05 Oct

B-17 Top Turret Gunner, T/SGT Billie Eugene Clapper from Cowley County, KS

Technical Sergeant Billie Eugene Clapper (37211507) was the top turret gunner and engineer assigned to Joe’s crew on Wednesday, September 15th 1943.

From the information that I have gathered, I believe that Billie was killed on his 17th combat mission. He seems to show up in the 95th Bomb Group Flight Records as both Billie E. Clapper and William E. Clapper.

The census reports that I’ve found say that Billie was born to Willis Allen Clapper (1896-1971) and his wife Blanche Clapper (née Evans, 1897-1970), of Winfield, Kansas, however Willis was originally from Ohio. Willis Allen Clapper apparently worked for Gulf Oil, and lived for a period of time in Cleveland, Oklahoma.

Billie had two sisters: June A. Wade (1923-2016), and Eleanor Clapper Howard. June graduated from high school in Cleveland, Oklahoma, before returning to Winfield, Kansas. June apparently has grandchildren in Winfield, Kansas, Arkansas City, Kansas,  and Enid, Oklahoma.

In 1942 Billie married Norma Jean Buchan, who was born in Apperson, Oklahoma, in 1924. She graduated from Winfield High School, and in 1945 she married S.C. Womacks (1920-2009). Norma Jean passed away in 2002.

It appears that Billie’s first mission was on May 29th, 1943, to Rennes, France, with First Lieutenant Sell W. South piloting B-17 (serial number 42-29800).

Interestingly enough this B-17 flew only four missions with the 95th Bomb Group (H) before it was transferred to the 305th Bomb Group (H), 422nd Bomb Squadron. Soon it was transferred again to the 384th Bomb Group (H), 546th Bomb Squadron located at Grafton Underwood. This aircraft named ‘Me and My Gal’ failed to return on October 14th, 1943, from the Schweinfurt mission to Germany.

On June 28th, 1943, Billie flew a mission to St. Nazaire, France, with First Lieutenant Sell W. South in B-17 (serial number 42-30284). Billie was assigned the role of waist gunner with Ed Clements, who a few months later became a Prisoner of War.

On August 2nd, 1943, The Portsmouth Herald located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire published an article titled “Wounded Gunners Save Crew of Crippled Plane”.

The article begins with:

How two wounded sergeants aboard a severely damaged B-17 Flying Fortress of the United States Army Eighth Air Force stood by their guns and beat off a swarm of German fighter planes until the crippled bomber, on its way back to England from an attack on the German submarine pens at St. Nazaire, France, could make a successful landing at sea, was disclosed today by the war department.

The B-17 piloted by First Lieutenant South ditched in the sea near England, and although the rubber life rafts had been damaged by shell fire, they were patched up and held together for hours until rescue boats arrived. B-17 serial number 42-30284 the ‘Myrtle’, had apparently made its bomb run and started heading back to England when flak struck its control cables.

First Lieutenant Sell W. South of Birmingham, Alabama, gave orders to lighten the load so that the aircraft could make it as close to England as possible.

First Lieutenant John W. Hargrove of Talco, Texas, was the co-pilot on this mission and he was quoted as saying:

“As we were busy tossing overboard everything we could get our hands on, the Focke-Wulfs swooped down on us… Actually the first we knew of them was when their tracers started whizzing past the bomber.”

The article by The Portsmouth Herald concludes with the following:

Technical Sergeant Edward W. Maslowski fended off the Focke-Wulfs until he collapsed, and Sergeant Clements, although he was severely wounded in one arm, kept a stream of bullets on the attacking planes while Technical Sergeant Harold B. Koukol of Berwyn, Illinois, came to his aid and applied a tourniquet.

After surviving this harrowing incident, Billie Clapper returned to duty and flew again on July 10th, 1943, to Le Bourget, France, in a B-17 named ‘Patches’ serial number 42-30120, also piloted by First Lieutenant Sell W. South.

The first time Billie Clapper actually flew a mission with Joe Noyes was on July 28th, 1943, to Oschersleben, Germany. On that day they flew in B-17 (42-30182) also known as Blondie II– seen in this poster designed by Squadron Posters.

Billie Eugene Clapper is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at The Cambridge American Cemetery, and his status is still Missing in Action.

His remains have not been recovered. 

95th Bomb Group B-17F (serial number 42-30182) "Blondie II" in the sky

95th Bomb Group B-17F (serial number 42-30182) “Blondie II” in the sky

On Wednesday, September 15th 1943, Joe and his co-pilot David F. Prees, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took off from Horham Airbase in the B-17 “Sittin’ Bull”, with eight other crew members on board, including Billie.

As fate would have it Joe Noyes originally took off in B-17 serial number 42-30182 “Blondie II” but they spun a prop shortly after getting airborne, and had to return to base. Dedicated to the mission at hand, and knowing that if he didn’t get the job done, someone else would have to go in his place, Joe then took off again at 1534 hours, flying the “Sittin’ Bull”.

It was supposed to be a relatively easy bomb run, with light enemy resistance. Their assigned target was the Billancourt-Renault industrial works, which they successfully hit at 1854 hours. There are conflicting reports, but what is known is that the “Sittin’ Bull” never made it back to England. 

The only report of his presence was when, 15 miles off Beachy Head on the route back, he was flying in the number 9 spot in the high squadron. At that point and in no apparent difficulty, he was seen to lose altitude and leave his position.

In October 1943, Joe Noyes washed ashore in Berck-Plage, France. He was initially buried in a small local cemetery, and then reburied at Étaples Military Cemetery.

Joe is the only member of the crew whose remains were found.

Your help is needed!

I am actively seeking relatives and friends of the Clapper family from Winfield, Kansas. They may have descendants in both Kansas and Oklahoma. I would like to learn more about Billie so that I can ensure that his story is told.

Please share this post, and get in touch with me if you feel that you can assist me.

Kimberly Blankenstein

Thanks so much for the help:

Tom Noyes – for his kind assistance and support over the years.