Joe Adams Memorial Day Speech
FORGET OUR WARTIME DEAD!
It is important to keep in mind the fundamental purpose
of this holiday.
We should remember that Memorial Day is more than just
another long weekend. It is a day to remember those,
whose lives ended in the ultimate sacrifice for our
They died at places like Shiloh, Antietam, Andersonville
They died in the mud and blood in the trenches of World
They died at Pearl Harbor, Bataan, North Africa, Anzio,
Salerno, Normandy, Malmedy, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
They died in the cold and misery of Pork Chop Hill
and at Chosin Reservoir.
They died in Ashau Valley and in the jungle heat on
the ambush trails of Vietnam.
They died on the sands of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in
They died on land, on ships and submarines at sea and
in fighters and bombers.
In those distant places, in harrowing times, these
ordinary people from the cities, towns and villages
of America performed extraordinary deeds.
They are gone now, as are other veterans of past wars.
Memories of their acts of heroism must never "fadeaway",
as has been said of old soldiers.
It is our task to remember what they said and what
they did. We MUST never forget !
A British soldier, in WW1, wrote this
in his diary:
"To be forgotten
that is what I most dread.
Never to have happened would not matter,
but to have happened,
to have walked the world,
laughed, loved, created
and then be treated as though we had never lived,
there lies the sting of death"
And this is the story of: My Search for Whatever Happened
to Joe Adams.
Who Am I?
My name is Robert Lehnherr
I grew up in Towanda
graduated from Towanda High School with the Class of
1938. From 1938 thru 1939 I attended El Dorado Junior
College where I met Joe Adams. Joe was still a senior
at El Dorado High School, Class of 1939. In those years
the El Dorado High School and the junior college shared
the same building. Joe and I were drawn together thru
a common friendship with Rosemary Helling.
Relationship with Joe Adams:
In the summer of 1940 Joe and I were selected to attend
the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Leavenworth
for 30 days of military training. I still recall how
Joe and I hitchhiked back to El Dorado in order to save
the six cents per mile mileage money we had been paid
for the trip. Some of you may recall that in the late
summer of 1940 the Congress passed the Selective Service
Act by one vote...also called the draft. All male citizens
of certain ages had to register, and in so doing became
liable for selection, by lottery, for one year of military
training. That same year, 1940, President Roosevelt
announced the call up of the Reserve and
National Guard units for a one year training period.
My father somehow
and unbeknownst to me
surreptitiously arranged for a National Guard recruiting
team to visit Towanda on October 4th, 1940.
They managed to sign me up, along with several other
Towanda boys. I remember standing in the front window
of the Towanda KG&E office, taking the oath and
signing the papers. Within a few hours I called my friend
and somehow convinced him to join one
of the Wichita National Guard units, and he did
I was assigned to the 110th Ordnance Company,
and Joe to the Medical Detachment, 137th
Infantry. On DEC 23rd, 1940 we were mobilized
into federal service at Wichita, and the next week our
outfits were sent by troop train to Camp Robinson, AR.
We arrived on New Years Day in 1941.
Because we were in different units with different training
schedules, and housed in separate areas, Joe and I only
saw each other occasionally. During that summer I was
sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for special
training. While at Aberdeen, I applied for the Army
Air Forces Flying Sergeants program. Unbeknownst
to me Joe had also applied. My special training was
completed by the end of November, and I returned to
Camp Robinson on December 11th, 1941, four
days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
When I arrived, the 35th Division was in
the process of loading onto troop trains. We were being
shipped west to defend the California coast. My unit
was one of the last to load and move out
at Camp San Luis Obispo CA on Christmas Eve of 1941.
In early January of 1942, twenty of us were suddenly
shipped to Cold Bay Alaska.
Both Joe and I were accepted into the Aviation Cadets.
He received his orders immediately
for bombardier training, and upon graduation he received
his commission as a 2nd Lt in SEP 1942, and
was assigned as an instructor at the Albuquerque Bombardier
Because of my transfer to Alaska, I didnt receive
the notification until long after the reporting date.
I then had to reapply. I was subsequently accepted into
the Aviation Cadet program in August 1942 at Kodiak
Naval Air Station. I transferred to Santa Ana California
in late December 1942. After arrival at Santa Ana I
required surgery, and in March 1943 was given a medical
leave and returned home to Kansas. I had been informed
that Joe was now in Albuquerque and made arrangements
to stopover for a weekend.
It was near the end of March, 1943 when Joe met me
at the Albuquerque railroad station and told me of his
big plans for a "night on the town. Unfortunately
the only place to go for the evening was the base Officers
Club. Now I was only a cadet, and in those wartime days
you did not have civilian clothes, and you always wore
your uniform. I knew full well that I could not legally
go to Officers Club
but Joe told me not to
worry that he had arranged to borrow a second lieutenants
uniform for me. He had also arranged a blind date for
me. His date was going to be Rosemary Helling, the El
Dorado girl that we were both friends with. Rosemary
was at that time a coed at the University of New Mexico.
