Marvin Harold Benz

Sgt    37231127    612th
1921 - 1944

Tail Gunner aboard 42-38033 (Man O War)


Dresden cemetery, Dresden, Missouri, USA
1921 - 1944

From L to R: John W. Crowley - Walter R. Rusch - John Katsaro - Henry Kane - Jack A. Dunaway - Theodore J. Krol
William G. Mock - MARVIN H. BENZ - Sterling J. Nichols ( replaced by harry C. Horst jr. ) - Frank J. Mastronardi

     Marvin was born June 30, 1921, in Elk Fork, Pettis, Missouri.
     They later moved to Dresden, Pettis, Missouri.

     He enlisted to the air corps.

     In 1943 he arrived in England to join the 401st BG
     On his last mission, 20 march 1944, Target: Frankfurt, the plane was attacked by 3 german fighters.
     2 of the engines caught fire.

     He was awarded with an Air Medal and a Purple Heart Medal

     In 1944, when Marvin died on the age of 22 he left behind his family :

         His father, Louis L Benz, age 71
         His mother, Sarah B Benz, age 64
         His sister, Dora E Benz, age 42
         His brother, Leon Benz, age 38
         His brother, Ernest L Benz, age 36
         His brother, Hillard M Benz, age 30
         His brother, Clyde L Benz, age 28
         His brother, Earl L Benz, age 26
         His brother, Warren Benz, age 32

Marvin and Earl Benz, Bakersfield CA.
A couple of weeks before Marvin left for duty

Left to right : Marvin Benz - Virginia Donnel (cousin) - Claude Donnel (cousin) - Earl Benz (brother)

This is a story told by John Katsaros (Left Waist Gunner)
about the fatal mission to Frankfurt

The mission began early on 20 March 1944 on a very cold, cloudy, windyday.
Hundreds of bombers had tremendous problems attempting to complete their formations.
We continued over the English Channel into France then Germany - we had difficulty keeping formation.
Within minutes of the I.P. a bomb-loaded aircraft, out of control, fell from the formation above, almost wiping out Man O War.

Pilot, Lt. Jack Dunaway put our aircraft into a precipitous dive, to avert collision, with a pull to the left.
Dunaway's quick thinking maneuver avoided an air crash and possible explosion of the two planes that would have caused many losses of planes and crews.
The centrifugal force rendered the crew helpless, stuck to the fuselage, unable to move.
The aircraft was now in a rough, turbulent downdraft as the plane dropped over several thousand feet before the pilot was able to bring the ship under control.

The intercom buzzed, with crew members concerns; "What the hell happened" ?

Miraculously, once the pilot was able to straighten out the plane, breathing became easier!
Now, the pilot had to regain the lost altitude to return to the group formation.
The formation ass nowhere to be found; the pilot decided to continue on to target with the expectation of meeting up with the group.
At this time, while busy with lifesaving activity and observing radio silence, the pilot was unaware of the 8th Air Force recall due to bad weather conditions.

Navigator, William Mock, set the plane on course for Frankfurt; the weather cleared giving a visible target.
Bombardier, Ted Krol, sighted the factory through his Norden bomb sight, and set the plane on a steady run to drop the bombs for a direct hit on target.

                One B-17 bomber with 4,000 pounds of demolition bombs, all alone, was on a mission to hell!


Over the target the flak was heavy, accurate and intense, knocking out the two inboard engines, numbers two and three, and peppering the plane with a rain of steel fragments.
The sight and sound of the exploding flak shells gave us cause to fear a direct hit.
The Bombardier called out "bombs away" and saw a direct hit on the factory, makers of the dreaded FW-190.
The pilot took control of the yoke and banked the aircraft away to the left from the target out of flak range only to be joined in the furor by attacking ME109 fighter planes.
They pounced on our airship, and we were in a life and death firefight.
There were 4 or 5 of them, and their assault was vicious, guns and cannons blazing, determined and unrelenting.

After one pass and doing considerable damage to the men and plane, they circled and returned for a second pass, this time hitting us on all sides timing their individual attacks.
Thirteen .50 cal. machine guns trained on the attackers, poured out lead trying to ward off the chase.
Bullets and 20mm cannon shrapnel fire was exploding all over the fuselage and ripping up the plane.

