Jay Zeamer meets “Old 666”

A photo of 41-2666, or Old 666, as it would have looked when Jay Zeamer found it
B17E #41-2666, much the way it would have looked when Jay Zeamer first saw it (lacking the trimet cameras and enlarged cheek windows and guns)

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 day, and reportedly shot down a Zero while on it.

What we can know for certainty is what happened next. As it happened, two days before, the same day Zeamer became X-O, the 8th Photo Recon squadron delivered an older B-17E to the 65th, happy to rid of it. They called the plane a “Hard Lucky Hattie” due to its reputation for problems and getting shot up.

As Zeamer has long told the story, stretching back to 1943, his photo man, George Kendrick, knew the plane, and he should have: Kendrick (as well as Thues and Able) had come to him from 8th Photo. When Kendrick told Zeamer that the unpopular plane was fitted with specialized cameras for photo-mapping, Zeamer decided it was just the plane for ensuring their schedule stayed full. The long-range solo mapping missions involved with such work weren’t popular within the combat squadron either, so when Zeamer used his position to co-opt the plane, tail #41-2666, for his own use, no one put up a fight.

Zeamer might have checked the plane out the day it was delivered, but word moves slowly about such things, so probably not. He might have found out about it the next day despite their seven-hour mission. Just three days later, though, on the 18th, Zeamer’s flight log shows that he took 41-2666 on a test hop with a crew of 10.

So it’s likely, then, that today, May 16, in 1942, Jay Zeamer laid his eyes for the first time on the plane he would come to call “Old 666” (and eventually officially name “Lucy”), and that Zeamer’s Eager Beavers spent the next couple of days on their initial overhaul of the plane, prior to taking it up on the 18th. It would have been impossible for them to make all the modifications they’re known to have done to the plane in such a short time. Those would have to take place over the next few weeks in their rare down time.

It wouldn’t take them long, though, because it was only four weeks later to the day, June 16, that they would fly it on their final mission together.

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