I told Joe, "NO deal" to the blind date, but
that I would like to go out with Rosemary. So Joe got
the blind date.
We had a wonderful time that evening and all day Sunday.
Monday morning arrived, and I caught the train back
to California. That was the last time that I ever saw
I completed Aviation Cadet training and became a 2nd
Lt. Bombardier exactly one year after Joe had graduated.
Several months after my stopover at Albuquerque Joe
was transferred to the newly formed 446th Bomb Group.
Shortly before he departed Albuquerque, on June 25th,
1943, he married Helen Bliss
she was the girl that
was to have been "my" blind date!
The 446th Bomb Group completed their training
program in the US
and was then deployed in new
B24s to Bungay, an 8th Air Force base
in England. In December 1943, they began flying combat
missions bombing targets in German occupied territory.
It was on the crews 10th mission, en-route
to bomb targets in Frankfurt, Germany, when the Black
Widow was forced to abort somewhere over occupied France.
En-route back to the base at Bungay, they were quickly
identified by the Germans as a straggler, and attacked
by a flight of FW-190s led by Luftwaffe ace, Lt
Waldemar Radener. The Black Widow was shot down at 11:58
near Amiens, France. Four of her crew, Garber, Adams,
Carmody and Kieley never bailed out. Kieley, who was
flying his 25th and final mission, was severely
wounded and unable to leave the airplane. Lt Adams and
Carmody were in the severely damaged nose section of
the aircraft. That section received intense cannon fire
and those crewmen were either immediately killed or
too severely injured to bailout. Lt Garber remained
at the controls after ordering the bailout. He either
tried to save the airplane or refused to leave because
of the wounded aboard. T/Sgt Lee managed to bailout
but was machine gunned to death by the German fighters
as he descended in his parachute. The other five Hinton,
Riel, Stewart, Nardozzi and Fletcher successfully parachuted
from the Black Widow. All five were immediately captured
by German ground forces and spent the rest of the war
as German POWs in the Stalags. They were
confined from the time of capture on FEB 4th,
1944 until MAY 1st, 1945, when they were
liberated by Allied Forces.
The bodies of the five dead crewmembers: Garber, Adams,
Carmody, Lee and Kieley, were recovered at or near the
crash site, near Bray sur Somme, by the French and the
Germans, identified by the captured crew members and
then buried in a common grave in the St Andre Cemetery
at Evreux, France.
Search for What Really Happened to Joe Adams:
Now, the only people who knew what really happened
in the aircraft were the 5 surviving crew members who
were captured and interned as POWs. Of the five
survivors, only one, Lt Hinton, had been in cockpit,
and was aware of the events that took place there. Hinton
was flying his first mission with the crew as a substitute
co-pilot. He was unfortunately, an outsider
as far as the rest of the crew was concerned, and had
not had an opportunity to bond with the
others. This caused a lack communication and understanding
between the survivors. Since the Black Widow had aborted
the mission and left the formation, no other B24 aircraft
were in a position to have observed their fate. As far
as the other B24 crews on the mission, and the staff
back at the 446BG HQ at Bungay knew, the Black Widow
and her crew had just vanished. The entire crew was
listed as Missing In Action (MIA) until Germany surrendered
and the five POWs were returned to Allied control.
When the five POWs were recovered and interrogated,
the story of the fate of the Black Widow and her crew
began to unfold. Even then, the intimate details of
the the entire story were unknown. Years later, when
a history of the 446BG was first published the details
were somewhat erroneous
certainly not by intent,
but because of a lack of information.
Why Did El Dorado
Overlook What Happened to Joe Adams
Joes father, Frank B Adams and his family had
moved to Pratt, Kansas sometime prior to Joes
military service. This fact, plus Joes marriage
in Albuquerque, caused the next of kin addressees to
be listed at the home of his wife in Albuquerque NM,
and/or his parents then living in Pratt KS. Thus the
fate of Joe Adams was unknown and overlooked by the
citizens of Butler County. After all it was a long war!
Adams Search for his Sons Burial Site
Frank Adams, will be remembered as one of the principals
of El Dorados Arnold-Adams Funeral Home of the
1930s. After the war in Europe, US Forces began
the process of collecting, identifying and the permanent
burial of those who had been killed. Frank Adams, motivated
by his sons MIA status, joined the US Army Graves
Registration unit and went to Europe. There is no doubt
that he was determined to find the remains of his son.
And he did.
I would like to read to you a portion of a letter that
Mr Adams wrote, to T/Sgt Vincent Riel, one of the surviving
Liege Belgium 6 April 1948
"I have found the boys. I think I wrote to you
last spring and told you that I had been at St Andre
where they made an investigation, at the time I was
almost certain they had the crew but it takes a long
time to know for certain so it was just about ten days
ago that I had a letter from the Unidentified Branch
telling that they were convinced it was the crew and
gave me permission to write to the other parents, this
I have done. The hardest job I have ever had was writing
and telling Josephs mother the truth. You know
we always try to shield the women folk from all to the
hard raps, if we can, then some day (we) have to tell
(the) truth, that is what happened to me.
