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B 17F Destroyed By Me 262
B 17F Destroyed By Me 262
B 17F Destroyed By Me 262

Wee Willie and the photo that started it all

Above is B-17 “Wee Willie” going down over Berlin on April 8 1945, just one month before the end of the War in Europe.

This photo inspired my World War 2 research and my novel, although my novel is about a B-24, not a B-17. I originally viewed the crash of “Wee Willie” in a TIME-LIFE history of World War 2 around 1971 at the age of 13.

The bomber was crewed by:

Pilot: 1st LT Robert M. Fuller (Hollywood, CA)
Co-Pilot: 2nd LT Woodrow A. Lien (Brockton, MA)
Navigator: TSGT Francis J. McCarthy (Nashville, TN)
Bombardier: SSGT Richard D. Proudfit (Grenada, MS)
Top Turret Gunner: SSGT Wylie McNatt, Jr. (Corpus Christi, TX)
Ball Turret Gunner: SSGT William H. Cassidy (Brooklyn, NY)
Radio (Radar) Operator: SSGT Ralph J. Leffelman (Seattle, WA)
Waist Gunner : SSGT James D. Houtchens (Kearney, NB)
Tail Gunner: SGT Lemoyne Miller (Butler, PA)
Only the pilot, LT Fuller, survived the crash

Another gunner in the Squadron (401st Bomb Squadron), SSGT George Little, witnessed the B-17 as it was hit:

“I observed [the bomber] receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb-bay and the No. 2 [in-board motor on the left wing] engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The aircraft fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet from the ground it exploded, and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew members leave the aircraft or parachutes.”

I’m including a link to a web site dedicated to the 91st Bomb Group to which “Wee Willie” belonged, with a brief history (excerpted below) related to the image that started it all.

–Bill

Excerpt:
The pilot in this photo is Lt. Paul Jessop. The photo was taken on February 14, 1944. Wee Willie’s last mission was on 8 April 1945. A direct flak hit and tore off a wing. The pilot of this mission was 1st/Lt. Robert Fuller and he survived along with some of the crew. Wee Willie was the second or third from last lost to the 91st durning [sic] WWII to be downed in action and was credited with 120 missions. Skunkface III was the last 91st B-17 lost, with the Harry V. Camp crew on board. Shot down by ME-262 Jets on 17 April 1945. Only the tail gunner survived.

  1. WILLIAM R. TURNERWILLIAM R. TURNER03-28-2014

    HELLO; JUST READ THIS INTERESTING ARTICLE; THE BOMBADIER DUVALL PROUDFITT ON THIS WEE WILLIE WAS CONNECTED TO MY FAMILY; MY STEPGRANDMOTHERS BROTHERS ONLY SON. I DID NOT KNOW THE DETAILS OF. VERY TRAGIC CASE, ONLY A MONTH FROM END OF WAR. FROM WILLIAM TURNER COLUMBUS, MISS. 2012 OLD ABERDEEN RD 39705. (662)329-9924 thank you for posting this data. my late father was with pattons 3rd ARMY, AND IN BATTLE OF BULGE. BRONZE STAR AWARD, AND OFFICER.THE GREATEST GENERATION INDEED AS WE OWE THEM OUR FREEDOM.

  2. William BeigelWilliam Beigel04-02-2014

    Hi William:

    Duvall Proudfitt (or Staff Sergeant Richard D. Proudfit, according to Air Corps records) was indeed the bombardier of “Wee Willie”. The bomber went down over Stendal, Germany, on April 8, 1945. It was piloted by 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, of Hollywood, CA, who was the only survivor of the crew.

    There is a great deal more specific information that can be located on SSGT Proudit and last mission of “Wee Willie”.

  3. Michael ValeMichael Vale02-22-2015

    Hi William

    I am researching final burial place of my father, F/lt E.S Vale of Sqn 692 who’s Mosquitto PF466 was shot down near Stendal on 27th March 1945.

    I understand his body was buried in Stendal cemetery alongside American airmen who whose bodies were later transferred to an American cemetery end of April 1945.

    I would be very grateful if you have any information on which cemeteries the American airmen may be buried as this may well be where my father was buried.

    With thanks and kind regards

    Michael Vale

  4. Karen Lien FleenerKaren Lien Fleener04-25-2016

    I am the niece of 2nd Lt Woodrow A. Lien from Brockton, Montana. Woodrow (Woody) was not supposed to be on that flight. He filled in for the co-pilot who was too sick to fly. My nephew, Thomas Woodrow Sukut (Woody) now co-pilots cargo planes after graduating from the Air Force Academy with high honors in 2011. (?) He loves his job but originally studied to be a fighter pilot. My father lost a brother in this war and also a piece of his heart. I pray every day that this does not happen to my uncle Woodrow’s name-sake.

    • Bill BeigelBill Beigel05-16-2016

      Hi Karen:

      Sorry for the slow response. I have researched hundreds of downed American flyers from WW2. I may be able to provide you with a lot more information on your uncle. Please visit my website at http://www.ww2research.com and go to the ‘Services’ page to see what I can locate for you. I see that your uncle came from a very small town in Roosevelt County, MT. What kind of work did he and his family do up there? Best regards, Bill

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