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Willis H. Beasley
Staff Sergeant
Willis H. Beasley Jr.
(1922 - 2009)
Tail Gunner - Harris Crew 707
2nd Lt., USAF Reserves
Life before the War
Willis "Bill" Beasley was born in Denver, Colorado, on 13 April 1922. He was named after his father, Bill Sr, who was a fireman and a WWI veteran. His mother, Gail L Eckhart, was a homemaker. He had one sister, Violet Beasley (McDonald), born just two years earlier.
Bill belonged to the Highlanders Boys, a youth organization. He liked making chugs and racing them in the Soapbox Derby. He also belonged to an archery club where the boys made their own bow and arrows. He joined the ROTC while attending South High School.
Upon graduation in 1940 he worked briefly at Davis Brothers' Drug Company, a wholesale distributor. He soon left that job for a better one at Swift and Company working in the business office. This is where he met his future bride, Norma Pearson, who was the personal secretary to the plant superintendent.
Into the Army
Bill enlisted in the Army during October 1942 and was assigned to the Army Air Force. He completed his basic training at San Antonio, Texas, during the early part of 1943. Then we went to El Reno, Oklahoma, for primary flight school and gunnery school. Upon completion in December he was sent to Salt Lake City where men were assigned to combat crews. He was assigned to the Joe L Harris Crew. Harris was already an experienced pilot with the rank of 1st Lt.
With his new crew, they traveled by train to Biggs Field at El Paso, Texas, for Combat Crew Training. Upon completion they were transferred to the new 492nd Bomb Group at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Training Record
Oct 42: Inducted into the Army at Denver, CO
Jan 43: Basic Training: San Antonio, TX
Primary Flight School: El Reno, OK
Dec 43: Crew Assignment Center: Salt Lake City, UT
Jan 44: Crew Combat Training: Biggs Field, El Paso, TX
03 Mar 44: 492nd Bomb Group: Alamogordo, NM
Service with the 492nd Bomb Group
Bill was credited with seventeen combat missions while his crew had sixteen. He missed one mission with his own crew but picked up two others with different crews. Six of his missions were rough ones mired by flak but two others were really tough as he had to fight the Luftwaffe as well.
His first rough one was his fourth mission as they encountered heavy and accurate flak. However, the next day, flying with the Gossett Crew 708, the tail end of their ship was riddled by flak, but he wasn't hit. It was his first real brush with death.
His first Politz mission is when he was first attacked by the Luftwaffe and, along with heavy flak, three of his crewmates were wounded. Bill got some shots off at the enemy and was credited with one probable kill.
Bill got in on D-Day. His crew's target was a German check point outside of Caen. Due to cloud cover they weren't able to drop bombs on it. It turned out that it didn't really matter because Montgomery didn't make it that far anyway.
Bill's mission on 14 June would had been an easy one but his electrical suit blew a fuse and he almost got frostbit. Turned out he was fine and he went back in the air the very next day.
His seventeenth mission proved to be his roughest. This was Bill's second time to Politz and he knew it was going to be tough. Along the way to target the group was attacked by ME-109s, 210s, 410s and JU 88s. From his tailgun position he saw the 856th BS get completely destroyed. At target his plane was pelted by flak causing them to lose two engines. His pilots were able to take their crippled ship across the Baltic to Sweden. A Swedish fighter found them and escorted them to Malmo. The landing was tough too. They had lost all hydraulic pressure and the gear wouldn't come down. Plus they had two flat tires. Harris proved his skills as he tail-landed his plane into the dirt runway. Everyone walked away.
Prisoner Of War
Bill was a POW in Sweden but it turned out to be more like going to heaven. They were put up in a resort and given a lot of freedom to roam the country and meet its people. His unplanned vacation came to an end on 1 November 1944 when they were smuggled out by air to Wales (Operation Sonnie).
Once back in the UK, Bill was immediately sent home where he soon married his sweetheart Norma on the day after Christmas 1944. Still in the Army, he was served at Santa Monica, California, then in Kingman, Arizona, and then at Pueblo, Colorado, where he was discharged in October 1945.
After the war
After his discharge, Bill went to work for the Public Service Company in Denver until retiring in 1986. He also served briefly in the Air Force Reserves at the rank of 2nd Lt until getting a medical discharge after contracting polio.
He and his wife devoted much of their lives actively involved with several local and national military fraternal organizations. They were the workhorses in creating the 492nd BG Association. Starting out with just a handful of veterans, its membership swelled into the hundreds. Today, the organization is strong with hundreds of second and third generation members.
Bill passed away in his sleep on 22 February 2009. His remains are at the cemetery at Fort Logan, Colorado. He was survived by his wife Norma, their three sons (and wives) and six grandchildren.
On a final note from Bill: "I was proud to serve with the 492nd Bomb Group and continue to enjoy the camaraderie of the members and their families to this day."
More Info
J Harris CCT 1640
J Harris Crew 707
Gossett Crew 708
Leggett Crew 701
Mission 2
12 May 44
Mission 3
13 May 44
Mission 6
21 May 44
Mission 7
23 May 44
Mission 8
24 May 44
w/Gossett 708
Mission 9
25 May 44
Mission 10
27 May 44
Mission 11
28 May 44
Mission 12
29 May 44
Mission 16
4 Jun 44
Mission 18
6 Jun 44
Mission 20
8 Jun 44
w/Liggett 701
Mission 25
12 Jun 44
Mission 26
14 Jun 44
Mission 28
15 Jun 44
Mission 31
18 Jun 44
Mission 34
20 Jun 44
Bill Beasley's
Own Words
492ndBombGroup.com — an Arnett Institute project
Page last modified Wednesday, November 16, 2011.