I am not related to anyone who served on The Joe Noyes Crew, nor am I related to a veteran of the 95th Bomb Group (H). I simply consider myself a volunteer and advocate for The Joe Noyes Crew and their families, and I am grateful for the support I have received over the years.
Nine men from The Joe Noyes Crew are still Missing in Action today, and I’ve always felt great sadness for their families. I built this website as a tribute to their short but inspiring lives, and to share their stories with interested parties around the world. May we never forget them.
The Story of Joe Noyes
Joseph Herbert Noyes was born on August 11th 1921 in Beach, North Dakota, to Walter and Frances Noyes.
He had two younger brothers, Bob and Walter, and they grew up at 410 West Lee Street, on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, Washington.
While attending Queen Anne High School, Joe’s aspiration was to attend The Boeing School of Aeronautics in California. From a young age, he knew he wanted to become a pilot.
As one of the first of his peers to obtain a driver’s license, he utilized this privilege by delivering food for a local grocer. That was his first real job.
Joe Noyes is fondly remembered for being hard-working, dedicated to his commitments, and possessing a keen sense of humor.
After graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1940, Joe enlisted in the Washington Army National Guard. On Dec. 7th 1941, he was at Fort Lewis for a weekend drill, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
In 1942, Sergeant Noyes finally saw an opportunity to earn his wings and follow his dreams of flying. He volunteered to become a Flying Sergeant, thinking that meant he would safely ferry aircraft between the factory and a delivery point. Instead, to his complete surprise, he was among a small group selected to become B-17 co-pilots.
By all accounts, Joe was an excellent student pilot, flying the Vultee BT-13 and AT-6 Texan. As a U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet, he went through required pilot training at Lemoore Basic Flying School in California (S Flight, Class 42K). He later attended advanced training at Luke Field, in Arizona (Class 42K).
After flight training, Joe Noyes was promoted to Flight Officer, a rank that nobody had heard of before. He and pilot Paul E. Perceful joked about whether or not this allowed them entry into the officers’ club.
Pilot training complete, Joe was assigned to the 334th Bomb Squadron in the 95th Bomb Group (H). After joining this newly assembled unit at Rapid City Army Air Base, South Dakota, Joe traveled with them to England.
The 95th Bomb Group flew its B-17s overseas to war, via a southern route which originated in Florida. Then they proceeded to stop in Trinidad, the northern coast of Brazil, Dakar, Senegal, Marrakesh, and Morocco.
The 95th BG was later permanently assigned to Horham Airbase, next to the village of Horham, about 4 miles southeast of Eye, in Suffolk.
During his first few missions, Joe was a co-pilot in the right seat beside Capt. Harry Conley. Harry clearly thought quite highly of his flying abilities, saying:
When Harry was eventually promoted and became the new squadron commander, Joe inherited his crew and moved over to the left seat.
The members of The Joe Noyes Crew were: 2LT David F. Prees, 2LT Frank A. Roth, 2LT Rex A. Rice, TSGT Billie E. Clapper, TSGT Edgar A. Lajoie, SSGT Robert H. Willis, SSGT Raymond L. Provost, SGT Daniel J. Fabritz, and SSGT William L. Cochran.
Joe and his crew usually flew the B-17 named Blondie II and his nickname “Little Joe” was painted under the left pilot seat window. His fiancée’s name, Donna Davis, is also visible, in this photo from 1943.
On August 17th 1943, The Joe Noyes Crew participated in the infamous Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission. The 334th BS was assigned to be the lead squadron for the 95th BG that day, and the group commander Col. John Gerhart even flew in the lead plane. Since Joe was still a new left seater, Harry Conley flew with Col. Gerhart as his co-pilot so that he could keep an eye on Joe, who was flying just off their right wing. Despite the added pressure, Joe only continued to make him proud.
The Last Mission
On Wednesday, September 15th 1943, Joe and his co-pilot Dave Prees took off from Horham Airbase for the last time. As fate would have it, they originally took off in Blondie II, but they spun a prop shortly after getting airborne, and had to return to base.
With the knowledge that if he didn’t get the job done, someone else would probably have to go in his place, Joe found a different aircraft (B-17 Sittin’ Bull, serial number #423266) and took off again at 1534 hours.
It was expected to be a relatively easy bomb run, with light enemy resistance. A milk run really. The assigned target that day was the Billancourt-Renault industrial works, which the bomb group successfully hit at 1854 hours.
There are conflicting reports of what happened next, but the fact is the Sittin’ Bull never made it back to England. About 15 miles off Beachy Head on the route back, Joe was spotted flying in the number 9 spot, in the high squadron. At that point and with no apparent difficulty, he was seen to lose altitude and leave his position.
In October of 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’s bereaved mother wrote diligently to Washington State Senator Warren Magnuson, and they had his remains returned to the U.S. after the war.
Today “Little Joe” rests at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle. His remains were the only ones ever recovered from The Joe Noyes Crew.
In Joe’s last letter home dated September 8th 1943, he wrote optimistically about his pending commission and promotion to 1st Lieutenant. He also mentioned flying the new group commander, Colonel Gerhart (later General Gerhart) across Africa for plane repairs during the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission.
Joe had also just heard of Italy’s surrender, and this gave him some encouragement. He hoped to finish his required 25 missions before the year was over.
Joe Noyes left behind his young fiancée, Donna Davis, who also graduated from Queen Anne High School. Donna saved a pair of his shoes to remember him by. She still had them in her possession, when I spoke to her in 2009.
In 1943, the relatives of the other crew members desperately wrote to Joe’s mother in Seattle. The tear-stained airmail envelopes survive and are in the possession of Joe’s nephew Tom. Some of their family members were convinced that their boys had survived, but were taken prisoner of war. Decades have passed without answers or clues, and over seventy years later, nine brave American airmen are still listed as Missing In Action.
2LT David F. Prees
2LT Frank A. Roth
Union City, New Jersey
2LT Rex A. Rice
Anderson, South Carolina
TSGT Billie E. Clapper
Cowley County, Kansas
TSGT Edgar A. Lajoie
Providence, Rhode Island
SSGT Robert H. Willis
Carteret, North Carolina
SSGT Raymond L. Provost
SGT Daniel J. Fabritz
Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
SSGT William L. Cochran
Galveston County, Texas