17 April, 2015

Profile 103: FINISHED—"Mary Pat" as managed by MSgt John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BS

Say hello to "Mary Pat," a B-17F that flew 59 flawless missions against Nazi Germany, circa July 1943 through February of '44.

Yeah, I can hear now the whistles of disbelief from all you History Geeks out there.  But for those who may not be so geeky, I'll clue you into why Mary Pat is worth the whistle:  she was an "F" model that arrived early in the 8th Air Force's sophomore blows against targets in continental Europe.

These early months were a time of untried tactics, expert Luftwaffe attacks and vicious flak.  Mary Pat's number of missions are near-miraculous because during that time period, a bomber crew's chances of not living out their 25-mission requirement was one-in-three while a B-17 airframe's odds of making 6 months was zero.

Have a look yourself:

So, now that everyone knows we're not dealing with a run-of-the-mill B-17 here, hold that thought.

The relationship between 'ground crew' and 'air crew' are oft-told tales.  I remember watching on TV as 357th FG ace Clarence "Bud" Anderson cried while describing how his ground crew worked throughout a cold night, scrubbing dark camouflage paint from the skin of his P-51 with gasoline and wire pads in order to make sure the airplane was better suited to blend-in over Europe's freshly snow-covered ground.  The next morning, Sgt. Otto Heino and crew presented "Old Crow"(in her newly shined aluminum livery) with a bloody hands, cracked open by cold, hard labor and 100 octane.

Later, while talking to Bud myself, he told the same story and cried again.  Though an ace and combat leader, Bud could not imagine that his ground crew were any less than himself.  And of these 'air crew and ground crew' stories, Bud's is just one of thousands.

Bud and Crew Chief Otto Heino, 60 years later.  While Bud went on to become a bona fide WWII celebrity (with absolutely zero of the celebrity 'attitude') Otto became a renown potter. 
The Crew Chief's role was to supervise the mechanical care of an assigned aircraft.  To put a fine point on the matter, each aircraft—be it fighter, bomber, whatever—was 'issued' to the Crew Chief as an item of responsibility.  The men who boarded the airplane were simply picking up a tool.  The Ground Crew, on the other hand, made sure the tool was useful.

No Ground Crew?  No Air Crew.  And, no mission.

Have another look at Mary Pat.  Only this time, give the title a little attention—Their brother's keepers.  You've probably figured out where this post is going; say hello to Master Sargent John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BG.

"Mary Pat" was John's B-17—he was the airplane's Crew Chief.  And those 59 missions?  Of course, part of the credit of Mary Pat's longevity goes to the German's poor/unlucky aim.  Part of the credit also goes to pilot Ruel Weikert and how he led the air crew.

But, imagine this:  black puffs of flak causing tooth-banging turbulence, shards of shrapnel slicing through aluminum skin and Ruel's steady hand and clear commands, all performing as expected.  Not a glitch, not a hesitation, not a fault...

Ruel Weikert's son has been emailing me asking what it'd take to get a print of this airplane for his family for some time now, but...

Look.  We're all connected—some how, some way.  I don't get it and realistically, neither do you.  But the bottom line is whatever we have is some how, some way bolted to someone else.

My interview with John DeBerg is too much for this blog post.  But suffice it to state, whatever you're doing has the potential to mean significance for someone else.

So, to the Weikert family: the DeBerg family is sending you a print—signed by John.  You asked about buying a print and now, here's your answer.  I apologize about being oblique in responding to your requests, but I've been under a higher authority; John thinks the world of your dad.  And some how, some way, I suspect your dad thought the same of him.   So, there.  Now you know why your money's no good here.  To John, he's just taking care of Mary Pat.

John DeBerg signs a print.  There's so much more to this story but it's just not the right time to share it all.  Suffice it to say, I'll give it its due at a later date.
Gawd, if you have half a soul, you're crying.  Just like Bud Anderson.

And the photo below?  That's Ruel Weikert, pilot of "Mary Pat."  The picture was taken after the bomber had completed her tour and was on her way back home; whole, hale and hearty.  No small thanks to Ruel's excellent leadership in combat and John's excellent leadership with a wrench.

PS - Just so you know that I'm not overstating DeBerg's significance as a Crew Chief, the Air Force gave the man a Bronze Star for his expertise.  Do yourself a favor and read it—that's how 'appreciation' is done...

If you'd like your own print of "Mary Pat" signed by MSgt. DeBerg, email me: john@Johnmollison.com.  But in the meantime, if someone like John DeBerg has (like the print title says) been your keeper, you don't have to give them a Bronze Star Medal.  A Thanks and a snap salute may be all that's desired.