Staff Sergeant Robert H. Willis (service number 34316337) was the ball turret gunner assigned to Joe’s crew on Wednesday, September 15th 1943.
The available census reports that I’ve been able to dig through show evidence that Robert was born around 1915. It looks like his parents were John B. Willis, and Alice G. Willis, and he had three sisters, Mildred, Ruby, and Inez. Together they lived on Farm Street in Beaufort, Carteret County, North Carolina.
Robert 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.
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 Robert H. Willis from Beaufort, North Carolina. I would like to learn more about Robert, to ensure that his life details are accurate and included when I publish my book on Joe Noyes and his crew.
Please get in touch with me if you feel that you can assist me.
Thanks so much for the help:
Tom Noyes – for his continued assistance and support with this project.