|Robert Charles Mesang|
|Missing in Action|
|SGT. ROBERT MESANG
Sergeant Robert C. Mesang, Route 2, has been reported missing in action in the European Theater of War, according to word received by his wife. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Wahl, town of Union.
Sergeant Mesang enlisted in the Army Air Corp in October 1942 and received his training at Kelly Field, TX; Buckley Field, CO; Tyndall Field, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; and the Alexandria Army Air Base, LA.
He was an armored-gunner on a Flying Fortress and arrived in England early in November of this year. He has a brother, Donald, U.S. Marine Corps, who is stationed in Norman, OK.
|Killed in Action; Hold Memorial Service Sunday|
Sergeant Robert Charles Mesang, 21, reported missing in action in the European Theater of War sometime ago, has how been listed as killed in action on November 29, 1943, according to word received from the War Department by his wife. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Wahl, town of Union.
Sergeant Mesang enlisted in the Air Corps in 1942 and went to England early last November as an armorer-gunner on a Flying Fortress. On its second mission, the Fortress was forced down in the English Channel due to exhaustion of its fuel supply.
He was born on April 17, 1942 in Eau Claire and was a resident of Eau Claire most of his life.
Sergeant Mesang attended Menomonie High School two years and then attended Eau Claire High School, being graduated here with the Class of 1940.
He was employed by the Stacy Fruit Company prior to his enlistment in the Army Air Corps in September 1942. He left for Fort Sheridan on October 1, 1942 and received training at Kelly Field, TX; Buckley Field, CO; Tyndall Field, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; and Alexandria Army Air Base, LA.
Memorial services will be held at Grace Lutheran Church on Sunday, July 9, at 2 pm, the Reverend C. E. Nestande officiating.
Information contributed by
April 17, 1922 to November 29, 1943
388th Bomb Group
Listed Missing over North
Lost his life
at the age of 21
An article about the flight that was published in True Magazine July 1944
|A Flying Fortress, as yet
unnamed, went on a regular mission over Bremen. It was a typical Bremen
raid and the second for this crew. They had their share of flak and
fighter, but they went in, according to schedule, dropped their bombs, and
then raced for their position in the returning formation.
Over the target, they stopped their share of the hate, but there was nothing of note to the damage, and it wasn't until they were well on their way home that Lieutenant Robert S. Maupin of Oklahoma City noticed that ominous glint in the eye of the fuel gauge.
The explanation for the fuel shortage cannot be given here for security reasons, but Maupin knew, in an instant, what had happened. There was nothing much to do but to hope and to prepare the rest of the crew for the inevitable—a dip in the ditch!
Second Lieutenant Robert Kemp Zapp of Louisville, KY, the co-pilot, went aft and tried to remedy the situation, but certain valve mechanisms had fouled and there was nothing further he could do but to make certain every member of the crew was warned and at his crash station. Then, he went back to his seat and tried to prepare himself for the pile-up.
I interviewed Lieutenant Zapp back at his base a few days after all this had taken place. Here's his personal story:
"We hit with only one real jolt?" he explained. "Actually, it was a beautiful landing. I didn't have time to fasten my safety belt; the ends were all tangled up somewhere at the side of my seat, so I had to brace myself on the rudder bar. When we hit, I knew what I was supposed to do, but how I did it, God only knows.
"First, I somehow squeezed out through the tiny window beside my seat. An hour before, I would have bet ten bucks I couldn't have gotten through a hole twice that size.
"It's amazing what you can do when you have to.
"I found myself out on the wing, but the minute I tried to get to my feet, a great wave hit me and I went whammo off the wing and into the sea. I'd say now that the waves were at least twenty feet high.
"I never saw Lieutenant Maupin after I left the cockpit; however, I did see some of our men still on the wing outside the radio-compartment window. I could just make out, through the mist and waves, that they were trying to launch several one-man dinghies. I tried to swim, but it was more of a mad struggle.
"I finally reached a free dinghy which had been tossed out. I worked to get it inflated but, when I pulled the cord, nothing happened, so I still floated about in my Mae West life jacket. I was submerged to my shoulders and getting terribly cold.
"Still, I tried to get back to the rest of them by floundering and swimming and gradually made my way nearer the wreck of the Fortress and then saw that someone had finally managed to inflate and float a small dinghy and that there were four men hanging to it. I saw one man floating about helpless in his lifebelt, and I think it was Second Lieutenant Charles S. Lail, Jr., of Hickory, NC, who was a bombardier.
"I guess I was in the water about forty- five minutes and, at one time, was about fifty yards away from the others. The Fortress stayed afloat about a minute and a half . . . maybe longer. I turned and looked to see how that single dinghy was making out and, to my amazement, saw two boats. One was a British LC-1 (landing craft) and the other was a motor torpedo boat of some kind. You have no idea what this spectacle did to me. At first I felt that perhaps I was seeing things, but there were two of them and I was ready to settle for either one."
Zapp was resting, when I talked to him, and it was hard to get the details. He did explain, however, that one of the two boats moved in gradually and he eventually was picked up, made comfortable, and carefully massaged by available members of the crew.
