Her father and uncle both served as bomber pilots during World War II, but war stories were not common during Christina Maree Reynolds Price’s childhood.
“My dad really didn’t talk about his experiences in the war,” Reynolds Price said of her late father, Lt. Col. John Robert Reynolds, a 1942 Camas High School graduate who had been training to fly B-29s in the Pacific during WWII when his older brother, Arthur Joseph Reynolds — then a 24-year-old U.S. Army Air Force bomber pilot flying combat missions over Europe with the 482nd bomb group — was killed on Nov. 10, 1943, in a horrific crash that claimed the lives of all 13 airmen inside the plane, plus four civilians and a horse on the ground.
“The loss of his brother was very painful for him,” Reynolds Price said of her father. “He had night terrors for years. I would hear him yelling in the bedroom and his eyes were open, but he wasn’t there. The war was a very painful subject for him.”
Then, in the early 1990s, Reynolds Price took her father to see the movie, “Memphis Belle,” about the last mission of Memphis Belle, an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber based in England during WWII.
“I had no idea what he had gone through on those missions until we saw the movie,” Reynolds Price said. “After the movie, I started getting bits of information from him, here and there.”
Originally from Canada, John and Arthur Reynolds had grown up in Camas after their parents, Joseph and Mary Reynolds, immigrated from Canada in 1926 and settled in Camas in search of a better life.
“My dad’s family couldn’t find work in Canada and they were very, very poor,” Reynolds Price said. “Friends sponsored my father’s family and eventually they came to Camas and both of my dad’s parents got jobs at the (paper) mill.”
Joseph and Mary Reynolds later owned a general store in Camas and John Reynolds used to tell his children stories about his days in Camas, where he and his brother, Arthur, a member of the 1938 Camas High wrestling team, spent hot summer days jumping into local swimming holes and dreaming of their future.
Reynolds Price said her father had the option of coming home after his older brother, Arthur, was killed in the November 1943 plane crash, but he elected to stay in the military and wouldn’t retire from the U.S. Air Force until 1972 after a 30-year career in the military.
“He was the only surviving child, but he chose to go back,” Reynolds Price said of her father. “That really upset my grandmother. She asked him, ‘Why didn’t you just come home?’ and he said, ‘I couldn’t do it. It felt like it would be a betrayal of my brother, and I didn’t want to leave my crewmates without a pilot.’”
John Reynolds was devastated by the death of his only brother. He wanted to understand what had happened to Arthur and his fellow airmen, Reynolds Price said: “My dad started researching the crash. He really wanted to know what had happened to his brother. But he died in 2005, without knowing what happened. By that point, he had been investigating (the crash) for maybe 20 years.”
Reynolds Price said her father always suspected his brother and Arthur’s crew had been testing a new type of radar and that had contributed there was more to his brother’s death than just an awful accident.
“Though my dad obtained some information, the U.S. government would not release any details about the ‘classified’ crash,” Reynolds Price said. “Before he died, (my father) told me he was convinced that Arthur had been testing a new type of radar, and that the crash may have been the result of sabotage.”
Unbeknownst to John Reynolds, other people around the world also were working to solve the mystery of what caused Arthur’s plane to go down in a farmer’s field on that fateful November day in 1943.
A few months ago, Reynolds Price’s sister, Susan Reynolds Sherman, received a message from a woman in Florida asking if she might be related to Arthur Reynolds. Wendy Rust, of Miami, Florida, had also been researching the 1943 crash that claimed the life of Arthur Reynolds. Her father, Col. Robert W. Rust, had known Arthur’s co-pilot, 23-year-old John “Jack” Russell of Baldwin, New York, and had long hoped to better understand Jack Russell’s life, as well as his death.
“My dad wanted to know where he was buried and how many missions he flew,” Rust explained. “My dad was told that Jack transferred from detached service with his longtime RAF crew to be a pilot training instructor with the Americans and had crashed on his first training flight. But, that family story was completely off.” Jack was eligible to go home after 25 missions, but he chose to transfer with his RAF 57 crew to train as Pathfinders with the new radar technology a few months before his fateful reassignment to the 482nd Bomb Group.
While researching Jack Russell’s short life and the crash that caused his death, Rust met Steve Andrews, a military history buff from Norfolk, England, who helped her crack open the mystery of the doomed B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “Stinky.”
“There are photos of the crash site and a film, which is sobering to watch,” Andrews recently told The Post-Record. A man Andrews knew, Clive Stevens, a WWII aviation historian who, from his business property in Brome, Suffolk, England, can actually see the field where the plane crashed on Nov. 10, 1943.
Soon, the trio of researchers would discover something Reynolds Price’s father, John Reynolds, had suspected all along — there was more to the B-17 crash than military officials were letting on. As it turned out, the plane Arthur Reynolds and Jack Russell were piloting was the first U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress to carry H2S radar pathfinder equipment – technology first used by the Royal Air Force during WWII to identify targets on the ground for nighttime and bombing through overcast (BTO) missions.
“It was a new, secret technology the British had,” Andrews said, “And this plane, ‘Stinky,’ outfitted in the spring or summer of 1943, was the first American plane to have that radar technology.”
After reading now de-classified documents John Reynolds would have loved to have seen during his lifetime, the research team began to believe that this new technology likely contributed to the plane crash that claimed Arthur Reynolds’ life.
