Henry M. Conley
334th Bomb Squadron
95th Bomb Group
September 29th 1943
Dear Mrs. Noyes,
I don’t quite know how to begin this note.
I have put off writing to you in hopes of getting some more definite information to pass on to you. Unfortunately, I can offer no more information now then the day Joe was reported missing. In short, Joe disappeared from the formation. No one saw him leave. Consequently we don’t know why he left nor exactly where.
Joe took off that day in his usual position to fly on my right wing. Shortly after takeoff he developed a faulty engine and had to return to our base. Characteristic of Joe’s persistence and devotion to duty, where another pilot would have remained on the ground and called it a day, Joe took another plane and caught up with the formation. When he caught up with us our formation had been filled in by our extra ships. Joe then proceeded to join another group that was flying with us.
As we came away from the target and crossed the enemy coast homeward bound Joe joined us once again and tagged on to the rear of our formation. His ship was positively identified by crewmembers flying nearby. All four engines were operating according to their reports. We were not under attack at the time and no one saw him leave the group. It wasn’t until after we landed that we discovered that he was missing.
Mrs. Noyes, I am not trying to create false hope for you when I say that I am fairly convinced that Joe and his boys are safe. I feel certain that for some reason not known to us Joe felt he could not reach England. So rather than risk a water landing in the waning twilight he headed back to the continent and had his boys bail out. The foregoing is only suspicion on my part. But I know Joe better then probably even you, his mother. I know how he thinks and as the above is the easiest decision that he could have made under the circumstances, I feel certain that it was the course that he followed.
It may be several months before we hear from Joe and his boys, but I feel compliant that they will eventually be back with us.
Joe came to me last December fresh out of cadet school and I gave him his first ride in a B-17. He never rode with any one else until he took over his own crew. He was an eager little boy the first day we met and I watched him develop into a cool, resourceful man and one of the outstanding formation flyers in the theater of operation.
He had a rare talent for flying that I have never seen equaled in any of my students while I was an instructor or in any pilot I have met since. He handled these big four engine ships as though they were some sort of a little light training plane.
Everyone was constantly remarking about it. Col. Gerhart, our groups C.O. rode back from Africa with Joe and on arrival here told me that Joe was the finest four engine pilot he had ever ridden with. I concur with him. Never have I seen a youngster learn so quickly as Joe did. He was the first co-pilot in the group to check out as a first pilot, and likewise, the first copilot to take over a crew.
Really, Mrs. Noyes, the day I turned my crew over to Joe was one of the proudest days of my life. I have come to regard Joe as a brother, we have been so close these past 9 months. He is a great boy! He is the possessor of a personality and an infectious grin that make him a favorite of everyone that ever net him. Of all the crews we have lost from the group, never have the boys here at the base been so downhearted as when we learned that “Little Joe” was missing.
Enclosed is a colored negative of Joe and his co-pilot, Dave Prees. Col. Gerhart took it in Africa last month and asked me to forward it to you.
Well, Mrs. Noyes, that is all that I can tell you for now. I shall immediately pass on to you any additional information that comes into my hands. Likewise I’d appreciate it if you would let me know of any thing you might hear from the Red Cross.
Harry M. Conley