Thomas Joseph Vezina

November 30, 2013
Due to my big interest in the history of both World Wars, and to honor those who died for our freedom, I requested another adoption grave at the Ardennes-American cemetery in Belgium. This is my second adoption grave in Neupré.

Before the war

Thomas Vezina was born in Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts on March 16, 1914.

He was the son of Thomas Vezina and Louise Bacon. He had four brothers, Joseph, Henry, Leo and Alban and one sister, Janet. Their parents were Thomas and Louise.


Massachusetts, USA


Fall River, Massachusetts


Thomas married Elvia Thornton in Lebanon, Missouri, on December 15, 1936. In 1937 he moved to Fall River, Massachusetts to live with his sister Jeanette.

In that period he worked in several hospitals in the states of New York and New Jersey. When he was unemployed again, he returned to Fall River. When possible he went to his wife Elvia in Missouri. After March 1940 he didn't live with his wife anymore. He continued working in hospitals in New York and New Jersey. On June 12, 1941 he divorced his wife Elvia, though no official documents exist of this.

Thomas married Mary D. Repko on May 18, 1942 in Charleston, South Carolina. They had one son, Thomas Jr. He was born after Thomas died during WWII.

In the army

Thomas Vezina enlisted on March 2, 1942 in New York. He stayed in Fort Dix from March 2, 1942 until March 6, 1942.

From March 7 until May 6, 1942 he was in the Second Army Air Base in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah Air Base is also known as Hunter Army Airfield. It's a military air base that's been used since 1929 until now by the American Air Force.


Savannah Airbase, Georgia

Savannah Airbase, Georgia

From May 7 until June 3, 1942 Thomas was in the Eight Interior Command in Charleston, South Carolina.

On June 4, 1942 he shipped for England to take part in missions in the European Theater of war.

Thomas was enlisted in the 384th Bomber Group (H) of the 545th Bomber Squadron. He was a Staff Sergeant at the moment of his death. He took part in 18 missions:

Date Target Task Information
15/08/1943 Luftwaffe airbases
Poix-en-Picardie and Amiens-Glisy (France)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
17/08/1943 Ball-Bearing plant
Schweinfurt (Germany)
Ball Turret Gunner Combat mission credit
Aircraft suffered battle damage, crash landed at base
23/09/1943 Submarin repair ship
Nantes (France)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
08/10/1943 Submarine workshop facility
Bremen (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
10/10/1943 Railroad Marshalling Yards
Münster (Germany)
Waist Gunner Mission aborted after taking off
20/10/1943 Railroad Marshalling Yards
Düren (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
03/11/1943 Port area
Wilhelmshaven (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
05/11/1943 Railroad Marshalling Yards
Gelsenkirchen (Germany)
Tail Gunner Combat mission credit
16/11/1943 Molybdenum Mine
Knaben (Norway)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
05/12/1943 Luftwaffe airbase
St. Jean D'Angely (France)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
11/12/1943 Port area
Emden (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
13/12/1943 Port area
Bremen (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
Low group, high squadron deputy
16/12/1943 Port area
Bremen (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
22/12/1943 Steel shops, Railroad Marshalling Yards
Osnabrück (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
24/12/1943 V1 launch site
Croisette (France)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
30/12/1943 IG Farben industry
Ludwigshafen (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
07/01/1944 Powerhouse
Ludwigshafen (Germany)
Waist Gunner Mission aborted after taking off. Became separated from formation in dense clouds after group assembly, failed to make wing rendez-vous
21/01/1944 V1 launch site
Preuseville (France)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
Low squadron deputy
29/01/1944 Aircraft part plants
Frankfurt am Main (Germany)
Waist Gunner Combat mission credit
Lead group
30/01/1944 Aircraft assembly plant
Braunschweig (Germany)
Waist Gunner (right) Combat mission credit
Low group, high squadron. Fatal flight.


All missions Thomas Vezina flew

Information about the bomber Vezina flew on his fatal flight:
- Serial number: 42-5444
- Production code: B-17F-50-BO Fortress
- Type: B-17F
- Nickname: We Dood It
- Target: Brunswick, Germany
- MACR: 2263

Thomas crashed in a B-17 earlier on August 17, 1943. The El Rauncho returned from a mission to Schweinfurt and was hit by enemy fire. The plane had to make a crash landing in Grafton Underwood in England. James Seibel was a crew member that day too, he also died on January 30, 1944.


