Navigating the Research

How the Book and Digital Archive Came to Be

Glen Truslow.pngGlen Truslow loves two things: flight and history. Travel and historical explorations have also been focal points of my life; these innate interests can likely be traced back to my dad, and from him to his father Wally, the subject of this book. The book has grown from a simple plan to format and print 28 mission records to something much more. It started as an exploration of Shipdham Air Base to determine the viability of a trip there with my Dad. The research grew in scope, but still centers around Wally’s service that began and ended at Shipdham.

This book developed from the interests that have forever bonded me to my dad and he to his own: history and travel. This summer (2018), we’ll be taking a two-week trip throughout England, France, and Germany following in the footsteps of the “Band of Brothers” who fought in pivotal battles from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagles Nest. In planning this trip, my dad recounted fragments his dad’s service, and Shipdham became my point of entry when I received: “Thrilled you’d like me to accompany you on a historical trip through Europe. I think it would be unbelievable. Maybe a side trip to Shipdham where Wally spent his years, either way a historical adventure.”

In researching Shipdham and the 44th Bomb Group, I dug for records detailing the specifics of Wally’s service to no avail. I searched every conceivable iteration of Wally’s name on dozens of databases. I scoured the National Archives’ Online Enlistment Records and submitted a FOIA request for Wally’s records, but learned soon after that 80% of Army Air Force records were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in the 1970’s. In spite of these dead ends, they were breadcrumbs of new information.

After two weeks of following the rabbit hole, I had a breakthrough: a seemingly arcane website detailing the history of the 44th Bomb Group with a database of military records of Group veterans. I entered ‘Truslow’ in the database anticipating the same result as every other obscure database I’d found thus far – ‘no records found.’

One record was located for “Wallace B. Truslow.” His record showed 28 missions flown each detailing a different mission with first-hand accounts, the exact aircrafts Wally’s flew in, and the crews he fought alongside. It is a treasure trove of information about the missions Wally flew.

Archive

In sharing the information with Nana (Laurie Truslow) and my dad, they were thrilled to locate official records but perplexed by Wally’s mission count. They both vividly recalled Wally stating he’d flown more than 40 missions. The discrepancy made little sense – his records included a large chunk of time from late 1944 to early spring 1945 when he didn’t fly any missions. This was a pivotal time in the war as the Germans launched a blitzkrieg beginning the Battle of the Bulge followed by the campaign in the Rhineland during the final Allied push into Germany.

I believed the mission count was incorrect; the family history that Wally volunteered to fly additional missions was proof alone, but I needed to corroborate it. Every reasonable hypothesis merited exploration, but each raised more unknowns: Where could I find records in the absence of official ones? When was the mission Wally flew when he was hit by German artillery and received a Purple Heart? How long was his recovery?

A number of dead ends left me discouraged until I found two 500+ page histories of the 506th Squadron and 44th Bomb Group compiled by veterans of the Group and Squadron after the war. While digitized, they were not searchable, which requiring a careful read of every page. I looked for any reference of Wally’s name, Shipdham, or any of the members of his crew (based on the names in the 28 records I located). Norm Kiefer’s 750-page tome on the 506th Squadron included a list of the men who served during WWII; Wally’s name has this handwritten note scrawled beside it:

Wally Injury Record.png

At this point, no one in the family knew precisely when Wally was injured, and I hadn’t yet pieced together when he was in training or deployed. While intriguing, it raised more questions: If he was injured in 1944, why weren’t there any records of missions flown in 1944?

Will Lundy, historian of the 44th Bomb Group also compiled a 500 page book of first-hand mission accounts from 1942-1945. Wally was mentioned once in a quote from Elwood Matter, who was also stationed at Shipdham and flew a handful of missions with Wally’s crew later in the war: “While I was in the hospital, my crew kept flying missions so I got behind. When they finished their tour of 30 missions, I was assigned to another crew (Captain E.J. Burns) as a waist gunner. I flew on the March 24th 1945 re-supply low-level mission to ground troops near Wesel, Germany under almost the exact same conditions and position and wondered if I’d be wounded again. But this time our nose turret gunner, Sgt. Truslow, was wounded, but happily, not very seriously, and he recovered in a short time and soon returned to duty. This is the crew I flew home with in June of 1945.”

Based on Matter’s account, it seemed the mission over Wesel was not the one for which he received the Purple Heart, but he was also not flying missions in 1944 as noted in Kiefer’s book.

Matter’s recollection of the mission in Wesel was accurate based on the records of the mission Wally flew on March 24, 1945 in Wesel. Matter was listed on the crew as a waist gunner, and he noted Wally was injured. Yet, our family’s description of Wally bleeding out shrapnel his entire left were in conflict with Matter’s assertion that Wally was “not wounded seriously.” Could his recollection have been muddied considering the book was published in 1987? And what about the handwritten note in Kiefer’s book that Wally was injured a year earlier on March 28, 1944?