The boys are (currently) buried in a "Mass of
Five Unknowns" and all of their names (are) will
be upon the cross. I cant give you all of the
details now but will have the Report of Investigation
and other papers some time soon and will then let you
know what happened after you (they) bailed out of the
I have asked the other families what they want to do
about taking the boys back to the states, we will have
to place them in a National Military Cemetery at some
point midway between our homes. This is going to make
it hard on all of us for they cannot tell us which of
the boys is which. This makes it pretty rough, especially
on the mothers, if we could have each of our sons in
our own family plot in our home cemetery it would be
a little consolation but this way it dont help
us a lot.
I am very glad that I came over here for if I had not
been here and worked on the cases myself I would never
have been satisfied, this way I am. I intended bringing
Mrs. A. (Adams) and Kathryn over this summer but the
way things are shaping up I am afraid to. Best Regards,
Sincerely yours, s/Frank B. Adams
Recent words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded
the Allied Forces in the Iraqi War, tells it all,
" It doesnt take
a hero to order men into battle.
It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into
may be defined as men and women willing
to fight, and die -- if necessary for their country
and its ideals. Most are never decorated or singled
out for their bravery and courageous deeds. They move
into battle never knowing when they might be put in
a position to kill
or to be killed
themselves. For them there is no turning back! And,
there is no hesitation!
None of us ever considered ourselves as heroes. We
just instinctively did what we had to do. We just moved
forcefully on the enemy, while striving to keep our
fellow comrades and ourselves alive.
Once the battle was engaged OUR GOAL
to make the enemy DIE FOR HIS COUNTRY!
All who served, and especially those who entered the
battle were heros, but most were never recognized or
decorated. NONE of us ever went into battle with idea
of dying for his country, or making the supreme sacrifice,
yet everyone of us was possessed with that discipline
necessary to die honorably if circumstances required.
On every mission I flew in combat
and I flew 51
was mentally and physically prepared for the inevitable.
On every mission that is except two: the first one,
and the very last one. On my first mission I was filled
with an over confidence that lasted until a piece of
flak hit the thick plexiglass of the nose turret which
I was then operating, leaving a large star shaped crack
right in front of my face. That got my attention!
On my last mission, which was my fifth trip to Ploesti,
I was flying as a substitute crewmember with a different
crew. We came off the target OK, tightened up our formation,
and headed back to base
.one of other B24s
pulled out of the formation and began to lag behind.
German fighters closed in for the kill and the pilot
of my B-24 elected to go to the aid of the other aircraft.
Such an action, although heroic, can very often be disasterous.
Then, US fighters suddenly arrived to escort us home.
They chased away the Germans, and it was almost like
in the movies when the cavalry rides in and chases away
It was through a strong faith in the Supreme Being
that I was able to endure the stress and strain of combat.
There is a deep, life-long bond that exists between
the men and women that have served together during war;
it is a phenomena in itself, and is the result of these
"heroes" having lived closely together on
the brink of death, facing challenges that call for
personal sacrifices, often leading to the supreme sacrifice.
A name is never forgotten. A shared experience, whether
it be one of danger, joy or sorrow, is kept in ones
memory bank forever. Todays Memorial Ceremony
is a living example of that bond.
Today, three of the gunners of the Black Widow B24
crew still survive
two, S/Sgt John Fletcher and
T/Sgt Anthony Nardozzi have traveled from Florida and
New York to attend this ceremony, and honor their fallen
comrade and my friend, Joe Adams.
Shirley Riel, the widow of S/Sgt Vincent Riel, who
passed away last July, is also in attendance. She traveled
from Maryland to honor the memory of her husband and
his brave crew. Today she will be presented with S/Sgt
Riels POW Medal.
Joe Adams sister, Kathryn, who was only 11 when Joe
went off to war, is also here from Colorado with her
family to honor the memory of her brother Joseph.
S/Sgt Francis A Stewart, the third surviving gunner,
now living in North Carolina, was unable to attend.
There are also a number of veterans of the 446th
Bomb Group Assn in attendance. Some traveled from as
far away as Michigan.
Today, we are recalling and sharing some of those memories
and heroic experiences with one another. We are honoring
the memory of the fallen heroes who made the supreme
sacrifice for their country and their fellow men.
Joseph Adams, John Carmody, Marvin Garber, Earl Lee
and Adrian Kieley are truly five of those heroes.
In closing I would like to quote from the Holy Bible.
The passage is found in the Book of John, Chapter 15,
Greater love has no man than
that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Thank you all for coming
and may God bless you
the plaque dedicated to Joe Adams on Memorial Day, 1998.