El Rauncho in Grafton Underwood

Death of Thomas Vezina

On January 30, 1944, 742 bombers and 635 fighters took part in a mission to bomb the Aircraft Assembly Plant in Brunswick, Germany. Because of the density and the clouds a part of the group flew to Hannover for bombardments. Only 20 of the bombers failed to return. It was the 56th mission for the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and the 200th mission of the 8th Air Force. For Thomas Vezina it was the 18th mission.


Aircraft Assembly Plant, Brunswick, Germany

The airplane 'We Dood It' departed from AAF Station 106 in Grafton Underwood and was last seen at 11h46, six minutes before reaching the initial point (IP). The plane was attacked by German Focke Wulf-190's and began falling away from formation and burst into flames. S/Sgt Vezina and T/Sgt Bishop were believed to be hit when the fighters made their first attack, because after the attack no more firing came from his position. S/Sgt Ralph was probably killed in his position (ball turret).

Co-Pilot Nelson had interphone communication with the entire crew prior to the first fighter attack, after the attack all radio communication was dead. He was unable to contact the men in person before leaving the plane because it was burning intensely. They could not salvo their bombs as all bomb release mechanism wasn't functioning due to enemy gunfire. Nelson pulled the red knob and wire in two while trying to salvo the bomb load. They lost three engines and both wings set aflame before abandoning the plane. 1st/Lt Nelson flew 11 missions with Thomas Vezina.

Nelson also thinks S/Sgt Ralph was killed in his turret and said: "Only by a miracle could he have survived. The plane from the waist to the bomb bay was riddled completely as it later broke in two". He thinks T/Sgt Davis was killed or mortally wounded after the first attack. Quite a few shells exploded in the radio room after other attacks. He also believes Seibel had left left the plane before he and Bartholomew left through the nose hatch. There was only very little damage and the nose hatch was already gone. Lt. Ross was right behind Nelson when he crawled to the under flight deck to bail out, but Nelson never saw Ross bail out, probably because the plane blew up a split second after he left.

Eyewitnesses saw three chutes emerge from the plane, the Missing Aircrew Report says four chutes emerged from the plane. Tail Gunner Robert Grimes only knew of two other chutes emerging from the plane. He saw Bartholomew bail out through the forward escape door after the plane had caught fire and just before it blew up. Co-Pilot Nelson followed right behind Bartholomew. The civilians where Nelson landed appeared to be very hostile towards him. He met Bartholomew again one week later, and Grimes two weeks later. The three of them were arrested and put into POW-camps.

The plane crashed near Meinsen, Minden in Germany.


Meinsen near Minden, about 100 kilometres from Brunswick, Germany

Pilot Burton Ross, navigator Arthur Canziani, bomber James Seibel, radio operator Edward Davis, ball turret gunner Robert Ralph and waist gunner J. Bishop were the other crew members that didn't survive this disaster.

Two bodies were found in the tail compartment. This lay close to the village of Meinsen. One crew member hit the roof of farmer Vauth in Meinsen and was found dead on the floor of the farmhouse. The other crew members were found at the main crash site in the woods between Meinsen/Warber/Achum.


Finding spot of the tail section in the Horstweg, one
crew members body landed on a farmhouse behind these houses

Finding spot of the tail section and one of the bodies in the
village of Meinsen


Finding spot of the front part, north-west of
Meinsen, Germany

Finding spot of the front part, other parts of the plane were
shattered all over the place between the 2 locations


Dirk Hartmann is a German man who lives in the vicinity of Meinsen in Germany. He investigates Aircraft losses of WWII in his region. He researched the incident with Thomas Vezina's airplane and e-mailed me with lots of information. He also met with witnesses of the incident. He interviewed Friedhelm Vauth, reseident of Meinsen-Warber. He told him that a crew member of a bomber that crashed had fallen through the roof of his parents' house. It is assumed that this was a crew member of the B-17F Vezina flew in.

Another woman Mr. Hartmann interviewed was a lady born in 1927, Miss Caroline Wilkening. She told that large parts of the bomber lay left of the current Horstweg in Meinsen (see picture above). The bodies of three crew members were also found in this area.

