Flying One More Mission for the Mighty Eighth

old, black and white photo of bomber planes flying in a clear sky
8th Army Air Force B-17 in formation flying on there way to Targets in Germany

This is the remarkable true story of two WWII Combat veterans of the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force who came together to fly "One more Mission together for the Mighty Eighth". One of them was from Georgia the other from Massachusetts. One of them was a Captain, the other a Staff Sergeant. One of them was a Navigator, the other a Tail Gunner.

This is the story of the late Frank D. Murphy, author of the book: "Luck of the Draw: Reflections on the Air War in Europe" and his publisher, the late, John J. O'Neil Founder of FNP Military Press. They came together later in life to give us the best book ever written on life in a front line American Bomber crew.

black and white photo of young man in Air Force uniform outdoors in winter
Lt. Frank D. Murphy. Wendover, Utah Army Air Base. 1943

Frank D. Murphy was a Captain in the 100th Bomb Group, 418th Bomb Squadron. He was a Navigator on Crew 31 flying out of Thorpe Abbotts Field in a B-17 named "Bastards Bungalow". On his 21st combat mission he was shot down and wounded on the infamous Munster Raid of October 10, 1943. The first English words he heard, like so many other airmen of the ETO (European Theater of Operations) shot down in Germany was, "for you, the war is over" and he remained a POW until Patton’s third Army liberated Stalag 7a in April of 1945. Sadly, our dear friend Frank Murphy passed away in June of 2007 and my father passed away in April of 2006. While sadly many people never reach their mid eighties these two both lived full lives.

Frank had spent seven years meticulously creating a wonderful treasure of a book. Frank has personally evolved his skills from starting to type his original manuscript, to a using a word processor, ultimately finishing it on his very own computer. He actively corresponded through e-mail. When you think about it, how many senior citizens today know how to operate a computer let alone become proficient on one? Frank had spent years reviewing thousands of official government documents, talking to hundreds of individuals, traveling to Germany and incorporating his memoirs. Frank painstakingly reconstructed actual bomber formations and aircraft positions by analyzing take-off slots, engineering reports allowing him to reconstruct actual B-17 bombing formations. This is without a doubt the most historically accurate account of the life of an American Bomber Crew in WWII. But more than just historically accurate, Frank’s first attempt at writing has given us a beautifully crafted account of daily life in the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force at war with Germany. Although the book is centered upon Frank’s crew # 31 of the 100th Bomb Group, 418th BS, it certainly must be similar to experiences of aircrews from any bomb group in combat.

It is hard to believe that this is Frank’s first book. The book reads like a novel that surrounds you with the sounds, smells, and sights of Crew #31 and their daily fight for survival. It is a true story that stirs true emotion in anyone that reads it. Frank also directed that his royalties from any sales of his book be paid directly to the Mighty Eighth Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia. How many authors donate their royalties? How many books about WWII released in the past year were actually written by the actual combat veteran? How many of those were published by combat veterans?

black and white photo of young men in front of a bomber looking at a map
Crew #31 of the 100th Bomb Group in Africa. (Frank D, Murphy kneeling on left)

My father entered the Army in the summer of 1941 to complete his mandatory one-year of selective service duty. Little did he know at the time that his one-year of government service would last until the end of 1945. After a brief stint as a field medic assigned to the famous Eagle Squadron, of RAF fame, my father volunteered for gunnery school to get a crack at the Germans for how badly they were shooting up our men in those early days of the air war. He was assigned as a replacement gunner on Lt. Bill Owens 95th Bomb group crew. Lt. Owens crew was soon to be reassigned to the newly formed 482nd BG flying out of Alconbury, England. My father completed 17 Combat missions as an air crewman and according to my Uncle came back from the war "a different person".

