Tens crews launched their B-24 Liberators into the dark, cold morning air on March 14, 1945 from Pantanella field in Italy. Copilot Lt. William Bradley flew next to Lt. Martz, who commanded the aircraft as they headed to bomb the Marshaling Yard at Nove Zamky, Hungary. Their crew of twelve included two navigators, a radar nav, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, and four gunners. The overall mission was deemed a success, but the only man to survive on Martz’s crew had a dramatic tale to tell.
Memorial Day, where we remember those who have died in battle, seemed an appropriate time to tell a story about a distant Parks relative, Lt. William Bradley, who died in World War II. My husband had become particularly interested in him (a cousin once removed) after he discovered William and his brother were fellow Georgia Tech yellow jackets. The oldest brother graduated in 1941, and William entered that year as a freshman. William left college two years later in 1943, as many young men did, to go to war.
He was commissioned a 2LT in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and assigned to the 781st Bomb Squadron, 465 Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators. The the unit trained at McCook field Nebraska and operated until the war in Europe ended in 1945.
The only man to survive William Bradley’s last flight was engineer, T/Sgt. Beeson, who told his story about the fateful flight. Today that story and many others are printed in a booklet of the unit’s history published by the 781st Bomb Squadron Association. Below is an abbreviated version of that event told by Beeson in 1987.
The bombing run to the marshaling yard was not different than many others. The flak, while not as heavy as they’d encountered before, had pegged the formation’s location. The crew successfully unloaded their bombs over the target and were preparing to turn and head home. The tail gunner reported flak following their line of flight, bursting closer and closer.
An explosion shook their craft. Fire burst on the pilot’s side as flak came up from underneath his seat. A single glance revealed Martz had died. The last thing Beeson saw on the flight deck as he hit the bailout alarm was Lt. Bradley attempting to control the damaged aircraft. Beeson grabbed his chute and dropped into the bomb bay where the bombardier joined him with chute in hand. The plane lurched, and Beeson fell out, facing up where he could see the plane above going around and around. He never saw where it crashed. Other aircraft reported three or four chutes leaving the plane, but the unfriendly Hungarians below with their town in flames likely left them no chance for survival. Beeson lived to tell the tale because he was “rescued” from the villagers’ hands by a German soldier.
So many people have died in WWII and other wars our nation has fought. I appreciate their sacrifice to allow my friends and family to live in this great country.