Jonesborough resident plans trip to France for dad’s WWII honors
Published in Herald & Tribune Sept. 3, 2014 issue
A Jonesborough resident will travel to France the second week of September to attend a special ceremony for his father who served in the U.S. Army in World War II.
“It is really an honor to have a street named after your dad,” Bill Chapman said.
Chapman will leave for France with his youngest son, brother and his wife and two children, on Sept. 7. The following Sunday, Sept. 14, the ceremony will take place in honor of his father, Robert Chapman.
“He left an impression and a lot of memorabilia behind,” he said of his father. The memorabilia included such items as his wallet and flight jacket.
Chapman said a group of WWII historians who dig up wreckages found the memorabilia left behind, which will be used for the presentation.
His father was raised in central California, attended San Jose State University on a basketball scholarship before leaving school in 1942 when he decided he wanted to serve his country and be a part of the war effort.
Chapman said his father had wanted to fly his whole life, but results from a physical showed that he was color blind. That prohibited him from flying an airplane.
“He wanted to stay in the Army Air Corps and become a radio operator,” Chapman said, adding that his father was assigned to a B-26 Mark Marauder named Pistol Packing Mama that held a crew of six.
The crew had a year of training before they were sent overseas. By Aug. 6, 1944, Chapman said, they had lost their bombardier, and a new man was assigned to the plane.
“They were supposed to have flown a mission on the sixth,” he said.
The new guy had only been trained on a B-17, Chapman said, so his father who had become a bit of jack of all trades, spent an hour the they were waiting for clearance to fly because of the weather to teach the new man how to drop bombs out of the B-26.
The crew flew the mission without a hitch, but on Aug. 9, 1944, the tables turned even though the sky was crystal blue that day. The airplane took a hit right behind where Robert was sitting. The airplane began to spin slowly as the pilot gave a signal to evacuate the airplane.
Robert and another crew member exited the airplane.
“My dad was parachuting down towards the French countryside,” Chapman said. Bullets bullets being shot by the Germans were going past him. “He managed to get down without being shot.”
Robert landed in a farmer’s field in a little town in France, Gui Pavas.
Chapman said some French farmers picked up his father and took him back to the farmhouse and hid him there for a better part of a week while the Germans were looking for him.
The other gentleman who exited the plane broke his leg upon landing. The Germans picked him up and took him to hospital to reset the leg before abandoning him at the hospital.
Robert was turned over to the French underground and was kept for a period of a week. Chapman said once you were taken by the French underground you were released from the service after returning to the states.
His father spent two more weeks in the region, however, because he did not want to miss any of the war.
In November 1944, Robert was released of his duty. In 1974, he died of a massive coronary.
“When I heard some of the stories, I was too young to really comprehend exactly what he was saying,” Chapman said. “I never really got a chance to probe in great detail.”
Fortunately, Chapman had the opportunity to connect with the man who was the bombardier on the airplane. He said he written a book about the events.
“Being able to talk to one of the guys in the flight crew was particularly gratifying,” Chapman said.
He said he heard that his father was the happy-go-lucky jokester of the crew, which is how he lived most of his life.
While Chapman is in France, he will have the opportunity to visit with the farmer’s family, Abily, who took in his father.
Although this will be the first time meeting the family, he said his son visited the family in France three years ago.
“They had 200 people turn out to welcome him,” he said.
A re-creation was done while his son was in France of his grandfather in the back of a jeep when he got picked up. Chapman said they took an Army surplus jeep and painted it with the same numbers as the one his father was in all those years ago.
He said his son also received a key to the town. The son is named Robert, after his grandfather.
When Chapman’s father was shot down, there was a woman on the farm, who was 17 years old at the time, who was also present when his son visited three years ago.
“The Abily family said he really loved wine and eggs,” Chapman said.