Confusion motivated me to invest the time in making Kiefer’s 750+ page history searchable by running a laborious but powerful page recognition software. Afterwards, I eagerly searched Wally’s name. One reference to “Truslow” described a mission flown December 24, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Wally was listed on the crew, and the list of his crew members was consistent with the 28 records I already found. This was the first definitive proof that missions were missing in Wally’s records. I surmised that there may be more information about Wally’s crew in Kiefer’s book, so I searched the name of his Pilot, Emmett J. Burns, and found countless entries of missions flown during the period from late 1944 to early 1945 where Wally’s records showed no missions flown.

I began manually reconstructing the timeline of Wally’s missions using Lundy and Kiefer’s books, but wasn’t convinced of their accuracy based on minor inconsistencies in these mission records. Eventually, it occurred to me that I should go back to the 44th Bomb Group Database and search the names of Wally’s crew members to determine if the records were missing for his entire crew, and if they weren’t, I could see who replaced Wally using the crew manifest to validate if he was in fact on missions in late 1944- early 1945. I started my search of the database with Emmett J. Burns, and I was surprised his record listed 46 missions flown. Burns’ record showed missions flown during this period, and when I opened the crew manifest for a mission during this period, I found the name “Wallace B. Trullow.” A simple clerical error during the war led to Truslow being recorded incorrectly for 14 of Wally’s missions.

In total, there are official military records validating that Wally flew 42 missions in the European Theater of War in myriad gunner positions.

As I continued to talk with Nana about her knowledge of Wally’s service, she mentioned that someone from Wally’s crew tracked Wally down in the 1990s as his health was declining. Up until that point, the crew had not been able to locate Wally for 50 years. I read her the list of names on Wally’s crew, and she recognized Emmett J. Burns immediately. I had a feeling that he was the linchpin based on the frequency his name appeared in Kiefer’s book and Nana’s recollection of their conversation.

After locating the records for Wally’s 42 missions, I pivoted to tracking down the families of those who served alongside Wally on Crew #5282 in the hopes of gathering more information about his service. I wanted to start with Emmett J. Burns based on Nana’s recollection of his eagerness to reconnect with Wally and the frequency with which he appeared in the Lundy and Kiefer books. After considerable digging, I located his obituary, which listed the names of all eight of his children. Social media and public databases proved to be dead ends in finding a way to contact any of them.

And then serendipity kicked in; I stumbled on a Facebook Page for Burns Brothers Construction, which I knew Emmett J. Burns founded after the war based on his obituary. Late on a Friday night, I submitted a letter through the “Contact Us” portal – a pure shot in the dark. I did not know if his sons were still involved in the company and didn’t have high hopes for a response.

Yet, Monday morning, I got an email from Tim Burns, Emmett J. Burn’s son. Tim’s email ended with: “I’m glad you reached out to us as we will renew our interest in our father’s service.” He also sent me a summary of his father’s service, and explained he and his brothers would go through all of his father’s records as soon as they could all get together to look for any references to Wally, particularly in the hopes of definitively determining when Wally was injured earning the Purple Heart. We spoke on the phone later that morning chatting about our respective father and grandfather, our appreciation for their service and courage, and the legacy they each left as the next generation of their families honor their service.

Crew letter (Whalen) #2_4
Emmett J. Burns Pilot of Crew of B-24 J (Wally’s Crew)

The Burns family has been invaluable in this research. Tim and his brother Pat immediately sent me every picture they had of the crew, all of which are included on the digital archive website that includes scans of every original documents used to create this book (www.ww2truslow.wordpress.com). Tim and I continued to email and talk on the phone for several weeks as each of us uncovered more information. Once Tim and his brothers had a chance to go through all their dad’s documents, he mailed me scans of thirteen documents.

Of note, Tim sent his father’s diary where he recorded prominent details from every mission he flew, as well as each training mission the crew flew while stationed at Shipdham. Tim warned me that his father had notoriously horrible handwriting and his diary was not easy to decipher. With the documents, Tim sent me a typewritten version of his dad’s diary, which I suspect was transcribed some decades ago. Tim and I chatted on the phone on several occasions, particularly in an effort to validate when Wally was injured; I shared my hunch with Tim that it was on the March 24, 1945 low-level resupply mission over Wesel, but Matter’s recounting (in the Norm Kiefer book) that Wally was not injured seriously was wildly inconsistent with the fact that the shrapnel from the machine gun fire surfaced from his leg his entire life. Tim was eager to help, and it’s thanks to him that the mystery has been unraveled.

