Give That Man a Star

Official orders for Jay Zeamer's 1st Silver Star

According to the order itself, this is late by a day, due to an apparent transcription mistake in my calendar of events regarding the crew. Need to fix that. Yesterday, in 1943, Jay Zeamer was officially awarded his first Silver Star, this one for the November 20, 1942, mission that was, remarkably, his first combat mission as pilot-in-command of a B-17. The mission—a recon of Buna, the Vitiaz Strait, Rabaul, and Gasmata—was originally assigned with Hocutt as pilot and Zeamer as copilot, but when the plane got mired in the mud prior to take-off, Zeamer prevailed on Hocutt to switch places. The mission was no doubt more exciting than anyone expected, not least for Zeamer’s handling of the plane. You can read about it in more detail in the story of the crew on the website, but it’s enough to say here that Hocutt was sufficiently impressed to declare Zeamer… Continue reading

Captain Stoddard gets his plane

My dad, a lifelong pilot and engineer, has written a fine novel of World War II. He grew up during the war and lost an older cousin to flak over France in 1944, so he has a personal attachment to it. He actually wrote the book, titled Ad Astra (from the Kansas state motto), a few years ago, but on the occasion of creating a Kindle version of it, we’re perfecting and adding a bit to it and will be reprinting the paperback later this year. (In conjunction with a Kindle-version update to two of his other books as well.)   When I designed the cover, I needed a shot of a B-17 that wouldn’t present any rights issues for us. I settled on a shot Dad took of Collings’ “Nine-O-Nine” after we flew on her in Denton, TX, back in 2009. She was small enough on the cover that… Continue reading

Another puzzle piece found

Artwork depicting Japanese J1N1 attacking B-17

I love it when research in one area fills in gaps in another. It appears author, historian, and aviation artist Michael Claringbould has solved a lingering mystery in the Eager Beaver story. Richard Dunn hypothesized to me several years ago that the mystery plane could have been either a Ki 45 or 46 specially armed with 37mm cannon. He’d found that Type 2 two-seaters sporting 20mm and 12.7mm arrived with the 13th Flying Regiment at Rabaul in May 1943, and that lone wolf missions in areas frequented by heavy bombers on recon was part of their operations. It was feasible to him, then, that one could have encountered “Lucy” that day over Bougainville, completely unrelated to the naval Zero contingent the Eager Beavers stirred up on their Buka recon. Not only was it feasible, it turns out he was largely correct. In a post over at Jack Cook’s 5th Air… Continue reading


Photo of Collings Foundation B-17G "Nine-O-Nine" showing the front and four engines

If you visit my “About” page, you’ll see a photo of me sitting in the pilot seat of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G “Nine-O-Nine.”  I’ve had the pleasure of touring the plane a few times over the years on the Foundation’s annual stop around Dallas, but that was a special year because, with the Foundation’s local crew’s permission, I was able to get a private visit, before the crowds hit.  I was working on my feature screenplay about the Eager Beavers then, and wanted to have more time to get a feel for the plane than a typical twenty-minute walkthrough would allow.  Plus I just wanted the chance to be on the plane for an extended period of time to get even the slightest sense of what that was like.  I spent four hours on Nine-Oh-Nine that day.  Never got out.  Sat in the nose compartment for a good long time, taking… Continue reading

Zeamer in the 22nd – A New View

Screencap of Jay Zeamer individual flight record

Today is Jay Zeamer’s birthday.  The lieutenant colonel would have turned 101 years old. It was rather a coincidence to realize that last night as I planned to make this post today, which deals with how some newly acquired documents—Zeamer’s official flight records—both significantly alter and confirm our understanding of an important part of his wartime history, and reveal some of the inevitable struggles of historical accuracy. I’ve made it plain from the start, twenty-five years ago, that accuracy has been my primary focus in telling this story.  (In all things, for that matter.)  I wanted to tell the real story of this crew.  The most profound result of that originally was the felling of various dramatic fables about the nature of the crew and ‘666.  They weren’t screw-offs and misfits, and it wasn’t a broken wreck in the boneyard they had to piece together to have a plane to… Continue reading

Jay Zeamer meets “Old 666”

A photo of 41-2666, or Old 666, as it would have looked when Jay Zeamer found it

On May 14, 1943, Jay Zeamer handed over the reins as squadron operations officer of the 65th Bombardment Squadron, and took up the reins of squadron executive officer, thereby taking charge of administrative duties of the day-to-day operation of the 65th. The next day, May 15, he and the Eager Beavers had a mission during which they were credited with shooting down a Zero. The exact circumstances are unknown, existing in the murky land of conflicting records. The official credit records that it happened near Gasmata, across the Solomon Sea on the southern coast of New Britain, as part of a three-plane mission. Zeamer himself writes in his flight log for that day that the Eager Beavers led a six-plane mission to New Guinea’s Huon Gulf. Zeamer says the Zero “crashed into the sea.” Until something clearer turns up, all we know is that the crew had a mission that… Continue reading

Onward March

An aerial photo of RAAF Laverton Airbase during World War II

March 14/16, 1942 Mid-March 1942 was a significant time in the Southwest Pacific theater, marked by one of the most notable events of World War II, as well as some lesser events, woven through the fabric of the Eager Beavers story, whose import would only be known in time. On the 14th, the 40th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group was formed at Townsville in northern Australia, and flew its first mission that day. The 40th would become well-known in the coming months under its new designation, the 435th Bomb Squadron, which it would receive in April. It was another step in the 19th’s ascension to primary bomb group in the theater; elements of the 7th Bomb Group were, that very day, ceasing operations in Australia, or more tragically, in the case of the ground echelon of the 14th Bomb Squadron, fighting for their lives as infantry at Mindanao… Continue reading

Traveling to Oz

February 25 This day in 1942 was a happy day for Joe Sarnoski, “Rocky” Stone, and the rest of the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron (soon to be renamed the 403rd Bombardment Squadron). That day they lined the rail of the transport ship U.S.S. Argentina to gaze on the hazy outline of the Australian coast. They had been at sea for thirty-two days, having left Brooklyn, New York, on January 23, with eight other transports, traveling under the protection of three cruisers and eight destroyers of the U.S. Navy. Over that month they had endured the highs and lows of five thousand men packed together on a single ship, most at sea for the first time, sailing to an unknown future as saviors of a distant land most knew only by name and caricature. They had watched wistfully as they passed within sight of the Florida Keys. They had been raised by… Continue reading