Brookline War Memorial
Harry Spack

Sgt. Harry Spack
United States Army Air Corps (1942-1945)

United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)

Harry Spack was born in 1921, the only son of Mary and Anthony Spack. Originally from Etna, the Spack family moved to Brookline in 1940 and settled at 418 Linial Avenue. At age 21, Harry enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after basic training, opted to join the Air Corps.

Harry Spack

After additional training and evaluation, Harry was assigned as a tail gunner in the 25th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group of the newly formed 58th Bomb Wing. This wing formed a part of the new XXI Bomber Command, the Super Heavy unit in the new Far Eastern U.S. 20th Air Force.

Only the best and brightest new recruits, and a strong cadre of seasoned veterans, had the honor of joining this command because it was to be equipped with the Air Corps' new global bomber, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

                 

The 25th Bombardment Squadron was stationed at an Army Air Base near Pratt, Kansas, where intensive training began immediately, covering maintenance, navigation, flying, bombing and gunnery. Ground crew members were sent to schools across the country to learn the technical aspects of the bomber, which had been rushed into production.

The airmen gawked in awe when they got their first glimpse of the Superfortress. It had a wingspan of 141 feet, pressurized compartments for the crew of eleven, remotely controlled gun turrets, for 18-cylinder engines and the largest propellers of any aircraft. This goliath could carry up to 20,000 pounds of bombs and hit targets from 31,000 feet.

Sgt Harry Spack and his first crew - February 1944.
During flight training at Pratt, KS, in February 1944. Back - Sgt. Harry Spack TG; Cpl. John Layoak, V; Sgt. Grady
Shiflet, R; Cpl. Richard Lemin, RG; Cpl. Lloyd Reed, LG; Cpl. Albert Hockel, CFC;< Front: F/O Laverne Bauer,
FE; Lt. Clyde Olson, B; Capt. William Mueller, A/C; Lt. Wm. Wilson, CP; Lt. Robert Spain, N.

Because of mechanical problems and numerous engine modifications with the new planes, crews were forced to train mostly with B-17s and B-26s. They were lucky to get in at least one B-29 flight a month while the ground crews, with the help of civilian technicians, labored for the next several months to correct these issues.

The Tail Gunner was responsible for keeping enemy planes away from the tail of the aircraft, which was particularly vulnerable to enemy attack. It was a lonely job, since he was isolated from the rest of the crew in his own pressurized compartment. On the other hand, he had a good view of the action, especially on low-level bombing missions. The Tail Gunner was also trained as an Armorer, an Airplane Mechanic and an Aviation Engineer.

The B-29 Superfortress tail gunner

SUPERFORTRESS IS DEPLOYED

The first group of thirty-eight B-29s and sixty flight crews, including Sgt. Spack, were deployed to Chakulia Air Base in India. While maintenance crews continued their struggle to correct deficiencies in the plane's engines, the 25th Bomb Squadron flew its first combat mission on June 5, 1944. The target was the Makasan railroad yard at Bangkok, Thailand. The mission used staging posts in China and was seen as a practice run for raids on Japan.

A B-29 lands at Chakulia Air Base in India
A B-29 of the 25th Bomb Squadron lands at Chakulia Air Base in India.

The first attack on Japan came only ten days later. It was launched in an attempt to reduce the pressure on the Chinese, and was the first attack on Japan since the Doolittle raid. The target was the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata and its associated coking plants.

During the rest of 1944 the 40th Bomb group attacked transport centers, naval installations, iron works and aircraft factories spread across Burma, Thailand, China, Japan, Indonesia and Formosa (Taiwan). It was based in India but often attacked through staging posts in China. In August 1944 the group also used staging posts on Ceylon on a mission to drop mines in the waters off Palembang on Sumatra.

One of the groupís most prestigious achievements in the Pacific war effort was its aerial support for General Douglas MacArthurís invasion of the Philippines in September 1944. On the 14th and 17th, the B-29s hit key Japanese airfields and installations on Formosa. During the ensuing months, more 40th Bomb Group raids followed from bases at Chakulia as well as at Hsinching Airfield in Sichuan, China.

Sgt. Harry Spack and his crew in September 1944
Capt. William Mueller (second from left in front) and his crew at Chakulia Air Base in September 1944.
Tail gunner Sgt Harry Spack is standing second from the right.

A BRUSH WITH DEATH

It was from the base in Hsinching Airfield that Sgt. Harry Spack and his crew took off on October 22, 1944. Their mission was a long range photo recon flight over the Japanese mainland. The B-29 #42-6288 was destroyed when it suffered engine failure and crashed moments after takeoff. Seven of the eleven member crew were killed, including the pilot, Captain William Mueller. Tail gunner Sgt. Harry Spack was one of the fortunate four to survive the deadly experience.

After some time recovering from his wounds, and a much needed convalescent leave at home with his parents in Brookline, Sgt. Harry Spack was returned to active flight status. He was assigned to an experienced crew in the 44th Bomb Squadron that had suffered personnel losses. He also received a promotion to Technical Sergent.