Now, they attacked fast and at close range and caused grievous injury to the Man O' War and the crew members.
We had no time to count the downed enemy fighters or assess our damage.
The weather cleared bright and German fighters continued their attacks from all directions, killing the tail-gunner and the top-turret gunner near Reims, France.

We were running low on ammunition and must fire only accurate, quick bursts.
The fighters continued their onslaught.
Shrapnel hit Crowley, left-waist gunner in the neck, severing a neck artery.
Blood gushed from the wound.
Hot, rocketing shrapnel pierced my body, penetrating my right arm, rendering it paralyzed and useless.

Some of the fighters bull-dogged the stricken aircraft all the way back to Reims, France, chewing it up for target practice, wanting to knock it out of the sky.
The right wing was ablaze with fire; the plane was teetering from damage and loss of two engines, and the pilot was having difficulty keeping the plane under control.
I was aware of the injured and dead crew members.
It's a miracle that more men were not killed or wounded in this fire firefight, yet, the airplane was still able to fly.


Now we knew these relentless, fierce and constant fighter attacks would continue and add to the number of the wounded and dead crew.
We did not give up the fight but had accepted our fate!
Fearing an explosion, Dunaway gave the alarm to bail out.
First there were dead and gravely injured men to care for.

Crowley, the left waist gunner, was hit in his neck by flying shrapnel slicing an artery, and blood gushed from the neck wound, and even with the temperature 60 below zero, he was bleeding profusely.
I received my wounds during the same onslaught and turned to see how Crowley was doing.
At this time, I glanced back to the tail and saw Benz, slumped on his back, spread-eagle, arms extended.
I called Benz on the intercom, there was no answer.
The plane got blitzed in the savage attacks, taking a pounding from the fighters, and with a direct hit in the tail section, Benz could not have survived.

I turned my attention back to Crowley who without oxygen mask had dropped to the floor.
Unmindful of the pain of my own wounds and my numb dangling right arm I had to look after Crowley who is bleeding like hell.
So to hell with the spent shell casings and blood all over the deck, I baby stepped cautiously over to help Crowley, restored his lost oxygen mask to his face and made a bandage with my scarf and wrapped it around his neck.
The blood flow ceased, and now the bleeding congealed quickly in the freezing cold, and he regained consciousness.

The intercom squawked, and the pilot announced that Sgt. Harry Horst, the top-turret gunner was killed during the last pass by the ME-109's.
Horst received a direct hit by 20mm cannon fire and his severed head was blown into the bomb doors; his bloodied body lay on the forward deck.

The plane was on fire and the pilot, again gave the alarm to bail; and unaware that the crew was looking after the wounded and the gunner trapped in the ball-turret, set the plane with two feathered engines on automatic pilot and bailed out behind the navigator, bombardier and co-pilot.

Frank Mastronardi, the radio operator, rushed back to the waist section to see how the guys were doing and got hit by shrapnel; he gave me the OK sign.
Frank and I ran out of ammunition, Crowley, severely wounded, could not fire.
Walter Rusch, the ball-turret gunner, was now the only one firing his twin .50 cal machine guns.
He couldn't have much ammo left.
Frank and I looked to the needs of Benz, the tail gunner, and to Crowley, the left waist gunner.
I crawled back to the rear to assist Marvin Benz, replaced his oxygen mask and tried to revive him as he lagged unconscious.
Hell, he was dead!

Two ME-109's continued their assault on the planes rear section, I mounted the two tail guns and expended whatever ammo remained; the fighters passed on.
In bad need of oxygen, I crawled back to the waist position, and clicked my airline to the rear supply.
Walter Rusch was out of ammunition and wounded,complicated him to extricate himself from the ball-turret.
Frank Mastronardi and I viewed the predicament of Walter Rusch, trapped in his damaged ball-turret unable to roll back the turret which was hung up by spent shell casings jammed in the gear track.
Using my "good" left arm, I worked with Frank to remove the spent casings to free Rusch.
Rusch rolled back the turret, opened the hatch and started to emerge.
It was time to move.

