This site will undergo continual updates as I uncover more stuff. Everything has pretty much been thrown up here in an effort to get it on the web, so trust me, it WILL get better. Who am I? Why is this site here?
My name is Marc Poole, and I am currently a graduate student at Mississippi State University, pursuing my Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Electronic Visualization. As a child, I grew up absorbed in history. It was easy to live out my dreams in the many interesting stories I could find in the books on my bookshelf. The era that fascinated me the most was World War II. The countless events that shaped the course of history provided me with any imaginable story, yet the ones that captivated me the most were the stories about aerial combat. Based on the accounts I read, I was only limited by the expanses of my over-active imagination. However, the original source material was limited to the written word, maybe accompanied with a black and white photograph to spur me on. From the ripe old age of 5, I began to fill my sketchbooks with my own interpretations of the stories I read. I became quite adept at aircraft recognition, and I soon became a well-versed authority on the exploits of this century's equivalent of the armored knight battling it out, one on one, with his arch-nemesis. My interests in this era led to several acquaintances with veterans and former pilots. By the time I had received my undergraduate degree, my interests in aviation and my interpretations of aerial exploits with my artwork had gained me an Associate membership in the American Society of Aviation Artists. This group of artists, like several other groups and organizations, has provided a visual medium for interpreting pivotal moments in history that the camera has failed to capture, due to either a lack of technology at the time, or the fact that taking a picture of the event was simply not an option.
Left: Midnight Sinner-F-82's over Korea (pencil on Bristol board, 22"x30", 1991) Right: Richard Bong's P-38J Lightning (pencil on Bristol board, 22"x30", 1991, prints available)
Left: Robert Johnson (pencil on Bristol board, 8"x10", 1998, autographed by Bob Johnson Dec., 1998) Right: F4U-1a Corsairs, VMF-214 "Blacksheep" (in the collection of the United States Naval Air Museum) (oil on canvas, 24"x32", 1992)
Left: TBD Devastator, 1941 (oil on canvas, 24"x32",1992) Right: Sam Henry's SNJ-5 (acrylic on Bristol board, 30"x40", 1992)
This interest in the past has led me on a quest to discover the history of my family. Interestingly enough, my great-grandfather (maternal) was a German officer in WWI, and was awarded the Iron Cross. My grandmother and my mom were completely bombed out on the December 23, 1943 raid on Leipzig, Germany. It was after much hounding of my paternal grandmother that I discovered that two of her cousins had served in the Army Air Forces in WWII. One served as a navigator on B-29's off of the Pacific island of Saipan, making deadly raids against the Japanese homeland. I cut my researching teeth as a teenager with this relative, and was able to uncover many long-forgotten stories. During the summer of 1998, I received a recently-written manuscript of another cousin of my grandmother's. Johnny Butler, who hails from Arcadia, Louisiana, provided me with a story that will develop into my thesis, and in the months that have passed since I read his accounts, I have hit the ground running.
Johnny was a B-17 pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron, based in England. He was an original pilot of the group, which meant he was one of the first to fly. He flew during the darkest days of the American daylight bombing campaign against Germany, when bomber crews had a 10% chance of surviving the 25 required missions. Johnny and his crew survived 13 missions, and were shot down over France on September 16, 1943. Of the 10 crew members, 3 were killed, 5 were taken as POW's, and the other managed to escape to Spain. Johnny was aided by the French Underground and became the 13th American to evade to Switzerland. While there, he helped with the fledgling covert activity of the OSS. After spending a year in Switzerland, he was finally sent back to England, and then sent home.
Left: Johnny Butler with his mother, at home in Arcadia, Louisiana, May 1943. Right: Johnny Butler (r) after evading capture, Switzerland, Winter 1943.