T/Sgt. Harry Spack's ten new crew members were Major Ronald A. Harte (pilot), 1st Lt. George P. Appignani, 1sy Lt. Robert L. Brush, 1st Lt. James D. Haddow, 1st Lt. Henry O. Lee Jr, S/Sgt Lyman Y. McGehee, S/Sgt Algernon Matulis, S/Sgt Dale Johnson, Sgt Edward A. Gisburne Jr and Pfc. Clement E. Gorman.

FIRE BOMBING OF JAPAN

General Curtis LeMay, commander of the XXI Bomber Command, in February 1945, decided on a new strategy for his strategic bombing campaign against Japan. The present high altitude bombing runs were not having the desired results. Target accuracy was suffering considerably from a number of factors, mostly the jet stream air currents swirling around the island of Japan. Once dropped, bombs were blown off target by the strong winds.

The B-29 Superfortress
The B-29 Superfortress proved to be one of the decisive weapons in the war with Japan.

To counter this, General Lemay switched to a new tactic, first tested in a raid against Tokyo on February 24, 1945. On this day, 172 B-29s, including those of the 44th Bomb Squadron, dropped 450 tons of incendiaries from high altitude. The raid gutted 28,000 buildings in the Japanese capital. A week later another raid resulted in similar destruction.

Pleased with the outcome, Lemay further refined his strategy by ordering that the bombing raids be conducted at low altitudes of only 5,000-10,000 feet, below the jet stream. This had a marked effect on increasing target accuracy, and the fire raids caused severe collateral damage due to the infernos spreading further than the designated target area.

Death and Destruction during the Tokyo fire raids    The residential district of Tokyo after the fire raids
Death and destruction (left) and the burned out residential district of Tokyo after the B-29 fire raids.

Throughout the month of March, the 40th Bomb Group participated in several long range fire-bombing missions over Japan. The cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe were set ablaze and burned to the ground. The devastation was enormous. As the firestorms raged, the B-29 Superfortress was finally showing it's true capabilities. Had the 20th Air Force not run out of incendiaries, the whole island of Japan would have been set aflame.

TESTS OF ENDURANCE

In April 1945, the 44th Bomb Squadron was ordered to its new base on Tinian Island. By now the group was using 8,500-foot runways on the three tropical islands of Guam, Saipan and Tinian. The long flights from the Mariana Islands to Japan were serious tests of endurance for the crews. The round trip of 3,000 miles over the Pacific took about fifteen hours. The airmen often found it difficult to stay awake and alert. If it had not been for coffee and Benzedrine they might not have accomplished their task.

Staying alert on long flights and the nagging problems with the B-29 engines were not the only thing that was hard on Sgt. Harry Spack and the other flyers. The Japanese defenders put up an enormous amount of flak, and their Mitsubishi fighters proved to be formidable opponents. Bombing at lower levels made it easier to target the planes with illumination for the flak gunners. It was dangerous business, and several B-29s were lost to enemy fire.

B29s over Tokyo with Mt Fuji in the distance    Flak Damage
B-29's over Tokyo with Mt. Fuji in the distance (left) and a crew member inspects flak damage after a Toyko raid.

THE FATEFUL MISSION

Replenished with a new supply of incendiary bombs, on the night of May 25/26, 464 B-29s, including those of the 25th Bomb Squadron, attacked urban areas immediately south of the Imperial Palace with 3262 tons of matchsticks. The raid destroyed financial, commercial and governmental districts as well as factories and homes.

Twenty-six B-29s were downed, which was the largest loss of planes and crews for the entire 58th Bomb Wing on a single mission during the course of the war. Among those aircraft lost were Major Ronald Harte's B-29 #42-65269 and all but one of his crew. The ten dead crew members included Brookline's T/Sgt. Harry Spack.

The surviving crew member, Sgt. Dale Johnson, gave the following account of the fate of the crew and their plane:

"On the mission of the May 25, 1945, everything was going fine until we got near Tokyo and made our turn toward the target. Our altitude was pretty low, we all thought. The searchlights started to pick us up. We could have read a newspaper in the gunner's compartment. We had dropped our bombs before we were hit."

"I think we were hit by anti-aircraft. There was no communication from any crew members after we were hit. The plane had a big hole near my position (Right Gunner), and I felt it (the plane) was falling so I rolled out the hole, waited a few seconds and pulled the rip cord on my chute. That was the last I saw of any members of my crew. I landed on the edge of a bay or lake."

Harry Spack's B-29 spiraled to the surface and crashed. Only Sgt. Dale Johnson escaped the doomed plane. He was captured by the Japanese and spent the next two months in a Prisoner of War camp. The bodies of his ten crew members were never recovered and the men were listed as missing in action.

ANOTHER GOLD STAR FAMILY

Back home in Brookline, news of Sgt. Harry Spack's downing reached his parents at Linial Avenue in early-July. The Pittsburgh Press listed him as Missing in Action on July 12, 1945. The Spack family held out hope that their son had survived and was being held as a prisoner.

These hopes were dashed after the war when Harry's official status was changed to Presumed Dead (Killed in Action). While the rest of the country celebrated the end of World War II, the Spack's mourned the loss of their son and honored his sacrifice by placing a Gold Star in the window of their Linial Avenue home.