"'I'd like to find out who those boys were,' Zapp said. 'They had a lot of courage, trying to get us under those conditions. They actually leaped overboard, because I was in no shape to climb a rope. They took plenty of chances and, if I hadn't had real attention when I was taken aboard, I might have passed out anyway. Try to find out who those boys were, will you? You see, they wouldn't give me their names—because they said they were green and were eight miles off their course and didn't want their commanding officer to know anything about it.'
Another member of the crew who was rescued, Sergeant Darby Worth Bryant, the photographer-gunner, who was with us, nodded in agreement. Lieutenant Zapp prodded him into telling what he had seen.
"I guess we were about forty miles off the English coast when we hit," Bryant said in a quiet voice. "Three of our engines went out—well, because of the lack of fuel. Lieutenant Maupin did a marvelous job in getting us back as far as he did and putting us down that soft. We really hit into a bad sea.
"Not that it was a sleigh ride. We hit pretty stiff, I guess. I was stunned at first and my chin was driven down hard into my collar bone. I don't remember much about how I got out through that radio hatch, but I must have been the last one to clear because I helped Gregory, our radio man, to get out after he had fallen back in.
"When I finally got out of the radio room, the place was just about full of water and we were sinking fast. Then I discovered that only one half of my Mae West jacket would inflate, so I reached back into the radio room, where a dinghy was floating about and dragged it out with me. I thought I'd be all right by then but, when I got it out, the thing wouldn't inflate either. I finally climbed aboard the dinghy with the other fellows and, let me tell you, that water was pretty rough and cold."
The three who came back halted the interview there to explain that, while it was cold when they first hit in, it did not seem so cold later on.
"Anyway," Bryant went on, "we went scooting up the crest of a big wave or swell once. I was in such a position that I could look over it, and then I saw two boats heading toward us. I yelled: 'I'll be damned, but there's some rescue craft here already!'
"Everybody, thought I was crazy, I guess. I tried to explain but had to keep my mouth shut, owing to the sea water. In a short time, these two British boats did come in close, and then began the long, anxious minutes, waiting until they could work up close to us. I'm telling you, that was real seamanship.
"They threw us some ropes and I grabbed for one but couldn't hold on after they had dragged me up close. I was hanging on to something, and the boat dipped in the trough of the sea, and I went down with it. Finally, I managed to get my feet on one of the boat's bumpers and clutch up at the rail, but my hands were so cold and numb, and I have no idea how I held on at all."
He held out his hands. They were still blistered and seared by frost and friction. Great welts and blisters disfigured the palms. They looked as though he had grabbed a red-hot stovepipe by mistake.
"I knew I was lucky the minute they dragged me aboard. Some of the others were not so lucky. I felt sick when I saw Staff Sergeant James P. Reilly, our tail gunner, sucked down under the boat. I never saw him again." (Reilly came from Fillmore, California)
Staff Sergeant Denver Ray Leslie of Spartanburg, SC, who acted as engineer and top gunner, has another version of what happened. It must be understood that these men see only their own narrow focal point of what actually happened.
BUT here's Leslie's story in his own words:
"Actually," he began, "we had what I'd call a wonderful landing. I can't remember anything about a stiff jolt at all. I went to my action post and tried to get the big dinghies out of their wall cases. The first one was frozen in, and I couldn't get it out. Then I tried the second one and that came out swell. I got it outside and even inflated it and dropped it into the water. I'll never forget how I felt when I saw it immediately float away out of anyone's reach. The safety line which is fitted to keep it near to the ship until we are all aboard, was not fastened. That's how you get the breaks in this business.
"So, there was nothing to do then but to toss out the available one-man dinghies. I got one of these clear and threw it out. Next time I looked out, there were five men hanging to it. I saw Bryant there, holding up Sergeant Reilly by the seat of his pants. At the same time he was trying to get help himself because Reilly was pretty tired.
"The next thing I knew there was a boat coming up alongside. I remember now, they threw out four ropes. I saw Gregory still hanging onto the one-man dinghy, as it floated away, so I couldn't see what finally happened to him because, by now, it was getting dark. I hung onto one rope but was knocked loose by the waves. It really was rough. I went down deep once but came up again and swam somehow to the boat and grabbed what they call the belly rail. I guess that gave me some strength and courage, because I was almost able then to pull myself aboard, but gradually I slipped back.
"These English kids tossed over a life ring, attached to a rope. I got one arm through it but couldn't get it over my head. I thought then, that I was licked. My fingers were frozen and I couldn't hold on to the rope. They slid along it like it was coated with axle grease. They tell me I was unconscious when they got me aboard, but I couldn't have been out too long because, when I came to, those British guys were still taking headers off the deck and diving deep, trying to get some of our boys back. One of them actually brought up Lieutenant Charles S. Lail, Jr., and brought him aboard. They worked hard on him, giving artificial respiration for more than three hours, but he never did respond. It was a swell effort on their part."
Only three came back out of ten, but the British boys did their best. You just can't beat Fate when the cards are stacked against you. They took them ashore and saw them comfortably fixed up at a naval hospital and sneaked off without leaving their names.
They were eight miles off their course when they found that floundering Fortress crew, and that would have taken some real explaining.