This story is a typical account of what thousands of others experienced during the war. What makes it so significant is what has happened within the last few years. In 1995, Johnny received a letter from a man in France. To Johnny's surprise, this man was in possession of pieces of Johnny's B-17, "Hell's Belles II." Fragments of the wing, tail, and various scraps had been stored in a barn for over 50 years, and this Frenchman embarked on a mission to return the pieces to its rightful owners. These scraps now reside in the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale AFB, 30 miles from Johnny's home in Shreveport, Louisiana. To me, it provided the opportunity to document Johnny's story as well as adding to the museum display. In the months since I became aware of my newfound "granddad," I have been able to use the resources that are available at my disposal, and have been able to do some serious research. In the 56 years since that fateful day, the 7 surviving crew members have continued on with their lives. Six of them have been able to keep in touch, and have had occasional reunions. Knowing that one of the members was unaccounted for, I gave myself a bone to fetch. Through the wonders of the Internet, a 2-month search paid off, and the missing tailgunner was found. Needless to say, I have earned my wings with this crew. We had a crew reunion in Savannah, GA, over the first weekend of May 1999, and it was the first time since 1943 that this missing piece of the puzzle was in place. (I am now the unofficial mascot). My German connections have benefitted me as well, regarding the German pilot credited with shooting them down. After obtaining reports from the National Archives in Washington, D. C., I began to reconstruct the events of September 16, 1943. Through several resources, I have been able to recreate "Hell's Belles II," as well as create a chronology of Johnny's combat history. Trying to do this has been a challenge, since none of the crew were able to keep photos of the aircraft. Based on a new collection of extensive resources, I am slowly recording their accounts.
As you can see, I am pretty wrapped up in this. Growing up, I was limited to written accounts that provided little in the way of visual documentation. The ability to match my imagination with the first-hand accounts of those who experienced these events provides me with a great opportunity. Additionally, the gratitude shown to me by these guys is priceless. I feel uniquely fortunate to be able to call these guys my friends, and can't help but see them as latter-day survivors of battles such as the Alamo or Pickett's Charge. (Johnny and his crew led the 384th BG on the Schweinfurt raid of August 17, 1943. It was perhaps the most epic of all aerial battles of WWII). I get to hang out with my heroes.
As if that wasn't enough, I travelled to Europe this summer to earn painting credit for school, as well as to do some web work in France. After the three-week school course was over, I stayed another three weeks to do some research of my own. I visited the crash site in the hopes of excavating my own souvenirs, and visited with those who remembered the event. Plans are underway to erect a memorial at the site on the anniversary date this year in memory of the three who died. I then headed to England and visited Grafton-Underwood, one of the countless airbases that has disappeared among the weeds. The last missing piece remaining is the identity of the German pilot who shot Johnny down. I have narrowed it down to a handful of pilots within a particular German squadron, and hopefully I will discover him soon.
The events of the past are often left to collect dust on a shelf, if they were lucky enough to be recorded in the first place. The ability to recreate historical events allows the public to experience pivotal moments from a vantage point usually left to the most ambitious Hollywood producers, usually at the expense of changing the story to make a typical Hollywood movie. By coupling my interests in the past with my artistic talents, I hope to be able to accurately portray a long-forgotten event in the hopes of making current generations aware of the sacrifice made by another, and pay a small homage to my heroes at the same time.
This site is dedicated to all the members of Crew 19, 547th Bomb Squadron, 384th Bomb Group, and those who flew with them.
Pilot- Johnny Butler (Evadee)
Co-Pilot- Herman Wollenweber (POW)
Bombardier- Joe Baggs (DFC, 384th Group Bombardier, only member of crew to complete tour)
Navigator- Ed Knowling (POW)
Engineer- Joe Turlington (Evadee)
Radio Operator- Preston Davis (POW)
Ball Turret Gunner- William Wolven (KIA)
Waist Gunner- Burnia Martin (POW)
Waist Gunner- Marion Rogers (KIA)
Tailgunner- Armando Ordaz (removed from crew)
Waist Gunner- Walter Sword (KIA)
Tail Gunner- Clarence Barnes (POW)
Ball Turret Gunner- Herbert May (KIA)
Me and Johnny, Barksdale AFB, September 1998