Monday, August 28, 1944. It was a bright sunny day in the small village of Boskovštejn, in then Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. Shortly before 9:00 am, five hundred miles to the south, nineteen year old Second Lieutenant Ralph I. Jones climbed aboard “Birmingham Boomerang,” his P-51B Mustang, a single-seat, single-engine fighter airplane. That day was his first combat mission. It was also his last.
The 15th Army Air Force, 31st Fighter Group, 308th Squadron was based in San Severo, Italy. First Lieutenant Walter J. Goehausen, Jr. led “Blue Flight,” a group of four fighter airplanes. 2/Lt. Jones was his wingman. In position 3 was First Lieutenant Jack R. Smith, while Second Lieutenant Eugene P. McGlauflin flew as his wingman in position 4.
Fourteen more P-51s from the 308th Squadron took off that day. They joined other squadrons in the same Fighter Group, and in turn they joined other Fighter Groups for a total of 149 fighter aircraft. The 31st Fighter Group’s leader that day was Lieutenant Robert J. Goebel, a combat ace.
Their mission: Escort and protect 168 B-17 bombers from the 5th Wing as they bombed the Moosbierbaum oil refinery and adjacent chemical works 25 miles northwest of Vienna, Austria. As fighter pilots, they were to protect the bombers from enemy aircraft as they flew into, over, and out of enemy territory. With ten crew members per bomber, there were 1,680 lives depending on these 149 fighter pilots.
2/Lt. Jones was assigned to the 308th squadron just six days prior to the bombing mission to Moosbierbaum. He earned his wings as a fighter pilot back in March 1944 and was finally shipped overseas to San Severo by August.
The bomber formation reached the target area about 10:45 am, where plane after plane dropped their bomb loads. The attack lasted about 45 minutes.
In total, 70 to 80 enemy fighters resisted the attack with their own counter-attacks (Carter, 1991). At 11:20 am Lt. Goehausen and the pilots of Blue Flight encountered three such enemy fighters, flying Focke Wulf FW-190 aircraft. In an instant, they engaged the enemy. 2/Lt. Jones as wingman, began to follow Lt. Goehausen as he dove into battle. In the fast-paced confusion of armed confrontation, it was the last moment his fellow pilots saw 2/Lt. Jones.
On the ground however, 2/Lt. Jones was still very much in sight. The men, women and children of Boskovštejna and the nearby village of Jevišovic listened to the roar of engines and rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, while watching the small specks in flight above them. The dog fight was already in progress when they came upon Boskovštejn from the northwest flying in the direction back towards Vienna in the southeast.
In an instant a loud explosion befell the American pilot. A wing separated from the fuselage and black smoke billowed as the plane fell in a spiraling spin to the ground.
A large crowd of villagers rushed to the crash, but flames and exploding ammunition kept them from getting too close. They eventually saw a gruesome scene: The charred torso of the unidentified airman, without a head, with no legs and only one arm. Body parts and wreckage were scattered over a large area.
Local authorities duly reported the crash to Nazi officials, including the Gestapo, and the crash site was placed under guard. Villagers were coerced into searching for the missing wing, which still contained two machine guns and ammunition. They were also ordered to turn in any artifacts they took from the crash site. Within days the wreckage was taken away and the plane’s components analyzed.
It is reported the Nazi officer in charge ordered dirt be thrown over the pilot’s body. Local citizens appealed and were able to take the body to Jevišovic for a hasty burial ceremony.
Upon returning to base, Lt. Goehausen and Lt. Smith submitted statements for the Missing Air Crew Report. This report was required whenever an airman went missing or was killed in action.
Lt. Goehausen gave his account of the last time he saw his wingman, 2/Lt. Jones:
On 28 August, 1944, 18 P-51’s of our Squadron took off from SAN SERVO A/D, Italy, at 0905 hours, as penetration, target, and withdrawal escort for the 5th Wing over [MOOSBIERBAUM] Oil Refinery near VIENNA, AUSTRIA. I was leading Blue Flight composed of four aircraft, and 2nd Lt JONES was my wingman. At 1120 hours we were 20 miles northwest of VIENNA, AUSTRIA at 27,000′ when we sighted 3 enemy aircraft at the same altitude. As we engaged them, they split S’d and dove down. Lt JONES started to follow me as I dove in pursuit, but that’s the last I saw of him. /s/ Walter J. Goehausen, Jr., 1st Lt, Air Corps. (NARA, 2014)
Lt. Smith, at Blue Flight position 3 that day, also gave a statement:
We attacked enemy aircraft 20 miles northwest of VIENNA, AUSTRIA. Lt JONES was the number two man in Blue Flight, and the last I saw of him was when his Flight Leader split S’d after a FW-190. /s/ Jack R. Smith, 1st Lt, Air Corps. (NARA, 2014)
A split-S maneuver is a half-roll, which results in the pilot flying upside down. This is followed by a dive, such that as the pilot pulls out of the dive, he is flying upright in the opposite direction.
Lt. Goehausen and Lt. Smith each successfully shot down one enemy fighter that day.