On the day of the crash, Andrews said, “Jack and Arthur’s mission had been scrubbed (canceled) and were heading back to their home base. More than likely looking forward to some rest and relaxation in London or Cambridge.”
Records indicate that the plane caught fire shortly after takeoff. “Normally, they would go to higher levels and parachute out,” Andrews said, “but the fire was so intense, they were struggling to control the plane.”
The airmen were likely aiming for the nearest runway, the under-construction Eye airfield. “They were literally minutes away from landing,” Andrews said. But the plane was engulfed in fire and Andrews said the crew was likely overwhelmed trying to extinguish the fire and land the plane at the same time.
“There was an old country house (now the site of a hotel) and there was a row of trees,” Andrews said. “They probably clipped those trees, bounced on the road and hit the road workers and went into the field.”
That knowledge, for Andrews, hits hard.
“They were so close. Just minutes from safety,” Andrews said. “They were all so young and fresh-faced … and you do get invested in their stories. They all say they weren’t heroes, even though they are in our eyes. But, at the time, they were just doing what they thought was right. Your heart goes out to them, to the sacrifices they made.”
The research team is planning to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the plane crash with the unveiling of a memorial monument remembering those who died as a result of the B-17 Pathfinder’s crash — including 13 airmen, four civilians and one horse.
The event will take place at the crash site at the historic Oaksmere property in Brome, Suffolk, England, on Nov. 10.
“The crash site is on the grounds of a hotel,” Andrews said. “We can put the memorial on (a grassy field near the hotel) and it should really stand out. … We’re working with an ironworks chap who is a blacksmith and he’s designed something for us representing the crew, workmen and the horse, with a memorial next to it.”
The group has established a GoFundMe to help fund the memorial and sculpture.
“We definitely have to raise more than we have now,” Andrews said. “Material prices have gone up considerably … but if it all comes together, it will really look stunning.”
Rust also is working to locate as many relatives of the airmen as she can before the memorial event in November. Rust’s genealogy skills helped her find Arthur Reynolds’ family and she told Christina news she hadn’t known before this year — in 1942, less than a year before his death, on his 23rd birthday, Arthur Reynolds had married an Idaho-born woman named Alene Margaret Johnson of Camas, Washington.
“This has become such a big part of our life,” Rust said of her work piecing together the stories of the crew aboard the Pathfinder. “It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. As a researcher, you get excited and happy when you find something. But, as a human, you get emotional about what you’ve found out.”
Reynolds Price said she is sad her father, John, didn’t live long enough to find out what happened to his brother or to attend the memorial in England this November. Reynolds Price’s son, John Wayne Price Jr., and her sister, Susan, will attend to represent the Reynolds family.
“John Jr. was very close to my dad,” Reynolds Price said. Regrettably, due to health concerns, Reynolds Price is unable to travel.
The team is also interested in finding family members of the airmen aboard the fated B-17 as well as the British civilians. Maggie Aggiss, a local Suffolk historian on the team, is leading that effort in England.
Following is a list of the crew, their ages and their hometowns:
- Pilot Arthur Joseph Reynolds, 24, Camas, Washington;
- Co-pilot John Edmund Russell, 23, Baldwin, New York;
- Navigator Sheldon Vernon McCormick, 21, Jacksonville, Florida;
- Bombardier Albert Lewis Rolnick, 22, Baltimore, Maryland;
- Flight engineer and top turret gunner Amos H. Behl, 20, Ortonville, Minnesota;
- Radio/gunner Robert Blyden Holmes, 23, Salt Lake City, Utah;
- Ball turret gunner Leslie Noble Boling, 21, Dayton, Ohio;
- Waist gunner, William Harry Landers, 21, Madison, Alabama;
- Waist gunner Laurie Colman Evans, 29, Arcadia, Florida;
- Tail gunner Andrew Jack Allison, 19, Indio, California;
- Radio and radar operator John Duvall May, 24, Alexandria, Virginia;
- Radar mechanic Robert Glenn Levi, 28, Zirconia, North Carolina; and
- Radar mechanic Herman John Kolousek, 22, Orland, California.
To learn more about the crash, or to donate to the B-17 Crash Memorial Project, visit gofundme.com/f/brome-b17f-crash-memorial-fundraiser.
Local Memorial Day celebrations happening May 29
Washougal Memorial Day ceremony
What: The city of Washougal, the Washougal Memorial Cemetery Board and the American Legion will hold a Memorial Day ceremony to honor fallen military members
When: 11 a.m. Monday, May 29
Where: Washougal Memorial Cemetery, 3329 “Q” St., Washougal
More info: The free event will feature a fire salute, the playing of “Taps” and a retiring of colors. Refreshments will be provided.
Vancouver Memorial Day Observance
What: The Community Military Appreciation Committee (CMAC) will present Vancouver’s Memorial Day Observance, a free, annual ceremony honoring men and women who have lost their lives in service of our country. Visitors may view the garrison flag raising, Washington Army National Guard Howitzer cannon firing, and a wreath laying ceremony in honor of fallen heroes.
When: 11 a.m. Monday, May 29
Where: At the bandstand on the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, 612 E Reserve St, Vancouver
More info: Parking is available starting at 9 a.m. at Hudson’s Bay High School, 3528, 1601 E McLoughlin Blvd, Vancouver, where attendees may ride a C-TRAN shuttle to and from the event site.