On March 12, 2006 I received a surprise letter from Al Donnelly, a member of our crew who I had not seen or heard from since 1945. He wrote that he found my name on the Internet and that he hoped I was the Al Berger from the Fifteenth Air Force.
I returned a letter and that started a flow of letters back and forth to cover sixty years of our lives. After quite a- few letters exchanged Donnelly told me he had joined the 376th Bomb-Group Association and sent-me a copy of the Intellegencer, a newsletter published by the Group. He also told me he had told the historian that I had painted nose art and the name of the plane - ,we would eventually fly back to the states and that he gave him my name and address.
About a week or so later I received-a letter from Ed Clendenin, historian of the 376th Bomb Group Association with some pictures. His first question to me was, where and when did I paint the picture and name '''Belle of the Brawl on the plane we flew home, because he apparently did not know that we were then in the 459th Bomb Group. He also wanted to know if I recognized any, of the planes in. the pictures. I straightened him out on the time and place I painted Belle but could not recognize any of the other planes on the pictures. Not knowing what he was working on and since he seemed to be interested in the names of planes, I then included the names of all the planes we flew missions in with the dates of the missions.
Ed returned a letter to me thanking me for the information and then dropped a bomb that I did not expect. He told me that one of the planes I mentioned in my last letter had left England and arrived in our squadron in February. My immediate thought was if one plane left England for the Mediterranean, why not more? He further asked me about the color of the paint on the original Belle. He also mentioned sortie reports that contained serial numbers of the planes.
Now this was what I have been waiting for. If they still have sortie reports of missions sixty years ago, this is what I need to prove to me that the Belle of the Brawl that we flew in, was the same plane that was flown in England by Baskin's crew. In my return letter I ask Ed if there was a chance that I could get copies of sortie reports we flew in Belle and gave him the dates of the missions. A sortie report is a record of what happened on that mission (sortie). It includes the names of the complete crew their position, on the plane, take-off and landing times, location of target enemy resistance, fighter cover, bomb load, bomb results, observation and anything unusual that that happened. It amazed me that all this information is still available after sixty years.
In a return letter from Ed I received five sortie reports for plane #29 which was how the records were filed. All five showed serial #42-94904 and included the names of our entire crew and all the pertinent information about the mission. The most important information, as far as I was concerned, was the serial number that matched the serial number of Walter Baskins' plane as found in the book "Belle of the Brawl."
My curiosity was now satisfied as it proved to me that there was only one plane with the name Belle of the Brawl. It had served in both the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force. According Reynolds book, Baskin's crew flew the plane from the U.S. to England and was the only crew to fly all thirty missions in it. In August 1944 his Group converted to flying B 17s and Belle was transferred to another Group and flew additional missions. Our first mission in Belle was February 15th, 1945 so sometime between August 1944 and February 1945 Belle was flown from England to Italy. We flew five missions in Belle before the 376th was sent back to the States. We were then transferred to the 459th Bomb Group near Cerignola where we flew three missions before the war in Europe ended. We were assigned to fly a plane back to the States and before leaving Italy the crew· decided to name this plane. 'Belle of the Brawl', and paint the name on the plane.