RAYMOND E. PATHEAL
1923 - 1945
My cousin Ramon was born on November 5, 1923, the only child of Carl Patheal and Emile Celeste Dahl. I was told that the name Ramon came from a World War I buddy of Carl's, a man he thought so highly of, he wanted his son named after him. However, Midwestern physicians were not familiar with the name Ramon, so on the birth certificate the first name was written Raymond.
He completed grade school in Oak Park, Illinois, at the Emerson School in June, 1937. He completed his high school education in Glen Ellyn in 1941. He then attended Elmhurst College until he went into military service. During the summer of 1942 he worked at Conference Point Camp, William's Bay, Wisconsin.
Ramon enlisted in the Army Air Force on December 7, 1942, and was called to duty on February 12, 1943. He had enlisted in order to become a pilot in the Army Air Force, his dream being to become a fighter pilot, but bomber pilots were needed at that time, so he found himself training to pilot B-24 bombers. He got his commission as a 2nd Lt. on March 12, 1944. His serial number while an enlisted man was 16138102; while an officer it was O-771120.
I don't know when he was sent overseas, but probably by late 1944 he was in Italy. I eventually learned he was in the 15th Army Air Force, 49th Air Wing, 484th Bombardment Group, 825th Squadron, and was located at Torretto Field, Italy.
He was reported missing in action and later this report was changed to indicate that he had been killed in action on 25 April 1945. This was the last day of the air war in Italy, for bad weather kept the planes on the ground for a week or more. By the time the weather cleared the 15th Air Force had stopped bombing enemy positions. In order to learn as much as possible about his death, I took the following steps
I learned that there exist Missing Air Crew Reports, called MACRs and that a database of these exists on the Internet. The database contains more than 14,000 entries, each entry consisting of a MACR number, the type of plane, the date of the event, the aircraft serial number, the number of the group the plane was from, and, if known, the squadron number.
For April 25, 1945, more than two dozen MACR numbers for B-24s were listed. At this time I thought I could buy a microfiche for each number at a cost of $30 for each. To keep the cost within reason I needed at least one more piece of information, and the Bombardment Group number looked to be the most relevant. Later I learned each microfiche, which might contain one to three MACRs, could be obtained for $4.25 each.
Many of the WW II Bombardment Groups maintain web pages, and I started with them. None, however, had any record of a Lt. Patheal, so this logical search failed.
In the meantime I had taken other steps. I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, and learned only a little more than I expected. A fire there in 1973 destroyed most of the records of those who served in WW II. However, they were able to give me Ramon's service numbers, which are listed above.
In August of 2004 I wrote, under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting a copy of Ramon's Individual Deceased Personnel File, (IDPF), Form 203. This document, about a half inch thick, received in late February, 2005, provided detailed information about his whereabouts after his death. This document provided some of the details in the narrative below.
The missing link to using the MACR database was found by my son Bob who discovered a notice in the Chicago Tribune dated 4 May 1946 that stated that Lt. Patheal, missing in action over Linz, Austria 25 April 1945, was presumed dead by the War Dept. as of 26 April 1946. It gave his unit as 15th A.F., 484 bomb group, 825th bomb squadron. So I requested MACRs for the 484th bomb group not only for two missing planes on 25 April 1945, but also for every B-24 missing from the 484th group in the month of March, 1945 (see below).
Searches were made of the Chicago Tribune for the name Patheal by means of the Tribune historical records available through the Naperville Public Library, the source my son Bob utilized. Twice Ramon was listed missing in action; first in a list published on 19 April 1945, and again in a list published on 31 May 1945. Both of these cannot refer to the event of 25 April 1945, so it appears that Ramon was twice reported as missing in action. This verifies a remark made in a letter from my mother at the time she told me (back in the summer of 1945) that Ramon was missing, adding that he got back safely the previous time and they assumed he would this time.
It took two to three months for the ordered MACRs to arrive, but they have provided an interesting story. It goes like this:
Ramon was co-pilot of a B-24 on 22 March 1945, on a mission over Vienna, Austria. Their plane was damaged by flak, and observers in another plane made the following statement, which was part of the heading of the MACR #13120 prepared the next day:
"After bombs away at Vienna, it was observed that aircraft #31 began losing altitude, and soon the pilot of the plane (Lt Fritts) was heard reporting that the hydraulic system of his plane and the #1and #2turbo supercharger had been damaged and made useless by flak. He asked for fighter escort and stated that he was heading for Russian territory. When he was last seen all four of the propellers were turning and four P-38's were escorting him. He was last seen at 1235 hours near Brezova Czechoslovakia at about 14,000 feet, heading toward the Russian lines."