In the typewritten version of Emmett J. Burns’ diary, the entry on March 24, 1945 reads, “Truslow and Sims hit by shells, not seriously.” Yet, when Tim went back to the original diary entry with the context I shared in mind, he determined that the sentence in fact reads, “Truslow and Sims hit by shells, hit seriously.” I suspect Elwood Matter had a copy of Burns’ typewritten diary (as Matter did serve on Wally’s crew as a Waist Gunner for the last two missions), leading to the error in the Lundy book. The handwritten note in Kiefer’s History of the 506th indicated Wally was injured March 24, 1944. After piecing together his training history and validating the missions flown, I validated he did not arrive in Europe until August 1944. The mission to Wesel did take place on March 24, 1945 as part of Operation Varsity, and Wally was in the Shipdham hospital for four days after his injury and was released on March 28, 1945. which could account for the discrepancy in date. Wally received his Purple Heart on April 21, 1945 from Colonel Meake, the Squadron Commander, just one day after he flew his last mission in the war.

Mike WhalenIn addition to the Burns family, before Mike Whalen passed away, he sent Laurie numerous documents including a comprehensive history of his service with copious notes with his recollection of Wally’s training and deployment; these sources are woven throughout the book, and all these sources are available on the digital archive (www.ww2truslow.wordpress.com). Whalen and Wally lived in the same barracks as enlisted men, and they flew every mission together. Whalen’s personal records have been invaluable in piecing together a chronological and comprehensive history from Wally’s enlistment in 1942 to his honorable discharge in 1945.

The most notable gap in the research is in Wally’s training; he was in the United States for over two years in training before he was deployed to Shipdham. Using his personal records corroborated with Whalen and Burn’s records, I am confident we know generally where Wally was and the nature of the training he was engaged in. Where I’ve made inferences that are not substantiated with multiple sources, they are clearly noted throughout the book. There is credible evidence that Wally entered as a Pilot Cadet based on his Pilot Log and where he was stationed. His Pilot Log suggests he made it through Primary Training based on the number of flight hours logged, plane flown (PT-19), and the fact that he flew a BT-13 on numerous occasions, which was not flown until Basic Training. It appears Wally washed out of Basic Training, which is corroborated by handwritten notes Nana took about Wally’s service in the late 1990’s. Of note, historian Stephen Ambrose details the physical and academic rigor of the air cadet program: “Slightly more than 50 percent of them failed either the initial physical or written tests; […] 40 percent of those left would fail to complete the courses of Primary, Basic, and Advanced school.” There is ample evidence that Wally completed the first phase of Navigator School, as well as Aerial Gunner School, but was likely pulled because crews were desperately needed abroad.

Unknown in PT19
Unknown source; appears to be a pilot in a PT-19, which was used during Primary Training for Aviation Cadets to learn the basics of flying.

In short, I am confident that his training, as it is presented in this book, is accurate insofar as it was corroborated with his personal records, Army Air Force Enlistment/Discharge records, Nana’s notes from Wally’s oral history, and broad records detailing the Army Air Force’s training program/locations during WWII. Serving in the Army Air Force was the premier branch of the military in WWII accepting only enlisted men. Bombers had a higher mortality rate than any other branch of the military during the war. Wally took off. Regardless of his rank and role as a result of training, the 42 missions he flew during WWII underscore Wally and his crew’s courage and selflessness.

I hope this book serves as a living document capturing the story of Wally’s service so that his legacy lives as our family grows. I am humbled, moved, and forever grateful for Wally’s sacrifices. The scope of the missions Wally flew unquestionably impacted the most definitive battles of the war from Operation Market Garden to the Battle of the Bulge. With equal veracity, the horrors of the war are so evident in Wally’s service – the unending bombing by Allied forces that so affected Wally and his remarkable character in volunteering for more missions because he did not have a family at home.

Funeral.jpgFor Allied forces, the only path to survival and victory required death and destruction of an incomparable magnitude, and Wally had a bird’s eye view in witnessing the war unfold. There was no agency or choice; to live meant to destroy. I knew objectively of Wally’s PTSD and his struggles in reconciling the death and destruction that came at his hands, but I previously failed to appreciate what he saw and experienced that could cause such trauma. There was a great cost to victory in those who died in combat and those who came back scarred by it. In researching Wally’s missions, his harrowing service is vividly recounted. We are forever indebted to the ‘Greatest Generation,’ and our family has the privilege of honoring Wally’s service and unquestionable impact on Allied victory. While I only knew Wally as a young girl (he passed away when I was 8), this research has formed a posthumous connection that I hope my own children will someday experience and appreciate: to serve others before ourselves, to face fear with humility and grace, and to take action in the face of immorality.

-Mara Truslow, 2018