THE BATTLE RAGES ON

After the death of Sgt. Harry Spack, the B-29s of the 40th Bomb Group continued to rain fire, death and destruction upon the Japanese homeland. In mid-June, on the one-year anniversary of the B-29s, as well as the anniversary of 58th Bomb Wingís, first combat mission, General Henry "Hap" Arnold of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee visited Tinian Island and awarded each group in the 58th Wing the Distinguished Unit Citation.

The 40th Bombardment Group flew nine missions in July, eight of them night incendiary raids on Japanese urban areas. Not one of the Group's B-29 planes or crew members were lost, and only two men suffered minor wounds. The Group then flew twenty straight missions and 649 sorties without a casualty or a loss of a B-29 from enemy action.

Then came August 1945. A force based on Tinianís North Field, called the 509th Composite Group, dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The crews of the 40th Group heard the news of the first blast after returning from a raid on Imbari.

It seemed only fitting that the 40th Bombardment Group fly in the first B-29 raid of the war and the last one. On August 14, the Group bombed the naval arsenal at Hikari. That same day the Empire of Japan capitulated.

The 40th made an impressive showing in the Pacific conflict, flying seventy combat missions, dropping 9,200 tons of bombs, and losing only thirty-two B-29s to enemy action.

Fifty-three crew members were killed, twenty-six wounded and 134 reported missing, including tail gunner Sgt. Harry Spack. The Groupís gunners were credited with 46 1/2 enemy planes shot down, ninety-two probably destroyed and sixty-four others damaged.

Honolulu Memorial Courts of the Missing

Brookline's Harry Spack is memorialized at the Honolulu Memorial on the Courts of the Missing. He is honored their along with another Brookline flyer from a different bomb squadron, who perished during the same May 25, 1945 bombing raid, Walter L. Wentz.

Honolulu Memorial

NOTE: The Spack family tragedy did not end with news of the loss of Harry. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on October 18, 1946, published a front page article detailing a tragic cinder pit blast at the Jone & Laughlin Steel Mill complex on the South Side that killed three and injured several others. One of the three men that died was Open Hearth Second Helper Anthony Spack. The newspaper told of how inconsolable Mr. Mary Spack was after hearing of the death of her husband so soon after learning of her only son's death.

* Written by Clint Burton: April 16, 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.

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

United States Army (1775-present)  United States Army Air Services (1907-1947)  United States Navy (1775-present)  United States Marine Corps (1775-present)  United States Coast Guards (1790-present)  United States Air Force (1947-present)

World War I (1917-1919)

Percy Digby

Digby, Percy
Mayville Avenue
Army

Raymond P. Cronin

Cronin, Raymond P.
Berkshire Avenue
USMC

Charles Luppe

Luppe, Charles
Ferncliffe Avenue
Army

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


Arensberg, Roy T.
Fernhill Avenue
Army


Brickley, Edward G.
Woodward Avenue
Army


Bruni, Lawrence A.
Berkshire Avenue
Army


Capogreca, James J.
Bellaire Avenue
Navy


Copeland, Clarence R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy


Cullison, Thomas J.
Birtley Avenue
Army


Dempsey, Howard F.
Berkshire Avenue
Army


Dempsey, Walter F.
Milan Avenue
Navy


Diegelman, Edward R. Jr
Norwich Avenue
Army


Dornetto, Frank P.
Jacob Street
Navy


Fagan, Gerald B.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army


Falk, Harold E.
Pioneer Avenue
Army


Fehring, Robert M.
Fernhill Avenue
Army


Hynes, Richard E.
Waddington Avenue
Army


Jackson, Robert E.
Brookline
Army


Kestler, Paul C.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy


Ketters, Robert
Berkshire Avenue
Army


Mahoney, Michael J.
Oakridge Street
Army


Majestic, Arthur B.
Starkamp Avenue
Army


Mayberry, Alexander G.
Breining Street
Army


Mazza, John
Alwyn Street
Army


McCann, Robert F.
Edgebrook Avenue
Navy


McFarland, Hugh R.
McNeilly Road
Army


Miller, William J.
Norwich Avenue
Army


Napier, Edward J.
Brookline Boulevard
Army


Nicholson, John D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army


O'Day, John R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy


Orient, Andrew D.
Fordham Avenue
Army


Pisiecki, Raymond A.
Wolford Avenue
Army


Reeves, Alfred M.
Brookline Boulevard
Army


Reitmeyer, John P.
Bellaire Avenue
Navy


Rhing, Vern M.
Norwich Avenue
Army


Shannon, Harry C.
Midland Street
Army


Shannon, Jack E.
Midland Street
USMC


Simpson, James D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army


Spack, Harry
Linial Avenue
Army


Vierling, Howard F.
Fordham Avenue
Army


Wagner, Ralph G.
Shawhan Avenue
Army


Wentz, Walter L. Jr
Woodbourne Avenue
Army


Zeiler, Harold V.
West Liberty Avenue
Army


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
 

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>