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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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A phone call reminder going back 70 years

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................February 17, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear every other Tuesday.

At exactly 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3, Phyllis McCormick waited in her DeKalb Area Retirement Center apartment, knowing there would be a phone call, something she has been receiving yearly for nearly a decade.

The call came as expected and the man from Ojai, California was on the line, reminding her once again that exactly 70 years ago to the day and hour her husband was piloting a B-17 bomber over Germany and crashed after a midair collision with another American bomber on the same mission. There were some 1,000 Allied planes in the air that day on bombing runs over Germany and one false move on the part of a nearby bomber caused both aircraft to plummet to earth.

The caller each year is the brother of another crew member of that B-17 who did not survive. In fact only two members of the nine-man crew parachuted safely into a German farmer’s field that day, only to be plucked off the ground by German troops who took them prisoner, eventually being imprisoned near Nuremburg in Stalag XIII. The second surviving crew member, Bill Logan, was later killed along with several other POWs while being marched across a bridge. Allied fighter planes strafed the bridge, not aware that these were some of their own. But Phyllis’s husband, Lt. Col. John McCormick, lived to tell his story, and died at age 90 back in DeKalb in 2008.

Phyllis shared that story with me and produced a 30-page neatly-typed narrative her late husband composed many years after the crash that details events from nearly every day of his crash, captivity and eventual liberation by Gen. George W. Patton and his tank corps.

he had received a telegram, shortly after his plane had gone down, stating that John was missing in action. It was followed by a second telegram that arrived on their wedding anniversary, Feb. 22, saying he was alive but being held by the Germans as a POW. “That was the greatest anniversary gift I ever had,” she exclaimed.

Looking over the personal memoir about his captivity, one realizes how harsh and difficult life was in a prison camp. He had a severe leg injury which he struggled to heal by himself, and luckily for him his incarceration

Phyllis McCormick stands in her DeKalb apartment with her late husband’s medals and other memorabilia from his military years, framed on the wall behind her. (Barry Schrader photo)

John and Phyllis McCormick pose at the U.S. Army Air Corps training camp near Gettysburg, Penna. in 1943. (Family provided photo)

Malta pilot John McCormick, shown standing upper left, poses with his B-17 crew just before the final flight over Germany where they crashed and most died. (Provided photo)

was only three months, allowing him to get better medical treatment once he was transported to an Allied hospital in France.

The McCormicks settled down near their hometown of Malta once he was honorably discharged, but when the Korean War needed pilots, John was called back to active duty and commanded a crew of a B-36, then a B-52. He also saw action in the Vietnam War, then retired from the Air Force at the end of 1969.

\The wall of her apartment has several framed remembrances of his service; among the dozen medals are a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Over the years she and John attended several reunions of the 398th Bomb Group, most of them stateside. But once the war records were made available by the US government they travelled back to Europe and found the field and small German town where he was captured, as well as the Nuthampstead Airfield in England where his bomber group was based. There is a museum there now, and John’s flight jacket is displayed in it, plus memorabilia of the others who either sacrificed their lives or survived the war some 70 years ago.

Phyllis said they visited that crew member’s brother, also a World War II veteran, more than once while they lived in California and have met other times at reunions over the years. Since John’s death it is down to only one call a year. But at age 96 she still remembers every detail about her husband’s lengthy service as well as the good times they had as far back as their days at DeKalb High School where he was once president of the DeKalb High band.

They certainly qualify as part of the “Greatest Generation” like many others that Tom Brokaw wrote about in his book

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115