Compared to other MACRs I had received, this report seemed rather brief and not very informative. In a database of the serial numbers of military planes engaged in WW II, this plane, and several others, had been cryptically marked "Russia". Suspecting that this may have been the reason for the brief report, I printed out another MACR that had been marked "Russia". This was another 484th group plane that had been reported missing on 23 March 1945. The introduction to this MACR (#13816) stated:
"On 23 March 1945, 1st Lt. Helms, and his crew, were engaged in a combat mission over Vienna, Austria, when the co-pilot was injured and the plane sustained some damage. He informed the group leader of the circumstances and told him over the radio that he was heading for the airdrome at Kecskemet, Hungary. Another crew from this organization (Lt. Fritts) landed at the same airdrome the day before Lt. Helms landed and the two crews were in contact with each other for several days. All except the pilot of the crew which landed on 22 March have been returned to this organization and report that the Commander of the Allied Mission at Debreczen, Hungary assured them that as soon as air transportation was available the other crew members will be returned to Italy."
This report was much more informative than the preceding one, so I concluded that the brevity of the former one was due to the fact that the crew was known to be safe but unable to provide testimony when the report was written. The MACR 13816 was not written until 21 April, 1945. and some of the information it contained came from three members of Lt. Fritts crew, one of whom was Lt. Raymond Patheal.
This MACR also contained questionnaires filled out by the crew members. I copied the statement below from the questionnaire filled by a Sgt. Shipes:
"There were two other crews who landed. Everyone was well and safe. Some of the men from the other crews were flown back to Italy and were shot down again later over Linz, Austria before we returned by train and boat. I have no official information on them. I don't know their names. They were in Lt. Fritts' crew. I'm sorry I can't be of more help to you toward them."
"We left our co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Blackburn in a Russian hospital in Kaskemet (sic), Hungary recovering rapidly. Since then he has been returned to the U.S. and has had an operation on his shoulder. I have been corresponding with him all along and he is fine now, as far as I know."
I suspect the above statement was written after Sgt. Shipes was back in the States. There was also an interesting statement provided by the injured co-pilot, Lt. Blackburn, which is reproduced here:
"I was the only member of the crew who was injured, therefore my knowledge of the crew is not nearly so complete as that of the Pilot, Richard C. Helms, 504 Pleasant Place No., Phlladelphia,19, Pennsylvania. Immediately upon our landing at the field in Kecskemet, Hungary, the Russians hospitalized me in town. The Russians took custody of the remainder of the crew and about the first of April, 1945, they started to repatriate them. I don't know the exact route taken by them, but I do know that they were sent to Odessa by rail. and thence by ship to Naples, Italy, all of them arriving there before the end of April, 1945. I was released from the Russian hospital in Kecskemet Hungary, on 24 May 1945 and transferred to Szeged, Hungary. Along with five other American men & officers, we left Szeged on the 6th of June for the Allied control commission in Budapest. We arrived in Budapest 6 June 1945 and left there for Naples, Italy, on an Air Transport Command plane on 8 June 1945. I reported in to 15th A.F. Hdqts. in Bari, Italy on 9 June 1945. To the best of my knowledge all members of our crew are safe at home."
From the statements above we know Ramon and other crew members were alive and well in Kecskemet, Hungary. We also note that some of them, including Ramon, were soon flown back to Torretto Field. All others stayed in Hungary, not getting back to their base late in April.
Why was Ramon in the first group to return? I suggest it was at his initiative; he wanted to get back and fly more missions. Why? Because one learns from the MACR described below that his last mission, on 25 April, was his 33rd, and after 35 missions pilots were rotated back home. With the war in Germany almost over, most Air Force personnel expected to be sent to the Pacific. Thus I would guess Ramon wanted to get in his required missions before the war was over in Europe. If he hadn't been returned to duty so promptly he might have been alive today. It appears that all of the men remaining in the hands of the Russians ultimately were returned to the States.
