Do You Remember Harvey Louis Lagasse?

Of course you do!

Genealogy is not my forte.

Harvey Lagasse

Harvey Louis Lagasse, a distant cousin I have never met, was part of a B-24 Liberator crew. Earl Cullison was the pilot and Roy Sutton was the co-pilot.

This is what Earl Cullison’s nephew sent me about Roy Sutton.


The Story about Roy Sutton Jr. being shot down in WWII
Written by Sgt. Ernest Gordon Liner.

A Crewmate of Roy Sutton

Sgt Ernest Gordon Liner was a tail gunner in the 758th Bomb Squadron. He was shot down on August 22,1944 in his B-24 H, named The Moron, Serial # 42-52344 and became a POW.

The Pilot of The Moron was Lt Jerry A Cullison. Their ship was shot down on 459 BG Mission # 95 to bomb the synthetic oil refineries at Blechhammer, Germany, August 22, 1944 a long difficult eight and a half hour trip if you made it. The 459th Bomb Group lost 5 planes that day, 50 airmen MIA that day on a terrible mission 2 each from the 758th Bomb Squadron and the 759th Bomb Squadron and one from the 757th Bomb Squadron. All of us who flew missions to Blechhammer, Germany remember those missions as being one of the roughest ever because of flak, fighters, weather and sweating out low fuel status because of the distance and resistance encountered.

Memories by Ernest
I enlisted in the Air Force and was inducted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, reporting later to Miami Beach, Florida, in November of 1943. We lived in hotels and took basic training on a golf course and on the beach. From there we went to Panama City, Florida for further training. From Panama City we were sent to Mitchell Field, New York for crew assignment. The following men were members of the crew: Pilot Jerry Cullison of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Co-pilot Roy Sutton of Norfolk, Virginia; Navigator Vaughn; Bombardier Harvey Lagasse of Bristol, Connecticut; Engineer Harold Botwright of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania; Waist gunner T. Tomlinson of Sour Lake, Texas; Ball turret gunner A.J. Benetti of San Fernando, California; Radio operator and Top turret gunner Paul Pete Peterson of Portland, Connecticut; Nose gunner A.J. Tony La Spina of Summit, New Jersey; and myself, Tail gunner Gordon Liner of Hillsborough, North Carolina. As a crew we were sent to Charleston, South Carolina and started flying together.

When I reported to basic training I had had to leave my girlfriend Franny in Baltimore. So, after basic I asked her to come to Charleston and we would get married. I rented a furnished room a month ahead to hold it, and she came down and we got married June 3, 1944. She stayed until I got leave and we went back to Baltimore where I had to leave her and return to Charleston. From Charleston we went to Westover Field, Massachusetts, where we flew submarine patrol for two weeks. There we were given a new plane for our own to go overseas. We left Mitchell Field, New York and went to Bangor, Maine to pick up supplies and extra equipment to prepare to go overseas. We left the states and went to Newfoundland and stayed there about a week because of bad weather. When the weather finally broke, we went on to the Azores where we gassed up for the flight to Africa. We landed in Marrakech, flew on to Tunis, and from there we flew to Foggia, Italy where they took our plane and gave us an old beaten up one. Later we found out that this was customary; a new plane was given to a crew that was about finished and ready to go back to the United States.

We were assigned to an air base at Cherignola, Italy and given a six man tent to sleep in at the edge of an almond orchard. At first we had a dirt floor, cots and candles for lights. We started improving the flooring and made some cabinets out of cardboard and rolled up the sides of the tent to get cool air. After a week or two we were given one bulb for light which got its power from a generator at the base.

We started flying with other crews to learn how to fly in formation. Experienced pilots flew with us for a few days and then we were on our own to fly every day. The weather permitting, we then started flying actual combat missions on August 12, 1944. Our flights were as follows:

Date          Target                                                       Plane
August 12  Northern Italy, early return            Hard to Get
August 14  Northern Italy, early return            Hard to Get
August 17  Ploesti, Romania, flack and fighters    Beats Me Mack
August 18  Ploesti, Romania, flack and fighters    The Moron
August 21  Air field in Hungary, flack and fighters    Beats Me Mack
August 22  Blechammer, Germany, flack and fighters   The Moron    DID NOT RETURN

