Training for war is never completely safe; some men never make it to the battlefield. Less than a month into the base’s operation, tragedy struck. On 7 July 1942, during a severe thunderstorm, a B-24 slammed into a mountainside, killing the five airmen on board.[1] On 22 September 1942, a plane from the 470th Bombardment Squadron went down in heavy woods while returning from Decatur, Georgia. The aircraft was piloted by Lieutenant [Harford] Jenks when both engines failed. Two crew members died instantly, but Jenks’ skillful crash-landing and heroic action prevented more loss of life. Jenks pulled four men from the burning wreckage just before the plane erupted into a ball of fire. The Army first believed the aircraft had been tampered with, but an investigation indicated parts failure.[2] Two more deadly crashes occurred in November. The first happened 21 November 1942 when a bomber from the 472nd clipped its wing on a barn, crashed and exploded.[3] The second crash occurred 28 November 1942 when a B-25’s engine failed, the crew lost control and the aircraft crashed.[4]

In 1943, the crash branded “Greenville Air Base’s most dreadful hour” occurred. That year a      B-25 had to ditch in Lake Greenwood but the big accident occurred later that year when two B-25’s collided over the base and both crews perished.[5] In February 1945 two accidents occurred one day apart. On 2 February a B-25 crashed a mile from the runways; the cause was never determined.[6] One day later, another B-25 experienced landing gear failure and was forced to land without them. The crew survived, but the plane skidded across the NE-SE runway and was severely damaged. Carelessness was determined the cause.[7] During World War Two, 27 airmen were killed while training at GAAB. Nevertheless, bomber fatalities at GAAB were lower than any other base in the Air Force Bomber Command.[8]

[1] The names of the dead were Second Lieutenants Earl M. Hobson, Earl B. Wood, Staff Sergeant Warren E. [Motherbray], Sergeant Rolland F. Carrigan and Corporal Thomas R. Thurman. The Greenville News, 8 July 1942. 

[2] The names of the dead were co-pilot Second Lieutenant Robert Oberhelman and Operations Clerk Corporal Jack Lee. Ibid., 1, 79.

[3] Killed in the crash were Lt. Charles T. Humphries, Lt. Melvin R. Quast and Staff Sergeant Otis K. Fryer Jr. The Greenville News, 22 November 1942.

[4] Killed in the crash were Lt. Hebert W. Barton Jr., Lt. William T. Wright, Staff Sergeant James [W.] Britton and Staff Sergeant Bertram Howard. Ibid., 29 November 1942.

[5] The plane remained in Lake Greenwood until 1983 when it was recovered by U.S. Navy divers. The big accident seems to have hit the base and Greenville community harder than the previous ones. Leonard Todd, “Donaldson Center Industrial Air Park,” The Proceedings and Papers of the Greenville Historical Society, 8, (1990): 133.

[6] Those killed were 2nd Lt. Harry L. Davis, Edward L. Heinlein, Roy T. Jaynes, Cpl. Joseph G. Magovern, Cecil M. Hirill and Nicholas F. Mariano. HGAAB 4, 37, 6.

[7] Ibid., 4, 37, 7.

[8] Ibid., 1, 102. Base commander Selway was replaced 18 October 1942 by Colonel Oliver H. Stout. There is no evidence linking Selway’s removal to the two crashes.  HGAAB 4, 39, 36.


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