My father was in the publishing business for nearly forty years. He created a Military Book Division from his core publishing company, which specialized in Food Science and Nutrition publications. He did this in 1998 at the age of 75 years old in an effort to publish a book started by two former crewmembers of his B-17 while serving in the 482nd Bomb Group flying out of Alconbury, England. The two original authors, Marshall Thixton and George Moffat, died prior to the manuscript being completed. My father finished writing, editing, and proofing the manuscript in their memory and then he published it. To this day the author’s royalties are paid to the surviving spouses of George and Marshall. The book is titled: "Bombs Away by Pathfinders of the 8th Army Air Force". It is the only book published about the 482nd Pathfinder squadron and the use of top-secret air to ground radar used on specially equipped B-17’s and B-24’s. In fact my father’s crew piloted by Lt. Bill Owen is credited in 8th Army Air Force history as the first American Bomber Crew to drop its bombs on the German capital of Berlin on March 4, 1944. His picture with his crew is on permanent display in the Mighty Eighth Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia. He always downplayed his part in that event. In 1999, my father published the famed English author Ian Hawkin’s book "The Munster Raid, Before and After". This was his second foray into military books. In 2000, Frank Murphy and my father came together through a mutual acquaintance. My father reviewed Frank’s manuscript. I remember my father calling to tell me how excited he was about the quality of Frank’s prose and more importantly, what a wonderful person Frank D. Murphy was. My father sent me some rough drafts of a couple of Frank’s chapters to get my thoughts. I instantly felt like Frank and my father had a wonderful treasure. They needed each other. Frank as an author and my father as publisher. I know that it took Frank years of arduous work. It took my father a year of painstaking reviews, editing and manuscript layout while they both corresponded via phone and email.

In October of 2000, I was present at the first face-to-face meeting of Frank and Anne Murphy and John and Lillian O’Neil in Atlanta, GA. It was quite a night, one which I will never forget as two combat veterans in their late seventies talked of life before, during and after the war. They discussed Frank's manuscript and anticipated publishing dates. They discussed their families, their lives had seemed to have many similarities; both returned to the U.S. and finished their education, Frank at Emory and my father at Boston University utilizing the GI Bill.

They both went on to get advanced degrees, Frank a Law degree, and my father Masters' degrees from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Both were Roman Catholic of Irish decent, both raised large families, both have suffered the loss of children, Frank and Ann lost their daughter Patricia at thirty-four to breast cancer and their son Frank Jr. to lung cancer just four years ago. My father and mother lost their daughter Celine at 6 months and my brother Jimmy passed away suddenly at 19 years of age while a student at Catholic University in 1984. They both had successful business careers. Frank retired from Lockheed in 1987 as Vice President and my father retired from publishing in 2004 at 81. Both had been married to the same women for a combined total of over 100 years.

In late April 2001, Frank D. Murphy received the first copy off the press of "Luck of the Draw". His hands were trembling so much when it arrived that his wife Anne had to open the package it came in. My father received the second copy. It was a great day as author and publisher held the finished product in their hands. Both Frank and my father were both extremely proud of the book. I received a copy of the book as a gift from my father and read it in a few short days. Frank D. Murphy’s journey from Atlanta to Nazi Germany and back home is simply amazing. This book will be a legacy for future generations, who do not remember, but should never forget!

It is a sad but true reality that in the near future our WWII veterans will disappear from this earth like the American Soldiers of all the wars in our country's history. WWII veterans are dying at unprecedented rates, as we all well know. It is because of the books like Frank Murphy’s and publishers who publish them, that future generations will know the "real stories" of history in the making. My father and Frank completed their final mission together, again flying for the Mighty Eighth. This time, not at war against a dictatorship but instead at war against time itself. Many of their comrades in arms never returned home and gave this country their most valuable gift, "all their tomorrows". Death cheated them of the chance to grow old. I know why Frank Murphy wrote this book and I know why my father published it. It wasn’t for monetary or personal gain. It is for the men, the young men; boys really, that made the extreme sacrifice and never came home. They each know the names of fallen comrades last seen in '43, '44 or '45. They witnessed death at 25,000 feet and on the ground. They knew the emotions of combat and the toll it takes on the human soul.

Today, although they have both passed on, we will continue to give maximum effort in their memory so that we will never forget those who served in the Mighty Eighth. I can only hope that my father and Frank’s memory will live on in their collaborative effort and work. I know they both saw the proverbial White Cliffs of Dover on their final mission, the sight that brought so much happiness and relief to bomber crews returning home from combat. We, the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of these 8th Army Air Force veterans must continue to remind the world and future generations of the greatest air force ever assembled by the greatest generation of Americans. I ask that you go out and read this book, cherish it and tell others to do the same. By doing so, the memory of the 8th will continue and the Mighty Eighth Heritage Museum will benefit financially. Thank you Frank and thank you Dad. God Bless the both of you and all that served in the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force. Thank you for our freedom. We will never let America forget of the sacrifices you, members of the Mighty 8th AAF and all who served in WWII made! Thank you for flying one more mission together for the Mighty Eighth! God Bless all our veterans.

John J. O’Neil III
Snellville, Georgia