The targets in northern Italy were called milk runs because they were more like training missions but the Ploesti targets were the worst in Europe for enemy flack and fighters. The Hungary targets were bad for fighters, but Blechammer was as bad as Ploesti because we had to fight our way from the target until we had to parachute out of the plane. Before we got to the target we lost an engine due to flack (ground fire). We saw one plane blow up and two others take hits. On three engines, we could not keep up with the formation. After the bombs were dropped, we were attacked by four fighters and lost another engine as well as other damage. One fighter came toward the tail, another from the side, and yet another from the under side. I shot the plane attacking our tail and it exploded. The fighter on the side killed Tomlinson and the ball turret gunner was hit, giving the German fighters two positions not covered. The next attacks came from above, and top gunner Peterson and I both were shooting at him and he was hit and bailed out. Then, I realized we were going down fast and our radio was shot out. I got out of my turret and went up into the waist and put on my parachute. Top gunner Peterson came down into the waist with his parachute on, and I had to move waist gunner Tomlinsons body from the escape door so we could get out. I opened the hatch and motioned for Peterson to go out, but he motioned for me to go! I realized that we had to get out, so I jumped. Peterson told me later, when he saw my chute open, he jumped, too.

As we were going down, we could see people shooting at us. A German fighter came straight toward me and we had heard about the pilots shooting at airmen in their chutes. But, at the last minute he tipped his wing and came close enough for me to see him motion to me. I went down in the woods and the others were captured in an open field. I could not get my chute out of the trees, so I took off my flying suit and boots and left them in a stump hole. I crawled under the bushes and tried to collect my thoughts, removed my escape kit and tried to determine where I was. The pilot had said we were in Hungary when we first began to be attacked by fighters. Later, I decided to move to a better location and I had not gone but about ten steps when someone hollered and I looked beside me to see a German soldier with a rifle pointing straight at me. He kept motioning for me to put my hands up and he was as scared of me as I was of him. Another soldier then came up and they searched me. They kept saying pistols, I guess because they knew we were issued .45 pistols. I told them that mine had gone down with the plane. I was always glad that I didn’t wear it, because I might have tried to use it. They took me out of the woods to a road where there were other people and a wagon that held a German pilot with his parachute rolled up in his lap. I was told to get on the wagon with the pilot who was about eighteen years old with blond hair and about my size. He smiled and motioned with his finger and said I putt putt you and you putt, putt me. We were taken to a small village about the size of Efland, North Carolina and it had a jail. There I saw two others of my crew and four members of another crew at the jail where we spent the night with bed bugs, roaches and everything else. The next day we were moved through the village and were fortunate to have the German soldiers along to keep civilians off of us. They were throwing things, spitting and hollering gangsters to us. We later understood why when we passed a hospital that had been bombed.

We were put on a truck with eight others and carried into the city of Budapest. Once in Budapest we were given something to eat, the first food we had had since we were shot down. We were then questioned and our belts, shoe laces, rings, watches and everything that we had in our pockets was taken from us. We found out later that we were in an old political prison. The building was three stories high, and was open in the center with walkways around each staircase. All of the cells were solitary cells about four feet by sixteen feet in size with no windows, and one light bulb that burned all of the time. Our comforts consisted of one cot, a door with a slot through which bowls of soup were given to us twice a day, one loaf of bread a day, and one bucket for a toilet. No one ever spoke. Enduring seven days of this, you did a great deal of thinking. I counted the bricks in that cell a thousand times and I thought I would remember the number, but I don’t. After seven days of silence I was taken to a German officer for questioning. We had been trained to give only our name, rank and serial number. I was then sent back to my cell for another seven days, followed by another trip for questioning. This time, a German who spoke perfect English told me that he would say things to me that he only wanted me to verify. I was told the type of plane we were in, the type of bombs we dropped, the target we hit, our air base in Italy and where we were trained. I figured one of our crew members told them all of this information. I was sent to another room with three members of my crew and they said that they were told the same thing, and it was good to have someone to talk to. After a few days we were taken under heavy guard to a train station, where we were put on those notorious, forty by eight, boxcars that were known all over Germany; forty men or eight horses. I think there must have been forty of us in the car when more men were brought in. It was too crowded to lie down, so we had to stand or sit. We were locked in our boxcar and in the next one were the guards with their dogs. We only had one bucket for a toilet for over forty men. Some men were sick and some were injured. We were on the train for two days before we were allowed to get out and given water and bread. At this point everyone was getting filthy and many had dysentery, yet with still only one bucket on the boxcar. We stopped in a large rail yard one night and the R.A.F. came over dropping bombs. The guards left for shelters and we were left behind, locked in the boxcar. Luckily the bombs missed us but they did tear up some of the rails further ahead. We stayed there another day, still locked up. Finally, we started again, attached to another train, and we started seeing lots of bomb damage to towns and bridges as we passed through Poland. After five days the train stopped and we were told to get out. We were at a train station in a small town where there were guards with dogs to escort us on a one mile walk to our camp. By this time, we were in pitiful shape. The camp was still being built, but we were assigned to barracks with twenty-two men, all together in one room. We had a spigot to wash up with and a latrine which had ten holes. Many times you didn’t have time to wait. For that reason it was a very good thing our government sent lots of clothes and shoes to the camps.


