Brookline War Memorial
Arthur B. Majestic

2nd Lt. Arthur B. Majestic
United States Army Air Corps (1943-1944)

United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)

Arthur B. Majestic was less than two weeks shy of his 21st birthday when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor thrust the United States of America into the Second World War. Born on December 19, 1920, Arthur and his younger sister Geraldine were the children of Stanley J. and Cecilia M. Majestic. The family lived at 2423 Starkamp Avenue in Brookline.

A graduate of Resurrection Elementary School and South Hills High School, Arthur was working as a clerk for the Duquesne Light Company when, in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After boot camp he was assigned to an armored division. Pvt. Arthur Majestic later secured a transfer to the Army Air Corps.

Arthur B. Majestic

In November 1943, after completing pilot training at Frederick Field in Oklahoma, now 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic headed for operational flight training at the Army Air Base in Casper, Wyoming. Here he was assigned as co-pilot of a ten-member B-24 Liberator crew. After completing this phase of training and having the crew certified, Lt. Majestic and the men were ordered to Topeka, Kansas where they picked up their new plane.

From Kansas the crew were ordered to fly to England as replacements in the U.S. 8th Air Force. The four commissioned officers and the six enlisted crewmembers first flew their new B-24 to West Palm Beach, then to Trinidad and Balem, Brazil. Next, they flew over the South Atlantic to Dakar, Senegal in Africa. After a short rest they continued on to Marrakesh, Morocco and then to their base at Seething Airfield, England.

                 

Lt. Majestic and his crew arrived at Seething Airfield near the end of May, 1944. They were assigned to the 448th Bomb Group, 712th Squadron, 20th Combat Wing, 2nd Bombardment Division of the 8th Air Force. The Bomb Group, which consisted of four squadrons or thirty-six aircraft each, had been flying missions since December 22, 1943 and the air war had already taken a grim toll on men and material.

The targets assigned to the 448th Bombardment Group ranged from strategic to tactical in nature. These included missions against chemical factories, U-Boat facilities, ball-bearing plants, oil refineries, V-1 launch sites and the German aircraft industry.

Accurate enemy flak, Luftwaffe fighters and the environment itself wreaked havoc among the air and ground crews alike. As the death toll rose, it seemed as though the required thirty mission tour of duty was an impossibility. Casualty rates were nearly 50 percent among air crews and planes. Yet, despite appalling losses and increasingly determined enemy resistance, the brave bomber crews boarded their "flying coffins" and took the fight to the German military each day as ordered.

In late-May, with the Allies about to launch the Invasion of Normandy, there was not much time for Lt. Majestic and his crew to adjust to their new surroundings. After a brief period of indoctrination the crew was placed on operational flight status.

Beginning on D-Day, June 6, the crew's first four missions over Europe were focused on tactical support for the Allied beachhead, attacking German defensive positions in the Bocage, the enemy transportation network and choke points in Normandy, France. Once the American ground forces were firmly established on the mainland, missions shifted back to strategic targets.

B24 of the 448th Bomb Group
A B24 with the distinctive tail markings of the 448th Bombardment Group

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The following is a first-hand account of the final flight of co-pilot 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic and B-24H 42-85186,
told by Navigator 2nd Lt. Bob Branizza and written by Edward D Reuss (edited).

LAST MISSION OVER BERLIN

Date: June 21, 1944
Time: 0500 hours
Orders of the day: 448th Bomber Group, 712th Squadron, 20th Combat Wing, 2nd Bombardment Division, 8th United States Army Air Corps, Seething Airfield, England.
Mission: Entire 448th Bomber Group consisting of more than 100 B-24 Liberator bombers to attack Berlin, Germany from an altitude of 18,000 feet.

After breakfast, officers and crews were briefed on the mission. The room was filled with crew members as the briefing officer waited for the crowd to settle down. Flight Officer Robert J. Branizza, the navigator, sat with the other members of the crew. Pilot, 2nd Lt. Cleve “Jack” Howell and Co-Pilot, 2nd Lt. Arthur B. Majestic listened with Bombardier, 2nd Lt. Victor D. Dolecek as the mission for the day was revealed.

The enlisted members of the crew were: Crew Chief, Staff Sgt Bertill S. Johnson, from Indiana, Radioman, Staff Sgt Herschel O. “Ham” Hamblin, from Virginia, Gunner, Sgt Sammie D. Vinson, from Alabama, Gunner, Sgt George D, Grubisa, from New Jersey, and Gunner, Sgt James L. Vajgyl. Sgt Alexander Istvanovich had pulled guard duty the previous night and did not fly on this mission.

