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John P. Farrell
1st Lt.
John Pearse Farrell
(1917 - 1995)
Navigator - Lewis Crew 813
Written by Terry Farrell
Life Before Military Service
John Farrell was born on August 9th, 1917 and was the 9th child of Matthew & Martha Farrell, Irish Immigrants who settled in Long Island, New York. His father passed away when he was only 7 years old, and given the depression, life was not easy for him, his siblings or his mother, but they survived. In his teens he worked whenever he could find employment, sometimes as a plumber's helper, other times as a file clerk. He spent some time in the seminary but came to realize that wasn't his calling.
Military Service 1940 - 1944
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on July 2, 1940 in Long Island, New York. The recruiter told him he could go to Hickam Field Hawaii for his first posting, but after being sworn in was told he'd be going to the American Base (France Field) in the Panama Canal Zone instead. When Dad spoke up, saying he was supposed to go to Hawaii, the person in charge told him "Oh, you wouldn't like it there."
Given the events on December 7th, 1941, it's very possible he wouldn't have liked it there! Once in Panama, he became a radio operator, serving with a group that towed aerial targets for gunnery practice, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant.
When the call went out for Aviation Cadets, Dad answered the call. While attending Pre-Flight School (Pilot) at Maxwell Field Alabama, he was named Captain of Cadets and received a commendation for his leadership from the Commandant in March, 1943. He then entered primary flight training on May 15th, 1943 in Nashville, Tennessee. At this point in his life, having grown up in a big city in a family of modest means, it's quite possible he'd never even driven a car, so controlling an aircraft proved to be a challenge, to say the least. In fact, he did not complete flight training. On his last training flight, the instructor told him to let go of the control stick and get his feet off the rudder pedals; when the plane leveled out, the instructor said "see, this plane flies itself better than you!"
There's an old saying that really applied to Dad's situation at this point, "when one door closes, another one opens", and so it was that he found his true calling. Perhaps as a result of the commendation mentioned earlier and promising scores on the navigation portions of flight training, he began Navigator training at AAFNS located at Selman Field, Louisiana on June 29, 1943 , graduating on December 23, 1943 as part of Class 43-17, Flt 63, and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
He reported for Combat Crew Training in early 1944 and was assigned to the Lewis Crew. In conversations with one of the surviving gunners on that crew, Howard Heckman, Lt. Farrell quickly earned a reputation as a competent Navigator. On stateside training flights, and when they crossed the Atlantic Ocean via the southern route, Howard mentioned he & some of the other crewmen would joke with their Navigator, saying "those fuel tank gauges sure looked pretty low, are you sure we are on course" etc. Dad would take the joking in stride, and they always got to where they were supposed to go, and usually on schedule.
Dad flew his 1st combat mission with the Lewis Crew on May 12, 1944, but was not aboard with them on their second mission a week later. The Lewis Crew was named the lead aircraft for the group and as such, the 492nd bomb group lead navigator "bumped" my dad off the flight. In addition, the navigator from the McMurray crew, Lt. Hedges, was going along also (in my research I found that Captain Lewis and Lt. Hedges were both from the same small town in the state of Wyoming and being friends, wanted to fly together on the same crew, and it is my theory that Captain Lewis and Lt. McMurray agreed to swap navigators). When he got "bumped" off the mission, my dad was given a four-day pass and went to London. On the mission to Brunswick Germany that day, most of the crew was KIA. Howard Heckman, one of the survivors, spent the rest of the war as a POW, and he told me that while in captivity, he often thought "that Lt. Farrell sure is one lucky guy!"
The next 11 missions were flown with the McMurray crew. On June 15, 1944, on a mission over France, he & the rest of the McMurray crew were shot down. Long after Dad died (1995), I found a box in the back of his closet with a treasure trove of his military service, including a few momentos of that day. One of those items was the actual Flight Plan/Log for that mission, with all the events of the attack noted along with the time ("FW-190's attacking", "Number 3 Engine On Fire" etc..), everything written in his usual fine penmanship, no hint of urgency or panic. He made some notes on the log some time after he landed, which reads as follows; "Parachute opened at 800 feet, Snipers are shooting at me, injured my leg upon landing, eventually ran across a patrol from the 9th Infantry"
The other memorable items in that box from that day are a red "D" ring (aka ripcord) from a parachute harness (Has to be the actual one from the jump) and a receipt from an army field hospital for a .45 caliber pistol.
Writing in an after action report, it was thought by Lt. McMurray that Dad was either captured or KIA since he was the only crewman that didn't work his way to the Normandy beachhead. This theory was also repeated in subsequent 492nd BG publications such as "the Fortunes of War" by Allan G. Blue, and "32 C0-Pilots", by Charles Bastien.
