May 15, 2014

Memorial Day

Kneeland Parshley, 20, of New London entered the U. S. Army on October 15, 1942 and was assigned to the Air Corps. Ten years earlier his father opened Kearsarge Garage, at their house just over the town line in Wilmot, and the family moved to Elkins, residing next to the village store. He was a "roly-poly sort of boy with a happy disposition," according to storekeeper Percy Thurston. He taught himself to play guitar, singing songs popular on the radio, and entertaining neighborhood kids. For unknown or forgotten reasons, he was always called "Mike."

After enlisting, he headed for basic training in Florida. He left behind his older brother and his mother, Annie Parshley. (Just two years earlier, in 1940, a car accident in Hooksett had taken the lives of his father and younger sister.) He continued his training at Amarillo, Texas, and then at Boling Field, after which Staff Sergeant Kneeland Parshley was deployed to England. There he joined the 457th Bomb Group Wing, which was flying the B-17 Flying Fortress in daylight raids over Germany.

S/Sgt Kneeland Parshley
On April 9, 1944, S/Sgt. Parshley was assigned to his first combat mission, designated as serial number 42-97465. A waist machine-gunner, Mike's job was to repel enemy fighters attacking the right side of the plane. The 500-pound bombs in its ordnance racks were destined for a "modification center" located about 10 miles south-west of the shipyards at Gdynia, Poland, on the Baltic Sea. The round-trip flight was calculated at 1,463 miles, requiring 2,780 gallons of fuel. Sixty-one planes from three different bomb groups participated. The 457th took the lead-high position, at 15,000 feet. Because of weather or equipment failure, sixteen planes turned back early, but the rest arrived on target and achieved "excellent" results.

Some months later, three airmen from Parshley's plane were asked to provide their accounts of the mission on form AFPPA-11.* The plane had been disabled. Parshley and his crew-mates parachuted to safety, while the pilot remained on board, perhaps hoping to divert attention from the drop site by crashing farther away. Patrolling German soldiers were already rounding up the aircrew on the ground. Parshley's parachute got snagged in a tree, where, dangling, he was shot several times in the stomach. Still alive, he and the others were placed in a German truck for transport to a prison camp. Denied medical aid, Kneeland Parshley grew delirious but then fell silent; a crew-mate found no pulse. After the truck stopped for the night and the prisoners were removed, his body was not seen again. According to German records, he died en route to a hospital.

Kneeland Parshley's first burial was made on April 14, 1944, in row 4 of the Waldfriedhof (Forest Cemetery) in Lauenburg, about 35 miles west of Gdynia. The International Red Cross was notified by the German government on June 23, 1944, and his fate was transmitted via Casualty Branch Message Number 17611. Until then, he had simply been "reported missing in action since April 9, 1944" according to New London's Happenings at Home newsletter, dated June 1, 1944. The August edition, however, reported that "Mrs. Annie Parshley has received, posthumously, the Purple Heart Citation awarded to Kneeland J. Parshley for military merit and wounds received in action resulting in his death." A second gold star was sewn on the town's service flag. After the war, Kneeland Parshely's body was exhumed from its "isolated grave" and transported to the U. S. Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condros, Belgium, where 5,329 American soldiers lie.

This story has come to us because a father and son, who live in the region of the crash site in Poland, have been researching the flight through incident reports, official telegrams, and other war records. Contacting the New London Archives through a Google search, they asked for background information about Mike's family in hopes of finding relatives. His brother had joined the service within six months of Mike's departure, and he returned to New Hampshire but died in the early 1960s. Some longtime residents of Elkins still remember him as a neighbor or schoolmate.

Maurice and Damian Drąszkiewicz at the commemoration site.
The New London Service Organization was formed to help servicemen and their families during wartime, and for several years it sent flowers to Annie Parshley on Memorial Day, and it made donations in Mike's honor to the Elkins school and chapel. One of four New Londoners killed during the war, his name is inscribed on our Soldiers' Monument at Whipple Hall.

Behind the asterisk appended to his name lies this new story of his death—transmitted from a distant, grateful country, where the memory of mission 42-97465 has been preserved for the past seventy years.

We thank Damian and Maurice Drąszkiewicz and Andrew Nieścior for providing personal photographs and military records to the Archives, and we look forward to hearing more about their research and work in Poland. You can find a slideshow of historic images of the 457th Bomb Group on YouTube.


* The AFPPA-11 ("Individual Casualty Questionnaire") was to be completed by a witness to the loss of a single crew member; other forms, AFPPA-12 ("Casualty Questionnaire") and AFPPA-14 ("Missing Air Crew Report"), were used for multiple casualties or lost airmen.