Recognizing the military service of men and women from Arenzville, Illinois.
Nathan Theodore Grant served with "Fame's Favored Few," the 92nd Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force. He was killed on February 24, 1944, while on a mission to bomb the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany. His plane was shot down as it crossed into Germany from the Netherlands. The mission was part of a massive air Allied air offensive to destroy the German air power by bombing the airplane factories and other key industries which provided critical supplies to the Luftwaffe. Big Week from February 20 to 25, 1944, saw over 3,300 bombers dispatched from England and 500 from Italy. The number of American men killed or missing was over 2,600, with more than 250 planes lost.
The crew flew the B-17 bomber, called the Flying Fortress. The planes were 100 feet long and had a 98-foot wingspan; they were painted in camouflage, with the exception of the undersides, which were light gray to blend in with the sky. Each plane accommodated a crew of 10: pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, flight engineer/top turret gunner, belly turret gunner, two waist gunners, tail gunner, and radio operator/gunner. Nathan served as flight engineer/top turret gunner.
On February 24, 1944, he flew in plane # 42-31180 with a crew led by pilot Lt. Robert Clayton. Other members of the crew were Lt. Leon Cavender (co-pilot), Lt. John Galbraith (navigator), Lt. Paul Alexander (bombardier), Sgt. Herman Rahn (radio operator/gunner), Sgt. Paul McDade (belly turret gunner), Sgt. Chester Zahaba (tail gunner), Sgt. Lewis Lilly (waist gunner), and Sgt. Samuel Smith (waist gunner).
The 92nd BG was flying as the Low Group of the 40th Combat Wing, it being lead by the 306th BG, which was leading the 1st Bombardment Division of the Eighth Air Force on the mission to Schweinfurt, Germany. This was the third raid on Schweinfurt, and machine shops were the target. The route for this mission was planned to leave England flying due east, enter enemy territory over Holland, and head southeast from near Hannover towards its target which was in central southern Germany. They flew at 21,000 feet. After the target, the force would route west over Germany, then Belgium, finally crossing over the English Channel near Ostend, before dispersing to their bases.
Just after crossing the Dutch/German border, the Lead Wing was attacked by a strong force of enemy fighters. The Luftwaffe unit involved was the III Gruppe of JG26. Their claims for the action were five -- three aircraft from the 92nd BG and two from the 306th BG. From German records, it seems that Nathans aircraft was shot down by Unteroffizier Wöge of the 9th Staffel, flying an Me109G. Nathans plane was shot down at 12:25, and crashed near Fürstenau, Germany. Only two crew members survived Lt. Alexander and Sgt. Smith.
Nathan's Burial Case File, requested from the National Archives and Records Administation, contains evidence that the crash occurred a kilometer or two northeast of Klein Bokern and southwest of Sussum (in Lower Saxony; approximate GPS location is 52.54557, 7.78159).
M/Sgt. Nathan Grant was killed when the plane was downed, and was initially buried in the region of the crash site (near Achmer, according to German burial records captured by the British forces and translated). In 1950, his remains were reinterred in the American military cemetery at Neupre (Neuville-en-Condroz), Belgium, known today as the Ardennes American Cemetery. He rests in Plot D, Row 36, Grave 7.
Researcher Andy Wilson transcribed the following notes from Lt. Paul Alexanders firsthand description of his experience:
November 1943 -- traveled across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary. Upon arriving in England, his base was Podington, England. The first flight was December 1st, 1943. Took a total of 7 trips across the English channel. On the 8th mission, the flight was in route to Schweinfurt, Germany and was attacked by 70+ German fighters, mostly FW190s. The plane was by hit 20mm cannon, which ripped the right wing off the plane. The plane rolled to the right and its fuselage broke in two pieces. When the plane hit the ground the fuselage was in 3 pieces, plus the right wing. The left waist gunner (Sgt. Samual Smith) and 2 Lt. Paul Alexander (bombardier) tried to escape through the bailout door, but it would not open. They headed for the cockpit and had to move the navigator (deceased) because he was in the way of an escape path through the copilot window. They escaped and bailed out through a broken window. 2 Lt. Alexander suffered a head and leg injury during this escape. Once out of the aircraft they parachuted down to the snow covered ground. Once on the ground, they headed for a wooded area for cover and were later captured by German soldiers. They were captured and sent to Oberusel, near Frankfurt for interrogation for about 5 days. After interrogation, 2 Lt. Alexander was sent to Stalag Luft I, near Barth Germany, for 15 months and liberated by the Russians on May 1st 1945.
SGM Hubert Caloud (USMC-Ret.), Superintendent of the Ardennes American Cemetery, beside the grave marker for M/Sgt. Nathan Grant.