Woman answers family questions about uncle's death in B-17
by RoNeisha Mullen
Courtesy of The Flint Journal
Thursday January 17, 2008
Joan Fox's family never talked about it, never wanted to be reminded about the B-17 bomber crash that killed her uncle in 1944.
It was too painful for Fox's grandmother, not that the family knew many details, anyway.
But Fox, 59, always was curious about her uncle, Raymond Fisher from Flint, who died in Germany before she was born. So she set out to find answers.
During her four-month investigation last summer, Fox searched Web sites and government records, met with veterans — including a survivor of her uncle's fatal flight — and even reviewed German microfiche records.
Who was Raymond Fisher?
Raymond FisherRaymond Fisher grew up in Flint and graduated from Central High School in 1939. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942, where he trained to be a pilot. Fisher was a flight engineer on a World War II B-17 bomber named “Hell in the Heavens.” Fisher's plane was shot down by German fighter planes on August 16, 1944. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with three other men from his mission. She found a big part of the mystery solved on a wall in Washington, D.C., just 30 miles from her home near Baltimore — in a mural at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“I received a report from the Smithsonian that said there is a mural painting which depicts the planes of Ray's mission,” said Fox, a school teacher from Ellicott City, Maryland.
“I've taken lots of field trips there. Walked past that mural and never knew that was my uncle's mission.”
Fisher was 24 when his B-17 bomber was attacked by German fighter planes on August 15, 1944. He was a Staff Sergeant in the 303 Bomb Group in the U.S. Army Air Corp.
He and three other men from the crew of nine died when their plane, nicknamed “Hell in the Heavens,” crashed and burned near Wittlich, Germany. The remaining crew members were captured by the Germans.
“We found out a few weeks later that he was missing,” said Elizabeth Skolink, 86, Fisher's sister and Fox's mother. “It took them over a year to declare him dead, but all this time, we never knew what actually happened to him.”
Born in Saginaw in 1920, Fisher and his family moved to Flint before he was 2 years old. He graduated from then-Central High School in 1939.
“He dropped out for a year to work, so he was a year behind, and we graduated together,” said Skolink, who now lives in Caseville. “He enlisted in the Air Force around 1942. I remember him being in Florida training to be a pilot.”
Skolink described her older brother as a sweet person.
“We did everything together because we were so close in age. He always looked out for me,” Skolink said. “He didn't have his own family. He didn't have much time.”
The recollections about Fisher's death were just as fuzzy, and Fox became curious about what happened to him.
“I started posting messages on different Web sites and contacting the Air Force records department to see if anybody knew him or where I could find his records,” she said.
It wasn't easy. The Air Force told her that her uncle's records had burned in a warehouse fire.
“It was frustrating because they told me that all records with last names beginning with H through M had been destroyed,” Fox said. “This made no sense to me because I was requesting documents for a surname that begin with F.”
Eventually, though, the Internet postings paid off.
Fox received advice about which agencies to contact and copies of German microfiche records that contained the flight plans of Ray Fisher's mission and official records of the orders to bury his remains.
An e-mail from a man in Athens, Georgia, was a huge help.
The man, who also was investigating the death of his uncle, told Fox of reports about missing aircrews and casualty questionnaires filed with the German military.
“One report said my uncle was last seen with a parachute on and uninjured,” Fox said.
More research sent Fox on trips to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. There she would find a quartermaster's report saying that the bodies of Fisher and three other crewmen were being shipped to Virginia for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
“He was originally buried in Germany, but after the repatriation, he was reinterred in Arlington in 1950,” Fox said. “I remember going to his reinternment at Arlington when I was about 2. Twice a year, my family visits to put flowers on his grave.”
Fisher was part of a group burial with three other men. Such burials occur when soldiers die on the same mission and their remains are unidentifiable.
Fox's mother recalled: “Ray's body burned. I remember hearing that the dog tags were melted, and you couldn't read them.”
In August, Fox spoke with the only living survivor who was on board with her uncle. She hoped he'd have some answers for her, but such was not to be.
“He said he didn't know him,” Fox said. “They would see each other getting on and off the plane, but that was it.
The conversation prompted Fox to attend the final reunion of the 303 Bomb Group in Arlington, Virgingia, the next month. While Fox didn't meet anyone who remembered her uncle, she said the event was helpful.
For Skolink, her daughter's research brings closure to the tragedy of what happened to her brother.
“I thought I'd have to wait until I died to find out what happened to my brother,” Skolink said. “I'm thankful for all the hard work she's done. This has been a beautiful thing.”
Fox, who has since moved on to genealogy projects, said the history of “your family is important.”
“I didn't know Uncle Ray, but he was still a part of the family, and I wanted to know the history,” Fox said. “You can learn a lot of interesting stuff about your family if you have the time and energy to do it.”
FISHER, RAYMOND E
S/SGT AAF USA
- DATE OF DEATH: 08/15/1944
- BURIED AT: SECTION 34 SITE 4084-86
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard