August "Gus" Riecke
Birth: Nov. 26, 1917
Death: Oct. 14, 1943, Belgium
Named for his father and grandfather, Gus was born in Blue Lake but spent most of his childhood at Indian boarding schools in Hoopa (Humboldt County, California) and Chiloquin (Oregon) as his mother, Fannie Gaston Billy-Riecke, died when he was only 2 years old. At age 12 his father, Frederick August Riecke, died on July 4, 1930. After leaving school Gus worked as a logger in California and southern Oregon until World War II.
ARMY AIR CORPS TRAINING
Gus was inducted into the United States Army Air Corps on March 11, 1942 at the Presidio of Monterey, California. According to the entries in his Private Doakes and Me! book, Crew 30 was organized at Geiger Field in December 9, 1942. They met at Ephrata, Washington and started training at the Blythe, California.
Given the date of organization and the movement to Blythe, it would seem that they didn't waste time before they moved to Blythe. Shortly after finishing Army Basic Training, crew members were transferred to the Army Air Corps for training in their specialties. Gus went through Mechanic and Gunnery Schools. Later they would begin to practice as a flight crew, at Blythe, in an actual B-17.
Gus arrived in Blythe, California a few days before December 12, 1942. The pilot and bombardier had arrived but not the co-pilot or navigator. From Gussie's letter of December 24, 1942 at Blythe, he was a Staff Sergeant with the 391st Bombardment Squadron, 34th Bombardier Group. He stated that he was now part of a crew.
The third phase of training took place at Peyote, Texas. He was assigned to the 337th Bombardment Squadron, 96th Bombardier Group. He wrote about being friendly with another aircrew and meeting some guys that he knew before being inducted and some others with whom he went through Mechanic and Gunnery schools.
CRASH LANDING IN GRINDAVIK, ICELAND
On their way over to England Crew 30 flew from Presque Isle AAF, Maine, they crash landed B-17 aircraft #42-3128 in Grindavik, Iceland on April 17, 1943. The crew must have survived with minor injuries because Gus checked-in at Thurleigh, England on May 20, 1943 and flew his first mission the next day with the 367th Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardier Group in aircraft #42-29815 to Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
He was next assigned to the 367 Bombardment Squadron (the "Clay Pigeons") as a flight engineer with the rank of Technical Sergeant. He kept on top of the mechanical condition of the plane and also acted as the top turret gunner.
TRINIDAD SOLDIER GETS AIR MEDAL
In August, 1943, Technical Sergeant Gus Riecke of Trinidad was among two score officers and enlisted men from California, attached to the Eighth Bomber Command of the U. S. Army air forces in England, who were winners of decorations for "courage, coolness and skill." The announcement came from Washington, and reported by the Associated Press. Gus was awarded two Oak Leaf Clusters and an Air Medal for completing five bomber combat missions.
Gus flew bombing missions aboard a B-17F bomber #42-37720 named the "Jackie Ellen" until October 14, 1943 (known as Black Thursday). This was a daylight bombing run in which sixty-five (65) aircraft and their crews of ten men each were lost. At about 1400 hours (2 PM) on October 14 while on the way to bomb the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, Germany (Mission 115), his formation was hit by 300 enemy fighter planes and received heavy damage to the plane's horizontal fuselage. The plane went down over Belgium and only one member of the crew survived, the radio operator, T/Sgt. Joseph Bocelli (who became a POW).
Gus's family was notified that he was Missing In Action. On October 5, 1950, five years after the end of WWII, his dog tags and remains were found in a Belgian village cemetery. Master Sergeant Stanley W. Anderson of Oakland was the military escort for the body to Eureka. The Arcata American Legion Post conducted graveside services with Rev. James P. Senter officiating. His body was re-interred in the Yurok Indian Veterans section of Greenwood Cemetery, Arcata, CA. The Purple Heart Medal was given to his brother, Leslie.
He was survived by his brothers, Fred and Leslie Riecke and a sister, Gertrude.
Note: Special thanks to Paul Joseph Riecke for the above biography.
Other members of the "Jackie Ellen" Crew:
1 LT Douglas Hayden White, Pilot.
1LT Emil Oluf Rasmussen, Jr., Co-Pilot.
1LT Carl A. Alexander, Navigator.
SSgt George Toney, Jr., Bombardier.
TSgt. Joseph C. Bocelli, Radio Operator, POW.
SSgt Charles A. Adams, Right Waist Gunner.
SSgt William R. Earnest, Left Waist Gunner.
SSgt Francis W. Pulliam, Ball Turret Gunner.
SSgt Walter D. Sherrill, Tail Gunner.
Text and photos courtesy of U.S. Find A Grave Index, 1600s to Present: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=68862249&ref=acom