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LT  James D. COCCIA

UNIT: 351st BOMB Sqdn POSITION: P/CP
SERIAL #: O-817161 STATUS: POW
MACR: 07815 CR: 07815

Comments1: 29 JULY 44 MERSEBURG

COMMENTS & NOTES

MEMO 1:

CREW

2ND LT JAMES D. COCCIA            P POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG
2ND LT STANLEY S. DIAMOND    CP KIA  28 JUL 44 MERSEBURG (while flying with the Albert S. Spear Crew)
2ND LT ROBERT D. FULKERSON  NAV POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG       SN# 0-713164
2ND LT ROBERT E. MARSHO     BOM POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG
S/SGT HARRY E. WHITFORD     ROG POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG
S/SGT JOHN R. VUCHETICH       TTE POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG
   SGT BERNARD V. BAUMGARTEN WG KIA   29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG
   SGT HARRY G. FELDKAMP       WG POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG (BECAME TG ON CREW)
   SGT JAMES A. HOOTS             TG NOC   TAKEN OFF CREW TO REDUCE TO 9 MEN  
   SGT FRANK MADRID               BTG POW 29 JUL 44 MERSEBURG

MACR #7815, Microfiche #2862   A/C #42-107007  "SHE HASTA"

351st Sqdn.. This crew joined the 100th on 17 Jul 44
29 Jul 44 this crew suffered flak damage over the target (Merseburg) and was forced to ditch in the North Sea off the coast of Ameland.  Made it to shore & immediately captured.  Baumgarten severly wounded and went down with the A/C.  William L. Greiner was flying as  pilot to break in a new crew and became a POW. Lt Stanley Diamond asked for a transfer from this Crew because he was fearful of Coccia's flying ability.  He was sent to the Crew of Lt Albert S. Spear an was KIA on 28 Ju 44 over Merseburg. 

CREW
DATE: 29 July 1944  351st Sqdn.           A/C #42-107007 "SHE HASTA"

MISSION: Merseburg                             MACR #7815lMicro-fiche #2862

1st Lt William L.Greiner,Jr.      P        POW
2nd Lt James D.Coccia          CP        POW
2nd Lt Robert D.Fulkerson     NAV     POW
2nd Lt Robert E.Marsho        BOM     POW
 S/Sgt Harry E.Whitford,Jr.    ROG     POW
 S/Sgt John R.Vuchetich       TTE     POW
   Sgt Frank Madrid               BTG       POW
   Sgt Bernard V.Baumgarten  WG      KIA
   Sgt Harry G.Feldkamp          TG      POW

All of the above except for William Greiner were members of the James D.Coccia
crew which had joined the 100th Gp. On 17/7/44. Greiner was flying as pilot
on 29/7/44 "to break in a new crew".

EYEWITNESS: " A/C #007 was observed to have one engine smoking as it went over
            the target. It dropped back and took over the lead of the second
            element of the low squadron and gradually lagged further and fur-
            ther behind. Friendly fighters were all around and when last seen
            the A/C was under control and appeared to be in good condition.
            This A/C later was seen over Wesermunde by a flight of P-38s from
            Station 337,479th Fighter Group. A jet propelled E/A was attacking
            and was driven off by the P-38's. The B-17 was escorted until it
            reached the Frisian Islands where the P-38's were forced to return
            to England becauce of a shortage of gasoline. When last seen all
            engines were operating and the A/C was headed for home at 10,000 feet."

The A/C ditched in the North sea a few miles off the island of Ameland and
all save Baumgarten made it to shore in the rafts. They were immediately taken
prisoner.