Today would be their fifth mission and it was the first time they would be bombing Germany. The target was Berlin. They knew that they would be facing the fierce attacks of German fighter planes. The anti-aircraft batteries defending the German homeland would send up a shield of deadly flak when the 448th was over the capital city.

When Flight Officer Branizza was a student in Evander Childs High School, he had studied the German language as part of the school curriculum. Part of the language course included the study of the maps of Germany. So he knew a little about the city of Berlin. That knowledge would serve him well this day in June of 1944.

...
Standing - Pilot 2nd Lt. Cleve J. Howell, CoPilot 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic, Navigator 2nd Lt. Bob Branizza,
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Victor Dolecek; Kneeling - S/Sgt. Bertill Johnson, S/Sgt. Herschel O Hamblin,
Sgt. Sammie Vinson, Sgt. George J. Grubisa, Sgt. James L. Vajgyl, Sgt. Alexander Istvanovich.

The sky was already bright as the officers rode out to their aircraft past the rows of B-24 Liberators. Branizza chatted with the other officers as the truck bounced along onto the airfield. He glanced at “Jack” Howell and “Art” Majestic, the pilot and co-pilot. Branizza was twenty-three years old and they were just as young. There was an unspoken feeling of invincibility about them. They were all so full of confidence. The truck came to a stop next to their B-24 Liberator and the men jumped off with their gear and parachutes. Their instructions were to not board the aircraft until receiving the signal that the mission wasn’t cancelled.

It wasn’t long before the control tower fired the flare to assemble for takeoff. The crew chief, Sgt “Bert” Johnson and the other crew members were suited up for the mission. They were wearing the new heated flight suits and entered the aircraft through the bomb-bay doors. When the mission was confirmed by the flare fired from the control tower, the Liberators taxied into position.

Once airborne, the B24 began gaining altitude over the English Channel. As they climbed higher, the temperature inside the aircraft got extremely cold. It would be hours before they arrived over the target and there would be no opportunity for personal necessities.

The flight into Germany was uneventful. There were no Messerschmitts and no flak. Unknown at the time was that the 448th Bomb Group’s mission was also to be a diversionary tactic to deceive the Germans. A second large group of heavy bombers were flying another mission to bomb Germany without returning to England. It was an experimental tactic to see if the bombers could proceed into Russian occupied territory for refueling and re-arming.

It was thought that the main German defense would be directed against the 448th's bombers and the other heavies would have a better chance to drop their bombs on their target and successfully fly to Russia. For some reason, the Germans were not deceived and the Luftwaffe concentrated their fighters on the other bomb group, leaving the 448th alone.

B24s of the 448th Bomb Group    B24s of the 448th Bomb Group
B24 Liberators of the 448th Bomb Group high above the clouds over Europe.

As the B-24s approached the outskirts of Berlin, the crew noticed small airbursts of enemy flak. They could see in the distance what looked like a column of black smoke rising from Berlin. What they actually saw was a thick blanket of exploding anti-aircraft shells over the city. That hail of deadly flak was what the planes would be flying into.

It wasn’t long before the planes were over the target area. The concussion from the exploding flak shook the aircraft as it continued towards the target. They waited anxiously for the lead aircraft to release its bombs, which was the signal for all others to drop their deadly cargo.

Just then a round of flak hit the number two engine. The inboard engine had been torn open like a tin can. Fuel was pouring out and covering the wing. The lifeblood of the Liberator was rapidly being bled out of the destroyed engine.

The pilot, Jack Howell, feathered the engine and what was left of the propellor shook in the wind. Howell and co-pilot Arthur Majestic struggled to keep the aircraft under control. They made the decision to order the crew to bail out.

At the signal to abandon the aircraft, Flight Officer Branizza opened the door to the nose and signalled to the navigator. Dolecek nodded his head that he understood. Branizza quickly pulled the manual handle that opened the wheel well door. Air rushed into the small cabin. He looked through the opening down 18,000 feet. He grabbed the sides of the opening and dove into the wind. He expected that the rest of the crew were also busy making their escape.

That was not the case. Just as Branizza exited the aircraft, it was hit by a second round of flak and went into a roll. The other crew members couldn't bail out because of the roll forcing them against the bulkheads of the plane. The pilot and co-pilot, Howell and Majestic, somehow managed to steady the plane and gain enough time to enable the crew to evacuate.

