2nd Lt. Arthur B. Majestic
United States Army Air Corps (1943-1944)
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
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
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.
A B24 with the distinctive tail markings
of the 448th Bombardment Group
The following is a first-hand
account of the final flight of co-pilot 2nd Lt. Arthur Majestic and
told by Navigator 2nd Lt. Bob Branizza and written by Edward D Reuss
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
* Written by Clint Burton:
April 11, 2018 *
A soldier of the Old Guard stands
watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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
World War I
Cronin, Raymond P.
The World War I Memorial -
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World War II
Alm William H.
Arensberg, Roy T.
Brickley, Edward G.
Bruni, Lawrence A.
Capogreca, James J.
Copeland, Clarence R.
Cullison, Thomas J.
Dempsey, Howard F.
Dempsey, Walter F.
Diegelman, Edward R. Jr
Dornetto, Frank P.
Fagan, Gerald B.
Falk, Harold E.
Fehring, Robert M.
Hynes, Richard E.
Jackson, Robert E.
Kestler, Paul C.
Mahoney, Michael J.
Majestic, Arthur B.
Mayberry, Alexander G.
McCann, Robert F.
McFarland, Hugh R.
Miller, William J.
Napier, Edward J.
Nicholson, John D.
O'Day, John R.
Orient, Andrew D.
Pisiecki, Raymond A.
Reeves, Alfred M.
Reitmeyer, John P.
Rhing, Vern M.
Shannon, Harry C.
Shannon, Jack E.
Simpson, James D.
Vierling, Howard F.
Wagner, Ralph G.
Wentz, Walter L. Jr