The Missing Air Crew Report also includes a hand-drawn map showing approximately where these men thought they last saw 2/Lt. Jones. On a modern map, the same area is circled in blue. The bombing target that day, Moosbierbaum, is indicated with a star, while the crash site near Boskovštejn is indicated with a diamond. The blue line simply connects Boskovštejn with San Severo, Italy, where the 31st Fighter Squadron was based. It does not represent an actual flight path.
If the pursuit of these enemy aircraft started near the target city of Moosbierbaum, the air battle undoubtedly covered a large area. The crash site at Boskovštejn is 60 miles from Vienna, so it could have covered roughly 1,800 square miles of territory. However at speeds approaching 400 miles per hour, it probably happened very quickly. An eye-witness account mentions the dog fight lasted only a couple minutes over Boskovštejn.
In a rare coincidence, Lt. Robert J. Goebel describes the day 2/Lt. Jones went missing in his book, “Mustang Ace: Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot.” Lt. Goebel led the 31st Fighter Group on the mission that day:
Six days before the August 28 mission, two new pilots had been assigned to the 308th. They were an unlikely pair, in age, rank, and temperament. The older was a captain [probably George E. Marquis Jr.]; the younger, a second lieutenant named Jones.
We first lieutenants who had forty to fifty missions under our belts and were doing all the combat leading resented a newcomer senior in rank to us. Of course it wasn’t the captain’s fault that he had been promoted while doing Stateside duty. But, as far as we were concerned, a new guy was a new guy. Both of them were ignored, socially. Afloat in this great sea of indifference, the captain and Jones gravitated toward each other and became inseparable. The captain obviously had been around and probably had a lot more flying time than Jones did, so he looked out for the lieutenant whenever he could.
On August 28, Jones was scheduled on the mission to Vienna. After the mission, I walked into ops, made my report, and talked to my flight. Jones wasn’t back yet. His only friend, the captain, sat on a bench outside the ops hut and waited. He had a worried frown across his brow.
Had it been only four months since I had sat there watching the eastern sky for Johnson to show up? It seemed like a year, but I remembered it well. I knew the captain was waiting in vain, as I had. Lieutenant Jones certainly was down somewhere and was not coming back. Almost everyone had left, and it was quiet now. I waited another twenty minutes inside the hut. Then I went out and put my hand on the captain’s shoulder. When he looked up, the tears were streaming down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “There’s always a chance that he’s a POW. But there’s nothing you can do for him here.”
He got into the jeep with me, and I left him with his own thoughts as we drove back to the housing area. On August 31, Lieutenant Jones was dropped from the squadron roll. (Goebel, 2009)
After the war, in August 1946, the citizens had raised funds and erected a black marble obelisk in memory of this unknown American hero. Politicians, military leaders, school children, and the citizens of Boskovštejna and Jevišovic attended the dedication ceremony. It is inscribed: „Na památku americkému letci zde sestřelenému v leteckém boji 28.8.1944,“ which translates “In memory of the American airman who was shot down in air combat August 28, 1944.”
A few weeks later in September 1946, a United States Army detail came to exhume the body of 2/Lt. Jones. Another ceremony was held, in which local school children sang the American and Czechoslovakian national anthems. The school headmaster spoke in English about this hero’s sacrifice for their freedom. He thanked the US delegation for helping to liberate them and promised the airman would always be remembered with gratitude. His body was then brought in procession from Jevišovic past the monument and on to Boskovštejna, where the citizens placed bouquets of flowers.
At its dedication and for decades later, the monument commemorated only an unknown American flier. The pilot’s name was never communicated to the citizens. This changed in 1990 when a plaque was affixed indicating “James Ralph,” which unfortunately is incorrect. The citizens did not learn the actual name of 2/Lt. Jones until the 50th anniversary memorial service in 1994. The plaque was amended with “Jones,” but still incorrectly reads “James Ralph Jones” rather than “Ralph I. Jones.”
Today the monument is still maintained by the citizens of Boskovštejn.
2/Lt. Jones was hastily buried in a Jevišovic cemetery in 1944. His body was exhumed in 1946 and transferred to the Lorraine American Cemetery near Saint-Avold, France where he lies in plot C, row 11, grave 89.
The solemn reverence and respect shown to 2/Lt. Jones by the people of the Czech Republic is remarkable. It started that fateful day in 1944, and has continued through the decades to today. He was one young man who just earned his wings as a fighter pilot. He was shunned as a rookie by hardened veteran pilots. He flew only one mission, yet did one very extraordinary thing. He had the courage to confront a fierce enemy, above a small village in a foreign land. And in so doing, he touched the minds and hearts of hundreds if not thousands of people, generations later, still grateful for his part in liberating them from Nazi oppression.
The story of 2/Lt. Jones was brought to my attention by Svatopluk “Svat” Vaculik, a visitor to the AAF Collection website. He and several others had been searching for years for a photograph and any additional information on 2/Lt. Jones. Svat finally found his photograph in a class book from Gibbs Field, Fort Stockton, Texas. Air Cadet Jones at that time was in primary flight training, class 44-C. He would go on to basic flight training and advanced flight training and eventually earn his pilot’s wings in March 1944. It is still unknown where he attended basic and advanced flight training, and thus a later picture of him remains elusive.
Svat will use the above photograph of 2/Lt. Jones during the 70th anniversary memorial ceremony later this year. For the first time, a face will adorn the memorial for this once-unknown, but now recognizable airman and hero.
Did you or a family member serve in the Army Air Forces during World War II? Please contribute your own biography, or that of a loved one, to the Keep ‘em Flying memorial at the AAF Collection. Contact the curator for details.
The authoritative source on the story of 2/Lt. Jones and the basis of this blog post, is the excellent book by Jan Mahr (Mahr, 2011). It contains newspaper and eye-witness accounts, official records, and extensive photographs about this and several other airmen shot down in the Czech Republic.
(AAFC, 2014) Army Air Forces Collection, “Solo: Class 44-C, Gibbs Field, Fort Stockton, Texas” (item 000382), AAF Collection, http://AAFCollection.info/items/list.php?item=000382 (accessed 09 May 2014), page 44.
(Asisbiz, 2014) Matthew Laird Acred, Asisbiz Free Virtual High Resolution Images for Screensavers and Wallpaper, http://www.asisbiz.com/il2/P-51B-Mustang/P-51B-31FG308FS-43-6851-Jones.html (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Carter, 1991) Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller, “Combat Chronology 1941-1945: U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II,” Center for Air Force History, Washington, DC, 1991. Fifteenth Air Force, August 28, 1944, page 474. Available online at the Air Force Historical Studies Office, http://www.afhso.af.mil/booksandpublications/titleindex.asp (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Fold3, 2007a) National Archives and Records Administration, “Ready to take off from their base in Southern Italy are these P-51 Mustangs of the 15th AAF. These planes have been used with a great deal of success as high altitude escort to the Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24 heavy bombers. 31st Fighter Group,” Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies Activities, Facilities, and Personnel – World War II, NARA Reference 342-FH-3A22954-53784AC, Fold3, http://fold3.com (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Fold3, 2007b) National Archives and Records Administration, “Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses Of The 15Th Air Force Leave The Smoldering Oil Refinery At Moosbierbaum, Austria, On Aug. 28, 1944,” Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies Activities, Facilities, and Personnel – World War II, NARA Reference 342-FH-3A04850-65580AC, Fold3, http://fold3.com (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Geocache, 2014) “The American Pilot’s Monument,” GC1ZR1E, Geocaching.com, http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?wp=GC1ZR1E (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Goebel, 2009) Robert J. Goebel, “Mustang Ace: Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot,” Pacifica Military History, 2009, pages 201-202.
(Grave, 2014) Find A Grave, 2Lt Ralph I Jones, Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Saint-Avold, Departement de la Moselle, Lorraine, France, http://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSmpid=47317337&GRid=56656816 (accessed 09 May 2014), plot C-11-89.
(Honor, 1946) War Department, The Adjutant Generals Office, Administrative Services Division, “World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel from Pennsylvania, 1946, documenting the period 05/27/1941 – 01/31/1946, Record Group 407, National Archives Identifier 305313, http://research.archives.gov/description/305313 (accessed 09 May 2014), “43, Columbia and Crawford Counties: 47 of 134.”
(Mahr, 2011) Jan Mahr, “VZPOMÍNKY NA NEZNÁMÉ LETCE” (Memories of the Unknown Airmen), vlastním nákladem autora vydalo Muzeum letecké bitvy nad Krušnohořím 11. 9. 1944 v Kovářské, 2011. http://www.museum119.cz. Chapter 6, Pomník neznámému letci (Monument to the Unknown Flier), pages 155-166.
(Maurer, 1983) Maurer Maurer, “Air Force Combat Units of World War II,” Office of Air Force History, Washington, DC, 1983. Thirty-first Fighter Group chronology, pages 83-85. Available online at the Air Force Historical Studies Office, http://www.afhso.af.mil/booksandpublications/titleindex.asp (accessed 09 May 2014).
(Memorial, 2014) National World War II Memorial, World War II Registry, Washington, DC. http://www.wwiimemorial.com/ (accessed 09 May 2014), Ralph I. Jones, Pennsylvania, O-715546.
(NARA, 2014) National Archives and Records Administration, “Missing Air Crew Reports,” http://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/missing-air-crew-reports.html viewed via “Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947,” Fold3, http://fold3.com (accessed 09 May 2014). 2/Lt. Jones’ report is MACR 8264. MACRs are sometimes filed by aircraft tail number, 43-6851.
(Vaculik, 2014) Svatopluk “Svat” Vaculik, correspondence with Mike Voisin, curator, AAF Collection, http://aafcollection.info, April and May 2014.
The monument to 2/Lt. Jones is also visited by those interested in geocaching, a popular hobby world-wide. Numerous people pay their respects and learn local history while hunting for hidden caches (Geocache, 2014).