Meanwhile, Crowley remained slumped down, his back to the floor.
The bail-out alarm had already sounded, the plane was on fire and in danger of exploding.
Frank saw that I am badly wounded and yelled, "Get the hell out of here".
I removed my heavy, shattered flak vest, which protected my body from flying shrapnel, and with Frank's help, I clipped the chest chute onto my body harness.
I opened the right rear escape panel and tested the reach of my short left arm (32" sleeve) to the "D" ring, so I was slow to move.
"GO !", yelled Frank.
As a man of faith, I said a fast prayer Kyrie Eleison, made the sign of the Cross over my body with my left arm and curled into a ball to avoid hitting the plane's rear horizontal stabilizers, and rolled out into space.

Meanwhile, Frank had turned his attention back to Crowley who had regained consciousness, stood him up on his own two feet, snapped on the chest chute to his body harness and pushes him out the escape opening.
As I twist and turn, waiting before attempting the "D" ring, I look back and saw the helpless plane turning slowly, in a sky of fire and fear for an explosion with the guys still in it.
I murmured, "For god's sake, guys, get the hell out of there!"


Walter was not yet out of his ball-turret and Frank, seeing him half out of the turret removed a couple more spent casings blocking his exit.
Walter managed to get out of the ball-turret and in his haste to get out of the plane; the "D" ring on his parachute got snagged, accidentally springing open his parachute and it blossomed all over the place.
He busied himself with Frank to gather his parachute, then "Hit the silk".
Frank, last to leave the plane, quickly followed Rusch, Crowley, and me out the escape opening.
With seconds to spare I saw Walter and Frank bail out, the B-17 was engulfed in flames.

Walter's chute unfortunately billowed - putting him into a head-long dive.
His descent was rapid, and the silk chute opened but hit a high tension wire.
It skewed his ground approach and landed him on a picket fence, spearing him in the stomach.
He was badly wounded, but miraculously, he was alive!
A young French lad ran to assist Walter, put him in a wheelbarrow and to conceal him, took him 50 meters to a wood shed next to his home near Unchair, France.
A trail of blood led the nearby German soldiers to his hide-out.
The military transported him to a hospital in Reims for medical attention.

Jack Crowley, I later learned, landed near La Bonne Maison and Unchair, only to be captured by German soldiers and taken to a German hospital, because with warmer weather his neck bleeding started again.
Jack's wounds proved fatal, and he died two days later.

Lt. William Mock, the navigator, bailed out and was killed by enemy aircraft machine-gun fire, as witnessed by a ten year old boy who saw Mock fall from the sky with a "candled" parachute.
His body was recovered between the towns of Chery-Chartreueve and Courville.

Tail gunner, Marvin Benz, and top-turret gunner, Harry Horst, were killed at their stations by attacking ME-109's who were determined to take the plane down by hitting it from all sides, front, top, tail and waist with .50 caliber machine-gun and 20mm cannon fire.

Lts. .Jack Dunaway pilot, and Henry Kane co-pilot, were captured near Breuell, France, held POW in Germany and liberated by the American Army.

                  A - This is the place the plane crashed.
                  B - This is were William Mock's body was found
                  C - This is were Ted Krol landed and started his 10 miles walk to Goussancourt.
                  D - This is were John landed, near a farm called "La Bonne Maison".
                  E - This is were Frank Mastronardi landed.
                  F - This was a German Camp.
                  G - This is were Jack Crowley landed in the trees.
                  H - Walter Rusch landed in this village

Dunaway died several years after WWII.
Kane remained in the Air Force to fly as a pilot, attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel, and he died in an aircraft accident while flying the "Berlin Airlift" during the cold war of June 1948 to September 1949, transporting food, coal, clothing and medical supplies to the West Berliners.

I, John Katsaros, right waist gunner, was severely wounded, bailed out and incurred additional injuries and broken ribs as a result of my late parachute opening and hard landing.
I was captured by the Gestapo, escaped from their hands twice, later held captive by a French Resistance cell and by the constabulary in Spain.

Bombardier, Lt. Ted Krol, hit the silk and landed near Courville.
Enduring the hurt of a painful leg injury, he stumbled and dragged his injured leg in a southerly direction to the town of Goussancourt, where he received help from the French Resistance.

     Marvin Benz was buried March 21, at the Community cemetery of Courlandon, France

     Marvin flew 8 missions.



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