

Murfreesboro Post August 13, 2013

300th Combat Engineers

* Landing Ship, Tank (LST), or tank landing ship, is the naval designation for vessels created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore. – wikipedia

LST 325 was part of the invasion with 523 at Normandy, France. It is docked here in Nashville, Tennessee 4 September 2017. It is owned and operated by the LST Memorial.

Virtual 360 Tour

USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc. 840 LST Drive, Evansville, IN  47713 325office@lstmemorial.org.

#navyheros #ddayheros #tennesseeheros #murfreesboroheros #lst523 #wwiicorpmen