Sgt.Baumgarten had been badly eniured by flak (Left leg nearly torn off &
wounds in abdomen) and was unconscious in radio room when plane ditched.
Attempts by Sgt,Vuchetich & another to get him to a raft were not success-
ful. Ship stayed afloat only about 30/45 seconds.
This was the 2nd mission for the Coccia crew,

MISSIONS FLOWN BY LT ROBERT FULKERSON (mpf 2001)

1. 24/7/44 ST LO (with Lt E.J. Simmons Crew) Replacement Nav.
2. 25/7/44 ST LO (with Lt E.J. Simmons Crew) Replacement Nav.
3. 28/7/44 MERSEBURG
4. 29/7/44 MERSEBURG-Flak damage

"I was the navigator on the James Coccia's crew in the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group and arrived at Thorpe Abbotts on July 17, 1944.  July 24 & 25 I flew as a replacement Navigator with the EJ  Simmons Crew on the two St Lo Missions.  July 28 & 29th, Coccia's crew flew on the Merseburg Missions.  William Greiner, whose crew finished all their missions, flew with Coccia's crew on the July 29th Mission to "help break them in" and to fly his "last mission".  On the July 29th mission, my fourth mission, as a result of losing one engine over the target, subsequent loss of a second engine by more flak and a brief encounter with  a ME 163 German Jet fighter, our crew ditched our B-17 "SheHasta" in the North Sea.  After four days at sea, having been spurned by a Danish ship on our second day at sea, we landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands North of Holland.  We were captured by the Germans as we landed on the beach.

After a few days in Holland, we were taken to Germany.  At Stalag Luft III, located southeast of BERLIN.  I lived in a room across the hall from where the tunnel began in the Great Escape which occurred before I arrived.  Fifty of the POW's that had escaped and had been re-captured were murdered by the German by orders from Hitler.  Another Tunnel was ready to break out at the time the Russians were advancing in our direction.  Hitler, not wishing to allow the Russians to liberate us, wanting to keep us as hostages, ordered us to evacuate the camp and march 56 miles in blizzard conditions before packing us into boxcars and shipping us to Stalag XIII D at Nurnburg.  After two months at Stalag XIII D, American Forces began advancing in our direction.  We were evacuated and forced to march approx 100 miles to StalagVII A at Mooseburg Germany.   April 29, 1945, we were liberated by Gereral Pattons Third Army."
(Lt Robert Fulkerson, Jan 2001  mpf)


                            JULY 29, 1944, A DAY TO REMEMBER
                               By Lt Robert Fulkerson, Navigator
                            351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group

July 29, 1944, the 100th Bomb Group target for the day was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany.  This mission was the second day in row that the 100th bombed Merseburg.  As a navigator with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, this was my fourth mission having recently been assigned to the 100th on July 17, 1944. Our Crew was flying the B-17 “She-Hasta”.  Bill Greiner was flying as a replacement pilot on his “last” mission and Jim Coccia, our regular pilot, was flying as co-pilot.

Once in Germany and arriving at the IP, we flew to the target at the altitude of 26,000 feet. As we approached the target, we encountered a very dense, black carpet of flak.  The flak was so thick one would think that one could walk on it!  We lost one engine as we dropped our bombs and encountered other damage forcing us to leave the formation.  The entire low squadron of the 100th A-group failed to return home along with two of the B-group of which we were one, accounting for eight B-17’s lost.

Flak had knocked out the oxygen in the nose of the aircraft forcing the bombardier and me to retreat to the radio room.  I had given the one walk around bottle of oxygen to the bombardier and told him to go on to the radio room and that I would follow him.  Upon entering the entrance to the bomb bay my parachute harness caught on to something and became entangled.  Still being at altitude and without oxygen, I soon passed out.  Fortunately for me, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, who was in the top turret saw me and plugged in my oxygen mask.  Upon recovering, I noticed that the bomb bay doors had not completely closed and upon passing out I had dropped most of my navigational aids out the bomb bay doors.  With a map or two I proceeded to the radio room.  By this time we had lost a lot of altitude and while limping along, encountered more flak at about 10,000 feet. Another engine was lost and Bernie Baumgarten, one of our waist gunners, was severely wounded in his abdominal area and upper left leg.  Shortly after this, near Weserbunds, Germany, a squadron of P-38’s appeared on the scene.  Apparently they had spotted a Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on our tail.  The German pilot, on seeing the squadron leaders P-38, turned in his direction until he saw the squadron leaders wingman and decided to turn away.  The P-38’s pursued the Me 163 and the squadron leader made direct hits and the Me 163 went down.

