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Remembering The Past, Remember In The Future

Updated on July 5, 2012
Uncle Donald on the left in the rear
Uncle Donald on the left in the rear | Source

31-March-1944: North Atlantic; Bay of Biscay

While on routine anti-submarine patrol, United States Navy PB4Y-1 BuNo 63948 was lost at sea along with a second PB4Y, BuNo 63940. A third aircraft in the patrol returned to base and reported the formation as having been attacked by German JU aircraft. It is unknown if the two missing planes were shot down or crashed at sea. On April 1, 1945, the aircraft were delisted and the crews officially deemed killed in action. My uncle, Donald Gamble, was an ordinance man on BuNo 63948.

Growing up, I used to enjoy watching my grandmother ride in parades in the back of a limousine or classic convertible, wearing her Gold Star Mother's hat and waving to the people lining the streets. I knew that my father's oldest brother had been killed in World War II, but as a youngster, did not appreciate what that really meant. It was the 1970's, and despite the unrest in the United States over the Vietnam War, there was still a great respect shown for veterans and families of veterans from the World War II era. In 1975, thirty years after World War II ended, memories were still fresh in the minds of that war's veterans. While my grandmother did not like to talk about Uncle Donald, my father would answer my questions as best he could and always reinforce the fact that those who go to serve our great country are true heroes and should never be forgotten, no matter what we may think of the conflict they are in, or our government's direction. It was not until recently, through research and persistence inspired by a long time interest in what my uncle did during the War, did I find out exactly what happened that day in 1943.

From VPNAVY.ORG - A site dedicated to Navy Air Patrol Squadrons

31 MAR 44 A/C: PB4Y-1 Location: Unknown BUNO: 63948 Cause: Anti-submarine patrol. Crashed at sea. Crew missing:Pilot Lt Harold Barton A-V(N) USNR, Lt(jg) Richard J. Schuetz (co-pilot) A-(N) USNR, Ens Clifford John Parker (navigator) A-V(N) USNR, Ens Philip William Bash A-V(S) USNR, Acmo Winston C. Ketchem (AA) USNR, Amm3c William F. Smith USNR, Amm2c Richard P. Krobe USNR, Rm2c Eugene V. J. Timberman USN, Aom2c Donald C. Gamble USN, Rm3c Edwin H. McLean USNR, Rm3c Archie P. Oliver USNR, and Aom2c Richard W. Melette USN. Contributed by Terry [02SEP2001]

"...AMM2c Richard P. Krobe should be AMM2c Richard P. Krebs; RM2c V.J. Timberman should be ARM2c Eugene V.J. Timberman; AOM2c Richard W. Melette should be AOM2c Richard W. Mellette..." Contributed by AD1 Tom Bass (NAC/AW) Retired [04MAR2011]

"...Article written by Sam Adkins that appeared in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal, Roto Magazine on May 14, 1944..." Contributed by Tony Sivo, Jr. [02JUL2006]

I have long had a copy of an article, written by Sam Adkins, that appeared in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal, Roto Magazine on May 14, 1944. It describes a patrol on which my late father, Tony Sivo, was a co-pilot (VPB-103). The patrol took place on 31 Mar 44. In his Log Book, he comments that they were "attacked by JU-88's". The article referred to an attack on two other PB4Y-1's as well as their own (the "Pistol Packin' Mamma, BUNO 32207). There wasn't much detail. Last year I found among my late uncle's personal effects, an uncensored version of that article. It appears to describe the two VPB-110 planes (BUNO 63940 and BUNO 63948) that were reported as downed on your website on 31 Mar 44.

I offer the following excerpt:

"(Lt JG Duke) Corning picked up two other Libs from our group which had taken off before us, and another fell in behind for a little practice in formation flying before we had to separate to continue the patrol. We knew that a short time before an earlier patrol had depth-charged a U-Boat somewhere in this area, and everyone was keyed up, hoping for a chance to sight the wreckage and complete the kill. We didn't know that the nearby clouds were alive with JU-88's.

We came to a parting of the ways, and Corning, flying the left wing position, swung wide toward the east - and the French coast. Less than three minutes later, we could see that one of the three planes we had left was in trouble. Two or three JU's were buzzing about her. Then we saw her jettisoned depth charges send the sea geysering, and saw the Lib high-tailing it for cloud cover.

Corning started to swing 'Pistol Packin Mamma' to go to the attacked ship's aid, but someone called out over the interphone (intercom in the Army) system, 'two planes to starboard, believe they're Beaufighters' (British). Corning took a look, then shouted to Co-Pilot Sivo, 'Beaufighters Hell! They're JU's. Let's go!'

We began climbing toward the clouds, faster and faster as the two men did all the thousand and one things necessary to make a Lib act like a climbing P-47. We started the climb from about 2,000 feet, and the clouds were about 4,100. When we were almost there, I peered out between the Pilot and Co-Pilot -- and almost swallowed my tongue, or something; out of the cloud cover roared another JU-88, so close to us we almost could have shaken hands with the Pilot -- not more than 150 yards away, to be exact.

He was in perfect position to become a sitting duck for our top-turret gunner, (MM 2/C T. H.) Vidrine; he had seen us at the last minute and couldn't possibly turn around to shoot, so he skidded his plane crazily and tore back into the clouds. There wasn't a shot fired; Vidrine wasn't in position, and the split second the Jerry was in sight was too short for him to bring the twin-fifties to bear. Vidrine was fit to be tied. 'Why didn't I get that ______?' he kept yelling to himself. 'Why didn't I get him.'

Apparently unperterbed, Corning told Sivo, 'Well that's the closest I ever expect to get to a Jerry plane without somebody getting shot. Who ever heard of a Lib getting on a JU's tail, anyhow?' And he went on tooling 'Mamma' through the soupy clouds.

It wasn't until we returned to the base tonight that we learned that Jerr(y) had got two of our planes. At least they got one; the other failed to return."

The article also refers to Lt JG Charles R. Jones (navigator), M. Cameron (first radioman) and W. Purdy (second radioman).

Keep Memories Fresh

My Dad, as most young men growing up in the post war 1950s and early 1960s, served his country. He spent his time in the Army, and the Army Reserve. Though he never saw action, he was proud of the time he spent in uniform and valued the lessons he learned while in the service. Today, fathers and mothers alike are deployed across the globe, in both active combat and peace keeping roles. Post 9/11 conflicts are fresh in our memories, and as in the case of Afghanistan, still be fought. Thousands of Americans have stories like mine, of an uncle they never knew, or a cousin, or a brother, or a mother or a father who gave their life for their country. While today we say "We Will Never Forget" how soon will it be before the struggles of the new millennium are a distant memory, kept alive by only a select few?

We have an obligation to serve the memories of those who served for us. I have pictures and other artifacts from my Uncle Donald's World War II service, my father's dog tags, and pictures of my other uncles in uniform. I share the information with my children and make sure they understand that every one of their elders who served their country did it to protect the way of life we have today. We must do whatever we can to ensure the memories of conflicts past are not forgotten, and that the heroes of conflicts present are not left to the pages of a history text book. No matter what your view of the political aspects of any one of today's wars, you cannot deny that the men and women serving our country in the line of fire are doing it to protect us and to ensure the future of our country. No matter your view, you must take it upon yourself, this obligation, this duty, to ensure the stories of our armed services personnel and the history they are making, and have recently made is preserved and never forgotten. We must inspire our youngest generation with the resolve to keep memories alive and keep history alive, so that our military heroes will not be lost.


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      Pennylu 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your family story. It was very moving. I have had many family members serve in various wars, and today I have a child serving in Afghanistan.