11 November 2012

Bernard "Sonny" Garber, Flight Engineer, Top Turret Gunner

Bernard Garber, 1919-2002
My father's  time in the armed forces during World War II was an important part of his life - he was proud to have served. But Bernard "Sonny" Garber, did not talk much about his Army Air Corps experience. He'd enlisted in the Army Air Corps on 2 February 1942.[1] I recall him saying that he knew he was about to be drafted and wanted to choose his branch of service. He was 23 years old.

For a kid from Brooklyn, training in Arizona was memorable. He was enthralled with the desert around Tucson and the open spaces. He had hoped to be a pilot but, like so many, washed out. He received his gunner's wings in Kingman, AZ in March of 1944.

There are great challenges for those of us researching our ancestors who served during WWII in the Army Air Corps. A fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri destroyed 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files on 12 July 1973. In March of 2008, I requested my father's service records and received only three pages: his Final Payment Roll - essentially his mustering out papers. He was discharged from Fort Dix on 3 September 1945.

Among the papers my brother and I found in my parents' home was a draft of an article that was sent by the Army on 14 April 1945 for publication in the Brooklyn Citizen. The photo, above, was published with the article.
AN EIGHTH AIR FORCE BOMBER STATION, England - - Shown beside his top turret guns on his B-17 Flying Fortress is Technical Sergeant Bernard Garber, 25 year old aerial engineer from Brooklyn, New York.
Sgt. Garber has recently been awarded the third Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal for "meritorious achievement" while participating in the Eighth Air Force attacks on vital industrial targets and enemy held installations in Germany. The official citation accompanying the award commented on the "courage, coolness and skill displayed by Sgt. Garber on all occasions," as reflecting "great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States." The presentation was made by his group commander, Colonel Wm. J. Wrigglesworth of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
As a member of the 447th Bomb. Group, a unit of the Third Air Division, the division which has been cited by the President for the now historic England-Africa shuttle mission bombing of Messerschmitt factories at Regensburg, Germany, Sgt. Garber is flying combat missions in what is considered to the the toughest theatre of aerial warfare.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. B. [sic, should be 'J.'] Garber of 2595 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn, Sgt. Garber before entering the Army Air Forces in February, 1942, was employed by the McKinley & Edwards [sic, should be 'McKinley Edwards'] Co. of New York City. He received his gunner's wings in March, 1944, at Kingman, Arizona.
Colonel Wrigglesworth commanded the base at Rattlesden, England. With this and the above information I made an inquiry on a WWII Eighth Air Force online discussion forum and received some great information from Keith Hardie a frequent participant on the forum.

Wessling Crew: B.Garber is kneeling, 2nd from left
Bernard Garber was in the 447th Bomb Group, 709th Bomb Squadron, John V. Wessling Crew . The crew, as reported on the 8 January 1945 loading list (which may have been one of my father's last missions) [2]:
  • Pilot: 1st Lt. John V. Wessling
  • Co-Pilot: Lt. T.J. Foley
  • Navigator: 1st Lt. W.C. Rausch
  • Bombardier: 1st Lt. A.M. Smith
  • Top Turret Gunner: Tech. Sgt. B. Garber
  • Radio: Tech. Sgt. C.D. Koehler
  • Ball Turret Gunner: Staff Sgt. H.F. Olafson
  • Waist Gunner: Staff Sgt. M.S. Taylor
  • Tail Gunner: Staff Sgt. A.V. Stanley
Keith also provided a partial list of missions for the Wessling Crew.[2]
28 Sep 1944
Dixie Marie
2 Oct 1944
3 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
5 Oct 1944
Shack Happy
14 Oct 1944
Devil’s Mate II
15 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
17 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
18 Oct 1944
19 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
25 Oct 1944
American Beauty
26 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
30 Oct 1944
The Big Ass Bird
2 Nov 1944
The Big Ass Bird
26 Nov 1944
27 Nov 1944
Lady Jane/Stinky
30 Nov 1944
Wolf Wagon
Lutzkendorf (Merseberg area)
4 Dec 1944
The Big Ass Bird
8 Jan 1945
The Black Brassiere

My father was in the top turret of the plane - a very exposed position. One story my father related to us was that there had been an airman who was jealous of my father's position on the plane. Somehow it was arranged that this man would go on one mission and take the top turret. The man returned having taken some scrapnel in his bottom. My father was amused. 

We attributed my father's luck to the fact that he had a very small bottom. This makes it all the more amusing that the plane his crew flew most often was The Big Ass Bird. It had been painted by Nicholas H. Fingelly of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

My father finished all of his missions - no mean feat in the Eighth Air Force, a group that lost many planes and airmen. He completed his missions before many of his comrades in arms and was fortunate to return to the States before the war ended. He considered that his early arrival home gave him a leg up on courting my mother. 

Thank you, Dad, for all your service. I love you and miss you.

1. US World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, database online, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2012), Bernard Garber, NARA Record Group 64.
2. Army Air Forces.com Forum (447th BG-Rattlesden), Army Air Forces.com, (http://forum.armyairforces.com : accessed 11-13 January 2009), query "Seeking info on Tech Sgt Bernard Garber"


  1. I enjoyed this blog post on your father's war record. Your comment thanking your Dad, reminds me how often " I also talk to my DAD". Our parents are
    gone but we still talk to them. I can still hear my Dad's voice, how he called me his knaidel or pussycat and other words of love.

  2. The bond between parents and children is so primal - there's no getting over the loss, I think. One feels better as time passes. But, even now, more than 10 years since my father died, I wish I could talk with him.

    My brother and I have agreed that my father would have been very interested in my family history research. Too bad I didn't think to start until several years after his passing.

    Thank you, New Yorker, for your thoughtful comment.

  3. Wow! When I came across your blog and this story my jaw dropped when I saw the picture of my father, John Wessling and his B-17 crew! My dad loved to fly and wanted to continue after the war, but there were so many WWII pilots doing the same he was not selected. He went on to become an electrician to support his growing family and lived a good life until 2003 when he passed away. Thank-you Dad and Mr Garber for your heroic service!

    1. Anonymous,
      (I hope you see this reply). I am thrilled that you saw and chose to comment on my post. I would like to get in touch. Please contact me: gilah(at)cox.net



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