Skip Navigation
West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial

Remember...

Charles James Parsons Jr.
1925-1945

"The B-24 Liberator was a powerful symbol of U.S. industrial might, with more than 18,000 produced by the war’s end. Flown in all theaters and entering the fray before America did through Lend-Lease with Great Britain, Liberators flew faster, higher and farther than the older B-17."

The National WWII Museum

Charles James Parsons Jr. was born in West Virginia on June 26, 1925, to Charles and Nell Blosser Parsons. In 1930, the family was living near Morgantown. Charles Parsons Jr. had a sister named Mary. His father was a postmaster, and his grandfather George, an immigrant from England, lived with the family.

In 1940, according to the Federal Census, Mr. Parsons’ father was no longer listed as living with the family; however, the family now included Mr. Parsons’ niece, Nellie, and Mrs. Parsons’ widowed mother, Mary Blosser. Charles Parsons Jr. was 14, had finished eighth grade, and was living at home, as was his sister. Mr. Parsons was then listed as a clerk in the D. P. A. office. D.P.A. probably means the Department of Public Assistance.

The next record found for Charles Parsons Jr. was his military registration card, dated June 26, 1943, which was his eighteenth birthday. The information on the card indicates that he was not employed, that his home address was in Sabraton, and that he registered at the Morgantown draft board. He listed his mother as the person who would always know his address.

Charles Parsons Jr. would not wait long for enlistment. He enlisted on July 12, 1943, in Clarksburg. For enlistment, Charles Parsons Jr. indicated that he was not married, but on military documents, he later listed Doris Parsons of Morgantown as his wife. No marriage record was found, but it’s possible he married after he enlisted or that they married in another state. Pvt. Parsons was now in the military, as his father had been before him. Charles Parsons Sr. was a first sergeant of the 113 Engineer Train during World War I.

By February of 1945, Charles Parsons Jr. had been promoted to corporal and was a member of the 1377th Army Air Force, Base Unit. On February 14, he and a crew of nine other servicemen, headed by Colonel William Dolan, left Granier Field in Manchester, New Hampshire, for Gander, Newfoundland. They flew a B-24 Liberator, 44-42169. Cpl. Parsons was on board as the engineer. (Declassified 1973, Missing Air Crew Report, February 20, 1945.)

The plane approached Gander Field, was seen on radar and, by personnel, over the airfield, but then disappeared during a snowstorm with visibility of one-fourth mile to a mile. (Missing Air Crew Report.)

A documentary that was in production in 2004 presented the findings of an investigation into the wreck. According to previews released for the documentary, the weather was worsening, and Colonel Dolan was told to go to an alternate airfield. He replied that he would attempt to land, and the plane was lost. (“Documentary Chronicles 1945 Crash near Gander,” FilmGander.com, accessed 21 May 2018, http://www.filmgander.com/eagle.htm.)

The next day, as soon as weather permitted, a search was begun, but the plane was not immediately found.

The wreckage of the flight was found the next month, in March 1945. By then, rumors spread that the plane was carrying money, supposedly to fund covert operations in Europe. The airfield in Gander was a stopping point for ferrying of aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank Tibbo wrote about the incident in his article “The Home Pond B-24” for the Gander Airport Historical Society. (Accessed 21 May 2018, http://www.ganderairporthistoricalsociety.org/_html_war/Home.Pond.B24.htm.) In it, he describes the discovery of the aircraft 15 miles northeast of the Gander airfield. Trappers, checking their traplines, found the exploded bits of the plane in the Newfoundland wilderness. From the “Home Pond” article:

A trapper was told of the probable aircraft catastrophe by the villagers. Having seen what appeared to be a portion of a parachute shroud in a tree during his hunting trip, returned to the area with his dog team the following day and came upon wreckage of the airplane strewn for hundreds of feet through trees and deep snow. His attempt to make his way to Gander to notify military authorities failed when his team of huskies gave out from fatigue acquired during the previous 18 days on the trail. However, the woodsman managed to reach the village of Benton where he contacted the station agent, Mike Hogan. Hogan wired the RCAF at Gander and the Canadian authorities in turn notified the Commanding Officer of the 1387th AAF base unit on 16 March, 1945.

Mr. Rybert Gillingham of Victoria Cove was working for the Americans in Gander at the time and was sent to the crash along with Hugh Pelley and some U.S. military personnel to recover the bodies. They slept in a temporary shelter that they erected on the site and used sleeping bags and food that they had been supplied with. It took them five or six days to complete the work. When they were finished, the group walked to Home Pond where they were brought out by a small plane.

The discovery of the wreckage and attempt to recover bodies suggests that the remains of Charles Parsons Jr. were returned to Morgantown. Mr. Gillingham, who went to the crash site to lead military personnel there and help with the recovery, received a commendation for his work. The letter was published by Frank Tibbo in his article, as follows:

15 April 1945

SUBJECT: Appreciation of Service Performance.

TO

Mr. Rybert Gillingham,
c/o Post Engineers,
Gander, Newfoundland.