 

Jerry Cullison Jr. as an officer was sent to the famous Stalag Luft III. Uncle Jerry was then sent to Stalag Luft III-D where he stayed until he was liberated. Roy Sutton Jr. was an officer too… But I do not know if he was sent to the same POW camps…Earl Cullison Jr

About Roy Sutton…

Roy C. Sutton Jr.
Norfolk – Roy Clifton Sutton Jr., a lifelong Norfolk resident, died on October 16, five days shy of his 93rd birthday. The cause was heart failure.
“Roy Jr.” was raised on the beach at Ocean View, a place which forever was in his heart. He graduated from Maury High School, and then attended the college of William and Mary in Norfolk, and then in Williamsburg. His studies were interrupted by WWII, during which he rose to the rank of Captain in the Air Force. He was co-piloting a plane during a bombing mission over Hungary, when his plane was shot down. He spent nine months in a German POW camp, and then was rescued by Patton’s army. He then continued his studies, ultimately earning a degree in Physics. He entered business and became a part-owner of Sutton Appliance Company. He married Kathleen Sams in 1953, and began a family. He continued his love of athletics, joining the Portsmouth YMCA, and being well-known for winning many handball and tennis tournaments. Even into his eighties, he remained involved in competitions, being active in the Senior Olympics in multiple events. Until six months before his death, he was swimming laps twice a week. Recently, he was recognized as one of the members of the famous football “Last Team” at ODU.

This is post 1235…

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18 thoughts on “Do You Remember Harvey Louis Lagasse?

      • [about 5 days ago, Vintage Wings of Canada had an article with Canadian war books – did you see that? Each one looked better than the last, how can I choose?]

      • Isn’t that a good one!!! You do so much for having these men remembered, Pierre. Too often as they were attached to the RAF, the fact that the Canadians made such a strong and brave contribution is unknowingly ignored.

      • The Typhoon pilot had the most dangerous missions after D-Day. The average number of missions was 17 before being shot down. I will have to check that number, but I am pretty sure it was under 20.

      • About John Colton…

        Inside one year, he will become a fighter pilot, trained at a Hawker Typhoon Operational Training Unit (OTU) to fight down low, bombing and strafing in support of Allied ground troops. When it was all said and done at the end of the war, after experiencing hell up close, having lost many comrades and having escaped his own death many times, he returned from his tour of operations having completed 104 “ops” (missions in RAF parlance). All 104 of John Colton’s ops, including one on 6 June 1944 (D-Day), were exceedingly dangerous, for he was operating down close to the fight on the ground at the front where flak, obstacles and even small arms fire posed extra threats upon the Tiffie pilot.

      • This was, as Flight Lieutenant Charles I)umoulin describes desperately dangerous. “The average survival rate for a rocket-Typhoon pilot since mass missions at low level were introduced is around seventeen operations. After that, he lives on borrowed link. Veterans stand a better chance of living than the younger ones, whose average number of of ops before ‘buying it is no more than five.”

        Normandy: The Real Story, page 125

      • Charles J.V.G. Demoulin DFC

        15 March 1943 – 12 April 1944 – 14 November 1944 – 5 December 1944

        Charles Demoulin was trained in the RAF and joined the squadron in spring 1943. On September 26, 1943 he ditched his Typhoon JP543 “PR-A” but was soon rescued. One week later he scored his first victory, a Bf 110 near Florennes. On January 30, 1944 he bagged two FW 190’s and on February 29 he shot down a Ju 88 near Cambrai. He ended his first tour in April ’44 and was sent to 184 Squadron. On August 8 he became CO of 164 Sq., but on November 14, 1944 he was the third Belgian who led 609. be it for a short while, as he was shot down by Flak near Ede (Holland) on December 5, flying Typhoon PD470 “PR-D”. He became a POW.

        Demoulin wrote his autobiography “Firebirds” and died in Monaco in 1998.

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