We continued on our way still losing altitude and soon spotted water and decided to ditch our aircraft. Hopefully it was the English Channel but it turned out we were farther north and the water was the North Sea.  We ditched the B-17 around noon, July 29, 1944.  After surviving the ditching, John Vuchetich our flight engineer and I were the last two of the crew to leave the aircraft.  We had remained in the radio room in hopes of saving the wounded gunner.  Since the nose hatch had been opened earlier and the ball turret repositioned for ditching water was rushing in fast and furiously.  I soon realized the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch.  As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name.  What a feeling!  From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five degree angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water.  As I dove into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet.  Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17’s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight.  Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie went down with the B-17.

We spent four days at sea. On the second day, a sailing vessel appeared on the horizon and seemingly heading in our direction.  As it became closer, we fired flares and pistols into the air in hopes of attraction their attention. The ship became close enough that we could see a flag painted on the hull and took it to be Danish.  What seemed like eternity, the ship proceeded on its way, choosing to ignore us and left us floundering in our frustrations.  The two dinghies had been tied together to prevent our being separated.  During the second night, I was awakened by the angry sea and found our dinghies starting to break apart.  At about the same time, John, who was in the second dinghy, awakened.  He and I sat the rest of the night with our arms interlocked together.  Finally daylight arrived.  We had won our battle.  That night has to be one of the worst nights in my life. 

During the four days at sea we could hear aircraft flying over but the overcast prevented us from seeing them and in turn preventing them from seeing us.  Late afternoon on the fourth day at sea, land was sighted.  Separating the two dinghies, we raced, paddling to shore, firing flares into the air only to be met by German soldiers who took us prisoners.  We were told, “For you the war is over!”  Actually it was only the beginning.  We had landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands north of Holland.

We had no food while at sea and when the Germans finally gave us some food the following day, it had been over five days since we had eaten!  The Germans gave us cold potatoes and cold gravy served in two mess kits from which the eight of us took turns eating.  After a few days in Holland, of all places in solitary confinement in a convent, nine months in Germany as POW’s, which included two forced marches, General Patton and his forces liberated us at Mooseburg, Germany, April 29, 1945.

           AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY 

The evening of November 18, 2003, I received a telephone call from a Jeff Grosse, a writer in Cincinnati, Ohio who informed me he was researching an incident that occurred during World War II involving P-38’s from 434th Squadron, 479th Fighter Group, a B-17 bomber and a German Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on July 29, 1944.  The writer told me he had obtained my name from Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR) and wanted to talk to a survivor of the B-17.  He also told me Art Jeffrey, the P-38 squadron leader, and Dick Simpson, his wingman, were alive and furnished me with their addresses and telephone numbers. I called both men and thanked them for saving our lives on that eventful day in July 1944.  Art flew 82 missions in World War II, stayed in the Air Force and retired a Full Colonel.  Art was the first pilot credited with shooting down a Me 163 and had fourteen victories to his credit ranking him among the 8th Air Force Aces.  He told me his group was called for a special briefing a half hour earlier than usual at 3 Am on July 29, 1944, to be briefed on the Me 163 that had just gone operational for the first time on July 28, 1944.  Lo and behold, late that morning Art’s squadron spotted a Me 163, the Me 163 that had just spotted us!

The 479th Fighter Group will be holding their annual reunion meeting in Denver the fall of 2004. The two P-38 pilots have invited me to join them at their meeting. Needless to say, it will be a thrill for me to have the opportunity to meet them in person and thank them for saving our lives on July 29, 1944, some sixty years later!

P.S. Chuck Harris, 8th AFHS member living in Colorado Springs was the Lead Pilot for the 100th Bomb Group B-Group at Merseburg, July 29, 1944.  I was flying with the B-Group but did not know Chuck at that time. I met Chuck for the first time several years ago at one of our 8th AFHS functions at the Air Force Academy.

MEMO 2:

Flying as CP. Lt Greiner flying as pilot to break in crew to combat.

KIA / MIA / EVA / INT INFORMATION:

TARGET: Merseburg DATE: 1944-07-29  
AIRCRAFT: "She-Has Ta" (42-107007) CAUSE: EAC-Crashed at Sea  

BURIAL INFORMATION

PLOT: ROW:  
GRAVE: CEMETERY:  
ID: 928