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Joe Adams Memorial Day Speech

DON’T 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 country.

They died at places like Shiloh, Antietam, Andersonville and Gettysburg.

They died in the mud and blood in the trenches of World War I.

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 Desert Storm.

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.

Opening – Who Am I?

My name is Robert Lehnherr…I grew up in Towanda…and 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.

My 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…had 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 Joe Adams…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 Force’s 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…we arrived 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…was selected 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 School.

Because of my transfer to Alaska, I didn’t 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 lieutenant’s 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 Joe Adams.

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 B24’s 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 crew’s 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-190’s 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 POW’s in the Stalag’s. 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.

The 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 POW’s. 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 POW’s were returned to Allied control.

When the five POW’s 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

Joe’s father, Frank B Adams and his family had moved to Pratt, Kansas sometime prior to Joe’s military service. This fact, plus Joe’s 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!

Frank Adams Search for his Son’s Burial Site

Frank Adams, will be remembered as one of the principals of El Dorado’s Arnold-Adams Funeral Home of the 1930’s. 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 son’s 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 gunners:

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 Joseph’s 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 can’t 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 ship…...

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 don’t 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

The Sacrifice

Recent words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the Allied Forces in the Iraqi War, tells it all,

" It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle.
It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle".

Heroes…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…to rescue…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 was always
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…I 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 B24’s 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 the Indians.

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 one’s memory bank forever. Today’s 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 Riel’s 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, verse 13:

Greater love has no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Thank you all for coming…and may God bless you all.

See the plaque dedicated to Joe Adams on Memorial Day, 1998.

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Robert Lehnherr a.k.a IFMO

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