m a r k e r i c k s o n p a i n t i n g s Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson Air Corps 1942 - 1945
Click to view Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson's complete thirty five mission list and twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses flown between March 27th thru August 26th, 1944 out of Horham Airfield, England.
Technical Sergeant William 'Bill' Eugene Nassif
A very enjoyable interview with my cousin, Bill Nassif talking about his experiences when he was known as, Technical Sgt. William 'Bill' Eugene Nassif of the 15th Air Force, serving in the Air Corps during World War II as a B-17 Bombardier.
Bill was assigned to the 301st Bomb Group and flew with the 352nd Squadron based in Lucera, Italy. Bill was a jovial friendly poised fellow. Anyone talking to him about his Air Corps, dancing and acting days were obviously delighted listening to history unfold before them in colorful stories. He was charming and funny, as this interview will show.
The interview covers the aftermath of Bill's last flight onboard the B-17 'Kandy' (44-6337) on December 26th, 1944. A mission that would take Bill and the other nine members of the crew over Blechhammer, Germany. After 'Bombs Away' over the target, the ship already flying in a terribly dense flak (German Artillery) field sustained horrific hits on their #3 and #4 engines. The ship quickly began losing altitude and fire, smoke and gas vapors were streaming from the engine.
At the rally point (meet up) at Ciezyn, crews members of other ships sighted that 44-6337 was lagging back farther and farther and losing altitude, but seemed under control. That was the last time anyone saw the B-17, having fallen so far back by this time. No chutes were seen of the ten man crew. Sadly another lost ship and crew from the Bomb Group. In the end, after a search for a safe haven landing ship, 'Kandy' crash landed in Poland. The crew survived and were quickly rounded up by Luftwaffe (German Air Force) soldiers. A photograph below shows German soldiers and Polish civilians around the crash landed 'Kandy.'
Inevitably Bill and the crew were hauled off to a POW camp and held for the duration of the war, first at Stalag Luft 3 in Bavaria and then Nuremberg-Langwasser Camp in Central Germany. Bill was freed in May of 1944, when General Patton's 8th Army rolled through Germany on the way to Berlin. Bill also speaks of this particular event in the video.
Bill Nassif is a cousin through the marriage of my father, Ernest Anders Erickson's (an Air Corps B-17 pilot) kid sister, Dian Marcella Erickson to Floyd Nassif Boutrous. Bill and Floyd are first cousins. Bill's parents are Bessie B. (Williams) and Otto George Attallah Nassif Attiyeh.
Bill's grandparents were Freida (Saba) and Jeryus George Nassif Attiyeh. Otto is the brother of Assaif (George) Nassif Attiyeh. Both Assaif and George are sons of Jeryus (George) Nassif Attiyeh. And here is where we return to my Aunt Dian.
Jeryus is the brother of Jirgi (George) Nassif Attiyeh, who is the grandfather of my Uncle Floyd, my Aunt Dian Marcella Erickson's husband. Assaif's 15 year old companion on their 1905 journey west from Ain Arab, Lebanon was the grand lady of the Nassif family, Delleh 'Della' Nassif Boutrous. Delleh is Floyd's mother and on her second attempt immigrating to America, success was the only outcome on her mind. She looked forward to joining her father Jirgi, in Dakota.
Assaif and Delleh's ship ported in Vera Cruz and they continued on, travelling north up through Mexico, entering the States near El Paso and eventually making their way to Iowa and North Dakota.
William 'Bill' Eugene Nassif was born on April 2nd, 1922 in Bismarck, North Dakota. When Bill was 15 years old, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation adopted him into the tribe in a ceremony at Fort Yates, North Dakota. Little did Bill know that he would be playing Native American roles in Hollywood films, during the 1950s.
In the late 1880s, one of Bill's grandparent's family, the Saba's, had come from Lebanon to ranch in Emmons County across the Missouri River from the reservation. Being friends of the Indians, Bill mentioned, the Lebanese were frequently mistaken for Indians.
Bill attended schools in Bismarck, ND and Pollack, South Dakota. After high school, Bill joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and trained at Kelly Field in Texas. He was chosen to be a Bombardier and continued training at the Advanced Twin Engine and Bombardier Training Center in Midland Army Airfield. The Midland school operated 23 bombing ranges in West Texas.
The information on Bill's last combat mission with the Air Corps on December 26th, 1944 derives from family stories and documents, one in particular is a German Luftgaukommando Report. Also some written excerpts came from fellow crew member, Navigator Lt. Gilbert Theodore Nesch's Log. Bill and Lt. Nesch were crew members of the Flying Fortress (B-17) 'Kandy' (44-6337). The log was retrieved from the crash-landed 'Kandy,' in Poland.
