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Frank Passavant

Courtesy Penelope Passavant, daughter

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial

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Frank A. Passavant
1918-1943

"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die."

G.K. Chesterton

Second Lieutenant Frank A. Passavant was a notable West Virginia soldier in World War II. He was born in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to Margaret Strebel Passavant and Harry E. Passavant on May 16, 1918. His dad was possibly a veteran in World War I because of the World War I draft that was instituted in 1917. However, there is not much information about Harry’s life or his possible military service. There is no trace of Harry E. Passavant in the census records with Margaret or his children. Could he have been a casualty of The Great War? Or could he have been the victim of a mining or steel mill accident? We do know that Harry and Margaret were married at Wellsburg in Brooke County, West Virginia, in 1914. Nonetheless, Harry was out of the picture by 1930, based on census records. Frank Passavant had one sister, Margaret Passavant. When Frank was born, his mother lived with her parents, Mary and August Strebel, as well as some of her siblings (Violet, Lillian, Ruth, and Mildred Strebel). Her parents were from Germany. Harry’s parents were W. A. and Eliza Passavant, both born in the United States.

Frank Passavant lived in Pennsylvania until he was about eleven years old. There is no trace of him in the 1940 census in or around Pennsylvania. Thus he went off of the grid after the 1930 census. In his 1941 enlistment (U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946), he stated that he had a four-year high school education. There is some evidence that Frank may have attended high school at New Matamoras High School in Ohio and graduated in 1936 at the age of 18. His mother had relocated to New Matamoras when she remarried. Her name was now Schenkel.

In his civilian life, according to his enlistment record, he was a shipping and receiving clerk and a resident of Tyler County, West Virginia. Letters to family and friends in Ohio in 1942 show that he and Helen A. Creighton were married in Texas that year. Frank enlisted in 1941 (but did not go overseas until 1943); thus on his enlistment record, it said he was single without dependents. Frank and Helen had one child, Penelope Jane Passavant. Growing up in Ohio, Penny earned a master’s degree and became an educator. She says she often looks at the box with the memorabilia and photos detailing her father’s life, and when she does, she cries. But she also speaks with pride about his being buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Helen and Penny

Helen and Penny. Courtesy Penelope Passavant

group of friends

Helen (second from left) and Frank (third from left) with a group of friends stationed in Texas. Courtesy Penelope Passavant

Passavant enlisted for service in World War II on February 13, 1941, at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. He was twenty-three years old, stood at 5’ 7”, and weighed 130 pounds. He was placed in the 66th Bomb Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group, and served as a second lieutenant in the newly formed Army Air Corps. The 66th Bomb Squadron was activated on January 15, 1941; thus he was probably highly engaged in the war effort soon after his enlistment. He became a second lieutenant (an officer), yet he enlisted as a private (lowest rank, non-officer). Thus he showed leadership abilities and this enabled him to exceed his enlistment rank; additionally, troops were desperately needed, so many soldiers were quickly trained and promoted during World War II. As a second lieutenant, he supervised flights and was a group leader of his squadron. The Big Banner, a B-24H Liberator, was his crew’s designated aircraft. Their aircraft was known as one of the “eight balls,” which were not too reliable and had a tendency to catch fire. Kent Miller was the pilot and Charles E. Taylor was the co-pilot; Frank was the aircraft navigator. There were seven other members of the crew: Donald E. Schaffer (bombardier), Edward Birge (engineer), James Childers (radio operator), Stanley Pilch (ball turret gunner), John Larson (RW gunner), Gerald McCord (LW gunner), and William Sheehan (tail turret).

On December 22, 1943, the Big Banner aircraft began its route of flight from Shipdham, Norfolk, to their target in Munster, Germany, in quite ugly weather. As they entered their target area in Munster, the aircraft was hit with German flak, which damaged three engines. The aircraft flew about 110 miles before Miller gave the bail-out signal, but to his surprise, they were over water. The aircraft plunged into the extremely cold water at about 100 miles per hour, ripping the nose of the aircraft off. All of the crew members died, except for Charles E. Taylor. (Sources: Missing Air Crew Report, 22 Dec. 1943; John Dowdy and David McInturff, “Frank A. Passavant,” Find A Grave, Web, accessed 12 Jan. 2015.)

The engine of the Big Banner is now on display at the Nieuw Land Heritage Museum in Lelystad, Netherlands. Other parts of the wreckage are on display at Militair Luchtvaart Museum in Soesterberg, Netherlands. The discovered wreckage was partially sent back to the U.S., while other parts were kept in the Netherlands. (Source: Flevoland Erfgoed, “B-24H Liberator, 42-7638,” Web, accessed 8 June 2015.)
Wall of the Missing

Frank Passavant’s name was first carved on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten. Note the rosette beside his name indicating his remains have since been found. Courtesy Astrid van Erp

headstone

Headstone for Second Lieutenant Frank A. Passavant. Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery

Frank A. Passavant died in action on December 22 in the Zuiderzee, near the Netherlands. In the Missing Air Crew Report, Passavant was labeled “MIA.” Thus he was memorialized on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery. In 1968, the IJsselmer Lake (formerly the Zuiderzee) was drained and the remnants of the wreckage were discovered by the Royal Dutch Air Force. Within the retrieved aircraft, the remains of Miller, Passavant, Schaffer, and Pilch were discovered and sent back to the United States in 1975. Frank A. Passavant is now buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in Section 23, Site 22917, next to his crew mate Pilch; it was Penny’s decision to bring her father’s remains to Arlington. Lieutenant Passavant received a Purple Heart and an Air Corps Medal. The Purple Heart was granted to him because he died in action. He earned the Air Corps Medal because he showed exemplary behavior and for his service in the Army Air Corps.

Article prepared by Shelbe West, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015, revised November 2015

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Frank A. Passavant

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