What actually happened (reconstructed from medical records) was the 9th Infantry patrol took him to Collecting Station 15, which was attached to the 1st Clearing Station of the 2nd Medical Battalion. The diagnosis was a severely sprained ankle as a result of a hard parachute landing; a plaster cast was wrapped around the injured leg and he was then transferred later that day to the 41st Evacuation Hospital, located at the time near Le Malloy. He was then sent to the 393rd Collecting/Clearing Station which may have been located at Omaha Beach on June 16th , then on the 17th was admitted to the 217th General Hospital in England. After a little more than 2 weeks, he was released from the hospital and arrived back at North Pickenham on July 7th, after the group took off on the deadly mission to Bernburg, Germany, where 12 crews, including the McMurray crew were lost. Dad had mentioned to me once how lonely it was, staying in the crew quarters by himself for a few days.
He wasn't idle for long. He was assigned to the Abernethy crew and flew 7 more missions and was promoted to 1st Lt. on August 4th. After the 492nd ceased operations at North Pickenham on X August, 1944, he continued flying with Lt. Abernethy, this time delivering "spies & supplies by the moonlit skies", the code name Carpetbagger Missions under the direction of the OSS. 9 of these missions were flown before the Carpetbaggers were engaged to deliver gas to General Patton. Dad completed his 30 mission requirement by flying 3 gas haul flights, and rotated out of the ETO in Mid November, 1944.
Military Service 1945 - 1954
Lt. Farrell didn't get caught in the Post-War drawdown of forces, due in part to his war record and a recommendation from his first stateside commanding officer that he be retained on active duty. Thus began assignments at a variety of bases, flying in both bombers and cargo aircraft, as well as "flying a desk" for a brief period. Then in October, 1948, he joined the 15th AF, 22nd BG, 19th BS as the Navigator in B-29's, based first in Salina Kansas, then later at March AFB in California, May 1949.
In July 1950, the 22nd BG was rapidly deployed to Kadena AFB in Japan in response to the North Korean southernly advances, and on August 23rd, 1950 Dad flew his first B-29 combat mission of the Korean War. The mission pace was significantly less than that experienced during 1944 in the ETO; His 2nd combat mission occurred in September, followed by his 3rd and last in October, where at the end of the month he was transferred to the 8th AF, 11th Bomb Wing, 42 BS located at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas, becoming the Lead Navigator in the gigantic B-36 bomber, getting in his 1st flight in that A/C on December 19, 1950, flying a staggering 25 hoursThe Strategic Air Command (SAC) had begun an annual competition to recognize the best Bombardment Units in SAC. Spirited competition between Bombardment units was the result.
In 1949 the 11th Bomb Wing entered their first competition placing 13th (out of 13 participating units, 3 B-36, 8 B-29 and 2 B-50 units). By 1954 the Carswell units were recognized as the best in SAC. Of 23 Bombardment units (6 B-36, 15 B-47 and 2 B-50 wings), Dad's crew in the 11th Bomb Wing finished in first place for the Fairchild Trophy "Best Bomb Wing in SAC". In addition to the Fairchild Trophy, the 11th won "Best B-36 Wing", "Best Overall Crew", and "Best B-36 Crew". The 11th Bomb Wing crew were from the 42nd Bomb Sq. - lead by AC Mai John P. McKinnon, RN Maj. George P. Knobel and NAV Maj. John P. Farrell (winners of Best Overall and Best B-36 Crew are pictured above, Farrell is 4th from the right, first row)
From L - R: AC Mai John P. McKinnon, RN Maj. George P. Knobel and NAV Maj. John P. Farrell
Military Service 1955 - 1960
Major Farrell continued flying Cold War missions in B-36 Bombers out of Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas for years. In a change from past practice, the Air Force minimized Crew transfers and relocations and kept Crews based at the same location for long periods thus enhancing Crew effectiveness. His cumulative flight hours before the B-36 was 1,327 hours in all aircraft to date. By the end of his flying career in February, 1959, the total was 4,047, the bulk of which flown in the B-36.
With the desire to spend more time with his family, he received permission to come off flight status and was assigned as the Commander, 824th Aircraft Support Squadron of the 824th Combat Support Group. In the picture below Dad is on the far right, observing aircraft ground refueling operations.
After Military Service 1960 - 1995
Dad stayed in Fort Worth Texas after Retiring from the Air Force in July 1960 and became the Sales Manager for Binyon-O'Keefe Moving & Storage Company, a franchise of Allied Van Lines. He then retired from that position in 1979, spending the remainder of his days in reasonably good health, very active in his church, singing in the choir and as a soloist, growing vegetables in his backyard, and just generally enjoying life. He passed away very suddenly on April 17, 1995.
More Info
Lewis CCT 1653
Lewis Crew 813
801st/492nd BG
The Carpetbaggers
492ndBombGroup.com — an Arnett Institute project
Page last modified Friday, May 24, 2013.