Arthur B. Majestic

Although all of the crew members were able to exit the stricken plane, records of the 448th Bomb Group reveal that only Flight Officer Bob Branizza and Pilot Jack Howell survived. Sgt. George J. Grubisa's body was eventually recovered, but the remainder of the crew, including Brookline's 2nd Lt. Arthur B. Majestic, were recorded as missing in action. Their bodies were never found.

BRANIZZA AND HOWELL

After Flight Officer Bob Branizza jumped from the B-24, he had the presence of mind to remember not to pull the ripcord of his parachute until he had fallen free of the attacking bomber group. Also, the flak was so intense that the quicker he fell, the safer he would be.

Branizza fell from 18,000 feet until he thought he was low enough to pull the rip cord. He estimated that he was at about 5,000 feet when he did. When the parachute opened, he turned to watch the 448th Bomb Group fade into the distance. They had dropped their bomb load and the target area was filled with fire and explosions.

A feeling of loss came over him as he watched the 448th disappear from view. Drifting down, he landed in an area that he recognized as the famous Tiergarten Zoo and Park on the outskirts of Berlin. The idea of landing in a zoo didn’t thrill him. The irony of being killed by a lion was after escaping the doomed aircraft and plummeting 13,000 feet was a fleeting thought to the young airman.

Branizza came to rest safely in the Tiergarten in broad daylight. The air raid was still in progress, and the entire population had taken refuge in the air raid shelters. Branizza was able to roll up his parachute and conceal it in the brush. He heard a motorcycle nearing his position and hid until he felt safe.

He worked his way slowly from the city of Berlin into the countryside. He was still wearing his flight suit and used concealment until nightfall. He remembers that he still had his clumsy sheepskin lined aviator boots on. He had tried to reach for his regular shoes before he dove out of the aircraft, but wasn’t able to grab them.

While he walked through the fields, Branizza planned on evading capture by making his way to the sea and perhaps finding a small boat to sail for the Swedish coast. It was a forlorn hope, but the only one he had at the time. He was able to avoid capture for six days, hiding out in the fields during the day and traveling at night. He lost his way a number of times and was forced to travel by day.

During those six days, he saw a group of agricultural workers working in the fields. He noticed that they had baskets of food nearby. Branizza managed to grab some of their food and fled back into the forest. At one point, he was able again to snatch some food from other work parties when he was confronted by an axe wielding worker. The suspicious worker asked him some questons in German and Branizza responded in German that he "didn’t know."

At last, after six days, he was again confronted, this time by two men riding bicycles. They were suspicious of him and grabbed his arm. They noticed his watch and shouted at him, accusing him of being a "flyer" in German. Branizza used the little German he knew and denied that he was a flyer. But he couldn’t conceal his physical condition, the flight suit and the aviation boots. One of the men left to call the "police".

Branizza hurriedly continued away from the second man, but he was exhausted and discouraged. The Air Corps had trained air crews that if they had to surrrender, it was best to give themselves up to older Germans. When he saw an elderly couple seated at a picnic table outside their house, he approached them and, in halting German, made them understand who he was. They gave him some cherry drink and told him to stay with them until the German police were notified. That ended his escape plans.

Flight Officer Bob Branizza spent the next nine months in prisoner of war camps. After being interrogated in Frankfurt, he was sent to one of the Luftwaffe prison camps. First, he was in Stalag Luft III Sagan in Eastern Germany. When the Russian army was threatening the Germans on the Eastern Front, he was moved to Stalag Luft Seven A, Mooseburg. While in those camps, he was happy to reunite with his Pilot, Jack Howell, who briefed him on the last harrowing moments of their doomed flight over Germany.

448th Bombardment Group

THE BOMBER GROUP FIGHTS ON

After the air raid over Berlin on June 21, 1944, the 712th Bombardment Squadron and the 448th Bombardment Group continued their campaign against the Germans. In addition to bombing strategic targets over occupied Europe, the Group's B-24s assisted the Allied offensive at Caen and the great breakthrough at St. Lo in Normandy.

It dropped supplies to airborne troops near Nijmegen during the airborne attack on Holland, and bombed transportation and communications centers in the combat zone during the Battle of the Bulge. The Group also dropped supplies to troops at Wesel during the airborne assault across the Rhine River in March 1945.

By the end of the war the 448th Bombardment Group had flown a total of 262 missions. The last was on April 25, when it attacked a marshalling yard at Salzburg. The surviving crews returned home to the United States in July 1945.

BACK HERE IN BROOKLINE

Back here in the community of Brooklne, the parents of 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic received notice from the War Department that their son was Missing in Action. Reports were that his aircraft was believed to have been one of several seen going down over the target area but was not identified. When the plane did not return to base their was hope that Arthur and his crew had bailed out and were, perhaps, Prisoners of War.