Bill's final mission with the 301st Bomb Group, flying out of Lucera, Italy, came one day after Christmas ?on December 26th, 1944. It began 8am when the B-17 'Kandy' (44-6337) piloted by Lt. Harry Owen Filer, left the airfield for a mission over an oil refinery complex ?at Blechhammer in Southern Germany.
The MACR-Missing Air Crew Report (attached below) contains three accounts from crew members from other ships ?in the Squadron reporting 'Kandy's' disappearance. Those eye witness accounts are described here:
1. Navigator Lt. Charles A. Dews, reported, “Right after bombs away over Blechhammer, Plane No. 44-6337 started falling back from formation. Number 3 or 4 engine had been hit by enemy flak. My pilot reported that it was losing altitude and that either smoke or gas vapor was coming from 3 or 4 engine. Just before we rallied at Ciezyn we lost sight of 44-6337 who was lagging back and losing altitude, but under control. We last saw Plane No. 44-6337 at 1250 hours, on the 26th of December, 1944, location of 50/01 N – 18/27 E. The weather was CAVU (aeronautical meteorology term meaning Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited). No chutes were seen coming from 44-6337.
2. Navigator, Lt. Joseph I. Laird, recounted, “Just after we dropped our bombs on the target, I noticed #4 engine smoking on Plane No. 44-6337. The plane peeled out of formation taking a heading of 45 degrees and slid down to the left smoothly, losing altitude but under control. The #4 engine was probably hit by flak over the target. The plane dropped back from the formation, but was still under control when I last saw it at 1250 hours, 26th of December, 1944. It was at 50/01 N – 18/27 E, the weather was CAVU (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited) and no chutes were seen.
3. Tail gunner S/Sgt. Harry P. Hale described the following: “Shortly after bombs away, Plane No. 44-6337 fell out of formation, losing altitude and dropping back. Smoke was coming from either No. 3 or 4 engine which was apparently hit by flak encountered over target. The plane seemed to be under control when I last saw it at 1250 hours, 26th of December, 1944. I saw no one bail out. The weather was CAVU (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited) and our Navigator gave the coordinates of 50/01 N-18/27 E when I last reported seeing aircraft No. 44-6337.
Missing Air Crew Reports are eyewitness statement accounts for the plane’s loss only up to the time it disappeared. The unfortunate story of the ten man crew can be condensed to this, from what the Squadron knew at the time the ship disappeared and what came later: 'Kandy' (44-6337) was struck by flak over Blechhhammer, Germany, it left formation while southeast of the target, shortly after 12 noon. Within 30 minutes 'Kandy' crash-landed near Krakow, Poland in the vicinity of the communities of Kobierzyn and (Lagiewniki) Borek-Falecki.
The entire crew survived the landing and were all uninjured. They were captured by the Luthwaffe and were interned in Stalag Luft 3 in Bavaria. They would be held as POWs till the end of the European conflict in May of 1945.
Co-pilot Alfred Cryer’s account of the "Kandy's(44-6337) loss on December 26th, 1944:
It was my first mission and the reason we came down near Krakow, Poland was we were heading
to a field in Russia. On the second bomb run on the target our ship and the lead ship were hit by
anti-aircraft fire. We took hits in the number two and number four engines. Orders were if you were
not able to make it back to Italy, you could try for this field in Russia. Our navigator told us when we
should be able to see the field, after making a couple of circles and not seeing a field we decided a
wheels up crash-landing was the way to go. Only thing was, and very unfortunate for us, it was
occupied Poland, about 35 miles from the front lines. We could see German soldiers approaching
us as we left the ship.
Pilot: Lt. Harry Owen Filer, Mrs. Alice B. Filer (wife), 510 NE 56th St., Miami, Fl.
After the war ended and Bill was fully recovered from the ordeals experienced as a Prisoner of War, he headed back to Dakota and civilian life. He would find work in Fargo at the family run Nassif Rug Company and worked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Minneapolis, MN. He became a professional dancer and also taught at a local dance studio.
In the early 1950s, Bill moved to Los Angeles and found roles in films in Hollywood. Vera Cruz, Cattle Queen of Montana, To Hell and Back, Chief Crazy Horse, Thunder Road, The Last Hunt, and Strange Lady in Town, were just a handful. His biggest role came in 1956 when he landed the part of Joshua in The Ten Commandments, but an unfortunate accident in Mexico prevented him from continuing in the role. John Derek replaced him in the film.
In 1973, Bill married Rita Christine and they had one daughter, Stephanie. Bill's long standing friendships with many of the actors he worked with, like Danny Thomas and Micheal Ansara continued for the rest of their lives. Bill never forgot his ranching roots in Emmons County, North Dakota, and reflecting back on a lifetime adventure, in 2002, Bill turned 80 years old and said, "Every day has been an adventure in my life." Good enough indeed for a man that saw plenty and lived through many historic occasions. Bill passed away on October 1st, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Photographs and documents below:
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