Now lets look at the MACR (#13994), dated April 27th, for his flight on 25 April, in which Ramon was the co-pilot. The introductory comment stated:
"The aircraft was on the bomb run and about 1233 it appeared that a direct hit from flak struck the aircraft in the midsection. The tail section came off and then other parts of the plane began breaking apart as it fell. One parachute was seen."
Of the four officers in the plane only one survived, 1st Lt. James O. Denny, the pilot. The Bombardier, the Navigator, and the Co-Pilot were killed. Three crew members survived, the Radio Operator, Philip P. Munning, the Tail Gunner, Earl F. Harrison, Jr., and the Top Turret Gunner, David L. Leap.
A number of Individual Casualty Questionnaires were in the MACR; three of them about Ramon. Unfortunately, it is not noted who supplied the information, usually written by an intelligence officer, for each form. A typed form attributes the information to the pilot, Lt. Denny, but was probably from one of the crew, while a hand printed one must have been from the pilot, who was the only survivor to have been able to see the co-pilot. The first of these states:
"The pilot told me after we had been captured that he had seen Patheal leave the co-pilot's seat and head for the bomb bays. On supposition, he had the best chance of any of the fellows who did not show up by now. He, at least, was on his way out."
The second one (from the pilot?) states:
"The co-pilot was seen to get out of his seat and go to the flight deck. The flight deck burst into flames about the time Patheal reached it. There was a large flak hole above his seat and although I could not tell he may have been hit. It seems very unlikely that he bailed out as the flight deck was burning very badly and it would have been almost impossible to get through to the bomb bays to bail out."
There is no information as to how the surviving crew members got out of the plane, as it spun toward the ground. They may have been thrown out as the plane broke up. The unanswered question in my mind is: How did the pilot get out? The only exit from the cockpit is across the flight deck and out the bomb bay. Evidently others have asked the same question I did, for there is a handwritten letter in the file from the pilot, Lt. Denny, dated April 11, 1946, to the Commanding General, AAF. It states:
"In reply to letter April 4 I'm enclosing forms concerning my missing crew members. As you see the information I have is meger (sic). If there is anything else I can possible (unreadable) let me know."
Ramon's body was eventually found and buried in a civilian cemetery located at St. Martins, which is near Linz, Austria. Here it was buried with a group; the cemetery register listed Lt. Patheal as one of the unknowns buried there. His remains were eventually recovered by the American Graves Registration Service, and were disinterred in 1946 from this cemetery and moved to the U.S. Military Cemetery St. Avold, 23 miles west of Metz, France, as Unknown # X-6830. Found with the body was a portion of handkerchief bearing the name (or letters?) "Case".
Previously another body from the St. Martins Cemetery had been identified as one of Ramon's crew members, and eventually dental records demonstrated that body Unknown # X-6830 was actually that of Lt. Raymond E. Patheal.
At the request of Ramon's parents his body was returned to the States in March of 1950. A funeral was held in a Funeral Home in Oak Park, IL, on March 11th, and his body buried in Arlington Cemetery in Elmhurst, IL
So, we've probably found as much as we can expect to discover about the details of Ramon's death. A visit to the St. Martins area might enlighten us about the finding of the crew's bodies, but would add little to our knowledge. The letters Ramon wrote to his parents would be fascinating to find and read; perhaps they still exist. They would tell us about his everyday life at the airbase and in the air.
I do have a source that tells us a great deal about his days in the Air Force, and I strongly advise you to look at it. This is Stephan Ambrose's book, The Wild Blue. This book, about the men and boys who flew the B-24s, comes so close to telling Ramon's story that you will be amazed. It mentions many different pilots and crew members, but follows George McGovern's experiences through the war. Surprisingly, McGovern's and Ramon's careers were remarkably parallel. McGovern was about 15 months older, and was trained as a pilot while Ramon was a co-pilot. They both enlisted about the dame time, went to Italy about the same time, and flew out of airbases near what I call the 'spur' on the Italian 'boot', near the Adriatic Sea.
It is an easy read; if you don't read it, at least read the final chapter, number eleven, entitled "Linz: The Last Mission April 1945". Read it, and you know what happened to Ramon.
The links listed below show the first page of the MACRs that provided the data for the story of Ramon's death.