A third person interviewed by Mr. Hartmann was Karl Niederbracht, born in 1929. He could still remember the details of the crash very well. He was triggered by an air raid alarm while he was in the church on the 30th of January in 1944. He cycled home to his parents while the sky was overcast. He could only hear the roar of bombers above the clouds and the shooting of fighter planes. He was not yet at his parents' house when there was a noise and a machine came out of the clouds that burned and then broke apart. The rear of the machine fell on the outskirts of Meinsen on a meadow with two dead crew members still in the rubble. Another crew member had fallen through the roof of the yard of the Vauth family. The main part of the bomber came down in the Schaumburg forest. A big black cloud rose after the impact and the crash site burned for a very long time after the crash. Getting closer to the point of impact was not possible because there was still ammunition exploding. Some time after the crash, more dead were found in the area outside the crash site, f.e. in the meadow opposite the crash site. Body parts were found in the trees too.

Robert Grimes later told about Vezina: "Thomas Vezina was hit by bullets during the first attack by Focke Wulf 190 fighters. He was bleeding heavily and was lying in front of the waist door. Both waist gunners were silent after the first attack. I think they both got killed instantly." This was probably because the plane was so badly damaged it broke in two where the waist gunners had been.

This was another witness report from a local inhabitant of the German town where the plane came down:


Thomas Vezina was officially declared dead by the Germans on February 10, 1944. All deceased crew members were first buried at the local cemetery of Meinsen-Warber on January 31, 1944.

After the war he was buried at the Ardennes American cemetery in Neupré, Belgium on May 3, 1946 at 12h30 and permantly interred on September 15, 1948. His grave is located in Plot D, row 22, grave 5.




Ardennes American cemetery and memorial, Neupré, Belgium

545th Bomber Squadron, 384th Bomber Group Heavy


545th Bomber Squadron


384th Bomber Group Heavy


Staff Sergeant


The 384th Bomb Group flew B-17's from Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, between May 1943 and June 1945. They were engaged in daylight bombing missions over Germany as part of the Allies' efforts to destroy the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe by bombing aircraft assembly plants, ground strafing aircraft and hitting associated industrial sites.

The Group were awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was awarded to the 1st Bomb Division as a whole for flying without fighter protection to bomb aircraft factories at Oschersleben on January 11, 1944. The second was for bravery under fire when leading the 41st Wing on a mission to bomb an aircraft factory and airfield at Oberpfafenhafen, southern Germany, on April 24, 1944.

Source: www.americanairmuseum.com

Contact

It took a while before I found any relatives of Thomas Vezina. Though I adopted the grave in November 2013, it was only in June of 2017 that I first had contact with a relative.

Thomas had three brothers, Henry, Leo and Alban and one sister Janet. Alban was the only one who was raised by family since he was an inphant. Their parents had died very early so the others had to go to an orphanage. Times were really hard.

I first had contact with Arline Vezina, who is the daughter of Alban Vezina, one of Thomas' brothers. She never knew Thomas, his wife or his child so she could not provide much more information. I found her through a message I had put on Facebook on the Grew up in Fall River webpage.

In November of 2017 I got more information on Thomas Vezina and found more information about his relatives. He had a son, Thomas Junior who married Kathy Vezina. I was able to retrace Kathy through Facebook, and I was able to find their daughter Kyra, the granddaughter of Thomas Vezina, on Facebook too.

I would like to thank everyone that has provided me more information so far.

Personal information

Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army
Service # 32243997
545th Bomb Squadron, 384th Bomb Group (Heavy)
Entered service from New York on March 2, 1942

Born: March 16, 1914 Fall River, Massachusetts
Hometown: Niagara County, New York

Died: January 30, 1944 in Meinsen (Minden), Germany
Status: killed in action (KIA)

Buried: Plot D, row 22, grave 5, Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium
Awards: Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart


Air Medal


Purple Heart


Family
Wife: Mary D. (Repko) Vezina (1919-2013)
Children: Thomas Jr (1944-current)
Father: Thomas Vezina (1889-1936)
Mother: Louise Bacon (1893-1923)
Brothers: Joseph (1916-1978), Henry J. (1917-1964), Leo (1920-2001) and Alban (1921-1998)
Sister: Jeannette (Leary) (1915-2000)

More pictures









Sources

- www.abmc.gov
- www.wwiimemorial.com NARA
- www.wwiimemorial.com overseas American cemeteries
- www.fieldsofhonor-database.nl
- www.findagrave.com
- www.384thbombgroup.com
- Andi Hunting
- Dirk Hartmann
- Rudy Kenis
- Kyra Morrow
- Thomas Jr & Kathy Vezina
- Arline Vezina
- Individual Deceased Personnel File


Any information you can provide me about this soldier, can be mailed to me (nicklieten@hotmail.com). Thank you!