Arthur B. Majestic

No notice, however, was received from the Red Cross of POW status and on August 13, 1944, the Pittsburgh Press listed 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic as officially missing. Two months later, on October 12, his status was updated to Killed in Action. As the Majestic family mourned their loss, another Gold Star appeared on the window of a Brookline home, this time at 2423 Starkamp Avenue.

Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial

Since Arthur B. Majestic's body was never recovered, his memory is honored on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Eijsden-Margraten Municipality, Limburg, Netherlands, along with crew members 2nd Lt. Vic Dolecek and Sergeants Bert Johnson, Herschel Hamblin, Sammie Vinson, and James Vajgyl.

These men are among the 1,722 names of other lost souls commemorated on these hallowed walls. Majestic's name is honored at this hallowed location along with that of another Brookline airman, 2nd Lt. John D. Nicholson. In a touch of bitter irony, both pilots crashed on the same day, although their missions were completely different.

Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial

* Written by Clint Burton: April 11, 2018 *




Standing Guard
A soldier of the Old Guard stands watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.




The Brookline War Memorial

The Brookline Veteran's Memorial.

Listed below are many of the sons of Brookline who gave their
lives to preserve freedom and contain aggression during
World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
General George S. Patton
 

United States Army (1775-present)  United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)  United States Navy (1775-present)  United States Marine Corps (1775-present)
United States Coast Guards (1790-present)  United States Air Force (1947-present)  United States Merchant Marine (1775-present)

World War I (1917-1919)

Percy Digby

Digby, David P.
Mayville Avenue
Army

Details

Raymond P. Cronin

Cronin, Raymond P.
Berkshire Avenue
USMC

Details

Charles Luppe

Luppe, Charles
Ferncliffe Avenue
Army

Details

WW1 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War I Memorial - Washington D.C.

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World War II (1941-1945)


Alm William H.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Arensberg, Roy T.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Brickley, Edward G.
Woodward Avenue
Army

Details


Bruni, Lawrence A.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Capogreca, James J.
Merrick Avenue
Navy

Details


Copeland, Clarence R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Cullison, Thomas J.
Birtley Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Howard F.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Walter F.
Milan Avenue
Navy

Details


Diegelman, Edward R. Jr
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Dornetto, Frank P.
Jacob Street
Navy

Details


Fagan, Gerald B.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Falk, Harold E.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Fehring, Robert M.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Hynes, Richard E.
Waddington Avenue
Army

Details


Jackson, Robert E.
Brookline
Army

 


Kestler, Paul C.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Ketters, Robert C.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Mahoney, Michael J.
Oakridge Street
Army

Details


Majestic, Arthur B.
Starkamp Avenue
Army

Details


Mayberry, Alexander G.
Breining Street
Army

Details


Mazza, John
Alwyn Street
Army

Details


McCann, Robert F.
Edgebrook Avenue
Navy

Details


McFarland, Hugh R.
McNeilly Road
Army

Details


Miller, William J.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Napier, Edward J.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Nicholson, John D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


O'Day, John R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Orient, Andrew D.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Pisiecki, Raymond A.
Wolford Avenue
Army

Details


Reeves, Alfred M.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Reitmeyer, John P.
Bellaire Avenue
Navy

Details


Rhing, Vern M.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Shannon, Harry C.
Midland Street
Army

Details


Shannon, Jack E.
Midland Street
USMC

Details


Simpson, James D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Spack, Harry
Linial Avenue
Army

Details


Vierling, Howard F.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Wagner, Ralph G.
Shawhan Avenue
Army

Details


Wentz, Walter L. Jr
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Zeiler, Harold V.
West Liberty Avenue
Army

Details

WW2 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War II Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Korean War (1950-1953)

Patrick Gallagher

Gallagher, Patrick J.
Bodkin Street
Army

Details

James Gormley

Gormley, James W.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details

Gerald Hilliard

Hilliard, Gerald G.
Edgebrook Avenue
Army

Details

James McKenna

McKenna, James E.
Bellaire Place
Army

Details

Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Vietnam War (1965-1973)

James Robert Bodish

Bodish, James R.
Plainview Avenue
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Gilbert Collins

Collins, James G.
Dunster Street
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Charles Wonn

Wonn, James C.
Mayville Avenue
Navy

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.




The Brookline Monument - The Cannon

Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

<Brookline War Memorial> <> <Brookline History>