During the month of February an aircraft inbound to this station was lost and, as was subsequently proved, crashed within a dozen miles of the station, being completely demolished with the loss of all lives on board. After a fruitless air and ground search, extending over several weeks, the wreckage was finally located and reported by Newfoundland trappers.

The several expeditions that made their way to the highly inaccessible site of the crash were able to locate all bodies, recover essential papers, and destroy classified material.

You, as a member of these expeditions are to be commended for the highly successful completion of an arduous and distasteful task. The eagerness with which the mission was inaugurated, the thoroughness with which it was conducted, and the untiring efforts exerted throughout, are exemplary of the highest ideals of the service. This work was not as spectacular as the heroic rescue of wounded men under fire, but to my mind it indicates that our men would not be found wanting under any contingency of war, when tasks above and beyond the normal call of duty are to be performed.

A copy of this communication will be placed in your 201 file.

Ronald G. McLaughlin
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps,
Commanding

The documentary made about the flight was called “Lost Flight of the Eagle” and teased in promotional materials that the secret cargo would be revealed in the documentary. But the title of the documentary is a clue to what the findings must have been, since research for this biography did not result in finding a copy of the documentary. Possibly the word Eagle refers to a scanning radar technology.

Gander, in World War II, was transformed. The airport became an airbase, whose location was classified for a time. The airport, originally established to speed up the mail, became the largest airport in the world. Gander was greatly influenced by the influx of many foreign servicemen. The location made it a primary point from which to establish North American defense and through which to move supplies to support the war in the European Theater. Planes, servicemen, and cargo of all types moved through Gander. Gander, once a hunting camp, surrounded by bogs and wilderness, became a bustling hub of activity and development in less than a decade. Ferry Command transformed to Air Transport Command. There is incredible history in Gander, but it also became a focus in the field of aviation archeology, as described in the thorough historical work: “Aviation Archeology of World War II Gander: An Examination of Military and Civilian Life at the Newfoundland Airport.” (Accessed 21 May 2018, http://www.academia.edu/13545783/Aviation_Archaeology_of_World_War_II_Gander_An_Examination_of_Military_and_Civilian_Life_at_the_Newfoundland_Airport_.)

As the “Our History” section of the Gander Airport site notes,

Thus, the airport at Gander became the main staging point for the movement of Allied aircraft to Europe during World War II. Gander’s location on the Great Circle Route made it an ideal wartime refuelling and maintenance depot for bombers flying overseas.

In November 1940, Captain D.C.T. Bennett left Gander for Europe, leading the first fleet of seven Lockheed Hudson bombers across the Atlantic during the Battle of Britain. More than 20,000 North American-built fighters and heavy bombers would follow.

In 1942, the Newfoundland Government handed over the control of the airport to the Canadian Government and it became a military airfield, with a continuous delivery of planes to the war zone.

In 1945, the Newfoundland government took over control of the airport again. By the end of the year, Pan-American World Airways, Trans-World Airline, Trans Canada Airlines (later Air Canada), and British Overseas Airway Corporation (later British Airways) begin regular Atlantic air service through Gander. Gander handled 13,000 aircraft annually and a quarter million passengers, requiring a new $3 million terminal to be built and opened in June 19, 1959. (Fly Gander, accessed 21 May 2018, http://www.ganderairport.com/about-giaa/history-growth/.)

It's therefore no surprise that Charles Parsons Jr. with the 1377th AAF would pass through Gander during World War II.

What was on board that flight? If it was indeed an Eagle scanning radar, then it was a “high resolution radar for high altitude, precision blind bombing,” according to RADAR, “The Eagle Story: How It All Began,” August 1945, p. 28). The articles about Eagle describe the need for the radar, which was basically to enable continued operations despite overcast skies or nighttime. There was more than one team working on more than one radar system. The problems were complex for airborne radar systems. Not only did the system need to produce high resolution imagery, it had to be small enough for a plane, deployable to the field, and capable of calculating bomb trajectory while the airplane was in flight, moving at over 30,000 feet.

Developing the Eagle system suffered setbacks and long sets of testing flights, with different manufacturing lines depending upon whether the system was meant for a B-17, a B-24, or a B-29. On page 43 of the RADAR article, the loss of the William Dolan flight is mentioned. The plane seems to have been destined for the 8th Army Air Force, for Col. Dolan had been pushing for a higher resolution bombing equipment. It was his, at last, but was lost to him and the 8th that fateful night in the snowy wilderness in Newfoundland.

Though the need for high resolution radar was referenced to work in Berlin and the rest of Germany, the radar was mostly known for having assisted with the series of bombing raids against Japanese refineries at night. (“The Eagle Story: How It All Began,” RADAR, August 1945, pp. 33, 36, 38). The war ended before the system could be fully deployed.

The engineer in a Liberator was also the top turret gunner, but may also have been qualified for copilot duties, as a parachute officer, a first aid specialist, or as an assistant radio operator. Research did not reveal where Cpl. Parsons received training or which duties were his, except that he is listed in the missing air crew report as the engineer.

Cpl. Charles James Parsons is buried in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, West Virginia. .
grave marker

Headstone for Charles J. Parsons Jr. in East Oak Grove Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
October 2017

Honor...

Charles James Parsons Jr.

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History